By Ed Horvat, MA, BCC
Sisters and brothers, I must confess, that in all of the years that I have been attending NACC national conferences, I have never shown up for the Mass at which we celebrate the missioning of newly certified chaplains and CPE supervisors and the blessing of those renewing certification. Instead, I leave the conference during this time to get a taste of the liturgy in whatever host city I find myself in.
So on Sunday, April 14, at 8:45 a.m., I took you with me to this first time ever event! Let me set the scene: The conference was held at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel on the south side of the Monongahela River. It was a cool morning with sunny skies; the high would eventually reach 62 that day. You get the picture.
Following a morning stroll by the river and breakfast, I walked into the Grand Station Ballroom, where the event would take place. It was a bright and colorful space with a blue and white theme. Three real candles burned on each table, symbolizing the Trinity and Pittsburgh’s three rivers. People were greeting each other with smiling faces. The place was abuzz with chatter and laughter. There were live hydrangea flower arrangements in the room, and someone near me was wearing a nice perfume, further stimulating the senses. There was live river-themed music performed as we gathered, such as Handel’s “Water Music”. The tuba, brass and drums were thrilling, lending a sense of pageantry throughout the morning.
Eventually the room became silent following the ringing of a bell, as we prepared for the liturgy to begin. The entrance was stunning, with a liturgical dancer with blue-and-white streamers leading the way – and a colorful Gospel book carried high during the procession. Our celebrant was Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, episcopal liaison to the NACC. He began by blessing water, which was then used to bless all of us (including you, gentle reader, since I brought you with me). We sang “Come to the River” by Bob Hurd during this time. Imagine the brass orchestra and our hundreds of voices joining up with this choir, and you get a feel for the experience.
I swayed during the Mass with readings from Acts, Revelation, and John’s Gospel. The cantors were wonderful, rivaling performances from the Pittsburgh opera. The Festival Alleluia made me feel as though I was in the court of a king, as we welcomed the King of All.
Archbishop Coakley’s homily was delivered two weeks after Easter. He spoke to us about life following a major disruption (good or bad) and the difficulty of getting back into a routine following such an event. This is what the apostles had to deal with after Easter — they were thrown off balance by the events surrounding the death and Resurrection of Christ. The tomb was empty, and Jesus had appeared to them. Jesus was no longer with the apostles in the same way. Everything was new. They had to take responsibility for their lives once again. Life had to go on. That meant returning to their daily work – some returned to fishing.
Archbishop Coakley pointed out that the apostles are a role model for us. We have interrupted our lives to attend this conference, which is an opportunity to step aside from our usual routine and to recognize the presence of the Lord in the midst of our daily living. Eventually, like the apostles, we will return to our work and routines.
The bishop told us that he was here to represent the USCCB and to communicate his fellow bishops’ support of our role in bringing Jesus Christ to the suffering people we encounter as healing ministers of the church. He reminded us that our ministry flows from our living faith. He encouraged us to care for our own hearts – to foster our faith through Scripture, Lectio Divina, prayer, and sacraments – for the sake of our ecclesiastical ministry. “Only then will we recognize Jesus in our midst and cry out, ‘It is the Lord!’”
The bishop stated that it was his privilege to be there to confirm and affirm our role as chaplains. The newly certified and those up for recertification then came forward so that their vocation could be recognized – “a calling from the voice of God. You are a light of hope to those in need in the diversity of your workplace. God is deep inside of you.”
Father Michael Adeniji of Great Falls, MT, who died Oct. 20, 2012, was certified posthumously during this time, and we observed a moment of silence to recognize his spirit among us as his photograph was projected onto the screens in the room. We were reminded that none of us knows the time or place when we will be called home. After each newly certified candidate had approached the bishop, all of us extended our hands in blessing for the newly certified and for those whose certification was renewed.
During the Preparation of the Gifts we sang Bob Hurd’s “Two Were Bound for Emmaus,” and, sisters and brothers, I began to cry. I communed with you and prayed for you during the eucharistic meal.
We exited as the Church Triumphant, knowing that Christ is Lord! Thank you for accompanying me during this particular celebration. Until we meet again, keep on rolling on the river!
Ed Horvat is a chaplain in the Pastoral and Spiritual Care Department of Monongalia General Hospital in Morgantown, WV.