Father Josh Mayer’s Homily at Vespers before Father Mitchell Brown’s Ordination:
“God is rich in mercy; because of His great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved.”
Tomorrow, here at our Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, at 11am, we will have the joy of participating in a great outpouring of God’s mercy, at the Ordination Mass of soon-to-be-Father Mitchell Brown. A great grace will be bestowed not only upon Deacon Brown but also on the whole Church, even on the whole world which the Church is called to serve. And this grace, this incredible divine favor, will come through the same unexpected and paradoxical means that Jesus embraced in order to save the world: through death. Tomorrow, we will witness Deacon Brown lay down… and die.
A brief reminder that one of the most recognizable symbols of the Catholic priesthood is that we wear black. The uniform for Diocesan Clergy, us priests and deacons, is all black clothing, either a black cassock or black slacks and a black shirt, with a white collar. The white collar stands for purity and for slavery: we commit ourselves completely to the service of Jesus Christ. What does the black stand for?
Death. The black Clerical Uniform is meant to tell everyone who sees us that those of us who wear it have died to ourselves, to our ego, our sinfulness, to our own plans and desires, we have died to the values and machinations and schemes and temptations of our lost and confused world, we no longer live for any of that, but only for Jesus Christ, His Church, His Mission, His Cross, His Heart, His Love.
Tomorrow, during one of the most powerful moments of the Rite of Ordination, we will all intercede for Deacon Brown as he prostrates Himself before Christ and offers his life to the Lord. This, too, is a symbol of death. It’s an action of self-emptying, of embracing the Cross of Jesus Christ, of dying with Jesus so that you can rise with Him. In the waters of baptism, we die and rise with Jesus. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that death and resurrection is specified: Deacon Brown, this is how you will live out your death in Christ: as His priest. The flock that Jesus entrusts to you are the children you are called to die for, tomorrow and every day of your life from there on out. We will be praying for you. Die well, my brother.
Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating? Isn’t this all a little gloomy, a little morbid for an Ordination Weekend? Well, first of all, we are Catholic, so this stuff kind of comes with the territory. But second of all, yes, it would be, if death were the end of it. But it isn’t. In Jesus Christ, death has been defeated, and the Lord reigns forever.
Those of us who are called to a religious vocation or to the priesthood of Jesus Christ embrace our own death early, so to speak, not for the sake of death itself, but so that a greater life can be unleashed into the world. We want to die to ourselves, to the world, not because we are obsessed with death or have a problem with self-loathing, but because we know that there is a greater love than our own that wants to flow through us. We have wounded, tiny, selfish hearts, but there is a Sacred Heart burning with passionate love, a pierced heart which is the source of grace and mercy and salvation and eternal love for ourselves and all of our brothers and sisters, and this heart wants to take up residence in here.
At the ordination of a priest, when Jesus Christ conforms a man’s heart to His Sacred Heart in a very particular way, a resurrection happens. The old man has died so that Christ, the One Eternal High Priest, can live in Him, can love through Him, the old heart has stopped beating so that the Sacred Heart can begin pumping Blood that saves, can begin loving with Salvific Love. Jesus Christ is both priest and victim. So is the man ordained into His priesthood.
And so a priest who undergoes a symbolic death, who gives up his old lifestyle, who promises to live out celibacy and obedience and a life of prayer, but never really gives his heart over to Jesus, never lets that conformity to the heart of Christ well up inside and take over, never lets Jesus do a Divine Heart Transplant… this is a shell of a priest, a shell of a man. Death without resurrection is just death. To serve the ones that Jesus loves, to care for the flock that Jesus gives to us, we priests need not only to die to ourselves, but to live with the life of Christ, to burn with the fire of His love, to be kept alive by His Most Sacred Heart.
Please pray for Deacon Brown, in the last remaining hours before his ordination into the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and for all of your priests, that the death we embrace embraced serves it’s purpose: the necessary prelude to resurrection, that we no longer live but Christ lives in us, that we let the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced and poured out for you and me, beat inside our chests, that we allow the grace and love of Jesus Christ continue to transform the world through the joyful offering of our own lives. We priests don’t give our lives up; we give them to Jesus, who can work miracles with even the most meager of offerings, just like He does through the hands of a priest at every single Eucharist.
Jesus, we give you our hearts. Please give us yours.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us