The cathedral in Atlanta was the site of the ordination. Michael and his fellow candidates were dressed in white robes. Each wore a white diagonal stole that went from his right shoulder to his left hip, the sign of a deacon. At the ceremony the stole would be exchanged for one worn around the neck, the sign of a priest. Only 10 men from this location would be ordained. They would travel in a van to Atlanta, where they would join 10 to 20 other candidates for the ceremony.
Looking out the van's window as they approached the cathedral, Michael saw his brother pacing up and down the street. He laughed to himself. The whole idea of becoming a priest was so foreign to Gabe. He never really did understand Michael’s decision.
Gabe ran to the van as it pulled up to the curb. The deacons descended one by one as family members took photos. As soon as Michael appeared, Gabe ran to hug him, then pulled him to the other side of the van, away from the families and cameras.
“Michael, I have something for you.”
“Not now, Dude,” Michael cautioned in a hushed tone. “I can’t take a gift right now.”
“It’s not a gift,” Gabe said as he pressed his car keys into his brother’s hand.
Michael stood looking at the keys as Gabe said, “If at any time you decide that this isn’t for you, then walk out and drive away. Nobody will think any less of you.”
Michael understood the gesture and pocketed the keys to make his brother feel better. He said, “Where are Mom and Chris?”
“I wanted to bring my own car for obvious reasons,” Gabe answered. “We left at the same time, but you know how I drive.”
“Yeah,” Michael chuckled, “you view speed postings as suggestions, not rules.”
“They’re probably here by now," Gabe grinned. "Michael, I’m serious about the keys. Do what YOU want to do. If it’s The Lady, we’ll get you psychological help. If it’s the archeology, we can build a wing on a university of your choosing.”
“Or I could just join a cruise line,” Michael said with a smirk.
“You could join me and we could build a cruise line.”
“This isn’t only about me, is it tough guy?” Michael asked somberly.
“I don’t want to lose you, Michael. Once you’re married to the Church…”
“I’ll still be your brother and best friend. Holy Orders won’t change that, Gabe. You will always disgust me.”
“Oh yeah?” Gabe asked with a smile. “I think maybe there’s time for me to kick your butt one last time before you become a priest.” He quickly put Michael into a headlock.
“And plenty of time after,” Michael said when he heard the click and whine of a camera.
The boys looked up to see their mother and Chris.
“Well, some things never change,” Kim said with a smile.
Embarrassed, the boys let go of each other.
“First picture in your ordination album,” Kim said with a grin. “And if you continue to misbehave, you’re going to have the silliest album in your class.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mom,” Gabe said. “His actual class was ordained years ago. Michael believes in LONG engagements.”
“You look great, Michael,” Chris said. “Don’t be offended, but I have to ask you. Are you sure that this is what you want?”
“I’m sure,” Michael said.
“None,” Michael answered, pretending that Chris meant hotel reservations so that it wouldn’t really be a lie.
“You remember my car?” Gabe interrupted.
“Red Ferrari,” Michael smiled.
“Yo! Ferrari,” Chris said to Gabe. “Let’s give your mom a moment alone with her baby boy.” Then each hugged Michael, holding him close for just a moment.
“I thought this would be easier for me,” Kim said after Gabe and Chris had left. “After all, I know the drill. I remember Benny’s ordination, every detail. But you’re not Benny. You’re the precious little boy that brought meaning to my life…” She couldn’t continue; the tears rocked her convulsively.
Michael held his mother for a few moments, until the tears subsided.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a better mom,” he said. “I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve been to me. Not just a mother, but a friend and confidant. None of that changes, Mom.”
“I know,” she said, pulling herself away from him. “It’s just a big day for a mom, you know?”
“I know,” he said.
Then she pressed the keys to her Bentley into his hand. “If you have any doubts, any reservations, just get in the car and drive away.”
Michael burst out laughing and said, “I’ll put these right next to Gabe's Ferrari keys. Doesn’t anyone in this family drive a Ford?”
* * *
Chris barely had enough time to don white priestly vestments and join the crowd of priests gathering beside the candidates. It is customary for priest friends of the candidates to celebrate their ordination Mass with them, welcoming the candidates to the priestly order.
The organ music had started to peal out from the cathedral and the bells rang from the steeple, echoing in the streets for blocks. Kim ran to get ahead of the procession and made it to Gabe’s side in the pew only about five steps ahead of the line of celebrants. The candidates walked slowly down the aisle on a white floor covering, much as a bride at her wedding. They filled the two first rows of the cathedral. Following them were the priests, who proceeded to the altar and formed a semi-circle around the marble table there.
As Michael walked past, Kim couldn’t help but notice a large mascara stain that she had left on his perfectly white alb. She was hoping that it was noticeable only to her, when she heard Gabe say “Oh, Mom” under his breath. Once the candidates were seated, a roll was called. Upon hearing his name, each candidate replied, “Present,” and walked to the altar. Once there, the bishop inquired and received testimony that each candidate had received proper education and was worthy of the priesthood. At the end of the inquiry, the bishop said, "We rely on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, and we choose these men, our brothers, for priesthood in the presbyteries order.”
“Thanks be to God,” said the assembled crowd, which then broke into applause for the candidates. For a brief second, Gabe put his fingers to his mouth to whistle, but caught Chris’s raised eyebrows and decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate.
Following that, the bishop inquired of each candidate if he was willing to faithfully serve Christ and the Church. Each candidate replied that he was, then took the bishop's hands into his and pledged his obedience to the Church and his religious superiors, specifically the ordaining bishop.
The same thing occurred for each candidate, and Michael was last. Everyone had heard the back-and-forth for each candidate, so they knew what to expect when Michael finally got his chance, but after Michael had his inquiry with the bishop, there was a pause, followed by a quick shuffling on the altar. From the sacristy, Archbishop Benjamin Cross appeared in full regalia. He swept to bishop’s side, and grasped Michael’s hands.