Step Forward with Faith
A homily for the ordination of three deacons preparing for ordination to the priesthood in 2020 given at Westminster Cathedral in June 2019 when he was Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster.
Be like people waiting for their master to return … Blessed those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. (Luke 12.36-37)
Dear Adam, dear Axcel, dear David, I hope that each one of you is wide awake this morning. The declaration of your presence, and the testimony given about you, signals that you are ready to make a lifelong commitment to Christ, to his Church, and to his people. Each of your particular pathways to this moment has been an unfolding of God’s loving providence. So be awake but relax. You can be serene and secure that the Lord Jesus calls you personally, by name, to be his happy servant.
I know that the Gospel you chose for this ordination liturgy has a special resonance for each of you, both individually and collectively. In whatever way you, or any of us, might struggle with early mornings, or with keeping focused and attentive, or with not dozing off, the instruction of the Lord Jesus is a living word for you today and for your future ministry. As you lie down to prostrate yourself in readiness, be sure that, should you feel sleepy, I’ll make sure you get up again.
As a deacon of Jesus Christ, as his servant, you must be ‘dressed and ready for action.’ The sacred vestments with which you will be clothed are symbols of you new relationship with Christ and his Church and his people. They are the exterior signs of the interior reshaping which takes place through prayer and the laying on of hands. The stole you will wear across your chest, close to your heart, is the harness of your obedience and fidelity. The dalmatic you will wear, shaped like the cross, is the apron of your dedication and service. This is the uniform of those under the command of the Servant Saviour. Like him, you must wash feet without hesitation. Like him, you must wait on table with courtesy and perseverance.
In every aspect of your new ministry carry with you the lamp of faith, burning brightly. Your faith must shine through everything you are, everything you say, and everything you do. As Jesus’ deacon you must also be his beacon. You are to attract people to Christ in a new way. As you labour until the Master returns, always desire to embody and project the light and warmth of his truth and compassion.
You are to stand ready to open the door for Jesus. In doing so, the first door to be opened is that of your own heart. Had Christ not already made a home in you, you could not give your life to him today. The Lord has known and loved you even before you were created. The Lord has accompanied you through all the twists and turns of life thus far, and he will not stop now. At times you might not have believed this day would ever come. But the Lord has always known it would. You are not children anymore, even though, before God, we can sometimes feel small and inexperienced. It is no bad thing to be in the nursery of Christian discipleship. It stops us from being proud and arrogant. It prevents us thinking we have nothing to learn. But trust implicitly that it is the Lord who has called you through his Church. It is the Lord who is sending you out in the name of his Church. Have the confidence of faith and the gentleness of humility.
Today, Jesus asks you to promise obedience so that you can be completely free. Today, Jesus asks you to promise celibacy so that you can love without limitation. Be sure that in this the Lord is with you to protect you. Hear again his simple yet powerful word: Do not be afraid. It is the Lord who stretches out his hand and lays it upon your head. It is the Lord who puts his word upon your lips. It is the Lord who consecrates and appoints you, entrusting you with the care of his household, of his family. You are to announce his presence, especially through the proclamation of the Gospel, through assisting the Bishop, and his priests, at the altar, and through a distinctive concern for the weakest and the poorest, whoever they may be.
‘Stand ready,’ said Jesus, ‘to open the door when the Master comes and knocks’ (Luke 12.36). Remember that opening doors is the servant’s job. It is your job. Help others to open the door of their hearts to Christ. By your faith-filled preaching encourage people to invite Jesus into their lives, perhaps for the first time, or in a new and deepened way. Attune yourself to listening for when Christ is knocking on your heart and the hearts of others. Be prepared, at what might seem the most inconvenient times, to see and serve Jesus in every situation. If you have the heart of a servant, you will meet Christ in places you never expected. If you persist in loving, long after anyone is looking, or there is benefit to yourself, the Master will not just find you happy, the Master will make you happy in ways that you cannot imagine, in ways that are out of this world.
Commenting on this text of St Luke’s Gospel, the Didache, the first century treatise of the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, states: ‘a lifetime of faith will be of no advantage … unless you prove yourselves fully responsive to the very end.’ Your faith has brought you to this place of response, to this point of saying ‘yes’, yes to Christ, yes to his Church and yes to his people. Today you offer yourself in an act of surrender for the rest of your life. Put aside any anxiety and step forward with faith. Open the door of your heart to the graces with which the Lord will flood your soul and your ministry. Love and serve Jesus above all. Love and serve Jesus through all. Love and serve Jesus in all, ‘fully responsive to the very end.’
May our blessed Lady, the doorway of heaven, and all the saints pray for you. May you find that happiness, that blessedness, of being at the Master’s employment so that, one day, you might reign with him and never sleep. Amen.
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