“Lemony fresh!” Those are the words I said to my two newly ordained brother priests, Father Stephen Battey and Father Joseph Brice, after I wiped the chrism off my hands with the maniturgium and washed them with lemons and water. I was nervous. And when I get nervous I tend to try and make others laugh. It worked. And the ceremony went on as our mothers brought up the gifts, the instruments of salvation that would be handed over to us by the bishop.
But why was I nervous you might ask? I was nervous thinking about those hands that the bishop had just anointed. Those hands that would hold up the bread and wine offered by the people of God and would turn them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Those hands that would be used to pray over people, anoint the sick and forgive sins. Who am I to be given such great power?
I was nervous because I realized that seminary was over, and the real work was just beginning. The worst thing that could happen in seminary is I fail a class, but in the world I was about to enter, I could seriously hurt someone. Not by losing their money, or even their life, but their very soul. What would happen if I did something to harm someone to the point where they no longer wished to see the face of God, because I, as a priest, had so distorted it for them?
I was nervous because my very judgement had been changed at that very moment when the bishop had finished his prayer of ordination over me and my two brothers. I am no longer Brian Morris or even Deacon Brian Morris, but rather Father Brian Morris. I am a priest of Jesus Christ and my soul has been changed in a way that could never be changed back. Just like once we are baptized our soul is forever changed, so is the soul of a priest. When I go before God at the end of my life, I will be held accountable to a higher level because of this change.
I was nervous about these and many other questions rushing through my mind. But as always, God provides an answer. As I concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Tobin and consecrated the Eucharist for the first time, I thought, “This is too easy.” Then, as I consecrated the Eucharist as the principle celebrant at my first Mass of Thanksgiving, again I thought, “This is too easy.” And again, as I heard confessions for the first time for the OLM school kids and absolved them of their sins, I too thought, “This is too easy.”
I realized that these things were easier than I had anticipated because it is not I who do them, but Christ through me. I am merely an instrument in the divine hands of an all-powerful God. The Church has told us from the beginning times that the sanctity and worthiness of the minister has no effect on the validity of the sacraments. And suddenly I wasn’t nervous anymore. I remembered how many times the Holy Spirit gave me the words to preach to the people of Saint Eugene’s as a deacon, and thought how much more will He provide me with the graces I need to minister to the people He puts in my path as their priest. It didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have to work hard. Rather, that God would never put a challenge in front of me without also offering me the grace to rise to it. The only thing I need to do is accept that grace, accept the fact that I am His instrument, and get to work. This realization was a consolation from God that overcame my nervousness. Lemony fresh!
“Ask the Newly Ordained” features Fathers Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers. Have a question? Ask the Newly Ordained! Readers may submit questions by sending them to Editor@thericatholic.com.