Welcome to St. James Cathedral on this joy-filled day as we are about to ordain Deacon Zackary Gray and Deacon Joseph Tran, our brothers, to the priesthood. I extend a special welcome to your parents, your brothers, and sisters; your family and friends who join us here this morning from Palm Bay to Ocala, from Orlando to Vietnam. I welcome the priests and deacons of the Diocese of Orlando and visiting priests from other Dioceses and your classmates who have been ordained and those who will be ordained soon. Welcome to all our seminarians and young people. The Rite of Ordination is a beautiful ceremony rich in tradition and symbolism. I pray it is a source of inspiration for you in your vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I welcome those who are joining us by way of live stream, from other parts of the Diocese and across the globe; especially Vietnam.
I thank the faculty and staff of St. Vincent de Paul and St. John Vianney Seminaries. I welcome Very Rev. Alfredo Hernandez, Rector of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, priests and religious sisters, faculty and staff. Welcome and a special thank you to our Director of Vocations, Fr. Josh Swallows, and Darcey Dinh and Sr. Gianna Grace Perino, SCTJM for your guidance and support of Zackary and Joseph before and during their years in the seminary.
To you – the people of God – who are here this morning, I welcome you and thank you for your presence. I ask that you pray in gratitude for our soon to be newly ordained priests, Deacon Zackary and Deacon Joseph; I ask God to bestow on them joys that never end in their fiat and service to you, the people of God.
Our first reading from Hebrews tells us that you, Zackary and Joseph, will be named priests in the line of Melchizedek, recalling our generational ties to the priests, prophets, kings, and people of the Old Testament as Jesus fulfilled the Covenant to bring salvation to the people. Now after nine years of rigorous study, spiritual guidance, and pastoral solicitude, Deacon Zackary and Deacon Joseph, you will be ordained to bring God to all of God’s people through the Sacraments, that you might live as God’s dwelling place.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (Gal 2:20), “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” St. Paul tells us that he will not treat God’s gracious gift as pointless. In this then, God calls you to fill the earth with holiness.
It is fitting that we pray with gratitude for Deacon Zackary and Deacon Joseph as we have been on a journey this Easter season, accompanying the apostles, disciples and newly converted of the early Church, to refresh ourselves in the waters of Baptism granting us the eyes to see and ears to hear our call to holiness, this lived community of faith so new, yet aged in God’s time.
In John’s Gospel Jesus gives His disciples this new commandment. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:9-12).
Christ reveals His heart to His disciples. He calls them friends not servants. This manifests the rich meaning and mystery of God’s love for us as His priests. He tells us, “It is not you who have chosen Me, but I who have chosen you” (John 15:16). Your ‘yes’ this morning, Zackary and Joseph, is your response to this love of God. It is a surrender of self to allow yourself to be found by God and to be led by God. Priesthood is a mission to bring Christ to others. It is always an extraordinary experience of love.
Yet in our world today, we are still learning how to love one another as God loves us. We are still trying to understand charity for the lowliest, particularly when we may feel one of the lowly. We are growing our families with Sacramental presence, and we may also find disappointment that not all our family members believe as we do. Time and time again, the apostles, like Peter and Paul, express these difficulties in the early Church, as we hear proclaimed in the Scriptures. They talk about persecution and discrimination and yet, daily, they are seen at the Temple preaching the Word of God. When they are most afraid and confused, God sends the Holy Spirit to bolster them with courage and they spread the Peace of the Lord in ways that people, no matter their language, can understand. The apostles and now, you Zackary and Joseph, you must invite the people, in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to shed their nearsightedness, their disbelief, their earthly perspectives, and to renew what they asked in Baptism, eternal life with God. Pope Francis said, “We are called to be guardians of one another, to strengthen the bonds of harmony and sharing, and to heal the wounds of creation lest its beauty be destroyed.”
Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily said, “Being priests, dear brothers, is a grace, a very great grace, yet it is not primarily a grace for us, but for our people. The fact that the Lord chooses from among His flock, some who devote themselves exclusively to the care of His flock as fathers and shepherds, is a great gift for our people.” Zackary and Joseph, you both spoke of your love of the Eucharist as priests. You will feed the people with the gift of finest wheat, Bread from Heaven, the Eucharist. You must challenge the people to be fed physically and spiritually and to not overlook the most important meal, the Eucharist, the sustenance of our journey from earth to heaven. You will invite the people to build a holy family and to help them to understand how they, by virtue of their Baptism, are priests, prophets, and kings. The people of God will implore you to act accordingly! They will ask you to be moved by God’s gaze of love and lead them out of themselves into God’s marvelous light.
Zackary, you wrote, “I want to be prepared as much as possible to enter into the priesthood this summer.” Today we thank your family for planting the foundation of faith in you and giving you the opportunity to grow in your faith. Monsignor Pat Sheedy and the people of Blessed Trinity rejoice in celebrating this day with you. You said your Eucharistic experience at Steubenville retreat, “was the single most pivotal moment of my life. That was the first time I thought about being a priest.” “Adoration is where the Lord showed me how much He loves me, and the mission trip is where He gave me the desire to serve.” Your vocation is a reminder to all of us of the sacredness of the call of God in our lives.
Joseph, you were born in Dong Nai Vietnam to a faith filled family. We thank your family for nurturing your faith and love of the Lord. When you were young you engaged in many parish ministries. You were an altar server and played the piano for the children choir at age 12. Your uncle, a priest, inspired you to consider the priesthood. You said, “I felt like I wanted to do something for the Lord and His Church.” Having responded to that call, you are now ready to be ordained a priest. You stated that you wanted to share with all God’s people, “the joy of the Gospel.”
In the opening of the encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI referred to The Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan’s Prayers of Hope, “During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.”
I leave you with The Venerable Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan’s own words:
“You have told me: walk with giant steps,
Go all over the world,
Proclaim the Good News,
Dry the tears of sorrow,
Reassure discouraged hearts,
Embrace the world with the ardor of your love,
Do away with what must be destroyed.
Leave only truth, justice, and love.”
Zackary and Joseph be not afraid. The faithfulness of the Lord is forever. Be an ambassador for Christ. Proclaim the Good News. Let us rejoice and be glad.
Homily by Bishop John Noonan
St. James Cathedral
May 28, 2022