Throughout these years I have kept on my desk the image of my ordination card. As these cards go, this one is pretty simple in keeping with the style of the time. But there are five very significant things on the card. Two of these were happily decided for me, but three others were the fruit of many months of reflection.
The date is significant. Bishop Denis Hanrahan wrote to me in mid-September 1985 informing me that he would ordain me to the priesthood on Saturday 7 December 1985.
- In that year, the feast of the Immaculate Conception had been shifted from December 8 where it would be overtaken by the Second Sunday of Advent, to Saturday 7th. So instead of being ordained on a significant feast of the Church, St. Ambrose, I was ordained one of the greatest feasts of the Church, the Immaculate Conception.
- 7 December 1985 was also the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (7 December 1965). The opening sentence of this document is perhaps one of the most well-known statements of the Second Vatican Council. aI knew that life as a priest would plunge me into “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,” and my experience too in twenty-eight years as a priest is that “these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”.Gaudium et Spes par.1, Preface
It seems superfluous to say that my name on the card is significant. But my Christian names, John Cornelius, were given to me and became my names not on the day of my birth, but at my baptism ten days later. Until my baptism I was simply “Baby O’Connor” and people would ask my parents ‘how’s “the baby” doing?’ After my baptism I had a name and in this baptismal naming my personal identity was both recognised and sealed.
Most ordination cards have a quotation from scripture. I have several favourite verses that encourage and inspire me. But this verse from the Old Testament prophet Micah would not let me go. It is a challenge to seek only to walk only with God. There are so many other things that seem important, but this is paramount – there is only one thing that matters, and everything else falls into place for the one who walks with God. My progress in living this exhortation is slow, so the card will need to stay on my desk reminding me to “act justly, love tenderly, and to walk humbly with God.”
The image on the card is simple but very significant for me. The eighties were a time of focussing on the resurrection of Jesus since the feeling was that we had had enough of death. But one is meaningless without the other. Death is an inescapable part of daily earthly life, and it is the resurrection of Jesus that provides an answer to every deathly reality. I remember well the afternoon when I went to my seminary room with this clarity, took out a pen and a ruler, and made this simple sketch which was then copied onto the card.
The fifth significant point is the three-word request at the bottom of the card: “pray for me”. Many other ordinands cards of the time use the wording “pray withme” or “please pray for me”. I liked those invitations too, but I felt that this was no time for an appearance of inclusiveness or polite and gentle request. I knew then that I needed prayer, and I know now even more than then that I need the prayer of anyone and everyone who will pray for me.
Just after the ordination Mass a couple of women from a Southland Catholic Women’s League came up to me and said, “we were given your name when you entered the seminary. We have prayed for you since then, and now we will keep on praying for you”. Thank you Tui and your friends.
So blog readers, pray for me.