Homily delivered by Archbishop Joseph Harris at the ordination to the order of the Diaconate of Elton Letang, CSsR (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 at the St Theresa's RC Church, Malick, Barataria.
Dear friends, let me begin by welcoming Bro. Elton’s family, his mother and sister and other relatives and friends to Trinidad and Tobago and to this Archdiocese of P.O.S on the occasion of the ordination to the diaconate of their son, brother, relative and friend. I thank you Mrs Letang and your husband for this gift of God to the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer and to the Church of the Caribbean.
In a special way I welcome the Redemptorist provincial and his delegate here in the Caribbean Fr. Mark Owens and congratulate them and the Congregation for bringing this young man to the point where he can be declared worthy of receiving this sacrament. May he be an asset to the Congregation!
This man, your relative and friend, is now to be raised to the order of deacons. Consider carefully the ministry to which he is to be promoted. He will draw new strength from the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will help the Bishop and his body of priests as a minister of the word, of the altar, and of charity. He will make himself a servant to all. As a minister of the altar he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice and give the Lord's body and blood to the community of believers. It will be his duty, at the Bishop's discretion, to bring God's word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptize, to assist at marriages and bless them; to give viaticum to the dying and to lead the rites of burial. Once he is consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes to us from the apostles and is bound more closely to the altar, he will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop or the pastor. From the way he goes about these duties, may you recognize him as a disciple of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.
And now my brother since this is your day, let me address a few words to you.
“Repent and believe the Good News.”
My dear Brother, You have chosen as the Gospel reading for this your ceremony of ordination to the diaconate, these words of Jesus with which according to the Gospel of Mark, the Lord Jesus began his public ministry and which he repeated again and again in different words and in various ways. “Repent and believe the Good News.”
At the beginning of this homily, addressing your relatives and friends, I told them that as a deacon you will be a minister of the word, of the altar and of charity. How will you be a minister of the word, of the altar, and of charity?
The rite of ordination itself provides the answer. After being vested as a deacon, I will place the book of the gospels in your hand and say to you; receive the Gospel whose herald you now are; Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.
The reception of the book of the Gospels means much more than taking this book into your hands. The reception of which we speak is a reception of mind and heart. It is a reception which says that you accept intellectually what is written in it and that you embrace it with all your heart and strength. You will then be told; Believe what you read! If you have not already understood, you will come to the realization if you are faithful to the reading of the Gospel that the object of our belief is not simply the words and ideas and values enunciated in the scriptures, but a person, Jesus Christ. Then you will be told teach what you believe; If the subject of our belief is the person Jesus Christ, then as St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2,2) this person Jesus Christ is whom we teach and Him crucified and Risen from the dead. The third injunction you will receive is; “practice what you teach!” In other words be another Christ, who spoke with authority because his life validated what he taught and because he spoke truth to Power, even when Power in the persons of the Pharisees and scribes and chief priests had the power to annihilate him, he was crucified with a crucifixion which brought freedom to those in slavery to sin. In this you have the example of St. John the Baptist, who was put into prison and lost his head for speaking Truth to Power. You have the example of so many martyrs who also spoke truth to power and paid with their lives for it. Never let power be stronger than Truth. . Never make compromises with power, in whatever form even when power has the potential to do you great harm. Then you will truly be a minister of the altar becoming yourself the bread sacrificed and broken for the sake of Truth (with a capital T) Jesus Christ himself. Dear brother, be another Christ letting your life validate whatever you say.
As another Christ let your life be one of gentleness and love, so that it can be said of you as it was said of Jesus, he did all things well. As a minister of charity, you are called to make the love of Christ present to all with whom you come into contact.
My dear brother, these three functions which you are called to fulfil must not simply be functions. They are to be expressions of your belief in the Lord Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. You will live these functions, (notice I said live and not fulfil) in the measure that you respond with total generosity to the call which you have received from God. Remember the words of Jesus to his disciples, “You did not call me. I called you and sent you so that you may bear fruit, fruit which will remain.”(John 15, 16) The fruit which Christ wants of you and for which he chose you is that through you the Love of God, Father Son and Spirit will be made manifest in this world, a love lived for us in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In this enterprise you have the example of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Congregation to which you belong and who often exhorted his followers to be saints and who followed Christ the redeemer so closely that they have become models for others. After being ordained as a priest, he himself Caring for the poor, wherever his journey took him, was the hallmark of his calling. St. Alphonsus realized he could no longer be comfortable in his role of popular preacher living apart from the poor. So, leaving his family and his dearest friends, he set out to dedicate himself completely to the service of the poor and most abandoned.
Within your Congregation you also have the examples of St. Clement Hofbauer, St. Gerard Majella St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Seelos. Be a friend of these saintly men, know their lives, draw inspiration from them as you strive to be faithful to the Gospel and to the charism of your congregation.
Finally be a man of prayer, of deep and frequent prayer. Only in a life of intimacy with the Lord, following the examples of these saints of your congregation will you find the spiritual stamina to be faithful in good times and in bad.
May Mary Immaculate be with you always on this journey to which you pledge yourself today and may God bless you.