Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders of David P. LaPointe

December 6, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

To talk about a beginning is to convey that one has an end in mind with some degree of detail. That is the case with the beginning of the Gospel of Mark that we read today. That is the case with the season of Advent. That is the case with the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders.

The Gospel of Mark, the season of Advent, and the Rite of Admission to Candidacy involve the beginning of faith and discipleship with the end of faith and discipleship in mind with some degree of detail. Mark’s Gospel is a short book, the shortest in length of the Gospels, and it ends somewhat abruptly with a brief account of the discovery of the empty tomb. Advent is a short season calling us into the mystery of the two comings of the Lord: the second one first and the first one second. The Rite of Admission to Candidacy is a short and simple rite of the beginning of a call and the reception and acknowledgement by the Church of the call to priesthood of a young man who is nearing the end of his seminary discernment.

Mark ends his Gospel with an implied emphasis upon what is to come after the encounter with the mystery of the empty tomb of Jesus — that Christ has conquered sin and death by His resurrection. Mark’s abrupt ending of his Gospel directs us to begin the Gospel in each of our lives, and more directly in our life of communion lived as the Church, until Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead and to establish His eternal Kingdom.

The Rite for the Admission to Candidacy is very simple. There are two short and direct questions and an equally short declarative statement of admission made by the bishop in communion with the Church. Like an evil age we seek a sign in it. There is no Book of the Gospels; there is no anointing with Chrism; there is no imposition of hands. Yet perhaps this simplicity is precisely the point.

The Rite of Admission is truly marked by the simplicity of faith; it is the faith required to hear the call and to say “yes.” It is the simplicity of faith that St. Paul reminds us comes from listening. The rite is steeped in simplicity because our human condition encounters so many temptations to complicate the nature of our call, even to the point that a man can forget he is here as a member of the Church who has heard and answered a call through their prayers and at Christ’s initiative, not because he is a man who has undertaken a career or lifestyle choice of his own desires.

The first question of the rite seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute perseverance in preparation for ordination for ministry of the Church. The question makes explicit the presupposition that the seminarian’s declaration is in response to Christ’s call to him. This presupposition is essential. It requires that a man has heard a call and has adequately discerned through faith and prayer that it is indeed the Lord who is calling him to the priesthood.

The second question seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute preparation for faithful and generous service to Christ and to His Church. The preparation does not simply involve external compliance to a series of commands or the completion of an academic course of study. The preparation is of mind and spirit and involves an intimate conversion of heart in loving one’s neighbor in the freedom of a disciple who knows himself, accepts himself, and gives of himself as a chaste celibate and as one who is loved and redeemed by Christ. The response calls for a humble manifestation of faith in God — that all of this is mysteriously God’s work. Without this manifestation of authentic faith on the part of the candidate, the gift of a vocation can be lost through a cloudy sense of entitlement and egotism.

Admission to Candidacy is the precise moment when the candidate says in the presence of the Church, I am morally certain that God is calling me to be His priest. I wish to give myself unreservedly to this mission. The bishop speaking in the person of the Church responds: “I recognize signs of God’s call in your life. The charisms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the discipline of chaste celibacy have manifested themselves clearly in your personality and behavior. I acknowledge and receive your priestly vocation as authentic.” The acknowledgement and reception are the fruit of listening; they are made in the name of Christ with the same confident and humble declaration of faith in the mysterious workings of God as made by the young man and never as something to be taken for granted. 

John the Baptist announces the coming of Christ. He preaches a Gospel of repentance and radical change of heart because the coming of Christ is the final say that God has in vanquishing sin and death. The coming of Christ is the revelation of the fullness of the truth, the truth about God and the truth about human nature. The announcement made by John the Baptist is that God reveals Himself fully and completely in Jesus Christ — there will be no more revelation because there is nothing more to be revealed. God has given His all. This revelation requires a similar response on our part, it requires that we answer God’s call with our whole being.

The word for “gospel” is found in our reading from Isaiah for this second Sunday of Advent. It is used to announce the good news of a victory of God by bringing to end the exile of His people. The term conveys a military victory. God has vanquished in battle the forces of evil and division to bring His people home. The Lord is revealed in this reading from Isaiah to be a warrior who will fight for His people against their enemies and oppressors. God is also revealed to be a shepherd who will comfort and guide His people into safety. Thus, Mark’s story of Jesus will reveal Him as one who will bring an end to the reign of sin, evil, and death by victory in battle over them and shepherd His people into safety.

So, John the Baptist goes into the wilderness, the place where Israel first became a people after God’s victory over the forces of slavery in Egypt. The wilderness is the place where Israel first came to discern and to hear God’s victorious voice leading them to the Promised Land. The wilderness is the place where they can only trust God and not their own unaided merit to lead them to the Promised Land — to God’s Kingdom. The wilderness is the place where we encounter and receive God’s grace. John the Baptist calls out from the wilderness to the people of his time to receive God’s grace to prepare for the coming of Christ to conquer finally evil, sin, and death through His cross and resurrection.

John the Baptist cries out the Gospel — the good news of God’s victory in battle over sin and evil — to us today in the wilderness of secularism and postmodernism. He calls us to prepare for Christ’s second coming through repentance, prayer, and acts of mercy and consolation. He calls seminarian David LaPointe to answer that call to priesthood that prophesies to the fullness of the truth and unconditional love of Almighty God revealed in Jesus Chris, the Word Incarnate where kindness and truth meet. David’s vocation to the priesthood, like that of every other priest, is to remind us prophetically that the fullness of the truth is Jesus Christ and there is nothing more to be revealed that has claim on our hearts. Likewise, this vocation is to be configured to Christ as a warrior who will fight for His people against their enemies and oppressors of sin and death and to be a shepherd who will comfort and guide His people into safety.

These prophetic aspects of a priestly vocation prefigured by John the Baptist are seldom received easily by the powerful in society. When the priest is faithful to these prophetic aspects of his call to prepare the faithful for the coming of Christ, like John the Baptist he can suffer rejections and martyrdoms, large and small. Pope Benedict XVI commenting on the prophetic mission and martyrdom of St. John the Baptist spoke, “Let us recall that John the Baptist was martyred for his witness to the indissolubility and unchanging nature of marriage. As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God’s Commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodias of adultery, he paid with his life, sealing it with martyrdom, his service to Christ who is Truth in person.” The priest as a prophet must never compromise the truth of the Gospel even if he feels abandoned in the wilderness.

Advent is a season that calls us to live as the Church in the already/not yet of the Kingdom of God. Today we pray for God’s blessing on our diocese, the Diocese of Fort Worth, and particularly upon David LaPointe as a candidate for priestly ordination. He is a candidate for ordination, but he is not yet a priest. We come together with a deep awareness that the work entrusted to each of us, particularly the priestly formation of David LaPointe is not yet complete. The Lord, who has done so much for each and all of us, also has even more for us to do. Today is a beginning — the beginning that reminds us of what has already been initiated by God in Christ’s coming, and the beginning that directs us to Christ who will come again to establish His Kingdom of the fullness of the truth and love in part through our vocation and ministry.

%d bloggers like this: