Homily for Mass of Ordination of Deacons
Tonight I have the very special privilege of re-visiting the Diocese of Parramatta to ordain three new deacons: Wilfredo Limjap, Pio Yong Ho Jang and Thomas Thien Hien Bui.
I am pleased to acknowledge Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta, Kevin Manning. The Diocesan Administrator of Parramatta, Very Rev Fr Peter Williams, sends his apologies as he is presently unwell but is very intent on joining us spiritually. I welcome the priests of the Parramatta Diocese and other visiting clergy, including old seminary classmates of Pio’s; our present seminarians led by Rector Fr John Hogan; our deacons-in-training led by Fr Jolly Chacko; members of religious orders; members of the Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino communities; and visitors from other parishes and outside the diocese. I especially acknowledge the deacons of Parramatta who tonight welcome three new members into their college. Above all, I greet the family and friends of our soon-to-be deacons, especially Willy’s wife, Elizabeth and sons David, Michael and Louie and mum Ester, and Pio’s brother Augustine and wife Teresa and their children. To all of you: welcome.
Homily for Mass of Ordination of Deacons
Padrio Pio Church, Glenwood, 12 December 2014
In Mexico and its North American colonies the first twelve days of December are days of celebration. Thousands pass through streets on vibrant floats, or dancing or marching, some wearing bright-feathered Aztec headdress, others jingling sequinned skirts, some in red cassocks lined with bells, others beating drums or shaking maracas. Many bring roses which they’ve saved for months to buy. The children also dress up, the small boys with texta-ed moustaches, wearing painted tilmas like aprons over their clothes or miniature ones on their hats. One boy, representing all the others, kneels at the feet of a little girl, representing all the other girls, her hair covered with a green veil, her hands enfolded in a posture of prayer.
483 years ago the young boys’ hero, Juan Diego, was at Tepeyac, a hill outside today’s Mexico City. He’d met the young girls’ heroine. Appearing in celestial light, she identified herself as the “Mother of the Most High God” and told him to ask the local bishop to build a church in her honour.
Bishops being what we are, this one was sceptical. It wasn’t in the strategic plan or the budget; it seemed to him implausible that Our Lady would appear to a simple native boy only recently converted to Christianity when she could have revealed herself directly to the bishop who was a rather better class of person; and, in any case, she should have taken her plans to the Diocesan Liturgical Commission for approval of the architecture, the Diocesan Business Manager, Property and Finance Councils for an Act of Extraordinary Administration, and the Consultors and Trustees for examination, before bringing it to the Bishop! It seems she was no observer of such niceties. Three days later, on this day 12th December, again meeting the Virgin-Mother, Juan Diego was directed to gather up some roses to carry back to the bishop in his tilma. Back at the Bishop’s office, the roses tumbled out in front of the prelate and his assistants who, to Juan’s surprise, fell to their knees in front of him: for there, miraculously imprinted on the tilma, was La Virgen Morena, a brown-skinned Virgin, a mestiza of European and Native American ancestry. Wearing the Aztec cincture for a pregnant woman, and standing above the angels and celestial spheres she promised not only to give birth to our Saviour Jesus, but to a new race of Christians, the Mexicans, who amazingly converted en masse in the following decade. This was Our Lady of Guadalupe whose feast day this is. (Robert Barron, Catholicism, 108-11.)
It was then and is now the season of Advent, in which the Pregnant Morena and all creation await the birth of the Saviour. He is the reason for Our Lady of Guadalupe’s power. He comes, through the cooperation of the Immaculate Virgin, to conquer sin, the flesh and the devil, to conquer death itself, and to restore humanity’s relationship with God and its hope for the future. He offers His reconciliation not just to the Europeans but to all races and peoples of humanity, not just to the wealthy but to the poorest of the poor. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, Jesus “takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man”. In Him, all of mankind is represented and all are offered a new type of existence, graced and divinised (Infancy Narratives, 1-13).
