Bishop’s Ordination message: Scandals should not lead to fear, confusion

Bishop’s Ordination message: Scandals should not lead to fear, confusion

After offering introductory remarks at the Ordination Mass for eight new deacons on September 22, 2018, Bishop Peter Christensen noted the varied professional and church backgrounds of the men to be ordained and left them with this message:

“All these to be ordained are family men in varied jobs from forestry to pharmacy to land management to an attorney and to a world traveling businessman, and – get a load of this – Thomas Middleton who is a carpenter, cowboy and bluegrass musician at night, was also a special agent for the U.S. government serving in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala as well as an employee at the Idaho National Laboratory for the past 27 years. Fascinating!

These men have already given themselves to our Church as catechists, RCIA instructors, pro-life ministers, Bible study teachers, the Lazarus Ministry (for family members of the deceased), hospital chaplaincy, and four of you are already involved in prison ministry.

Three weeks ago, I met with these men while they were making their deacon retreat. We spoke of their backgrounds, their call to the diaconate, the highlights of their formation and the service they desire to offer our Church.

We spent a good amount of time talking about Prison Ministry since so many have offered this service already. We began speaking about the feeling that comes with the first experience of walking into the prison. The gates and door shut behind you and, from that moment on, you knew your day, your life would be different.

What was believed to be well beyond your reach, as far as your ability to enter such a world, has now turned into a deep love for those whom you serve there within those prison walls. Who would have thought!

Perhaps in some analogous way this captures what you’re about to experience today. You know things won’t be the same – ever.

But you have placed your trust in the Lord, who has called you to this moment – far beyond your expectation for your life, far beyond your perceived ability. You enter in to this relationship with Our Lord and His Church with deep trust that He has called you.

How comforting is the Living Word of God taken from our first reading for you today and captured for all time in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you .... To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear...” (Jer. 1:5-8)

Have no fear to enter the unknown; the Lord is with you to strengthen you for the journey. Jesus asks/commands one thing of you: “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” He asks you to remember, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (John 15:16) 

He’s given you marching orders!

Where does that bring us today in our world and our Church? I wish the Church and our world were easier places to live right now, but they are not. We are all aware of the trying times in which we live and the trying times we face. Many have been so deeply hurt by the scandals of our Church – scandal brought about by clergy who have wondered from the commandments of the Lord to love His people, to love purely with the Father's love.

The result is many of our own people live in confusion. And they live in fear caused by the betrayal of their leaders both within the Church and from outside the Church.

Unfortunately, scandals have been part of the Body of Christ since the first Disciple betrayed our Lord with a kiss. Now – as then – we need to look to the Originator of our faith and Church, Jesus Christ, and not dwell so much on the weakness of His followers. They have always been present, and always will be.

The task ahead for you as clergy, as deacons, is live dignified lives and hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, as Timothy has reminded us in our second reading today. “Thus,” as Timothy says, “those who serve well as deacons gain good standing and much confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.” (I Tim. 3:13)

Your selfless service will give you confidence in the reality of the Truth of Jesus Christ.

As the liturgy for your ordination states, “Receive the Word. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” You will also receive the vessels of the Lord and be instructed to receive the Eucharist and share the Eucharist.

The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, will keep us connected to the lifeblood of Jesus Christ. This is so important because, as we know, apart from Him we can do nothing.

As you know, not all prisoners are behind bars and not all deaths are physical. We have a crisis in our Church that needs attention and, I dare say, needs my attention and your attention. This crisis is causing imprisoned souls and spiritual death to some.

The results of the confusion of our times is captured so well in the writings of St. Francis de Sales in the early 1600s. As you know, he was the Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, which, at the time, was a troublesome place to be.

When St. Francis was risking his life to preach the Gospel to the multitudes in eastern France who had turned from their faith because of the rampant scandal among the clergy, he didn't hesitate to say that what the unfaithful clerics did was the equivalent of spiritual murder by destroying people's faith. Just as plainly, however, he called the people not to commit something even worse: spiritual suicide through focusing on the scandals so much that they cut themselves off from Christ in the sacraments and from the Church He founded.

My brothers, let us enter the places of imprisonment caused by doubts and fears in too many lives. Let us bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us bring them His living Word of hope and salvation. Bring them the Sacraments that save us from death and promise life eternal. The Lord is gifting you with this grace today by the power of His Spirit.

He asks only one thing: to let Him in to use you for His purposes. He knows what you’re capable of doing in this life with His grace, and He will stand with you to fulfill His plans through you.

Remember this quote from Thomas Merton: “All the good that you will do will not come from you, but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and, gradually, you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.”


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