Saturday, April 21 was a joyous and blessed day for me and for our Diocese. I ordained Rev. Mr. Nathan Brooks to the order of deacon at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. The prepared text of the homily I preached on that occasion is below. Please join me in prayer for Nathan as he completes his formation leading to priestly ordination. Remember also all our seminarians who are studying for the priesthood for our diocese.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
We are in the midst of the season of joy! On Easter Sunday we proclaimed, “The Lord is risen, alleluia!” For fifty days, the Church continues this glorious proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. At every Mass during the Easter Season we pray “. . . overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exalts in your praise” (Easter Preface). Because of this extraordinary event, so central to our life and faith, we praise the Father “with greater joy than ever.”
The readings we have just heard speak to us about God’s choice and the commission to proclaim His word. In a very special way, they speak to Nathan.
The commission to announce God’s word cannot be taken lightly. It is an awesome and humbling responsibility. Jeremiah, in our first reading, understood the demands of being a prophet, literally, God’s mouthpiece. “Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jer 1:6). God, however, is not dissuaded by Jeremiah’s reluctance. God put forth His hand, touched Jeremiah’s mouth and put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. Jeremiah is sent forth with the assurance, “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you” (Jer 4: 8-9).
God’s word is a treasure. It is, as St. Paul reminded us in the second reading, none other than Jesus Himself. “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord . . .” (2Cor 4: 5). The light of truth, beauty and goodness has shown in our hearts and we in turn are called to pass on this light, the glory of God on the face of Christ, to others.
We carry this treasure “in earthen vessels” ever mindful of our human limitations and weakness. Like Jeremiah, we need God’s assistance to proclaim God’s word. Jesus told the disciples to “remain in my love” (Jn 15:9). We must take these words to heart. To “remain” in God’s love means to persevere, to stand fast with the Lord among all the vicissitudes of life remembering that He chose us and commissions us to speak His word.
In virtue of our Baptism, all of us bear a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel. Pope Francis often reminds us that each of us must be actively engaged in announcing the good news. When we accept this mission “we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others” (The Joy of the Gospel, 10). This is what Jesus did for us. He laid down His life for us. He asks us to follow the pattern of His life and to “go forth and bear fruit” by bringing His message to others.
When we have experienced God’s love, we cannot be content to keep this love to ourselves. Goodness and love by their very nature are meant to be shared. Quoting Pope Francis, “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. . . . How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life” (The Joy of the Gospel, 264).
Our Eucharist today has a unique meaning because of the share in the sacrament of orders which we are about to confer on our brother.
Nathan, you are about to be promoted to the sacred order of the diaconate – the ministry of service which is supported by a special sacramental grace. Consider carefully the role that you will have in building up the Body of Christ.
My dear brother, as a servant of the word, you are to share with all the joy of the Gospel, the message of hope and salvation that has been handed down to us in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The proclamation of the Gospel which you carry on in the name of Christ and His Church should become evident in every aspect of your diaconate ministry. When you exercise the ministry of the Word, be faithful to the teaching of the apostles as it has been handed over to us in the Church. The people have a right to hear God’s Word – His message – and not your own. Maintain a “reverence for the truth . . . and the humility of heart which recognizes that the word is always beyond us and that we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servant” (Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 78).
In your liturgical ministry, you will proclaim Christ’s saving presence especially in the celebration of Baptism and the distribution to the faithful of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body and Blood. It will be your duty also, at the Bishop’s direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. You will preside over public prayer, bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying and conduct funeral rites. As you fulfill these responsibilities you will witness to the Church’s belief in Christ, “who lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25).
As a minister of charity, be a servant of love. Whatever you do on behalf of others – whether caring for the sick or elderly, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, teaching the ignorant – do it always as the apostle Paul tells us: “with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly” (Eph 4:2). Let faith reveal to you the very person of Christ in every person who asks for your assistance.
Nathan, remember you did not choose Christ. It is Christ who has mysteriously chosen you. As you pray with and for the Church, particularly in the Liturgy of the Hours, may you come to trust more and more in the strength which God provides for you through this prayer that sanctifies the hours of the day. Through prayer and continuous study, grow in the knowledge of Him whom you serve. A deeply spiritual life is essential if you are to be a true servant of the Lord and His people.
With affectionate loyalty and loving obedience, be attentive to the teachings and directives of our Holy Father and of your Bishop. To them, the fullness of the pastoral office has been entrusted. By the sacramental gift which you are about to receive, you become “a public person,” a representative of the Church in a new way. Others will look to you for an example which encourages and supports them in the faith. Fulfill all your tasks responsibly and with deep humility in imitation of Jesus the servant of God.
As you strive to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, be comforted by the prayerful support of your Bishop, who is called to be father, brother and friend, the priests and deacons of our beloved diocese, the seminarians and consecrated religious who journey with you and your family and friends – those gathered here and those unable to be with us.
Before all others, know of the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Mary welcomed the word of life into the depths of her humble faith and gave herself completely to God. Day by day, Nathan, with her help and inspired by her example, say your “yes” to the urgent call, as pressing as ever, to proclaim the good news of Jesus. May Mary, the Star of Evangelization, help you and all of us “to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love for the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth” (The Joy of the Gospel, 288).