“I was becoming a bridge, connecting the people to God”

After yesterday’s ordination of transitional deacons, I decided to rework my homily for this Sunday, with particular attention to a member of the newly ordained who has a strong connection to our parish. Here’s the result.   

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Yesterday, in the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, Bishop DiMarzio ordained 10 men as transitional deacons.  One of them was the seminarian who spent his pastoral year at our parish, Jeremy Canna.  He is now Deacon Jeremy. By the grace of God, next June, he will be ordained a priest and become Father Jeremy.

I was blessed to be there yesterday and take part in his ordination.

If you’ve ever been to an ordination, or seen one on television, one of the most powerful moments occurs shortly after the homily, when the men being ordained literally lay down their lives for the Lord. The men face the altar. Then they lie prostrate on the floor of the church, face down. A cantor begins to chant the Litany of the Saints, calling all those in heaven to pray for these men, asking God to send forth his Spirit.

Name after name is heard – saints and martyrs, missionaries and apostles, holy men and women from all of history.  And for that blessed moment, we are united in a powerful hymn of intercession, as we plead for the communion of saints to join us in prayer.

But for those men on the floor, time has ceased. The world has stopped.

Let me tell you, as one who has been there on the floor: there is nothing like it.

To this day that point in my own ordination remains, to me, the most humbling moment of my life—a lesson in the very subject Jesus preaches about in this Sunday’s gospel.

It is a lesson in humility.

I’m told that the word “humility” has the same root as the Latin word “humus,” meaning “close to the earth.”

At that point in the ordination rite, those being ordained become little more than the ground we walk on—as humble as the earth, bowed down before the powers of heaven and the mercy of God. I remember a priest once describing his own ordination in a beautiful way. “I was laying myself down for the people,” he said.  “And I was becoming like a bridge. At my feet, behind me, were the people.  Before me, at my head, was God. I was becoming a bridge for them to travel over, connecting the people to God.”

That describes, eloquently, the life of the ordained.  But it also describes what all of us as Christians should strive for.  All of us are called to be the bridges to God—by our lives, by our actions, by our witness.  Priests and deacons offer themselves in a very particular way in service to the church.  But the ordained don’t have a monopoly on service and sacrifice. Every one of us is called to that kind of surrender, that kind of love, that kind of humility.

Yesterday, after the Litany of the Saints, the men rose and got back on their feet. Some were wiping away tears. What followed was the vesting in the robes of the deacon—first the stole and then the dalmatic, this outer vestment that I’m wearing.  Several weeks ago, Jeremy had approached Deacon Bill and me and asked us to vest him.  So when that moment in the ritual arrived yesterday morning, we picked up his vestments from his chair and crossed the sanctuary to where Jeremy was standing.  His hands were folded in front of him in prayer and I couldn’t help but notice: they were trembling.   From the look on his face I could tell he was overwhelmed at what was happening. You sometimes see that look on the faces of couples on their wedding day: Fear, joy, disbelief, confusion, all mingled together.

I slipped the stole over his shoulder.  And then Deacon Bill helped him put on the dalmatic.  Before we went back to our seats, I embraced Jeremy and whispered four words he had never heard addressed to him before: “God bless you, deacon.”

And now the next great chapter of his life begins.

We encounter these sacramental milestones in our lives and they pass and we move on.  But we shouldn’t just let them go.  Baptisms and marriages, first communions and confirmations and ordinations — these are all more than mere markers on life’s journey. They are gifts.  They remind us of God’s presence among us.  They are occasions for welcoming into our lives his sacramental grace—grace that enables us to grow and to persevere, to love and to hope.

Grace that makes us ready and able to witness to the faith.

Grace that I know will be with Deacon Jeremy as he moves closer to being ordained a priest.

He’s been assigned to spend the next several months at Our Lady of Mercy, where I’m sure Msgr. McGuirl will give him ample opportunities to celebrate baptisms, preside at weddings, preach homilies and minister to the people of God. Please keep Deacon Jeremy in your prayers.

Keep in your prayers, as well, all the men ordained yesterday. We hear again and again that the harvest is great but the laborers are few. Today, we have 10 new laborers heading into the vineyard—10 more men who have publicly laid down their lives for the Lord, proclaiming that they want to serve as bridges to God.

That, I think, is the essence of sacrifice.

It is love.

And it is humility.

It is the gospel message captured in a moment of breathtaking grace.

With these men as an example, let us pray for the grace to live that in our own lives—and by extension, to share it with the world.


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