A bright late-summer sun shown over Washington's beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, as Franciscans, Dominicans, and Paulists assembled in the Shrine's Crypt Church this morning for the ordination of 4 seminarians as deacons, the final phase of their preparation for ordination as priests in the months to come. Washington's Auxiliary Bishop officiated at the ordination and preached about the challenges of the New Evangelization. The Dominican Schola Cantorum chanted Latin antiphons and led the congregation in the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin. As often happens, we priest were assigned seats without kneelers, rendering kneeling on the stone floor during the Litany a much more painful experience than it needs to be. (Somehow we just can't stop pretending priests are all still 25, even when most of us are at the other end of the age spectrum!). All in all, however, it was a wonderful, decidedly edifying experience as Deacon Yao and the others took this decisive last step toward the priesthood.
After my own diaconate ordination in April 1986, an older Paulist priest (as it turned out with but a few more months left to live himself) told me the ceremony had further affirmed him in his vocation. Life-long commitment is so counter-cultural today that such ceremonies as these really do carry with them enormous evangelizing energy, even beyond the inherent signification of the rites themselves.
Of course, when I contemplate my own diaconate ordination, I cannot separate the joy of that long-ago occasion from the imposed interruption of my vocational journey the following September, that transformed my "transitional" diaconate into a painful nine-year ordeal - something I have not failed to recall (however privately) on September 9 ever since. Still, all that is in the past now. For better or for worse, it helped make me the person and priest I now am. But the very different trajectory that has ensued since my vocation was restored to me in 1995 invites my many positive memories of diaconal ministry to assume a more appropriate prominence.
But enough about me! Today's ordination ceremony was a vibrantly hopeful celebration of joy and hope - joy for the Paulist community and for the wider Church, hope for the New Evangelization and the renewal of the Church's life and mission in this problematic time.