I spent this week in St. Augustine, Florida, leading the pre-ordination retreat for seven men who will be ordained deacons on Saturday. It’s been a great five days. Thursday night, Bishop Felipe Estevez joined us to celebrate Mass and witness the declaration and signing of the Oath of Fidelity and Profession of Faith. This is the homily I preached for the occasion.
Despite all the great technical achievements we’ve made over the last few decades, this evening we do something old school. We rely on paper and pen and the human voice. These are the tools that in a few minutes you will use to formally profess your faith.
But you’ve already been doing that, professing your faith, with the most basic tool of all.
I’ve been humbled this week to discover how each of you has used that instrument to do something wonderful for God. And you’re just getting started.
And there is so much more to come.
A vocation is a mystery — and discovering it can be a work of art.
Several weeks ago, Pope Francis issued his annual message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
“Michelangelo,” he wrote, “once said that every block of stone contains a statue within it, and it is up to the sculptor to uncover it. If that is true of an artist, how much more is it true of God! In the young woman of Nazareth he saw the Mother of God. In Simon the fisherman he saw Peter, the rock on which he would build his Church. In the publican Levi he recognized the apostle and evangelist Matthew, and in Saul, a harsh persecutor of Christians, he saw Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. God’s loving gaze always meets us, touches us, sets us free and transforms us, making us into new persons.”
You are being made into new persons. What a wonder it is.
And what a blessing it is to be here to celebrate it with you on the feast of a deacon, the Memorial of St. Ephrem.
St. Ephrem lived in Syria in the 4th century and is best remembered for his writing, especially his hymns.
But he was more than just a brilliant poet and thinker. He was also a devoted deacon. He spent part of his life ministering to those suffering from the plague — an act of love that eventually cost him his life. Ephrem himself died from the plague.
But he left us a beautiful legacy. Some 400 of his hymns survive to this day.
One of his most celebrated hymns is known as the “Hymn of Light”:
“Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.
Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us.”
Think of that. He has found joy in us. He has found joy in what you will become.
I also think that captures beautifully the spirit of this moment — as you joyfully prepare to carry Christ’s light into the world as deacons.
I said the other day that you have been prayed to this moment.
There have been many hands folded in prayer for you to bring you here.
But know this: You don’t make this journey alone.
I’m thinking right now of your wives.
In the series “The Chosen,” there’s a moment when Jesus goes to the home of Simon Peter and, as we all know, heals his mother-in-law.
But before he does that, he spots Simon’s wife, bent over the sink in the kitchen. He whispers hello. She’s startled. She didn’t hear him come in. But before she can say anything more, he has something he wants her to hear.
“You saw it first,” he says. “What I see in Simon, you were the first to notice when no one else did. That connects us. I told Simon to make sacrifices and leave things behind to follow me. You are one flesh with Simon. He cannot make sacrifices that are not also yours. You have a role to play in all of this. I can’t make everything about this easier for you. But I see you. I understand.”
I echo that this evening.
I want to say to the wives who are here, full of excitement and pride and love for the men about to be ordained: You saw it first.
Like the artist seeing beyond the stone, like God seeing possibility, the work of art within, you saw what was there in the man you married. You love him for that. And with that love whether you realize it or not, you are helping fulfill God’s plan.
While the guy sitting next to you is the one being ordained, you may feel you are merely spectators. You aren’t. Our blessed Lord sees you, too. And he will be walking with both of you on this incredible journey.
We just heard part of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It is message to hold in your hearts over the next two days — and especially now as you prepare to receive our Lord in the Eucharist and, deacons-to-be, as you formally make your Oath of Fidelity.
That reading is also one of the suggested readings for a wedding. In the years ahead, you will probably hear it often when you witness marriages. But remember where you heard it this week, as you begin a new chapter in your life.
There is abundant wisdom in these words.
For husbands and wives. For Christians of all kinds. For deacons.
And for future deacons.
As you prepare to pledge your lives for the Church you love … as you hold in your hearts all those who prayed you to this moment … especially your wives, who first saw a work of art waiting to be made … as you pick up a pen and formally say your “Yes” to this life, do this: Say “Yes,” as well, to who you will become, who God wants you to be, who he dreams you to be.
I know you all have been excitedly designing a special stole for your class.
But this is my advice to you.
Let this be your stole:
“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”