Installation of Lectors – October 3, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:10-14; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Luke 24:13-35
The road to Emmaus story, just proclaimed, is one of the great stories that have come down to us in the scriptures. It occupies such a singular place in our hearts because, in many respects, it’s our story, isn’t it? We’re all travelers on the road of life looking for the way that will lead us to a place of meaning and purpose, peace and fulfillment.
Luke begins the story by describing the profound disappointment of two disciples walking along the road. They are approached by another traveler, a stranger whom we know to be Jesus, but the two travelers do not. When the stranger asks what they are discussing, Cleopas retells the story of Jesus’ passion, ending with the most amazing news: the tomb in which the body was placed was found empty. To their surprise, the stranger chastises the disciples for not believing what the prophets had announced. He then recounts the passages from the scriptures – the Word of God – that referred to Jesus – ultimately to himself.
Luke is quite clear in revealing that the Word of God is integral to understanding Jesus’ true identity. While it was in the course of the breaking of the bread that the two disciples came to recognize Jesus, they were quick to note, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Pope Francis has often reflected upon the centrality of the Word of God in the Christian life. Apropos to this gathering, three days ago in a letter commemorating the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Jerome, the Holy Father emphasized the need for those “who can exercise ‘diaconal’ functions on behalf of those who might have difficulty understanding” the message of the Sacred Scriptures. … And in his Apostolic Letter issued just about a year ago, Aperuit illis, Pope Francis begins his instruction by focusing our attention on the Emmaus story just proclaimed: “The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers and the sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Yet the contrary is equally true: without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible.”
The Holy Father notes further that the Emmaus story “demonstrates the unbreakable bond between sacred Scripture and the Eucharist. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, ‘the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she has venerated the Lord’s body, in that she never ceases, above all in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the word of God and the body of Christ.’”
Simply put, brothers and sisters, Luke’s cherished story of the encounter of the Risen Jesus by two disciples who were at a particularly low point in their journey of faith provided hope not only to the early Church but to Christians down through the ages to this very gathering of God’s people in prayer.
So, to our brothers who are receiving the ministry of Lector, I pray that this understanding of the vital role of the Word of God in our lives as Christians impresses upon you the urgency of caring for the treasure that is being handed on to you this day. This moment is not merely a stepping stone in your diaconal formation. To the contrary, you are being called to a special recognition of the Word of God in your lives that is essential to the life of the Church.
As Jesus made all things known to us and then entrusted his Church with the mission of preaching the Gospel to the whole world, you will assist in this mission, and so assume a special office within the Christian community. You are being given a responsibility in the service of our faith, namely, to proclaim the Word of Life in the liturgical assembly, to instruct children and adults in the ways of the gospel, and to bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it.
What an awesome responsibility to so walk with Jesus through your encounter of him in the Word of God. Yet, it’s humbling as well, brothers. Pope Francis said it best years ago in the early days of his pontificate, “To walk with Jesus … is not easy, or comfortable, because the way that Jesus chooses is the way of the Cross.”
Consider for just a moment what we have all confronted during the past ten months – from the consequences of living in the midst of a global health crisis – to racial tensions that sadly remind us of our failure to treat one another with the dignity and respect deserving of who are made in the image and likeness of God – to living in the midst of the polarization that has enveloped our world and our Church. These experiences and more remind us that the mission of the disciple of Jesus – a mission rooted in the proclamation of the Word of God – is as much of a challenge today as it was in the earliest days of the Church. As such, if the Word’s proclamation is to be efficacious, it can never be reduced to mere symbols on a page or to hollow sounds of the self-righteous. It must be living and vibrant.
So, brothers, sear into your hearts the words of Saint Pope Paul VI: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. And if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Live with authenticity the Word of God that you will proclaim through love and service of the People of God.
Finally, brothers, in your desire to deepen your relationship with the Lord, never forget that while you’ve been invited to this moment in your journey of faith by the Church, you have been accompanied not only by those entrusted with your formation and care, but by loving families, supportive friends and faithful parish communities. To the wives and to the children, parents, family members and friends of the men who are in formation for the permanent diaconate – I thank you for your support, your encouragement, your willingness to allow these men to listen to the call of Jesus and to say yes to his invitation serve.
Please know of my gratitude and that of the entire Church of Scranton to each of you, our candidates, and to you, their families. As a diocese, we are blessed by your commitment and richer today, because of your efforts. Know that we walk with you with our love, our support and our prayers.