In tonight’s Gospel we glimpsed a little more of that new existence, told in Jesus offering Himself, expending His very life for His friends (Jn 15:9-17). Jesus offers the possibility of participating in this service of love to His disciples, whom He now names ‘friends’, his quasi-equals. Tonight, the Church of Parramatta welcomes three new servant-friends to the Holy Order of Deacons, one permanent, two transitional. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe and her beloved Juan Diego, they are no Anglo-Aussies but of cultures at once more ancient – for they are from all across Asia – and more new to this land – for they are all migrants to that multicultural melting pot that is Western Sydney. Like the children in the Guadalupana Procession they add colour and vibrancy to our ministry. And in the process the Church of Parramatta gains three men to serve the Word, Altar and Charity, to serve the People of God from every nation, all united under the cape of Mary who holds us close to the Advent child in her womb, that all humanity might be recapitulated, redeemed and sanctified.
But how is it that we judge them to be ‘worthy’? Willy originates from the Philippines, was educated by religious sisters, and served 4am Masses at an early age. At sixteen he tried the seminary, earned an Arts degree, and discerned that his calling was not to priesthood but to marriage and family. He stepped out into the world of work and commerce and culture, and with his wife Beth went further “out there” by migrating to Australia. But he never lost his attraction to ministry and he and his wife and three children have been integral members of their parish community and the Couples for Christ movement. He has given himself over to a long-extended formation process while balancing work and family. Willy loves serving others outside his comfort zone. He is indeed ‘worthy’ to be a deacon.
Pio is from South Korea. Though St Padre Pio parish might like to claim him, he was in fact named for Pope Pius X, whose promoted devotion to and reception of the Eucharist. Pio, like both Padre Pip and Pius X, has a Eucharistic vocation. As an altar boy, he remembers adoring the Host and loving the priest who made it possible. He avoided his calling for a time but gave in. His root to diaconate and, God willing, to priesthood has been somewhat labyrinthine, via Brisbane, Sydney (where I interviewed him a decade ago) and eventually Parramatta. Amid praise and teasing, Pio has put his trust in God’s Providence and shown himself to be a man of deep spirituality who will be a mentor to others in the spiritual life. He is indeed ‘worthy’ to be a deacon.
Thomas is Vietnamese, the youngest of only ten children. One of his brothers is a Dominican priest, which is a very good thing! Like Willy and Pio he has had to fight for his clerical vocation, in his case persisting despite the opposition of the Communist Government and even some of those close to him. After trying a seminary in Vietnam, he served in World Vision, an NGO helping provide basic health, education and agricultural services. So he has been at the frontline serving those in desperate need, providing practical assistance and charity. He has come to the Diocese of Parramatta and loved it: it is, he says, where he wants to serve and die. He is indeed ‘worthy’ to be a deacon.
Thomas, Pio and Willy have been invited by Jesus in our Gospel (Jn 15:9-17), to know His Father’s business and to carry on the work of the Son through the Holy Spirit. Like the Levites of our first reading who assisted Moses and the Aaronic priests in the Holy of Holies, these men will serve at the Altar and be ministers of the mysteries (Num 3:5-9). So it is that they will witness the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and tender that most wonderful sacrament as Holy Communion to those at Mass, give benediction of it to those needing blessing, and bring it as healing for the sick and viaticum for the dying. They will witness the equally extraordinary transformation of infants and adults into children of God through the saving waters of Holy Baptism. They will witness the transformation of single people into couples for Christ through the awesome sacrament of matrimony, in Willy’s case adding the testimony of his own marriage to Beth. They will witness the transformation of the unevangelized, the uncatechised and the rest of us, through the saving Word of God undiluted on their lips as Paul exhorted in our epistle (2 Cor 4:1-2, 5-7). They will witness the transformation of families, parishes and other Christian communities through works of leadership and administration to which Paul also refers. They will witness the transformation of the poor through works of charity and justice such as Pope Francis keeps calling us to. Ultimately they will witness to Christian lives brought to their fulfilment when they bury us in the dust and commend our souls to God. Above all, like the Advent Woman of Guadalupe, pregnant with possibilities, with power, with hope, they will ready us to ready the Christ-child into the mangers of our own hearts.