Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Clergy, Couples Talk About Living Their Sacraments

By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 6, 2008

On the surface, the sacraments of holy orders, the bond of a priest to the church and its people, and of matrimony, the bond of a man and woman to each other, may seem very different. But as a packed audience at Transfiguration Church found, these sacraments share an affinity for each other.

Understanding these sacraments more fully was the impetus behind a dinner and panel discussion featuring those who have “walked the walk”—married couples, priests and a deacon.

Panelists included special guest Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Msgr. Pat Bishop, pastor of Transfiguration, and Deacon Tom Coffey, who were joined by Transfiguration parishioners Tom and Darragh Browning, who have been married for 37 years, and Spencer and Lisa Chastain, who have been married for seven years. The Feb. 24 event was moderated by Father Bryan Small, who took written questions from the audience about the challenges and rewards presented by marriage—and by the vows of ordination.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, both are sacraments through which commitments are made to be of service to others and help build and strengthen the church.

“These are sacraments we share for the sake of other people, whose intent is to build upon the church beyond ourselves. Matrimony is more than personal likes and dislikes, just like there’s no such thing as being a priest all on your own. Both the nature of holy orders and the nature of marriage, give life and build up the church,” said Archbishop Gregory.

“They also deal with a word that many young people find frightening—the word is commitment. FOREVER,” he intoned into the microphone, drawing laughter from the crowd. “We live in a world when you don’t like it on Monday, you can change it on Tuesday—or sooner.”

Bantering with Msgr. Bishop during the discussion, the archbishop spoke about many aspects of the priesthood—from the origins of his liturgical garb to the gravity of being installed as archbishop in Atlanta and leaving his “flock” at Belleville, Ill.

He also shared a vocational question he often receives: “When did I get the call” to become a priest.

“I’m still waiting for it,” he said with a laugh. “Growing up in Chicago, I was impressed by the priests in the parish. And I thought I wanted to do what they do. But there never was a moment when God hit me like a lightening bolt. I’m still growing in that desire. … It will be finalized when I meet the Lord and can say, I did the whole thing.”

The Brownings were asked what their biggest struggle was in their marriage.

“It was 1991, and Tom lost his job—for nine long months,” said Darragh. “We had three young teenagers, and it was tough. But it also made us focus more on the important things. We know there was a reason for it, and it prepared us to be where we are today.”

For the Chastains, the challenge has been growing in their marriage, and Spencer learning to be the spiritual leader and example for their three boys, and also learning to be a better person from his wife, Lisa.

In each of the questions presented to the panel, the struggles and happiness of both vocations were revealed. Msgr. Bishop reflected on his own path to ordination, where he described a somewhat fractious relationship with his archbishop, the late Archbishop Thomas Donnellan. That relationship was turned upside down during his ordination, when he recalled that the archbishop gave thanks for his pupil who reminded him of how St. Paul often wrestled with the Gospel. “I was deeply moved,” Msgr. Bishop said.

Sharing the sacramental journey of priests and married couples capped off a year of studying the sacraments in a new way, said Joyce Guris, director of religious education at the church.

“This is our fourth year doing ‘whole parish’ events, where we look at the whole parish as both learner and catechist,” said Guris. A parish team of more than eight people came up with the theme, “Sailing to the Sacraments,” and moved the entire parish to a new understanding of the sacraments through programs that gathered all ages together. With a nautical theme and “passports,” parishioners visited the sacraments at different ports of call during the year, covering the sacraments of initiation, baptism and confirmation, in Antioch and the River of Jordan; then on to the Upper Room in Jerusalem for the Eucharist; and “surviving the rough storms,” which covered the sacraments of healing, the anointing of the sick and reconciliation.

The latest event, attended by almost 300 people and held at the church’s Bishop Hall, “sailed” the congregation to Cana and the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine and on to Galilee, where Christ’s command to Peter was to “feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” The Gospel passage, John 21:15-19, is often selected by priests for their ordination or first Mass.

“This was fun to plan and do, and some of the events were intergenerational. Having intergenerational events was also a good way for kids to witness their parents involved in faith formation,” Guris said.

The group will break for a few weeks before coming up with their next challenge, she said.