Ordination to the Priesthood – May 27, 2023

Welcome to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe on this joy-filled day as we come to ordain Deacon Angel Garcia, Deacon Zachary Parker and Deacon Edgar Serrano, I extend a special welcome to your parents, your brothers, and sisters; your family and friends who join us here this morning from Osceola County in the south to Brevard County in the east to Volusia County in the north. I welcome the priests and deacons of the Diocese of Orlando and visiting priests from other Dioceses and your classmates who were ordained and those who about to be ordained in the next few weeks. Welcome to all our seminarians and young people. The Rite of Ordination is a 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 from Puerto Rico and Colombia.

I thank the faculty and staff of St. Vincent de Paul and Pope St. John XXIII Seminaries. I welcome Vice 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, SCTJM for your guidance and support of Angel, Zachary, and Edgar 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 for our soon to be ordained priests, Deacon Angel, Deacon Zachary, and Deacon Edgar; we pray and ask God to bless them as they begin their priestly ministry in service to the people of God. 

In our first reading from Jeremiah the prophet, we hear Jeremiah plead with God that he was too young, and he does not know how to speak. Angel, Zachary, and Edgar, remember that your calling is to preach the Word of God. Also have no fear because the Lord will always be with you. The Lord extended his hands and touched the lips of Jeremiah saying, “See I place my words in your mouth. After nine years of rigorous study, spiritual guidance, and pastoral solicitude, Deacons Angel, Zachary, and Edgar, I do not think you are too young or afraid to be ordained. I pray that the Lord will touch your lips so that you too will preach the Word of God to all of God’s people.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians reminds us that the gift of priesthood is not yours to keep but to be shared for the good of all the people of God. You are to build up the body of Christ in a manner worthy of your call, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love … striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” St. Paul is telling us that ego in ministry is dangerous and destructive; You and I are called to build up the body of Christ with our shared gifts. It is in this holy way we build up the body of Christ.

It is fitting that we pray with gratitude for Deacons Angel, Zachary and Edgar 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 15:912).

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).

Remember, Angel, Zachary and Edgar, your response to God’s invitation. Your Yes 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 and surrender.

Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Every one of us can say this, not out of presumption, but as a reality. For all Christians, and priests, can apply to themselves the words that follow: “because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1). Dear brothers, apart from any merit of our own, and by sheer grace, we have received an anointing that has made us fathers and shepherds among the holy People of God. Let us reflect, then, on this aspect of the Spirit: His anointing.”

“After his initial anointing, which took place in the womb of Mary, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan. Following that, as Saint Basil explains, “every act [of Christ] was performed with the co-presence of the Holy Spirit.” In the power of that latter anointing, Jesus preached and worked signs; thanks to that anointing, “power came out from him and healed all” (Lk 6:19).

Jesus and the Spirit always work together, like two hands of the Father – as Irenaeus said – that reach out to embrace us and raise us up. By those hands, our own hands were sealed, anointed by the Spirit of Christ. Yes, brothers, the Lord has not only chosen us and called us to go to that place or another: He has poured out upon us the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who descended upon the apostles. Brothers, we are “the anointed.”

All of us need to reflect on this moment in our priesthood. It is that grace-filled moment when, like the disciples at Easter, we are called to be “sufficiently humble to admit that we have been won over by the suffering and crucified Christ, and to set out on a new journey, that of the Spirit, of faith and of a love that is strong, yet without illusions”. It is the kairos that enables us to realize that “it is not enough to abandon boat and nets in order to follow Jesus for certain time; it also demands going to Calvary, learning its lesson and receiving its fruit, and persevering with the help of the Holy Spirit to the end of a life meant to conclude in the perfection of divine charity”. With the help of the Holy Spirit: for us as for the apostles, it is the time of a “second anointing”, the time of our second calling, to which we must listen; the second anointing in which the Spirit is poured out no longer on the enthusiasm of our hopes and dreams, but on the freedom of our concrete situation. An anointing that penetrates to the depths of our reality, where the Spirit anoints our weaknesses, our weariness, our inner poverty. An anointing that brings a new fragrance: that of the Spirit, not of ourselves. I simply say: courage, the Lord is greater than your weaknesses, your sins. Trust the Lord and let yourself be called a second time, this time with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”  Without the Spirit of the Lord, there can be no Christian life; without Holy Spirit anointing, there can be no holiness. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit that gives life” (Jn 6:63). Jesus began his ministry when he entered the synagogue in Nazareth to preach for the first time. “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me.”

Being a priest, dear brothers, is a very great grace, yet it is not primarily a grace for us, but for the people. The fact that the Lord chooses from among His flock, those who devote themselves exclusively to the care of His flock as fathers and shepherds, is a great gift for our people, the life and vitality of every priest. Our Holy Mother Church teaches us to profess that the giver of all life, the Holy Spirit, “is shown by the fact that without it, the other virtues have no value whatsoever.” Let us help one another, brothers, to preserve harmony – this is the task – starting not from others; but, each of us from himself. Let us ask ourselves: In my words, in my comments, in what I say and write, is there the seal of the Spirit or that of the world?

Angel, your journey of life began in Puerto Rico and your journey of faith began there too. But it was not until you came to Orlando that your life changed. There was beautiful music in other churches, but something was missing. “I realized it was the Eucharist and He brought me back to the Catholic faith.” You said about becoming a priest, “Being able to feed the people Jesus is one thing that I look forward to the most.” We are happy to have your family here with us today.

Zachary, you were born in Japan and started out following your parents into a music career with the military. But while in college you began “to imagine a different life for yourself for the first time.” Your pastor, Fr. John Bosco, and our dearly beloved Msgr. Val Sheedy showed you a whole new perspective on life. The more you got to experience this new life the more you sought it out. You faced some difficult family issues on your journey. The death of your brother and illness of your father all moments that brought you closer to the Lord. You said, “In the midst of all these sufferings to be able to say our God does not just watch, He gets into the middle of it and comes down. That is the beauty of the Incarnation that He is with us and not just watching off to the side.”

Edgar, you were born in Colombia. You came to Titusville in 1999. While visiting Japan a family tragedy changed your life. When you returned home, you began attending St. Mary Parish in Rockledge. You became more involved and began to help the Spanish community with liturgy and immigration problems. The people recognizing your dedication started telling you to consider becoming a priest. But your answer was, “I am too old.” You decided to become a permanent deacon. While studying for the diaconate, St. Mary’s pastor, Fr. Ivan Olmo asked you, “Why are you not studying for the priesthood?” You replied, “I am too old.” Fr. Olmo replied, “Look at me – I am a second career priest. You said recently, “I am overjoyed to be ordained to the Priesthood and to able to get back to the people. I have missed my interacting with the community.”

I leave you with the thoughts that come from the heart of Pope Francis which are my sentiments for you, Angel, Zachary, and Edgar, but also for our brother priests. Pope Francis concluded his Chrism Mass homily, “I conclude with two simple and important words: Thank you. Thank you for your witness and for your service. Thank you for the hidden good you do, and for the forgiveness and consolation that you bestow in God’s name. Always forgive, please, do not withhold forgiveness. Thank you for your ministry, which is often carried out with great effort, with little recognition and is not always understood. Brothers, may the Spirit of God, who does not disappoint those who trust in Him, fill you with peace and bring to conclusion the good work He began in you, so that you may be prophetic witnesses of His anointing and apostles of harmony.”