This homily is given in the context of a vocation discernment retreat I am giving at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Center in Pickering. Ten men discerning their vocation spent the weekend in silent prayer. This homily is themed with the conferences for the weekend.
During the Rite of Ordination for Deacons [every priest is ordained a deacon first; a transitional role] there is a homily in the rite, which most ordaining bishops use in addition to their own homily – Cardinal Collins most certainly does. The last three sentences of the homily read this way: “Express in action what you proclaim in word of mouth. Then the People of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear Him say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”
It was almost six years ago that I was ordained a transitional deacon, but those were words that remained with me, and words that evoke a powerful reminder for me now as I attend many ordinations in my current ministry. They are powerful words, because they are words that I hope to hear one day when I pass from this life to the next, words I hope to hear from the Lord Himself. Nothing could be sweeter to me than the sound of these words.
I share them because my hope is that in reflecting upon your own lives, these are the kind of words you hope to be really, the crowning achievement of your lives too. I was 34 years old when I entered seminary formation and spent seven years in formation discerning my vocation, much like Joe who spent those six years discerning his vocation to marriage but when you take your time and really allow yourself to be open to what the Lord hopes for you – you find yourself savouring it all.
And so after 7 years of growing in self-awareness, of being formed in my humanity, in my ability to love and in how to be pastoral & to serve others as a priest, of having grown and matured and having learned how to be a better Christian man and disciple – seminary was coming to an end and I was ordained a deacon, ordained to serve. I could have looked at it as a time of freedom from the seminary or freedom to serve the Lord. I chose the latter.
I think of a video clip I saw of Archbishop Fulton Sheen in the final year of his life, meeting St. John Paul II, a young pope at the time. The two godly men met, and the pope embraced Archbishop Sheen and thanked him with these words, “well done, good and faithful servant – you served the Church well and when it’s your time may you enter into the joy of the Lord.”
Archbishop Sheen was the first big Catholic TV star; some of you maybe your parents or grandparents will remember him well. A brilliant man; a very, very popular man – these words were the greatest words he could want to hear in his life too.
Whether you’re more like the simple bus driver (like me) who never would have thought he would do anything like this (priesthood) or a great orator, scholar and bishop – somehow these words can have such a great impact, the simple acceptance and joy of the Lord at the work we do makes all the hard work, sacrifices and struggles we might have seem worth it.
Living our vocation is not only about this: there is much, much joy in living the way God intended us to; seeing some of the fruits of our labours while we live. Knowing our life had meaning and purpose.
In today’s Gospel, all John the Baptist asks as his life is coming to an end is did he fulfill the work the Lord had for him in this life. The response Jesus offers him is greater than he could have hoped for. Not only is he given a sense of the fruitfulness of his life AND a confirmation of his life’s purpose.
But he is also given a sense of the true joy the Lord feels for him and is embraced by Jesus.
May we seek to be John the Baptists in today’s world, because as Disciples of Christ, we are called to fill his role in our vocation. To prepare the way for the Lord. To know that we act in the name of Jesus Christ whom we follow, but we also prepare our brothers and sisters for others who will bring Jesus to them is a great joy of the Gospel.
I think of a few things that Joe mentioned in his talk yesterday as well. He spoke of the sacrifices he and his wife made to share faith with each other and then to pass it on to their sons. What I can tell you is that these seven young men are good Catholic men, disciples who will make their mark on the world by living their faith and with their own families.
There were times when Joe and his wife brought Jesus Christ directly into their children’s and their student’s lives and there were times when they ‘prepared the way for the Lord’; for others to bring the Lord to them. That is what we ought to do as disciples.
We are not one or the other.
When I celebrate this Mass and administer the sacraments as I do as a priest, I am acting ‘in persona Christi Capitus’, in the Person of Christ the Head of the Church and in my priesthood, I am called to be ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’. But in many situations, I am preparing the way for others to bring the Lord to them; parents, teachers, ministers in parishes.
We need humility in our vocation; no matter what we might be called to – we have to realize that the Lord calls others to greatness in His name. Our vocations are integrally & intimately connected one to another.
Even in vocation ministry, for those of you discerning, it is the impression of priests other than me who have brought you to a place in your discernment where you are considering the priesthood. Being the one who prepares others for something greater than ourselves is the life we have chosen as Christian men, Disciples of Christ.
It is not a lesser life, it’s a great life – no matter what vocation our Lord is calling us to.
My brothers in Christ, let us consider John the Baptist today and his great yet humble works and may we too follow the Lord, seek to fulfill and live out God’s call for us and may we long for the words “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Lord.” May God bless you.