I do, with the help of God.

“I do, with the help of God.”
(Rite of Ordination #15)

Days away from ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, it’s proving difficult to wrap my head around what now in retrospect seems to have been a 23 year long journey to understand how God has invited me into his service (Confirmation until now).  I don’t say this because of the duration of time, but because at this moment, it seems so miniscule compared to the gravity of sacred orders. In a certain way, even if it took me into middle age to begin formal formation and discernment for the priesthood, the time would have been well spent and always worth the while.

I can say with confidence that even now, I don’t entirely understand the totality of what I’m continuing to get myself into.  But, along many years of preparation, I’ve learned how to surrender more and more to God’s will, cooperate with God’s abundant graces, and trust in God’s providence.  Because of all those things, I’m able to have said “yes” for the last couple decades of crawling towards the Lord, I’m able to say “I do” five more times to our bishop on June 5th, and as far as I know myself, I’m ready to say yes everyday of the rest of my eternal life.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

When I was a catechist in a parish (St. Bridget, Richmond; 1997-2015), I had a love of knowledge of the Lord, but I’m not entirely sure I had much of a developed relationship with God.  Joy came from learning and contemplating enough to pass it on to others who presented themselves for instruction. But, I found myself more at peace when I was trying to understand God and share what I knew about him than at any other time.  My hobby became the Church and how to teach about it. At a certain point, what I had learned and the people I had met started to change the rest of my life—a plant grew up that could provide shade to other creatures—when all that wasn’t the Church started to have less importance. Ultimately, it was an immense feeling of peace and joy in prayer one evening that impelled me towards making a very silent pondering a more public reality, by becoming a seminarian for the diocese.

Seminary is important for anyone preparing for the priesthood, because you learn how to fail repeatedly with increasing grace and resiliency.  This reality and lesson was difficult for me, as one of my main attempts in “the world” was to avoid being wrong and being ever more prepared for contingencies.  Such a worldly position creates a friction when you’re preparing to be a servant of the servants of God, ordained to serve and teach, always decreasing so the Lord can increase in you.  As a result, seminary involved a grating-down of who I thought I needed to be from the world’s viewpoint and a patching-up of who I might be if I was docile to the working of the Lord in my life in a radically new way.

“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” (Rite of Ordination #24)

I was a little anxious in my preparation for the diaconate … mostly because I didn’t feel particularly anxious.  People seemed to be anxious about their life of service, their life of celibacy, their life of obedience.  But, none of those were my particular concerns.  I found myself concerned that I wasn’t “normal” in a way others talked about this step.  The devil might have a hand in this word: “normal.”  If there’s anything I’ve seen in formation for the priesthood in this day, it’s that “normal” is an illusion and a trap: there is no one way to be formed for the priesthood and no one way that God’s graces build you up, if you let them.  There’s as much diversity in vocational journeys as there are souls on this earth.  For my part, I’ve tried to be attentive to and a student of the graces which have come from diaconate ordination. Becoming a herald of the Gospel of Christ, for me, was an eye-opening and bolstering responsibility.  The Church was instructing me to do this, not on my authority, but as a necessity of the office to which I was ordained.  When proclaiming the gospel in the sacred liturgy, there is a gravity to the words of Christ that I never felt quite the same way prior to ordination. With each day, that builds.

“Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” (Rite of Ordination #163)

There are many promises we make during the Rite of Ordination.  But, they culminate in this instruction by the bishop as he hands-on the gifts of bread and wine, in their sacred vessels, for the Mass: “conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The mercy of God, the care of God for his people, and the lengths God will go so that we might be reconciled are all component mysteries of the cross that we must enter into—suffer through—by dying to self so as to be available for the souls entrusted to our care.  I have many faults and flaws, but the Lord uses all of who we are to build up his kingdom.  One thing I wish I understood a couple decades ago is that I don’t need to have mastered the subject of myself or the Lord (for how could you do such a thing) in order to live abundantly in serving him.  All you have to do is say yes when he calls … over and over again.


Deacon Tom Lawrence

About the Author: Deacon Tom Lawrence

Deacon Tom Lawrence recently completed formation at Theological College, Washington, D.C. and is anticipating ordination to the Sacred Priesthood on June 5, 2021 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart by Bishop Barry Knestout.