Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily May 25 for Father Jon Miskin’s priesthood ordination.
Jon, in the Gospel you chose for your ordination, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd and he says that a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. In a few minutes I will have the great honor of ordaining you to take your place in the care of Jesus’ flock, to whose call you have responded with love and courage. And you already know from the Gospel you just heard that to be a good shepherd you must be willing to face adversity and even die for the sheep, like him whose alter ego — Alter Christus — we have become.
This imagery works when speaking about our work of guiding the flock, but it does not work when we focus on the behavior of the sheep. I have already said this at other ordinations, but I want to emphasize it again because it is very important: Real sheep are not too bright, and you need to prod them and goad them to keep them going the right direction. But the people you will serve are not stupid sheep — God has blessed them with many talents and many qualities of character that you and I do not have.
In your vocation story on the diocesan website you refer to the great witness you have received from the members of your family, all of whom are laity. You describe how your vocation journey really began with and was nurtured by the love and faith of your parents and your five brothers and sisters. The laity are our “co-workers in the vineyard.” So as you begin your priestly ministry, I urge you to revere the people you serve. Indeed, you will serve them best by empowering people to contribute their gifts, placing yourself at their service — not the other way around. The Church in Arkansas needs priests who lead by example, who revere the spiritual and ministerial gifts of those Jesus sends us to serve.
As Pope Francis says so eloquently in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, our Church should be characterized by collegiality, by intelligent discourse, and above all by giving joyful witness to the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ — our share in his victory over the power of sin and death, you simply being Christ for them.
I was inspired by how you learned this very concretely as a seminarian in your hospital ministry at Children’s Hospital in Dallas.
You wrote, “As I walked into room after room in the hospital, I realized I could not do this. These patients and their families didn’t need Jon Miskin to come in and try to comfort them. I had nothing to offer them. My only hope in ministering to those people in the hospital was to step aside and let the light of Christ shine in my heart. It was a real struggle to allow myself to let go of the control. But that is what the patients needed. They needed the purely self-sacrificing love of Christ on the cross. I hope to bring this in every part of my life; that is, stepping aside and allowing Christ to guide my words and actions.”
Here in Arkansas, our love manifests itself not only in hospital ministry, but also in the welcome we give to the strangers among us, especially recent immigrants — whose difficult circumstances you have come to know very well.
An important part of your work will be the effort to foster understanding, love and respect among all those whom Jesus entrusts to your care — “stepping aside and allowing Christ to guide your words and actions” and I am inspired by how well you have learned Spanish in order to equip you to serve all the people entrusted to your care.
Our diocese is a living mosaic of very diverse people — sort of like a stained-glass window whose true beauty shines fully only when it is illuminated by the light of mutual love — when the variety of our cultures and races are allowed to shine forth brilliantly. And St. Raphael parish in Springdale where you will begin your priestly ministry is an excellent example of this.
Pope Francis emphasizes that the missionary transformation of the Church begins with a personal encounter with the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, which produces in us an irrepressible passion to share this gift with others — with special concern for the weakest and most broken among us.
And that is what we now ordain you and send you forth to do.
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