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Bishop's Column

Bishop Barbarito Column

This is the Day the Lord has Made

 Editor’s note: The following is the text of Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito’s homily from the Transitional Diaconate Ordination at St. Joan of Arc Church, April 13, 2024

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” This refrain of Psalm 118, repeated frequently just last week during the Octave of Easter, is certainly most appropriate today. Today is indeed a day of the Lord for these 10 men who are about to be ordained as deacons. We rejoice and are glad in it. As these men, your sons, brothers, family members and friends, continue their preparation for priestly ordination, we give thanks first and foremost to the Lord for calling them to this ministry of service for us. We also give thanks to them for discerning and accepting the call, as well as to all of you, their family members and friends, in supporting them in their discernment. Finally, we give thanks to the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul, with its rector, Father Hernández, and all of its dedicated faculty and staff for the outstanding service to the Church of priestly formation which they have afforded to these fine candidates.

My dear brothers, soon to be ordained as deacons, this is a most significant day for you. After many years of prayer and preparation you will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and, as Holy Orders implies, order your lives to Christ and service to His Church, as part of your preparation for priesthood. In your ordering of your lives more closely to the Person of Jesus Christ today, you will make three significant promises to Him and His Church which will intimately affect the rest of your lives. These promises are a lifelong commitment of celibacy, a lifelong commitment of prayer, as expressed in your promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and a commitment to the service of the Church through obedience. While these are a trinity of separate promises, they form a unity in the ordering of your lives. All of them become one in the handing over of yourselves to the Lord completely and totally this day.

In the promise of celibacy, you promise to espouse yourselves to Christ in service to His Church. Celibacy offers you the opportunity of freedom to focus your total attention on the needs of the people that you are called to serve. However, celibacy is not simply a function to provide you freedom for service. It is a state of life through which you are able to enter into a more intimate union with Christ. That union must be the total focus of your lives. As you grow more deeply into a more mystical union with Christ, you are more compelled to give yourselves in service to others in imitation of Him who came to serve and not to be served. Celibacy is indeed a great gift — for the Church and for you. As you commit yourselves to live this gift, always recall the words of today’s Gospel from St. John in which Jesus tells His apostles, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” His choice of you is one of friendship. Again, Jesus tells His apostles, “I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Jesus calls His apostles into an intimate union of real friendship. Your union with Christ grows through your commitment to giving your lives exclusively to Him in celibacy.

Your promise of celibacy is enhanced by your promise of prayer. Since celibacy will afford you a more mystical union with Christ, that union can only be nurtured through prayer. As a deacon, you will have a special relationship with the word of God through its proclamation. Through your reading and meditation on the Scriptures, you will grow in union with God as His words become more and more a part of your hearts. The exhortation given to you today as you receive the Gospel book must be the center of your diaconal ministry, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” The Liturgy of the Hours revolves around the word of God both in the praying of the Psalms and the readings from the Scriptures. As you make your commitment to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours for the people of God and indeed for the whole world, remember that the promise is part of the deeper promise to maintain the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life. Again, recall that the Lord has chosen you and your response to Him is always deepened by prayer. Pope Francis insightfully reflected in the Stations of the Cross he prepared for Good Friday this year, “Prayer is not about lips that move, but a heart that listens.”

Finally, today you make a promise of obedience to place yourselves at the service of the Church so that your future decisions, as to how you will carry out your ministry, are not entirely your own. The Church will carefully listen to you and discern especially where your ministry will be most effective. The promise of obedience to your bishop is more than simply doing what is asked of you. The root meaning of obedience means to listen to. Listening to the Church means carefully hearing what it says and accepting it in a cooperative spirit. Your listening will be most effective when it is rooted in prayer and openness to God’s will. It is also most effective when it reflects your commitment to giving yourselves completely in freedom to Christ in celibacy. As Pope Francis insightfully said to the priests of Rome in his Chrism Mass homily this year, “Let us stop looking at our life in terms of efficiency and immediate results … by looking for the eternal goal to which we are called, the ultimate purpose of our lives.” What he said about prayer can also be said about obedience on a different level, “It is not about lips that move, but a heart that listens.”

You are well aware of the misunderstanding of the Church’s position today as well as of many of its teachings. That is very evident in the reaction to the document, Dignitas infinita, released by the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith just this week. It articulates very well the teaching of the Church on significant moral matters, but not to the agreement of all. We do not choose the times in which we live, but we choose the manner in which we will live in them. Certainly, the Church has faced more difficult times than today, but this does not make our commitment to living our ministry with courage and commitment any less heroic. The promises that you make today are heroic promises at any time. You will be called upon to live them today in an even more heroic manner. Always remember that it is the Lord who has chosen you and He will never relent in His promise of faithfulness to you. Be always faithful to Him.

This is indeed the day that the Lord has made, and we rejoice and are glad in it. My brothers, we all thank you for your commitment of faith and for your accepting the call from the Lord to be His ministers. Through your diaconal ministry, you will make the presence of Christ a reality for many whom you will serve. May the love of truth and the constant thirst for God be your incentive to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, especially through the trinity of the promises you make today. The Lord’s words of promise in the Gospel are to you today, “I tell you all this so that my joy might be yours and your joy may be complete.” Through your faithfulness, but more importantly through the Lord’s, you will know that joy. The Lord who begins His good work in you today will always bring it to fulfillment.