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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: August 12, 2020
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. It is based on the following readings: Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 9; and Luke 5:1-11.
Today is an occasion for great joy. In the space of just five days we are ordaining five transitional deacons and two new priests. We pray for vocations, and thanks be to God, we in Arkansas have been blessed with young men like Omar who have the courage and generosity to open their hearts to welcome God’s call in their lives, just like us older priests gathered in this Church today.
We were young once too and we know well the faith and courage it takes to risk putting our entire life in God’s hands, but also the special blessings that God showers in abundance on those who truly do respond to his call.
Omar, you have already been on this journey for quite some time and ordination to the diaconate is the last step before your ordination to the priesthood, God willing in less than a year! But this isn’t just one more step along the way. The sacrament of holy orders is for life.
Your life is now a life lived for others. Through you, people will encounter Jesus at every stage of life: the babies whom you baptize, the couples whom you marry and the dead whom you bury.
The word “deacon” means “servant” and you don’t stop being a deacon when you become a priest. By ordination to the diaconate, you will become a “servant” for the rest of your life. A minister of word and sacrament and charity.
To proclaim the Gospel faithfully, you must be a servant of God’s word. There are many preachers who style themselves as masters of the word. They take God’s word and twist it to say what they want it to say: They’ve got it backwards. Jesus is the Word of God. He’s your master. His will is what matters.
His word is life — not our word — and today you become a servant of that word, for life — in both senses of the term: “for life” in the sense that God’s word is life-giving, and “for life” because it is for the rest of your life.
The same is true in your role as minister of sacrament and charity. Your life is now a life lived for others. Through you, people will encounter Jesus at every stage of life: the babies whom you baptize, the couples whom you marry and the dead whom you bury.
You will assist at the altar at Mass, you will preside over public prayer outside of Mass and you will be a minister of charity outside these walls, for as deacon you are also a servant of the poor. Indeed, we learn from the Acts of the Apostles that it was to serve those who were being neglected that the order of deacons was established in the first place.
Today you will also promise “to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind.” I think we are all aware that that this is not an easy promise to make — or for that matter, to live! But what a rich source of blessing this will be for you and for those you serve. Open your heart to welcome the gift of celibacy for the kingdom, and you will discover it to be an unexpected source of spiritual fruitfulness that allows you to serve God and others with greater freedom and total dedication.
Omar, you stand before us today with an open heart and a generous spirit. But I remind you that a vocation must be nurtured, or it will wither — and that doesn’t stop being true after ordination. We’ve all seen far too much in the news about what can happen when a priest or deacon neglects the gift he has been given, closes his heart to the graces God gives and tries to fill the resulting emptiness with compensations — unchastity, avarice, luxuries, etc.
So I thank you Omar for the reminder you give the rest of us to continue to open our hearts — daily, so that we may continue to give eloquent witness to all that God must be loved above all else and that it is the Lord whom we serve when we serve others.
And finally, I turn to the young men who are in our congregation today, especially those of you who suspect that the Lord may be calling you to the priesthood but are afraid of what that might mean. “Open your hearts in welcome!” God doesn’t just call. He’s also the one who enables us to respond! Where Omar is going, you too can follow!