A Reflection As I Approach Ordination

by frater Ignatius Braydn Harsha, O.Praem.


Our canonry has the custom each year on New Year’s Eve of exposing the Blessed Sacrament on the altar of our abbey church for several hours of adoration. Shortly before midnight, we sing the solemn Te Deum, the Church’s ancient hymn of thanksgiving to almighty God for all of the benefits and blessings we receive from His merciful hands. Then the abbot gives benediction, after which we gather in the abbey common room to ring in the new year together.

Nearly ten years ago, I was at the abbey for several days after Christmas as a come-and-see visitor. I was in the abbey church during that prolonged period of Eucharistic adoration, asking God to make known His will for me and for my life. As I prayed, Fr. Leo Celano shuffled into the church from the sacristy and went to his usual place in choir. I watched as he knelt down on the hard floor and remained there in prayer, absolutely still for a long period of time. This was particularly noteworthy, because at that time, Fr. Leo was already eighty years old and was mostly blind from macular degeneration, but his gaze was directed toward the monstrance on the altar. (I had already been impressed at seeing Fr. Leo sitting in that same place in choir during the Divine Office, attempting to follow along in his breviary with the help of his iconic electric magnifying glass!)

As I looked at Fr. Leo praying, I realized this was the answer to my own prayer. I thought, “I want to be like that when I am an old man.” Indeed, what better could I possibly ask than, in my old age, still to approach the Holy Eucharist with such deep faith and humility? Here was a priest who had celebrated the Holy Mysteries countless times over many years, but such familiarity did not cause him to lose a sense of awe and reverence before the Eucharistic King. Even as his health declined, Fr. Leo continued to orient his life to the service of the altar, recognizing in the Holy Eucharist the source of every grace and heavenly blessing. At that moment, I knew that I, too, wanted to be a Norbertine priest, “lifting high the Holy Eucharist over the miseries and errors of this world.”

Ten years later, I am approaching priestly ordination, while Fr. Leo has recently gone on to his eternal reward. I never told Fr. Leo what an impression he made on me that New Year’s Eve during adoration or that his prayerful example helped me make up my mind to apply to the novitiate. But I am certain that I am not the only person who benefitted from Fr. Leo’s example of prayer and generous priestly service, and I am confident that our merciful Savior has made known to Fr. Leo all of the effects of every good deed and act of devotion that he performed on this earth. I can only pray that fifty years from now, I, too, will still be a faithful priest who humbles himself before the Divine Majesty, offering my whole life in union with Christ’s adorable and all-sufficient sacrifice.

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I grew up on a small ranch near Columbus, Montana, the youngest of four children of Harry and Jeanne Harsha. After graduating from the local public school system, I went on to study at the University of Notre Dame, where I majored in Medieval Studies and Philosophy. During my time at university, I began to discern a vocation to the religious life and priesthood with the Congregation of Holy Cross. The guidance of the Holy Cross Fathers helped to foster my desire for the religious life, even as I came to realize that the Congregation was not a good fit for me. On the advice of friends who knew the Norbertines, I made a come-and-see visit to St. Michael’s Abbey just one week after my graduation from Notre Dame in 2012. On that visit, I was deeply impressed by the Norbertine canonical life of liturgical prayer, apostolic ministry, and fraternal charity. Over the course of the following year, I worked in residence life and as a teacher at a Benedictine boarding school in Arkansas while paying off student debts and continuing to discern my vocation. During a second visit to St. Michael’s just after Christmas 2012, I asked to apply to the novitiate and was subsequently accepted. I arrived at the abbey in August 2013 and was clothed as a novice in December of that year. On the Solemnity of St. Augustine in 2020, after seven years in the community and five years in simple vows, I made my solemn profession as a Canon Regular of Prémontré. One year later, I was ordained a deacon, and now, near the end of my ninth year at St. Michael’s, I am being ordained a priest. After several years of studying abroad in Toronto and Rome, I am very happy to return to Southern California and to engage in priestly ministry in the context of our Norbertine common life.

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When our spiritual forebears realized that communistic tyranny was ending their religious life, they fled to the land of the free and the home of the brave, and replanted their flag.  We did not arise out of a vacuum.  Divine providence uses real people and circumstances to work out our salvation.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

The Norbertine vocation is essentially Eucharistic. It is true, the Church expects every religious institute to “make every effort to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice daily, to receive the most sacred Body of Christ, and to adore the Lord Himself in the sacrament.”

The Gospel passage we just heard comprises the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke, all thirty-two verses.  It reminds me of St. Justin Martyr’s second century description of the Mass: “On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members,” he says. “The recollections of the Apostles are read, as long as there is time.”

Fortunately the three parables are fairly clear in their literal meaning; let us examine but some few points for their spiritual import.  In the parable of the lost sheep, notice how our Lord even phrases the question: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”  The scribes and Pharisees may not have been shepherds, but they weren’t stupid.  Not one of them would have left the ninety-nine to find the one because that’s the best way of losing the ninety-nine and still not finding the one.  

But in this they did not understand the deeper contrast Christ Jesus was drawing between God and man.  Man has to leave one place to go to another.  God remains with the ninety-nine even as He goes off to find the one.  The life of grace is not lost in the ninety-nine while He seeks by grace to draw back the heart of the one.  And the only way man can have a glimpse at how much God wants a sinner’s heart is by realizing He is so crazy with love as to leave the sure thing in favor of the impossible risk.

The other side of this perspective is the father in the parable of the prodigal son.  Without ever leaving his house, his vision extends to his son who is “still a long way off,” which implies not only that he was looking for him but that also his sight sees him where he is.  Put the two parables together, and we see that only if the Good Shepherd goes in search of the stray can the squalid son lift his head from the pig sty to dream of happiness at home.  Only then does the Father see his wretched son afar off and in mercy run out to meet him.

The reaction of son and father are perfect.  The son resolves to confess, and in his shame to accept a dignity lower than is truly his.  He does confess, but the father does not let him even ask for what is beneath him, let alone allow him to ask and then deny it to him, and instead enriches his son with tokens of love and esteem: the finest robe, a ring, sandals to wear, and the fattened calf to feast upon.

When in our sins we can no longer hide from the Good Shepherd and so we confess our sins to the Father’s representative, we are never lowered beneath our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Rather, every mark of honor we threw away is returned to us in love.  We are again clothed with the finest robe of sanctifying grace and charity which we received at baptism.  The ring is the signet whose seal of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.  Sandals are mortification from worldliness by separating us from the earth and keeping us from getting dirty as we tread the paths of this life; they also prepare our feet to run with the truths of the Gospel.  “How beautiful upon the mountains,” says Isaiah, “are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.”  In such a state, the full Catholic life in all its majesty, we are ready to feast on the fattened calf, Christ Jesus Himself sacrificed for our sins and given to us as food in the Holy Eucharist.

This is the happiness of our eternal Father.  His food is our salvation.  His joy is our redemption from sin.  As St. John Chrysostom says, “He feasts on the fruit of His mercy by the sacrifice of His Son.”  This is the festivity of the household ministers, the harmony of the angels, the symphony of the saints.  And it is for us every time we go to confession.

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