50th ANNIVERSARY – July 21, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
50th ORDINATION July 21, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
During seminary days in 1962, I wore the garb of young men engaged in theological studies in Rome. So I wore a cassock; my invitation depicts me in a cassock, for it was the sole garb whether at home or at school, whether indoors or on the street. Beside the cassock, I had also a Cappello Romano, and outside the house I had always either to wear or to carry this item of clerical dress. It had an extra wide brim, and the brim was circular. Like the cassock, it was black. On rainy days, it served to keep the face free of water.
With one or another seminarian, I would walk from my Jesuit residence about half-a-dozen blocks through the busiest intersection of the Eternal City to the Gregorian University where I would attend lectures with 350 other students from 8:00am until noon, five days per week. This was the routine from early October until June, for nearly three years. But on Saturday, July 21, 1962, I with five other Jesuits heard the Master of Ceremonies call us to the altar and inquire whether we desired to be ordained. Like the others, I responded: “I am ready and willing.”
At that time, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was president of the United States. We had watched in 1959 the debates with Nixon; JFK succeeded in his presentation with the southern Bible Belt, for he categorically stated that as president he would depend on the United States Constitution and not on the Pope in the Vatican. Thus Kennedy succeeded in becoming the first president to be Catholic. In Rome, we rejoiced.
The Secretary General of the United Nations was a Swedish diplomat, Dag Hammarskjold, who died in a September 1961 plane crash. Not a Catholic, Hammarskjold revealed himself as a wonderfully spiritual person. His only book was a collection of diary reflections. It bore the title Markings; in it he sometimes prayed:
Give me a pure heart that I may see Thee, he wrote,
A humble heart that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith that I may abide in Thee.
I resided in a Jesuit house in the old city in Piazza del Gesu. From one window I looked across a street at an impressive new brick building, four or five stories tall. This was headquarters of the Communist Party, and the Communists then threatened to grab the Italian government. But from another window I viewed the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party, and that party controlled the Italian government. A nearby newsstand kept us apprised of events with the international edition of the Harold-Tribune.
During this eventful year, two months before the opening ceremonies of the Vatican Council that would open Church windows to catch fresh breezes, I heeded the Lord’s call for which I had, over the course of thirteen years, been preparing. Spiritual formation marked the early years, and along with classical languages I studied the usual collegiate liberal arts, and later I majored in philosophical studies. Three years of high school teaching matured me, and three years of theology opened the wealth of scripture and the Church’s long tradition. Because the Rite of Ordination would change me from a seminarian to a priest, I readily responded to the Master of Ceremonies’ call, “I am ready and willing.”
Although the Pope is the official Bishop of the Diocese of Rome, a cardinal in fact manages the affairs of this diocese. Cardinal Luigi Traglia now called a question in the Church of the Gesu: “Are these men worthy to be ordained?” I could imagine the Jesuits buried in that Church—Ignatius, Xavier, others—await the formal reply. The six of us got by that exchange!
Then the ordaining Bishop continues. “My dear sons, who are about to be consecrated to the office of priesthood, endeavor to receive that office worthily, and once ordained, strive to discharge it in a praiseworthy manner.” You parishioners can readily imagine that such an admonition carries with it a scary factor, for we are warned to so act that others may judge our actions to be commendable.
And then the Bishop outlines the duties of a priest. He is “to offer sacrifice, to bless, to govern, to preach, and to baptize.” At this point I was reminded of the letter to the Hebrews when St. Paul wrote that “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people” (5:1-3).
And the Bishop, having sketched priestly duties, warned us: “So high a dignity should be approached with great awe, and care must be taken that those chosen for it are recommended by eminent wisdom, upright character, and a long-standing virtuous life.” Oh dear, it seemed to me, wisdom by itself would be difficult to attain, but eminent wisdom? I supposed that I might squeeze under the tent that for entry requires an upright character, but how could I claim to live according to the main virtues of faith, hope, and charity?
Finally, however, the Bishop speaks the essential ordaining words. “Almighty Father,” he prays, “bestow on these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew in their hearts the spirit of holiness, so that they may be steadfast …in the priestly office received from you, O God, and by their lives suggest a rule of life to others.”
With gratitude I received the function and the grace of priesthood. In these more recent seven years I have acted with that blessing in this parish. I rejoice and am glad that over the course of fifty years I have to some degree lived according to the ordaining exhortation. Amen.