There are many images of the priest, the ordained minister who stands in the person of Christ to offer the sacraments, to forgive sins and to preach and teach the Word of God.
But at the June 2 ordination of four new priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans – Fathers Emile G. (Buddy) Noel, Garrett M. O’Brien, Kyle J. Sanders and Kurt R. Young – Archbishop Gregory Aymond offered a spiritual reflection on the image of the chalice, which each man was being ordained to use so that common wine might be transformed into the blood of Christ.
“As you stand at the Lord’s altar and you celebrate as the presider – as the father of the family – when that chalice is full, it is the body of Christ,” Archbishop Aymond told the ordinands. “But I ask you to look at the chalice before Mass and between Mass, and whenever you see it empty, may it always remind you that you, my brothers, along with the rest of us as priests, have to empty ourselves for God’s people.”
“When that chalice is empty, it is an invitation to you to imitate what you celebrate,” the archbishop added.
Packed St. Louis Cathedral
The Mass of Ordination for the four new priests drew a standing-room-only crowd to St. Louis Cathedral, and Archbishop Aymond expressed his deep gratitude to the parents and family members of each ordinand who had paved the way to allow him to consider and discern a priestly vocation.
Father Noel, 51, was the elder statesman among the new priests, having spent several years as a materials and processes engineer for NASA and then 17 years as a director of religious education at St. Francis Xavier and Holy Name of Jesus parishes. Fathers O’Brien, Sanders and Young are in their mid-20s.
Called at young age
“It’s so refreshing to be able to see young men who have heard the call in their younger years – in their childhood and their adolescent years – who didn’t just dismiss it,” Archbishop Aymond said outside the cathedral following Mass. “God got their attention and they said, ‘yes.’ Just knowing them, I know they will serve God’s people well and they will be good shepherds for the people of God.”
Father Noel’s parents are deceased, but he was joined at the ordination by his sister and dozens of relatives and past business and church associates. He scarcely could contain his joy.
“I was most struck by all the wonderful support from everyone,” Father Noel said. “It was a feeling of being buoyed and held up by all those people. I’m so blessed to have so many people supporting me and praying for me in the archdiocese. That’s what makes us a community.”
Father Sanders, 27, and Father Young, 25, each attended Archbishop Rummel High School before entering St. Joseph Seminary College. After having injured his foot playing basketball several weeks ago, Father Sanders made it through the liturgy using a cane to help him walk up the aisle. Nothing was going to stop him.
A lot to learn
“There’s going to be a lot more learning,” Father Sanders said, smiling, in Pere Antoine Alley. “I’m really young. I’ve still got a lot to learn about myself, to learn about the priesthood, to learn about how to die. Interiorly, deep down, there was just this conviction, this trust, that this is what the Lord had for me, that there was no doubt that was what he wanted me to do.”
Father Young said he was overwhelmed and humbled “that God has called me to such an awesome vocation to serve his people. I’m excited and ready to get to work. I’m just grateful to God.”
Father O’Brien, 26, who attended The St. Paul’s School, said he came away from the ordination having been touched by the Holy Spirit.
“The action of God was so palpable, and the support of the community was shown over and over again,” Father O’Brien said. “Their loud applause was very touching.”
Buoyed by support
Applause came frequently during the two-hour liturgy, the first time when Archbishop Aymond introduced the ordinands to the congregation as candidates for holy orders.
“Remember that echo of applause,” the archbishop said, “not only on the good days but also on those challenging days when you are sent to minister in difficult circumstances. Remember that you have the love and support of so many people today.”
Archbishop Aymond said each man, while living vastly different stories, shared the experience of God “whispering quietly and affectionately into their hearts and saying, ‘Come, follow me. I need you.’”
“I’m sure each and every one of them questioned the call along the way, not only before the seminary but even during the seminary, as they discerned and asked questions like, ‘Lord, do you really need me? Do I have the gifts? Will I be able to do this?’” Archbishop Aymond said. “And, they took the leap of faith, with certainty, and said ‘yes.’”
In being ordained, the new priests, Archbishop Aymond said, have been called to “act and speak in the name of Christ who was priestly and who offered himself to the Father.” They also are to serve as teacher and preacher.
“You will call others through that preaching to a more intimate relationship with Christ,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I beg you, never water down the Gospel message, but always preach the Gospel with compassion.”
Jesus is the role model
And the new priests also will serve as shepherds in the mold of Christ the Shepherd.
“Jesus says the greatest among you is the one who serves,” the archbishop said. “As a shepherd, I ask you, my brothers, never give up on anyone, however far they go astray. Because Jesus never gave up on anyone.”
The archbishop stressed the need for the new priests to make use regularly of the sacrament of penance because “by knowing your own sinfulness and by going to confession, you will grow in the important role that is given to you today.”
There are 33 men studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archbishop Aymond said, which is a sign that God continues to call men to be shepherds to lead his people.
He assured the newly ordained that the entire church offered its affection.
“We are grateful to you, and as you go forth to celebrate this important ministry, as the Lord Jesus would say, you have come to serve and not to be served,” Archbishop Aymond said. “So even though you will be given recognition sometimes in places of honor, do not be impressed with yourself or the power that is given to you. I beg you rather to be grateful and humble. We thank you for saying ‘yes.’”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.