Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.
The significance of the pelican is not unlike the Gospel reading above, which was the Gospel reading from the Ordination. The theme was repeated numerous times: Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.
It’s been an incredibly moving last few days. I thought I’d share a little of the experience, from our perspective.
Robert would come into town now and again, dressed every bit the cowboy of my boyhood visions: colorful boots pulled up over his jeans, western shirts and vests and silk scarves, big mustache and bigger hat. Sometimes he’d come by the house I lived in, guitar in hand, to share cowboy songs and country humor — but the night he played “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and allowed me to help with the lyrics, a friendship was sealed.
I’ve written about ol’ Jinglebob any number of times over the years, but probably the best picture of the Dennis family I can offer is this essay I wrote after accompanying my dad and our oldest son, Brendan, to the ranch for a branding.
At that time, Father Tyler was completing his undergraduate work at St. Mary’s in Winona, and I offered this assessment:
Bob’s oldest boy, Tyler, is leaning against Sorley, a stripped down Suzuki Samurai with a homemade plywood roof and four-wheel drive—the name comes from the little rig’s sorrel color. He’s only recently back from Winona, where he’s studying for the priesthood; he’s dressed in a plain t-shirt and sweats, untied duck boots and an old fedora. His little brother’s riding with the men below.
Tyler stands in front of the little 4×4, watching the cowboys work. He’s not like these others—he’s a big kid and prone to discussing philosophy, praying aloud in Latin or singing in Spanish—but he looks at home here and I snap a picture of him, God’s country in his eyes.
During the ordination, Bishop Cupich remarked that a man raised in one of the smallest parishes in the Rapid City Diocese would now being serving in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, underscoring the unity of the church across all peoples and communities. Small town boy makes good, some may say, but I would suggest Fr. Tyler was good all along, and perhaps better for his rural ranch upbringing. Indeed, Monsignor O’Connell, the homilist during Father Tyler’s First Thanksgiving Mass on Saturday morning, suggested the diocese’s newest priest thank his father for teaching him how to work hard, his mother for showing him how to care about others (a virtue that seems pervasive in ranch country), and his brothers … for teaching him patience.
We sat midway back on the right. At the opening hymn, the priests processed in pairs, old and young, black and white, tall and short, stout and wiry, dozens of them from across the diocese and from the seminary, with deacons and the bishop, and Tyler, of course, singing with and above the others, the same broad smile in his cheeks as he sang. I grinned the first of several goofy grins that would crease my face all weekend.
The proceedings open with great formality, with Tyler called forth and the bishop asking for verification from his soon-to-be brother priests whether he is known to be worthy. I had been told to expect countless moving moments: the vow of obedience to the bishop and the Church; the laying on of hands upon Tyler’s by each prayerful priest in turn; the kiss of peace, in which each priest in turn greets their new brother with a welcoming embrace. The moment I was most anticipating I was unable to see from the middle of the pew: as those assembled prayer the Litany of the Saints, Tyler lay prostrate on the cold stone floor at the base of the steps before the altar, in the ultimate gesture of humility and submission. Gabe, Emma and Brendan* stretched into the aisle and stared at Tyler’s motionless form; I imagined how he must look lying there, and marveled. (Later I asked the three kids to demonstrate how Tyler was lying, with three very different interpretations. I asked Father Tyler at the Dennis ranch on Sunday, and he explained that he lay flat on his chest with his hands overlapping, palms down, beneath his forehead.)
But the most moving moment in the entire liturgy came at the end, and was entirely unexpected. As the Mass ended, Bishop Cupich announced he would ask Fr. Tyler’s blessing before the bishop himself offered his closing blessing for the congregation. We watched transfixed as the bishop knelt before our friend and humbly bowed his head. My breath caught as Fr. Tyler placed his hands on the bishop’s head and red cap and prayed over him. Incredible.
During the reception that followed, the five of us waited in line to receive our own blessing from Fr. Tyler. We knelt as a family, with Trevor close at heart, and our friend called upon the intercession of the Holy Family and blessing in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Tyler was no longer the dishwashing teen or the seminarian or the deacon. He had walked nearly a decade on the path to priesthood, from Red Owl to Rome to Rapid City, and he looked at home in the sanctuary. When he spoke the Words of Consecration in particular, our friend and our world changed. We believed, and said “Amen.”
- Father Tyler and Bishop Cupich (click thumbnail for full-size photo), from the from the Dennis Ranch blog
- Reflections on the Ordination weekend, from the Dennis Ranch blog
- Reflections on Father Tyler’s journey, from the Hubba’s House site
- Reflections on his own ordination, from Fr. Tyler himself on the Future Priests of the New Millenium blog
Two observations come to mind: not for the first time, but with great clarity today. The first is that, while few people would agree to several years of preparation and discernment prior to marriage, perhaps this would drive home the magnitude of the commitment couples undertake when they say, “I do.”
The second is that the “marriage” a priest undertakes is far from loveless. I’ve posted before on my middle son’s own priestly aspirations, and these postings have generated lots of conversation, both online and offline. One friend, in particular, voiced the opinion that a marriage to God would be particularly hard and one-sided work, since your spouse has largely been silent for centuries.
The better metaphor is that a priest (like Jesus, the Bridegroom) doesn’t marry God, but the Church (the Bride) and as we witnessed all this weekend, the Church consists of real people, is full of love for her priests, and is quite expressive. In addition, Fr. Tyler pointed out the sacramentality of his commitment. I took his comments to mean (in much simplified layman’s terms) the real belief in a real commitment between a real person and a real God doing real good in a real world. From this perspective, his relationship with God is hardly one-sided. (Or if it is, the effort is all on the Other Side …)
God bless you, Father Tyler and all our priests.
*Trevor stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn for the ordination; it was scheduled for the evening, and his lungs don’t always agree with incense.