Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Permanent Deacon Candidates – Installation of Lectors
Feast of the Archangels – September 29, 2018
As we join together today for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, I can’t help but think of all that each one of you brings to this moment of prayer. For as much as we bring things that are really only known to God and ourselves, we also carry with us certain things that are known to many. … Our very presence around this altar affirms in a public manner our faith in Jesus Christ. … The rite that we celebrate with our deacon candidates today attests to their desire to respond to the Lord’s call to discipleship in a profound manner. … And all of our prayers, devotion, and the good works that we seek to do in loving service of our sisters and brothers give evidence of our desire to live as Jesus’ sons and daughters.
I mention these things because your presence here today, along with your personal stories of faith in so many ways become living reminders to all of us of the great feast that we celebrate in the Church today on this feast of the Archangels – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
In the Office of Readings for today’s feast, there is a wonderful passage from St. Gregory the Great. Listen to what he says: “You should be aware that the word ‘angel’ denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver a message.”
What is the great saint sharing with us today in his words? He is reminding us that angels are intermediaries from God – they are beings through which God intervenes in human life. They point the way to God and remind us of God’s concern for us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides even deeper clarity to the place of angels in salvation history. “Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels. … They belong to him because they were created through and for him. … They belong to him still more because he made them messengers of his saving plan: ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?’” … Indeed, the very word “angel” derives from an ancient Greek word meaning, “to bear a message, announce or bring news of” something. And the “something” for us as Christians is God.
In so many respects, todays’ Rite of Institution of Lectors powerfully reflects the heart of the Feast of the Archangels. In the brief instruction that I will share with you in just a few moments, we will be reminded that through Jesus, “God the Father has revealed the mystery of salvation and brought it to fulfillment.” As with his angels, Jesus has entrusted his Church – you and me – with the mission of being messengers of the good news to the whole world.
And so, my brothers, who are preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate and service to the People of God, you are being called today to a special recognition of the Word of God in your lives. You are being challenged – particularly by today’s Feast – to both reflect upon all that you have been given through the grace of God at work in your lives – and to use what has been entrusted to you selflessly and lovingly for the benefit of others, without counting the cost, setting conditions or demanding a return.
As is so evident from today’s Feast, your ministry as lectors and bearers of God’s Word is essential to the life of the Church. As Jesus Christ 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 take on a special office within the Christian community. You will be 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 yet humbling responsibility!
Your journey to this day and ultimately to ordained ministry in the Church comes at an incredibly challenging moment in our history as a local Church. In the face of so much suffering that has emerged in countless numbers of lives because of the tragic reality of abuse – in the midst of feelings and emotions fraught with sadness, betrayal, anger and disillusionment – the authentic mission of the Church must continue. For that to occur, the Church looks to generous, faithful souls like you to carry us forward to a better place for all.
My brothers, know above all else, then, how vital it is that, in the midst of fulfilling this responsibility, you live the message that you proclaim. Take care to avoid the posture of the Pharisees so often criticized by Jesus in the gospels for giving lip service to the law but failing to embrace its spirit. Instead, sear into your hearts the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI; words that Pope Francis continually calls us to embrace as followers of Jesus. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. And if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” So, LIVE the gospel that you will proclaim in your service of the People of God.
You’ve been invited to this moment in your journey of faith by the Church. You’ve been brought to this moment 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 and your willingness to allow your husbands, fathers and sons to listen to the call of Jesus and to say yes to his invitation serve. For all of the challenges that they – and you – have and will experience during this time of formation, I can assure you that their lives will be filled with great meaning and purpose, continued challenges, happiness, peace and fulfillment. Such blessings will also touch your lives and the lives of all those whom they 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 will continue to walk with you along with our love, our support and our prayers.