By Father Bernie Weir
On June 21, 1986, I was ordained as a priest by Bishop Gerald O’Keefe. In seminary, I learned about and talked with others about the mark of ordination and how it changes who and what we are. It changes your core being. I thought I understood that. How little I knew! I was not the same person that I had been the day before or even hours before. I knew and felt that I had changed. I was now a priest. I was going to have to discover what that meant. I felt different. I was different. Thirty-six years later, I am still discovering what this new person is and how to relate to the world and Christ. Words from the baptism ritual took on a deeper meaning. “You have become a new creation and clothed yourself in Christ.”
Jump forward to March 2020. A new virus is crossing the globe. There had been other pandemics, most of which, for the most part, went unnoticed in the United States. They did not affect our lives. To be honest, most of us believed this would last a couple of months and we would look back and think that our leaders had made a big deal out of nothing. More than two years later, following millions of deaths, we look back and know how wrong we were. I thought at first that this too will pass and not be that big of a deal — until we had to stop celebrating public Masses. My fear and panic were manageable until then.
Quarantine affected everyone differently. We didn’t know how to do it. Very few people had a living memory of “quarantine” and no one I knew did. I am a talker and love being around people. My world became a one-block area that had only two dogs and two people in it. That was the reality for millions of people around the world. My reality was not different from anyone else’s reality. In many ways we are still living in “quarantine.”
I am coming out of quarantine a very different person than when I went in. Some of the changes are good and wonderful. Some of them are horrifyingly awful. Some of them I am very aware of and some of them raise their ugly head and take many of us by surprise. It is going to take a while to discover how I live as this new person.
One thing that I am aware of is that “quarantine” did not touch my core. That can never change. That change happened June 21, 1986, when I became a priest. “You have become a new creation and clothed yourself in Christ.” “Quarantine” did not touch that.
We recently celebrated Chrism Mass and had the renewal of our priestly vows. This renewal took on a deeper meaning this year. I was standing with my bishop and the people of God saying that I am a priest and once again give my life to priesthood and to Christ.
The new person that is coming out of quarantine, with the good and the bad stuff of that experience, recommitted to the service of Christ and his kingdom. It will take a while to see who this new post-quarantine “priest” is and work out what that means.
Once your core has changed to belong to Christ it cannot be touched. On the day of your baptism, you “clothed yourself in Christ and become a new creation.” Quarantine may or may not have been kind to you. It was not kind to me. Just know that at the core you did not change, because that happened on the day of your baptism. We belong to Christ. We may look and feel very different now, but Christ does not change and will help guide us through this change. Trust in the Lord, believe in the Lord. In Christ, we will all find our glorious core once again.
(Father Bernie Weir is pastor of St. James Parish in Washington.)