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Living the Truth in Love - Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate Homily
Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola
September 11, 2021

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jer 1: 4–5).  These words from the prophet Jeremiah, spoken in the first reading, are addressed to you, my brothers, Francis and Mark, in a particular way as you are ordained deacons for the service of the People of God here in the Diocese of Palm Beach.  We are all grateful to you for carefully listening to and discerning the call of the Lord and for your faithful devotion to your program of preparation at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, bringing you here today.  Likewise, we are grateful to your families for their support and to all in our diaconate preparation program who walked with you and assisted you during the preceding years.  Indeed, the Lord knows you personally and affirms the particular identity He has given to you.

We read in the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, that seven men were chosen by the apostles so that, as apostles, they could continue to carry out the ministry particularly entrusted to them.  By the laying on of hands, as will occur today, the first deacons were ordained for the Church.  While the ministry of the deacons would be different from that of the apostles, they both would be complementary to each other in order that the word of God would continue to be proclaimed.  That word, shared by the apostles and the deacons, is basic to all men and women as indicated by Jeremiah so clearly, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”  It is an essential word spoken to all of us, no matter what our vocation may be, which reminds us of our basic identity as created in the image and likeness of God and called by Him for a particular relationship with Him.  Every single person is known by God before being formed by Him in the womb and known by Him before being born.  We cannot change the person God has created us to be.  We must accept, love and respect that person, and every other person that we encounter who has the same origin.  My brothers, as deacons, that is the basic message of the Gospel which you are to proclaim in your ministry and by your lives.

As you are ordained this morning, it is on the day on which we remember the terrible portrayal of violence which occurred twenty years ago.  September 11 was a day which expressed the original sin of humanity which flies in the face of the words of Jeremiah and places God’s creation and the gift of human life out of His hands and into hands which intend to destroy it.  We saw the evil that can occur through the boldness of sin manifesting itself in human pride.   We also saw, in the days to follow, the goodness that can manifest itself through the virtue exercised by men and women following their call as made in the image and likeness of God.

Unfortunately, twenty years later, with all the good that is in our world, we still experience the evil that can come from the human heart by not recognizing who we are as made in God’s image and likeness with a particular identity and dignity proper to us.  The horrible situation of Afghanistan, the political unrest within our world, the lack of respect for people, their particular race and the ability to condone the taking of an unborn child’s life called into existence by God are but some of the manifestations of evil among us.  There is still the inclination not to accept who we are, and others, as created by God with a particular purpose and identity, but to re-create ourselves in the image of likeness of our own preference.  Two opposing forces present themselves.  One places political correctness as the supreme good, proclaiming that it was not God who formed us in the womb and gave us an identity but we who form ourselves.  The other is a warrior attempt to correct this position, but which makes the warrior into God Himself, deciding how God created you.

Francis and Mark, as you are ordained deacons today, it is the Gospel just proclaimed which is at the center of your service.  It is the Gospel of humility and warrants repeating: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be the great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His love as a ransom for the many” (Matt 20:25b-28).  The virtue of humility goes hand-in-hand with the service you are to carry out as deacons.  

Humility is something that is often misunderstood, and an unhealthy understanding of it is not beneficial to us.  The proper understanding of humility not only deepens our relationship with God, but is the very foundation of it.  In reality, humility is part of the life of God Himself who has made us in His image and likeness.  Not to be humble is not to live as God.

The word, “humility” is derived from the Latin word, “humilis,” which means near to the ground - “humus.”  Its basic meaning is that we have not given existence to ourselves but reminds us that God has given us existence from the earth He created.  To be humble means to have our feet on the ground and to recognize that our existence, and that of every person, revolves around our relationship with God who created us precisely for that relationship.

It is especially significant to realize that God, the author of all creation, showed Himself humble in the person of Jesus Christ.  The richness of the great hymn from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is one that can never be exhausted and one that needs to always be reflected in our service.  It is the Magna Carta of the virtue of humility which tells us that we must have the same attitude of Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even death on the Cross” (Phil 2:6–8). These words are the heart of the Order of the Diaconate and so at the heart of Holy Orders in general.

Continually in the Gospels, Jesus calls us to humility and invites us to “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).  He gives us the sterling example of humility when He washes His apostles’ feet at the Last Supper, which is the sign of service for all those in Holy Orders.

During this month of September, we celebrate many feasts in honor of our Blessed Mother.  Her Nativity, her Most Holy Name and her Sorrows are a part of this month during which you are ordained.  Mary presents to us an example of humility paralleled to her Son’s.  Always in the background, she rejoices in the relationship she has with God which is what brings her joy and exalts her above all others.  Humility deepened Mary’s relationship with God.

My brothers, as you are ordained deacons today, continue to preach the Gospel in a world that needs to hear the Gospel more than it needs anything else.  Be at the service of those who need your ministry by proclaiming the word of God in word, and in action by the example of your lives.  Always strive to help others realize their identity as made in the image and likeness of God with a particular purpose and dignity which only God can bestow upon us.  It is important to understand that one of the qualities of humility is that we have no pretension about ourselves and that others are able to feel at home in our presence.  This is why Jesus invites others to come to him, because He is humble of heart.  

May you know always the joy of the special gift of Holy Orders which you receive today in the diaconate.  May your service to others help you better understand the unique identity which God has given to you.  May we all realize that our lives are gifts from God and that they only make sense through a living relationship with Him.  He is the supreme good and through Him, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, we come to know the fullness of life.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jer 1:4-5).      

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 17, 2021