Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Ordination of Eric Flores and Benjamin Grothouse to the Transitional Diaconate

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

March 25, 2023
St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church
Flower Mound, Texas

Numbers 3:5-9
Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11
Acts 6:1-7b
Luke 1:26-38

Today, our friends and relatives, Eric Flores and Ben Grothouse will be ordained deacons of the Church. As deacons of the Church, they will be responsible as ministers of the Gospel, ministers of the sacraments, and ministers of charity. These three ministries at ordination will be bound in their souls with God’s love. They require their attentiveness to these sacred responsibilities that can only be nourished through prayer – their own and the prayers of others, the prayer of the Church.  Each of these ministries is intimately related to the other and to neglect one is to neglect all three and to become lost from what it is that Christ is calling them to do.

At the heart of the vocation and ministry to be a deacon is prayer. The daily and graced conversation between God and each one of us, but most especially between God and each one of us in communion with each other as the Church: personal prayer and liturgical prayer are required, the prayer of each person and the prayer of the Church, especially the Liturgy of the Hours which you promise to pray today. As we listen to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, our attention should be drawn to the last line of the reading, “They presented these men to the Apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.” They prayed.

The emphasis on prayer is important because it highlights the spiritual dimension of the laying on of hands; it is not merely a transactional gesture of a contract that happens in employment or even an inauguration ceremony for a limited term of office in civic government. It is clearly a sacramental gesture that transmits a permanent commitment against the horizon of eternal life.  The key component of prayer also shows us that the response to the Lord’s call to ordained ministry in the Church requires a close relationship with God, without which our acts become empty and are reduced to becoming merely functional or a type of activism which in the end leaves us hollow.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles are faced with an urgent challenge that is more than a practical problem of finding right priorities of action. They are faced with the challenge that the human leadership of the Church might lose their way and begin to mistreat the Church as simply a social organization for outreach with no significant spiritual character. Whenever this happens, the people whom God calls us to serve begin to appear in our eyes to be problems and not human beings. The Apostles are not confronted with simply a problem of distribution of resources or marketing of a product that involves the translation of services into a second language. The Apostles recognize through their prayer and discernment that unless the Church responds to the needs of the poor widows and orphans, they will fail in the Lord’s primary command “to love one another as I have loved you” by providing for their brothers and sisters in need.

The needs of widows and orphans, and of all the poor, cannot be reduced to a lack of material possessions. It is true that their poverty includes life-threatening financial hardship, and that cannot be minimized, but the poverty that oppresses them even more affects them socially and spiritually. Their poverty stems in part from their not belonging to husbands or children, fathers and mothers, or families of any type. They have no place in broader society. They have no friends. Their alienation compels them to think that God has no place for them, nor do they have a place for God. The Gospel, of which you will soon become heralds, reveals that the poor come first in the communion of the Church, and they are most important for Jesus responds to them first. This even more profoundly oppressive spiritual burden of poverty can only be met by the Gospel of unconditional love and the grace of mercy entrusted to the Church to be administered sacramentally by her ordained ministers and shared among all the baptized.

At the heart of the Gospel is the revelation that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.”

Today, through our Apostolic ministry and the laying on of my hands, the Church ordains these two men to the order of the diaconate. We do so by following the example of the Apostles and the other disciples of the early Church provided in today’s reading, after much prayer and discernment. We do this on this most beautiful and appropriate Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, when the Blessed Virgin Mary said “yes” to God’s will and His call to her to be the mother of His Son.

There is no more intimate relationship in human nature than that between a mother and her child and this relationship can never be reduced to simply the biological function of incubation and birthing. This relationship is one of being and cannot be reduced to a matter of technology or the result of a contract exclusively of human agreement. Yet, this profoundly intimate relationship is what is given to each of us by Christ Himself as His last gift to us as He died on the cross. “‘Woman, behold, your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This command and grace offered by Jesus to take Mary into our home is even more profoundly directed to you and to all deacons.

The lowliness of Mary, called and chosen to be the Ark of the New Covenant, is highlighted and underscored in the call of deacons to be ministers of the charity of God. This ministry is a vocation that is born of prayer not entitlement. It is the ministry to the lowly and poor of the world, who are precisely the lowly and the poor whom God raises up as He casts down the mighty of this world from their thrones. As deacons you are entrusted with the ministry to feed the hungry with the good things that God has provided, while He sends away empty the self-satisfied of this world.

As deacons you are entrusted with the ministry to bring the hope of the Gospel and the grace of the sacraments to those who have nothing except the gift of fear of the Lord. It is to these people that you are sent to minister because they rely only on God for they have nobody else to be their advocate. In this sense your ministry as deacons corresponds with that of the Levites of the Old Covenant about whom we read in today’s first reading. It was the Levites who were recipients of a call to service in caring for the Temple that held the Ark of the Covenant made between God and Moses on Sinai. It is Mary, as the Ark of the New Covenant, who held within herself, Jesus Christ Himself, who is present especially in the poor whom you as deacons are called to serve with the Gospel, with the sacraments, and with charity.

As Benedict XVI once insightfully observed, “But there is also another aspect: in God not only is there room for man; in man there is room for God. This too we see in Mary, the Holy Ark who bears the presence of God. In us there is space for God and this presence of God in us, so important for bringing light to the world with all its sadness, with its problems. This presence is realized in the faith: in the faith we open the doors of our existence so that God may enter us, so that God can be the power that gives life and a path to our existence. In us there is room, let us open ourselves like Mary opened herself, saying: “Let your will be done, I am the servant of the Lord.” By opening ourselves to God, we lose nothing. On the contrary, our life becomes rich and great.

Dear Sons, on this great solemnity of the Annunciation and this joyful day of your ordination to the diaconate, when you promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, when you promise to live celibate chastity and obedience in imitation of Jesus Christ, all of us, the entire Church, pray and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, that you open yourselves even more to God to be ministers of His Word, ministers of the sacraments, and ministers of charity.

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