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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.

Ordination 2022

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Biography

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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