Archbishop to new transitional deacons: Look to the examples of Sts. Peter and Joseph

Aaron Lambert

On Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila ordained six men to the transitional diaconate during a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Marking this important step toward the priesthood were John Alemeida, who is studying at Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary; John Croghan, who is studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.; Sean Conroy, Anthony Davis and John Stapleton, who are all studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary; and Peter Srsich, who is studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

In his homily, Archbishop Aquila noted the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and spoke of the readings for the day, taken from the book of Jeremiah.

“In our readings for today, we hear the Lord speak to the prophet Jeremiah, and he speaks to you too,” the archbishop told the men. “‘I formed you. I dedicated you. I appointed you. I send you. I command you. I am with you to deliver you. I place my words in your mouth.’ And all of those point to action of God in your lives.”

In meditating on these words, Archbishop Aquila said, it becomes apparent that the vocations of the six men – and each of God’s children – was God’s will from the beginning.

“You, my beloved sons, your vocation began at the time of your baptism. And that is true for each and every one of us,” he asserted. “In making us at our baptism his beloved sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, the Lord pours out his love upon us, unconditionally and freely.”

Citing the Gospel of Matthew, Archbishop Aquila explained that even today, there is still confusion about who Christ is, but as Christians, we must look to the example of Peter and the apostles, who states, “You are the Christ, son of the living God.”

This is a proclamation all sons and daughters of God must make, the archbishop said, and in doing so, we “respond that Jesus is the son of the living God. That he is the Lord. That he is the savior. He is the redeemer. He is the brother and friend. And it is living in that relationship and believing it and trusting it and opening our hearts to receive it that we discover our vocation.”

The archbishop then urged the men to always remember the vocation to which the Lord has called them, that it is not their own will that they should seek to do, but the will of the father.

“In your preaching, you must have confidence in the Holy Spirit and in the words given to the prophet by God: ‘I place my words in your mouth,’” Archbishop Aquila said. “You are not to preach your opinion. You are not to preach your personal preferences. You are not to lead people astray. You are to lead them into the truth of Jesus Christ. You are to lead them into the encounter with Jesus. You are to preach Jesus’s words. And certainly, you are to use personal examples of where you have encountered Christ, helping people to see that, yes, in 2020, it is possible to encounter Jesus Christ.”

In the wake of media reports on Querida Amazonia and the question of priestly celibacy, Archbishop Aquila urged the men to accept their celibacy as gift from Jesus Christ, so that they can offer their vocation as a self-gift for God’s people.

“The priesthood is not functional, it is sacramental. And so, too, is celibacy,” the archbishop told the men. “You give witness to the truth and to the world that the virtue of chastity can be lived. In this sex-crazed culture that we live in, it needs more than ever that witness to the gift of chastity and to how to live that virtue and the incredible freedom and joy that it gives you.”

In the struggle of celibacy, the archbishop suggested the newly ordained men to look to the example of St. Joseph, who he said is the “best example of spiritual fatherhood and what it means to be a father as a celibate.”

“St. Joseph was called by the Father to be the father of Jesus in his humanity, and in that call, he responded wholeheartedly,” Archbishop Aquila said. “He became the protector of Jesus and Mary and he lived that out in his lifetime. That encounter with Joseph can teach us what it means to be a spiritual father. Listening to the words of Jesus, ‘I have come not to do my own will, but the will of the Father. My very food is the will of the Father.’ St. Joseph was obedient to that.

“You are making a lifelong commitment today,” the archbishop concluded. “Stay faithful to Jesus in that. Remain strong and steadfast in Jesus.”

Featured image by Daniel Petty

COMING UP: Full transcript of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing amid coronavirus pandemic

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Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Ordi blessing delivered on March 27, during which he prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Featured image: Vatican Media