19th Sunday Ordinary Time

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Many Scripture scholars, and other people who read this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, often consider these words applying to the end of time, or at the very least the end of their own lives; that Christians need to ‘be ready’ to have a clear conscience and a pure heart for that time when God calls them to leave this life and enter into eternity.

While this is one way of considering this passage, there is another, equally valid way we can reflect on these words. We can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus at the moment of our own death –and- we can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus every day in every person we encounter.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to remind the members of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, and others, that every day we would meet Jesus in what she called ‘the distressing disguise of the poor,” and poor is a very broad term; it can mean the starving and the dying in the streets of Calcutta; it can also mean the poor or our own community or our own households – the materially poor; those who have no friends or family (the socially poor) ; those who have no relationship with God (the spiritually poor).

This particular Sunday is preceded by the feast day of two saints whose lives and deaths were very intertwined: Pope St. Sixtus II whose feast is August 7th, and St. Lawrence, whose feast is August 11th .

They lived in Rome during the persecution under the emperor Valerian in the middle of the 3rd century; one of the punishable crimes against the Christians was any public act of worship; Saint Sixtus was arrested as he was celebrating Mass out in the cemetery of St. Callistus, along with five of his deacons, including Lawrence. Sixtus and his deacons were well aware of the penalty for this public act, and they were prepared for the consequences; consequences which would mean execution; but would also mean being freed from the bonds of this world and meeting the Lord face to face. In his life and ministry, Sixtus was ready to meet the bridegroom for eternity.

Lawrence, on the other hand, was singled out by the Roman prefect and separated from the others. Lawrence was in charge of the church funds which were used for the care of the members of the church. The prefect demanded the ‘treasury’ but Lawrence did not have it with him. The prefect gave Lawrence three days to present him with the Church’s wealth. Sixtus and the other deacons were executed that day.

Lawrence worked often with the poor of the city of Rome, and it was to the poor that his actions were drawn; he took all of the sacred vessels and gathered up all of the funds that the church possessed and spent the next three days distributing everything among the poor, Christian and non-Christian alike. When the time came for him to make his presentation to the prefect, Lawrence gathered the poor, the sick and the lame of the city of Rome in the prefect’s courtyard and announced to him , “Behold the wealth of the Church.”

The prefect’s response was predictable; Lawrence was taken and executed in a most brutal fashion, roasted alive on a grid iron, and died a martyr of the Church; but it is in his actions and death that we see an example of how Lawrence was not only prepared to meet Jesus for eternity, but how he was prepared to meet Jesus every day in the poor and suffering; in every person he encountered. St. Lawrence is one of the patron saints of deacons, the patron saint of Rome, and the universal patron of the poor.

While we may not live in a country or culture where we are called to be ready to die a martyr’s death for our Catholic faith, we are called to be ready to be a witness to our faith in a culture that is hostile to it. We are called to be ready to meet Jesus in the poor and the suffering, the lonely and the lost; we are also called to be ready to witness to our faith – in our choice of entertainment; in the products that we buy, having a social conscience for how this impacts the environment and the poor of this world; in our social circumstances, when people and society tell us that everything is relative and that the Church’s teaching on marriage or contraception is out of date or out of touch: we witness in faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of human life from conception to its natural end.

Saint Sixtus was ready to meet Jesus for eternity and was willing to publicly profess his faith, knowing it would cost his life.

Saint Lawrence was ready to meet Jesus for eternity by meeting Jesus daily in those whom he served, the Church and the poor.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was ready to meet Jesus daily in dedicating her whole life to serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

We may not die for witnessing to our faith, but we may suffer for this witness in other ways; limiting our social circle – not being popular or always included in gatherings or activities; losing out on a promotion or job opportunity; but in practicing and standing up for our faith; in living out our mission to love God and our neighbour –whoever that neighbour may be – we are like the servants in today’s parable, being ready for the Lord whenever and wherever He comes to us.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

so what do we call you anyway?

Often, one of the first questions a newly ordained deacon hears from people in the parish he serves is, ‘what do we call you now?’

In 2nd Corinthians, we read, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’  Perhaps this is a good place to start in explaining what happens to a man at ordination to the diaconate – as well as at ordination to the priesthood.  That man receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders (deacon, priest or bishop), and as in all the other Sacraments, we believe Christ is present and grants grace; something is changed, made new, made ‘a new creation’. 

Think about it this way; in Baptism we are changed into an adopted son or daughter of God; in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  In much the same way, at the very core of his being, in Holy Orders a man is changed – configured to Christ.  He is no longer, ‘his own man’; as long as he is open to the graces of the Sacrament, he is configured, transformed interiorly, to Christ.  A priest or bishop is configured to Christ the head; the deacon, to Christ the suffering servant. This is emphasized in that, not only is a deacon an ordinary minister of baptism and celebrant at weddings; not only is he to proclaim the Gospel and preach; but he is to be a minister of service to the poor – wherever the poor may be found (materially, socially, spiritually, etc.).

This ‘newness of creation’ is a reason why a priest is no longer ‘Joe’ but rather, ‘Father Joe’ or a deacon is no longer ‘Bob’, but rather ‘Deacon Bob’. It is a recognition that he is no longer who he was before ordination (and it actually helps in holding himself to account in that new reality).

In my own journey to this vocation, my own life took many twists and turns; married with five children, I have been an army reservist, factory labourer, forest firefighter, journalist, and police officer.  Through all of that, there was a calling, very quiet at first, which drew me deeper into a life marked by wanting to serve others, and deeper into a desire to serve God in a permanent way.  It hasn’t been smooth, and it hasn’t always been easy; it required a lot of discernment, patience and trust – it required an openness to following God’s call and the teaching of the Church – and a willingness to accept whatever decision those responsible for my formation came to – whether to recommend the bishop ordain me or not. 

But through all of this, there developed an understanding that this is not about a ‘job’ or a volunteer ‘opportunity’ or a liturgical ‘function’.  Responding to God’s call to service is really all about relationship; a relationship of love with God expressed in a relationship of love and service to others.         

The canonical title may be ‘Reverend Mr. …’ ; this may sound somewhat formal and wordy for deacons you may know.  Quite simply, you can’t go wrong with ‘Deacon Chuck’ –  whatever your deacon’s name might be.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!