This is the thirteenth installment of A Deacon’s Diary. In the twelfth installment, Steve wasn’t sure if he was excited for his impending ordination.
I get up early-ish and sit at the blue-clothed dining table in the half-light of morning. Unfussy in my pajamas yet, hair standing up, coffee still hot in its mug with months of coffee-stain patina, I turn the pages of the newspaper.
I’ve already prayed. Either while still laying in bed, in those first moments after my alarm clock rudely told me what time it was. Or if I’ve been brave, I’ve kept the “heroic moment”—a practice I despise, one which considers getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off a moment of prayer and sacrifice.
A few years ago, I accepted that I’m not a morning person. And since then, this became my routine–praying through grogginess, making myself at home with newspapers and coffee in our dining room until I decide it’s time to start the business of the day.
On Sundays–one of the busiest days of the week in terms of caring for God’s people–I keep this routine religiously. I wake up and I pray for strength to stand at the pulpit, proclaim the Gospel, and explain the Word several times that day. At the beginning of the year, I used to preach from an entirely written out text. But now I use a notecard with some bullet points. This is more work, as I need to roll over in my mind and phrase and rephrase what I’m going to say for a few hours on a morning when I’m preaching. But it lets me seem more fluid and spontaneous, I think. And a homily preached multiple times is never quite the same.
My housemates are used to seeing me at the table like this, flipping through the New York Times and Boston Globe, intent on reading. Sometimes just scanning the headlines as I wake up. Often I pray with the headlines and remind myself to mention them in my preaching. Usually, I sit alone. Sometimes a renowned biblical translator in my community and I sit together and swap sections of the newsprint and small comments about the world. He’s always impeccably dressed, often in a tweed jacket, but kindly never comments on my state of sleepy chaos at the breakfast table.
I won’t be preaching the morning of ordination or the next morning, my “first” Mass, but the coming weekend’s pre-Mass mornings might begin much the same way. This anchor at the beginning of my day–conversing with God in a half-dream, the quiet company of some brothers, and the contents of the world slowly intruding into my awareness so that I pray for its people–has seemed more important in these days before ordination. I don’t exactly feel unready. I don’t feel particularly ready either. “Readiness”–whatever that is, I want it. The slowness of the morning helps me feel a little of it, as nothing brings me to feel unready so much as rushing before I’m awake.
Every Sunday, too, I check if I need to shave, as this will add a few minutes to the morning. Most of the time, since I tend to go scruffy, I tell myself I don’t need to (even if I really might need a trim).
I’ve already found my breviary and prayed that morning’s psalms and readings. Sometimes it’s where I’ve left it the evening prior, but it usually needs to be fished out of a pile of papers. An app on my phone for the Liturgy of the Hours is a convenient backup.
I lay out a clerical shirt and black trousers. My white tabs—a key part of the “look”—always seem to have gone missing from Sunday to Sunday.
Here in Milwaukee, having traveled for ordination and the summer with only two suitcases and a few boxes of books (55 library books, 22 of my own, 5 to give to friends, and 23 taken from a “free closet” in a community I was visiting), objects like prayer books and roman collars wander away less frequently. This is a good thing, as I already have a mental list of what needs to go with me to the church this coming Saturday. So far, it has on it only objects that are unique to this occasion:
- Stoles–made of a white fabric called “eminence” and blazoned with a lamb–that I had made for some of my priest friends.
- The maniturgium, the cloth that will be used to wipe the fragrant oil from my hands after they are anointed which I will give to my mother. I had it made with the same blue trim as the stoles.
Sometimes lists of things help me feel ready. Or at least let me hide from myself that I feel less than ready.
I put on a brown scapular—little rectangles of cloth connected by strings. Like postage stamps that remind me of the enveloping presence of God that’s all around, regardless of where I’m sent. I tuck it in under my shirt.
After I get dressed, I’m still connecting some key words from the scriptures I’m going to preach on in only a few hours. Sometimes a phrase seems important, so I pull out the notecard and pen I’m carrying to make sure it ends up in the homily that I’m carrying mostly in my head.
I fill a travel mug with coffee and decide whether I’ll wear shoes. Most days, shaving and shoes take too much extra time. I find my chacos where I left them—outside my bedroom door.
I grab my alb—the white robe priests and deacons wear under all the other (colored) vestments—and get in the car. Some mornings I pick up several dozen doughnuts for the after-Mass social.
