Time to attempt this. I know my words will fall short of capturing all that Mike’s ordination meant to everyone there, and especially all that it meant to him.
On Friday afternoon, Jessica, Amy and I took our seats at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan for the ordination to the priesthood of Mike Chenier and Ben Haase. We arrived early enough to sit near the front. Approximately a thousand people attended the Ordination Mass. With the cathedral seating around seven hundred, the walls were layered with the additional hundreds of men and women in attendance. In the minutes prior to the great, dignified procession, after the prelude music and before the magnificent choir began singing, I felt the same anticipation and eager joy that hangs in the air at the start of a wedding. We were so like the family and friends awaiting the entrance of the wedding party and the bride. I thought how fitting that atmosphere was, for something much like a wedding would occur. Mike would be conformed to Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church would be his bride. He would commit himself to serve, to honor and to support the Church after the pattern of Christ’s own sacrificial love. As the Mass began, the only way to describe the presence of that huge congregation is thunderous. In our fervent responses during the penitential rite, in our heartfelt songs reverberating between the pillars of the cathedral, and in our applause when Mike and Ben were presented to Bishop Sample for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the thousand of us made our joy and thankfulness known.
Every bit of the Mass was beautiful in the truest sense of beauty. My first tears came with the first reading. The passage from Jeremiah, Chapter One spoke of God’s holy plans for his servant Jeremiah, plans made even before Jeremiah was created. God stops Jeremiah’s objections of youth and meager ability, assuring him that he will be able to do all that God calls him to do. A familiar passage, surely, but fresh to my ears as I considered Mike. Youth was never his obstacle, as far as I knew him. Youth was his gift. Out of his childhood years with faithful parents, his teenage years of searching and finding and enjoying life, and his young adulthood marked by missionary service, college and seminary – from this youth came the willingness and joy for the call of Christ upon his life. I have loved Mike from the time we were thirteen, my brother and friend in the Lord. As I think of our friendship – how it began, how it grew, how it changed – I smile over how fitting it is that the gifts and strengths in Mike that blessed me in our years of knowing each other will be, over time, the means for Christ to bless so many others through Mike, the priest. If I am to choose one aspect of this, it must be his generosity in love. The love Mike has always offered has been marked by an eagerness to share life. Whenever Mike loved something, if he found joy or beauty or blessing in it, he had to share it. A song, a book, a scenic sight, a passage of Scripture – if Mike loved it , it had to be shared. I cannot succinctly summarize the occasions I was blessed by this. When I attended Mass on Sunday, celebrated by Fr. Mike, he confirmed in my mind and heart this impression he has made on me with his generous spirit and the goodness he finds in living for Christ. He spoke of finding something you love so much that you cannot stand not to share it, not to bless others by it, not to live for it and be willing to die for it.
Returning to the Ordination Mass, another notable aspect of the joy I had in attending was in seeing the lasting fruit of our years among the youth groups in the Diocese of Marquette. I saw faces on Friday that I have rarely seen, if at all, in the last seven or eight years. Faces of faith and friendship that became so dear to me as God was forming me into a woman of Chrsit. Each of their lives is a testament to the formation we received as teenagers, and Mike’s ordination to the priesthood is a pinnacle among them.
The beauty I witnessed on Friday, and again as I attended Sunday Mass with Fr. Mike as celebrant, was due to a very simple truth. There were many contributing factors to name and describe, but at the heart of it is this: here was a man doing God’s will in a precise, committed, humble but confident manner. Here was a man living the life to which God called him, the life that the Lord planned and knew even before Mike was born. There, in that, is happiness.