The priestly ordinations of Jesuits David Lugo and Matthew Stewart were postponed from June 13 to August 15. While they wait, they shared a few reflections on the delay and this extraordinary time.
When I first entered the novitiate, I looked forward to the day of my ordination to the priesthood as a definitive moment when my life of ministry would begin. Once in the novitiate, though, my sense of what a life of ministry could be began to deepen as I learned about life in the Society of Jesus. For those two years, my formation centered on preparation for vowed life, especially through the transformative encounter with Jesus in the Spiritual Exercises. That experience helped me recognize a deeper call that I hadn’t articulated – that my desire deep down was to be a disciple of Jesus, through and through.
What has become clear in the years since I entered the novitiate is that my life is about following the Lord, in whatever capacity he invites me to and in whatever timeframe he has. A Jesuit’s life of ministry begins upon entrance. My life as a Jesuit began on August 15, 2009. Priestly ordination is a deepening that I have looked forward to for many years and that I continue to hope for, even though it is a little further off than originally planned.
I was in Madrid when the first wave of COVID-19 went across Europe. By early March, the virus arrived in Spain and quickly spread through the population. Within a matter of days, we went from business-as-usual to total lockdown.
After 10 days, with the number of cases quickly increasing, the U.S. State Department issued a statement warning American citizens abroad to come home or to stay indefinitely where they were. This didn’t faze me until I received a notice from the provincial to return to the U.S. immediately. I was stunned. I felt safe in Spain. I was ready to weather this storm with the members of my community. But the provincial asked me to come home, both for my own safety and to ensure that I would be stateside for my upcoming ordination.
I was disappointed, but I knew that ordination was not a trivial moment, but a milestone in life as a servant in the vineyard of the Lord. I got on a plane 24 hours after getting the notice and was quarantined in St. Louis for two weeks.
I settled into life at Bellarmine House of Studies. As days turned into months, I began to notice the fruit of living with other scholastics and of being back in the province. I finished my classes online and settled into a routine of preaching and teaching in-house. The chance to minister to my brothers in these and other ways has been a wonderful gift in these last few weeks before priesthood.
I am grateful to God that the changes to my ordination have not caused me much anxiety or concern since there is far too much going on in the world and in our country that is pressing. If waiting can help us focus on the needs and security of the People of God, then it is worth it.
In the end, there are always new milestones along the path of discipleship, but the most important thing has been with me for some time already. I await with joyful hope for my ordination day, but more importantly for the many years of priestly service that await me after that day ... whenever it is.
It should go without saying that I am thrilled to be ordained a priest. After eleven years of formation, I feel as ready as I’ll ever be and am excited as I could be. When the announcement came that ordinations would be postponed, people were understandably concerned. They would ask if I was upset or disappointed. I was moved by how sad they felt for me. But in all honesty, even as I write this article on the day I would have been ordained, I feel consoled and at peace and continue to be excited for when it eventually happens.
I have been puzzling about this response to the ordination delay. I’m usually the first one to have something like this bother him. I’ve told people that if I thought getting upset or angry would change anything, I would be the first to throw a tantrum!
Part of my response comes from being able to accompany people this semester who had big life events postponed because of the pandemic – weddings, baptisms, commencements, proms. People have lost loved ones and have had to mourn them apart from the rest of the family. Some people have postponed vacations or trips, while others must wait even to find work.
In the midst of the current Black Lives Matter movement, I am also deeply aware that people of color have been waiting for meaningful justice for much longer than I have been alive, to say nothing of a two month delay. I think the consolation I feel is genuine solidarity and connection with everyone else who is waiting – most of them far longer and in far more difficult situations than I.
I have come to the conclusion that my response to the delay is really just another way of God generously showering me with grace. I didn’t do any work to achieve it, and I certainly didn’t earn it. It is just the same reassuring grace that God has given me that reminds me that I am His beloved son, that he has loved me into being and has called me since before anyone on earth knew of my existence. He has called me to labor at Jesus’ side in His vineyard.
Any disappointment I feel is really tied to the reality that people have a deep longing for the sacraments and for pastoral care in the midst of this pandemic and beyond. Seeing people suffering alone breaks my heart, and that heartbreak keeps me close to Jesus’ side.
I want to be a priest more than I’ve wanted anything else in a very long time, maybe ever, and ordination day will be the culmination of a very long period of preparation. But that can wait. The end of St. Ignatius’s Suscipe prayer does not end with a petition for priesthood. Instead, it ends with a petition that God’s love and grace might be enough for me. For whatever reason, that is how I feel right now.
You can watch the ordination of Jesuits David Lugo and Matthew Stewart live on Aug. 15 at 9:00 a.m. Visit our YouTube channel: bit.ly.UCSOrdinations2020.
Do you think you may be called to life as a Jesuit? Visit www.BeAJesuit.org to learn more.