Contrary to expectation, I tend to prefer noise while driving to Mass, especially if I’m preaching. I listen to classical music at full volume—the more tumultuous, the better. Or sometimes classic rock or 90s rap. A Boston radio station has a “throwback hour” that’s reliable. Doesn’t matter what it is, but loud is what I prefer as I’m continuing to pray. Perhaps it’s because at home, I tend to not listen to much music—of any sort—at all. At home, I tend to listen to podcasts and NPR, whereas the car is a place for processing things and thinking.
I often pray as I’m driving through Boston. And wonder if anyone notices a guy in a clerical collar using his steering wheel as a drum set.
This weekend will be different from all the previous ones of the past year. I’ll certainly wear shoes. On Saturday, I have only to cross the street to the church. And I won’t drive alone on Sunday–my master of ceremonies will go with me. I wonder what the car ride to the convent chapel that day will be like. Likely quiet, without the noise I prefer.
Anything I need will already be there, entrusted to a sacristan.
There’ll be no doughnuts, but rather receiving lines, sandwiches, and pasta after both Masses.
Wondering about how things will be different from what has been routine and stable, I also wonder how I’ll be different afterwards. What if I’m not?
Parking sometimes takes a while. But sometimes, I find “rockstar” parking, right across from Marsh Chapel. I would never take a selfie with a parking spot, but that occasion does merit a text to friends.
I rush into the chapel, trying to walk slowly. Up the stone stairs, under the statue of John Wesley. I say hello to the musicians and then help the sacristans attend to the setup. Everything is ready by the time Mass time comes. Everything is ready, except for me. I tend to think that until I’m done preaching and step down from the ambo. After that, my unreadiness and worry over how I’d preached is carried away by the rhythms of the preparatory and Eucharistic rites. It’s then that I’ve finally settled in for Mass.
I wonder if this time, I won’t have the luxury of settling in. I won’t have the comfortable routine of celebrating a good parking space or wondering what protestant reformers think of Catholics using their chapel for Mass. (I imagine Wesley and Jesuits would get on well, given our common emphasis on the heart.)
I won’t be on autopilot as I offer the prayers and read the words in the missal. It’ll be truly the first time, despite having heard these words all my life. Do the red, say the black, I imagine reminding my future self. (The liturgical texts are printed with the directions for the ritual action in red and the parts to be said in black.)
These past few weeks prior to ordination, I’ve considered my routines and small rituals when getting ready for Mass on a Sunday as part of a larger preparation for what I will undergo. I’ve had stuck in my head a line from a pastoral counseling class about people dying usually in the way that they’ve lived. I’m not dying, but it’s occurred to me that all of my preparations for ordination and “first” Mass are parallel and writ large versions of dynamics that I go through every week.
I’ve already set the alarms on my phone and in my mind for those mornings, so I can’t forget. I want to be awake for every moment of those days—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
I’ve sent my black suit and a white chasuble to the dry cleaners.
I’ve had the chalice that I will use polished and cleaned. My friend, Brett, blessed it one Saturday morning. He and the other priests–John, Grant, Greg, Mike, and Chris–who will vest and accompany me have all prayed with it.
A new razor is already sitting on my sink for that morning, still with the clear plastic guard on the blades. And my shoes with low mileage on their treads (“He only used these to go to church a few times a year.”) will be polished early in the week.
Guests have been counted and menus for the post-Mass reception reviewed. Restaurant reservations have been made (two, in fact, in case I change my mind about dinner on Saturday).
Am I excited yet? I’m very much looking forward to welcoming my friends, family, and brothers. And having friends from across the globe watching the livestream of the ordination.
Excitement will come. Readiness is what I’m seeking right now. Maybe “unready” is a disguise for excitement.
I’ve practiced celebrating Mass a few times this past week—using the prayers and readings for Trinity Sunday, June 12th this year. I’ve discussed with a friend how to incense an altar. And I began rereading Paul Turner’s Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass. It’s a book that two of my liturgy professors love. But a page turner it is not.
I’m about to ask a Jesuit friend if he can hear my confession at the end of the week. I’ve bracketed off two days for silence, hopefully at the community’s lake house.
Every morning lately, still heavy with sleep, I sit with coffee in hand at the window of my room, overlooking Marquette’s campus. I try and keep silence interiorly as exterior silence is a given. I wonder about life. And I wait for God.
I’ve asked all my friends what things of theirs I might pray with. Today. And on Saturday. And on Sunday, too. It’s not exactly a trade, but I hope that they pray that I am ready to be made new.
Almost every email I write these days ends with: “With prayers for you. I am needful of your prayers, too.”
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.