Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pictures from an Ordination: Father Ed Sarrazin ofm

Take some time.
Listen to your heart.
What does your heart tell you?
What does God tell you when you pray and listen?
Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to what God is asking you?

(Tucson, June 16) “So what advice would you give to someone discerning a call to priesthood or religious life?”, I asked. It was just about 1:00 pm when I had the chance to sit with our brother Ed Sarrazin for a couple of minutes to chat. Friars, family and friends had already wolfed down a generous portions of chili, beans, potato salad, fruit salad, soft drinks and a big gooey sheet cake. The Wa:k Traditional Dancers from the Tohono O’odham nation had just finished their performance here in the wonderfully cool school cafeteria at Tucson’s historic Mission San Xavier del Bac. Everyone was about ready to mosey on home—slowly, slowly, slowly—in the ferocious desert heat.

Ed, now Father Ed, had been a priest for all of ninety minutes. Yet he seemed to have been born to the manner. Here, in the midst of all the hoopla of his own ordination, Ed himself was the picture of serenity. I was amazed. “I’m usually pretty calm in situations like this. But later on, when everyone’s gone home, I know I’ll start to crash.” Thank goodness for that! Ed was human, after all; just like the rest of us.

The truth, though, is that Ed is a pretty calm and patient man. Both our Provincial Minister, Father Mel Jurisich, and the ordaining bishop, Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson, noted as much during the liturgy. In presenting Ed to the bishop for the rite of ordination, Father Mel spoke of Ed’s “sincerity…(and) kindness…. (his) calming presence” as a friar. He also spoke of these and other gifts Ed would bring to ministry, including his “ simplicity and humility…. his acceptance of people as they are… and his particular interest in the needs of the Native Peoples.”

So was this an ordination or a canonization? Bishop Kicanas was not to be outdone in his affirmation of Ed’s personhood and gifts: “I can just imagine why these two carved lions (in the sanctuary) are smiling today,” he began. “And I can just imagine why two other lions in the sanctuary (Father Mel and Vicar Provincial Father Tom West?) must be smiling as well.” The bishop went on to tell us some things about our brother that many of us, his Franciscan brothers, had never known ourselves:

“Ed was born to Irene Sarrazin in July, 1960,” the bishop started. “John F. Kennedy was running for president that year…. And the Pittsburgh Pirates (did the impossible and ) beat the New York Yankees!” A few years later, Ed with his French Belgian and French Canadian roots, headed off to public school and CCD (“Christian Combat Duty”) classes for religious instruction. Somewhere around Confirmation, Ed got the call and later spent a college year with the Benedictines in Shawnee, Oklahoma. But it didn’t take. A teacher later reminded him that St. Augustine had a circuitous journey in his vocation as well and urged Ed not to give up. A later stint with the Vincentian community in Perryville, Missouri didn’t work out as he had hoped, either. Still, Ed didn’t give up his search.

The bishop fast forwarded to Ed’s move, with his mother, to Oceanside, California, where he spent still more years in discernment-- thirteen years total, according to his own reckoning. Father Michel Gagnon, ofm, pastor at Old Mission San Luis Rey at the time, vividly recalls Ed’s journey with the friars:

“I remember Ed when he first came to us. He was selling shoes in the mall. He was shy-- bit of a wallflower. He came to me and told me he might like to be a Vincentian brother. So he started to work as a sacristan at the Mission and we discovered he had all kinds of organizational skills and talents we never knew about.

“After that he said he’d like to work with the Confirmation preparation class—about a dozen middle-school kids. So I told him: ‘Are you sure you want to do that? Those kids will eat you alive.’ ‘So what do I have to do?’, he asked me. I told him: ‘You have to lift up your head, stick our your chest, and show them that you have confidence in yourself. And if they give anything to you—you give it right back at them! And he did! Six months later, he had the kids eating out of his hand. He came to me and said: ‘I don’t want to be a Vincentian brother anymore. I want to be one of you guys, I want to be a Franciscan friar!” And by golly, he did!’

I asked Ed himself what was the final tipping point in his own decision to become a Franciscan. He was characteristically sanguine in his response: “Someone had given me a copy of the Constitutions and Rule of the Franciscan Order,” and as I was going through it, I thought: ‘This is the life I’m already living right now. So why not try it in community?’” Ed entered postulancy in Portland in 1999 and started his novitiate at Old Mission San Miguel, California, the following summer. By 2005, he had finished his theological studies at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, and was ready for a mission insertion experience in Baja California. As Bishop Kicanas reflects, “It was in Cabo San Lucas that Ed realized that he was (like St. Paul) an ambassador for Christ…. He saw the face of Christ in the people he served there.” Ed took that same sense of engagement to his Clinical Pastoral Experience (CPE) hospital training—and to his most recent assignment at Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, accompanying the Tohono O’odham people.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Mel announced that Ed would remain at Mission San Xavier as his first priestly assignment. “And by the way, you have the 8:30 Mass tomorrow morning!” he chuckled. And the congregation roared.

Ed Sarrazin’s path toward religious life and priestly ordination has been, by his own description, a circuitous one. Yet all along the way, it is clear that this very down to earth man has followed his heart and committed himself to the same quietly disciplined way he now urges upon others: Take some time. Listen to your heart. What does your heart tell you? What does God tell you when you pray and listen? Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to what God is asking you?" …. Well? How about it?//

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