“Serving Our Friends Daily in the Name of Jesus Christ”

Excerpts from the homily preached by
The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
At the Liturgy of Ordination of
Deacon Gary H. Mueller
To Serve as a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Belleville
St. Nicholas Church, O’Fallon, Illinois
February 26, 2017

My Dear Gary,
Dear People of God:

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for today is the evil thereof.”

These challenging words, spoken to us by Jesus of Nazareth this morning, remind you Gary, and each of us, just how seriously we must take our response to the call to follow Jesus. To be an authentic Christian, and an effective Deacon, demands that we reject what the great German Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has called “cheap grace.” We must be willing to pay the “cost of discipleship” with integrity and honesty … .

You and I have prayed in the chapel at my residence and spoken at length and in-depth about your long journey of preparation for this Ordination Day. Baptism calls all of us to be disciples of Jesus and to serve others. In your ordination as Deacon, the Church calls you to exercise a unique and particular service for the Christian Faithful … .

Dear son and brother: Commit yourself to lifelong spiritual formation so that you may grow and persevere in rendering a service that is truly an inspiration to the People of God. This ministry of diaconate is given to the Christian community, as a sign of the Christ’s enduring presence in our midst, by the power of the Holy Spirit … .

Dear Catherine: As Gary’s wife, you have supported him through his years of study and formation. Now you must assist him in his daily ministry. You, too, are called to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. And this means growth in personal prayer, family prayer (morning and night prayers, prayers before and after meals), and liturgical prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament).
Gary, I will ordain you to be a servant of the Word of God. This is not the same as the word of modern, secular culture, the sometimes distracting word of talking heads on television, the words of quarreling factions in contemporary harsh political discourse, the words of bias, prejudice and rejection that continue to divide our country because people are of different religions, nationalities, races, political positions, and beliefs about marriage, family life, human sexuality, and the value human life … .

I am ordaining you to the service of the Word of God, the Sacred Scripture, the Good News of Salvation from Jesus Christ. I now entrust the Word of God to your care, giving you the authority not only to proclaim the Word, but also to teach it and preach its saving truth. You cannot teach what you do not know. From this day forward you must be a true student of the Word. Prayerfully read the Scripture often in lectio divina, calling on the Holy Spirit. You must give ample time to preparing your homilies.

“Believe what you read! Teach what you believe! Practice what you teach!”
The people of God are starved for nurturing spiritual food. Do not preach yourself or the opinions of others, preach Christ, and Christ crucified and raised up to eternal life. Do not mount the pulpit to entertain the faithful with amusing stories, and light-hearted personal experiences that do not illuminate and break open the Word of God. This means you must always keep your Scripture commentaries and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” near at hand. Keep in mind that many Catholics do not have a clear understanding of some of the most basic passages of Scripture. They become ill at ease and fall into embarrassed silence when their Protestant friends speak about the Word and then ask them what Catholics believe about sin, salvation, redemption, resurrection, and the hope for eternal life. As the Church’s minister, your preaching must show plainly that you hold and teach the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles … .

Good preaching can be deeply rewarding for you and the faithful. While some Catholics are slow to comment to the Priest or Deacon about his Sunday sermon, from time to time, others will go out of their way to tell you how deeply they were moved by the way you applied the Gospel to everyday life. Your energetic and inspired preaching will give the faithful ideas to ponder throughout the week … .

I will ordain you to service to the Christian community, especially service at the altar table, and to works of charity and justice. As a Deacon, you will draw near to the altar, next to the Bishop or Priest, in the preparation and celebration of the Eucharistic meal, the Sacrifice of the Mass. Alerting the People of God that they are drawing near to the sacred mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord, bread and wine that are food and drink indeed; spiritual nourishment for the journey to be consumed with great reverence. In your professional life you also work at table by welcoming diners to your restaurant, The Egg and I, for breakfast and lunch. This is a kind of ministry of hospitality and welcome that is consistent with your work as a Deacon.  Indeed, the motto of your restaurant is “Serving Friends Daily.”  Even though this morning’s Gospel challenges you not to be concerned about what you are to eat or drink, this motto can be easily applied to your new ministry: “Serving friends daily the Word of God, in the name of Christ.”  “Serving friends daily at the altar, in the name of Christ.” “Serving friends daily in charity and justice, in the name of Christ.”

Just as you strive to make the dining experience of your restaurant patrons as enjoyable and rewarding as possible, so too, you should do all you can to make the experience of the faithful who come to Mass as spiritually satisfying as possible by attending to every detail, being completely familiar with every aspect of the liturgy, moving about the sanctuary with confidence, self assurance and grace, never needing to ask or be told what to do. Do everything with profound humility, awareness, and a keen understanding of what you are doing.  Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Never speak in the sanctuary beyond the words proper to you as a Deacon. Your posture and decorum will remind everyone that, even when Mass is not being celebrated, the sanctuary is a sacred space. It is never a place for visiting and idle conversation … .

In your ministry of justice and charity, you must look for specific ways to help others here in St. Nicholas Parish, or wherever I may assign you, by living and practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in the name of the Church. You must do this as Pope Francis has so often reminded us by going to the periphery of society, where you must look for the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the discouraged, the imprisoned, the sick, and those who are powerless. You must be with them in your thoughts, your heart, and your pastoral plans, for there you will encounter Jesus of Nazareth, who dwells with them. In serving them, you will serve Him. May you make your service in the ministries of justice and charity, a hallmark of your entire life.  And perhaps, over time, you may discern ways in which your restaurant, The Egg and I (Serving Friends Daily) can be, to some degree, an expression of your service to those in need. As Christ tells us, “as often as you did it for one of My least brothers, you did it for me.”

This morning’s Mass is the last time the Church will proclaim “alleluia” for many weeks. Ash Wednesday is at hand. You begin your service as Deacon during the penitential season of Lent. You go into the desert with Jesus. Like Him, you will experience temptations not to be faithful to the commitment you make this day. Like Him, you must resist temptations … .

Today, dear Gary, you become the servant of God, who has graciously chosen you this morning for the office of Deacon; may you be effective in action, gentle in ministry, and constant in prayer.

In our first reading, Isaiah the prophet reminds you that the Lord will sustain you in this office.  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?”

Dear people of God:
During these days of Lent, we are to purify our hearts with prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and acts of repentance (including the Sacrament of reconciliation), and accompany our catechumens on their journey up to Jerusalem for the Easter Vigil Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist when, once again, the Church will shout Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! By these sacraments, new members are initiated into the Christian mysteries and into the Catholic Church. By this initiation, we are all called to give our lives to Christ, following the path to the holiness of life, the path to sainthood.

We are all called to a kind of diaconate, a ministry of service. And Christ needs each of you.

He needs your eyes to continue to see.
He needs your ears to continue to hear.
He needs your mouths to continue to speak.
He needs your hands to continue to serve.
He needs your feet to continue to walk.
And he needs your hearts to continue to love!
Amen! Amen! Alleluia!