Saturday, May 31, 2014
Feast of the Visitation
St. Joseph's Basilica
Zephaniah 3:14-18; Acts 6:1-7; Luke 1:39-56
When the angel Gabriel made his announcement to Mary that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit, he indicated that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, had also conceived a child and was in her sixth month. In the Gospel passage proclaimed this morning, St. Luke tells us that, following the annunciation, Mary "set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country." Anyone who has been to that region of the world realizes very quickly that the terrain is very hilly indeed, almost mountainous. Mary's journey would have involved many long days of arduous travel. Here, in the simple recounting of Our Lady's journey to Elizabeth, we have an important insight into the Christian life in general and the diaconate in particular. Mary came to the aid of her relative in need, and her urgent and arduous journey teaches that charity admits of no delay and yields to no obstacle. In this act Mary lived out in anticipatory fashion the clear commandment later given by her Son regarding love of God and neighbour. From the beginning, she modelled authentic discipleship and demonstrated that it must have at its centre mercy toward those in need.
Roger, Hyland and Gemelo, I encourage you to take to heart Mary's example. The ministry of deacon is ordered to mercy. In virtue of your particular configuration to Christ through ordination, you will stand in the midst of the community as a reminder to all that charity is the heart of the Church and animates all aspects of her mission. Within the areas of the Archdiocese to which you shall be assigned, be always attuned to the suffering in your midst. Let there be no delay in your response to the needy. Let nothing stand between you and those who seek the service, consolation and hope that they rightly expect from the Church's sacred ministers.
In all that you do, seek to bring to others the joy of the Gospel. Sadness is today widely prevalent. What God wills for his people is joy. To guide you, ponder deeply and often the prayer of Mary, her great Magnificat, a beautiful hymn of joy. It grounds the joy of the Christian in the loving and merciful fidelity of God to his people. God looks upon us in our lowliness, he pours out favour, he remembers his promises to us, above all the promise of mercy. Our faithful God deals mercifully with his needy and sinful people, and will never abandon them because he remains always faithful to his covenant promises. Herein lies the source of our joy! Let those you serve know that God is ever near them. Much heartbreak and pain is caused by the experience of infidelity and abandonment. They must know that God will be always faithful and will never abandon his people, particularly in their moments of most acute need. Mary's joy arose from the experience of God's notice. He had looked upon her with favour, she exclaimed, and so her heart rejoiced. By your presence and assistance, may those you serve experience God's loving and attentive gaze and from that awareness draw real hope and joy. To borrow from the ancient words of Zephaniah, may those who derive benefit from your ministry of charity be renewed in the love of the Lord, aware that since God is near and in their midst, they have no longer any reason for fear.
Let there be no room for fear in your own lives either. The ministry entrusted to you is daunting, certainly, and you, like all other ministers of the Gospel, are aware of your weakness and limits. Yet you do not undertake your duties unaided. You may rightly rely upon the fidelity of the Lord to his promises and thus expect that he will always guide and accompany you. Here I invite you to learn from St. John the Baptist. He who leapt for joy even in his mother's womb as he heard the voice of Mary has much to teach us about living in anticipation of the Lord's presence to and among us. In short, he teaches us to expect it. The whole ministry of St. John was given over to an intense expectation of the coming of the Christ, and a desire to point him out when at last he appeared. This expectation was based entirely on God's covenant fidelity and in no way on human merit. We, too, can expect God to intervene and act in our lives because he has promised to do so, unworthy though we are. As deacons, you can expect the Lord to accompany you. Always draw your strength and peace from this consoling truth.
Furthermore, John teaches us to expect to be surprised by the Lord. John's public description in the Gospel of Matthew of the manner in which the Christ would come (cf. Matthew 3: 11-12) left him puzzled when Jesus acted otherwise. The Lord works in our lives, certainly, but on his terms and in his own time according to his saving purpose for us. What is important is that he does, in fact, act, and does so with love and mercy. Without doubt you will encounter in the course of your ministry many surprising situations and will not infrequently find yourselves marvelling at the many unexpected ways God reveals his presence and bestows his mercy. Rejoice in his presence; delight in his surprises; and submit humbly to the wondrous and manifold working of his grace in the lives of the people he calls his own.
Allow me to conclude with a word of appreciation to your wives and family members present with you here this morning. The people of God in this Archdiocese know that this call of the Lord to Roger, Hyland and Gemelo impacts your lives as well. We are grateful for the sacrifices you have made and will continue to offer in support of their diaconal ministry. I know that the Lord will not fail to bless you all richly as together you rejoice in his fidelity and mercy.
Now brothers, I invite you to step forward and, in the midst of this community of believers present to support you by their prayers and affection, give expression to your commitment.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
May 31, 2014
Feast of the Visitation