Saturday, May 20, was a joyous and blessed day for me and for our Diocese. I ordained Rev. Mr. Matthew Rawson to the order of deacon at St. James Church in Syracuse. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. Please join me in prayer for Matthew as he completes his formation leading to priestly ordination. Remember also all our seminarians who are studying for the priesthood for our diocese. May the Lord continue to bless us with vocations to the ordained ministry.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
The Lord is risen, alleluia! The death and resurrection of Jesus is truly the “good news” which gives meaning to our lives. Easter is more than a day. It is a season — fifty days to encounter Christ anew in the breaking of the bread and in the community of disciples who believe in the risen Lord; fifty days to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ triumph over death and sin; fifty days to ponder the great commission to go forth and make disciples. For fifty days, we celebrate the Easter Mystery with courageous hope and profound joy.
At each Mass during the Easter season we have prayed, “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.” Two thousand years after the event, we are the witnesses to the Paschal Mystery present in the Church’s proclamation in Word and Sacrament.
The readings today focus on call and service. In our first reading, the tribe of Levi is given special responsibility. They are called to perform holy service in the tabernacle of the desert and in the temple. They serve “at the dwelling place,” the sacred ground of God’s presence. The tribe of Levi was set apart and dedicated to the Lord for this special purpose. They were God’s trusted servants.
Philip, in our second reading, is a good example of one who listens to God’s call. While ministering to new converts in Samaria he is called to “head south” along a desert road toward Jerusalem and Gaza. He is quick to respond and starts out immediately. Along the way, there is another call. “Go and catch up” with the carriage carrying an important Ethiopian court official. Again, Philip followed the Spirit’s call and “ran ahead” until he caught up with the court official. Hearing the man reading from the scriptures Philip engaged him in conversation and “launched out” to explain the passage, “telling him the good news of Jesus.”
Matthew, listen to this passage from the Acts of the Apostles carefully not only today but often. Philip, the deacon, is a listener, open to hearing the voice of the Spirit. He responds eagerly. He is ready and prepared to break open the scriptures in order to bring people the good news. He leads those entrusted to his care from the sacred words of scripture to a sacramental encounter. This is a very good road map for your life journey!
Throughout each of our lives, we have experienced the depth of the love of Christ. We have been touched by His presence, His faithfulness, His forgiveness, His fidelity. The love we have experienced calls us to go beyond ourselves and to serve other members of the Body of Christ. By fulfilling this call, we become ministers of God’s infinite love, and thus obey the great commandment: to love one another as Christ has loved us.
In God’s mysterious Providence, our brother Matthew felt a special call from our loving God to dedicate his life to the service of God’s holy people. The first and second readings we heard today focused Matthew’s call within the realm of service “at God’s sacred dwelling place” and in the vital ministry of announcing the truth and beauty of the sacred word so that others may come to believe.
What about the Gospel? What insight does it provide for Matthew? One would think Jesus would send His disciples out on a mission with a pep talk filled with enthusiasm for the message and a zeal that would conquer all obstacles. That is not what we heard this morning. Rather, we heard “the harvest is rich but the laborers few.” The disciple is a “lamb in the midst of wolves.” He needs to be unencumbered by whatever would hold him back from proclaiming the Gospel. Some will welcome and accept his message, others will not.
Today’s Gospel brings into bold relief the cost of discipleship. A disciple follows the master and imitates Him. A disciple is a servant who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep as Jesus laid down his life for us.
My dear son Matthew, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ Himself will consecrate you — that is to say, will “set you apart” — to be an obedient servant of His Church. You will receive a unique gift of the Holy Spirit, the source of strength and consolation. It is my hope that, as you respond to this special call from God, you will experience the joy that comes from serving God and His people with an undivided heart.
From this day forward, you will exercise your ministry committed to the celibate state. Know that celibacy is both a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it, as well as a source of spiritual fruitfulness to the world. Compelled by the sincere love of Christ the Lord and embracing this state with total dedication, you will cling to Christ more easily with an undivided heart. You will free yourself more completely for the service of God and man, and minister more effectively in the work of spiritual rebirth. Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourself chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for a minister of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries.
Never allow yourself to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. As a servant of the Word, you are to share with all whom you meet the message of hope and salvation that has been handed down to us in Sacred Scripture and the tradition of the Church. You must fulfill this sacred function, not only by preaching the word, but even more by the witness of a life of faith, which seeks to manifest Gospel values. St. Teresa of Calcutta told us: “One filled with joy, preaches without preaching.” Pope Francis, in the Joy of the Gospel, reminds us that this joyful and faith-filled testimony is very much needed in society at large, as well as among those whom you are called to serve. God’s people look to you for guidance and support as they strive to live the Christian life.
As a minister of the liturgy, you are to assist the Bishop and his priests in the service of the altar. In the spirit of deep prayer, you are to manifest your faith and love in the exercise of the various liturgical functions which are proper to deacons. As you lead God’s people in prayer, may your service strengthen that union which “has God’s spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.” May you find in the liturgical aspect of your ministry a source of grace, supporting all other facets of your diaconal life.
Finally, as a minister of charity, be a servant of love and see in those who come to you, especially the poor and the needy, the very person of Christ. Do it always as the apostle Paul tells us: “with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly.” Let faith reveal to you the very person of Christ in every person who asks for your assistance.
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.
Finally, Matthew, remember that you did not choose Christ. It is Christ who has mysteriously chosen you, and who has been generous in bestowing special graces on you. Through prayer and continued study, grow in the knowledge of Him who you serve. A deeply spiritual life is essential if you are to be a true servant of the Lord and His people.
As you strive to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, be comforted by the prayerful support of your Bishop, of the priests and deacons of this diocese, of the seminarians and consecrated men and women who journey with you and of your family and friends.
Before all others, know of the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother in whose seminary you have studied. When Mary met her cousin Elizabeth she honestly and humbly declared, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Through our Lady’s prayers and inspired by the example of her life, may you make her words your own — this day and always.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.