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: AM[D]G           

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Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.