Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Aug. 14 for the diaconate ordination of Brian Cundall and Ben Riley.
Many people imagine celibacy must be the hardest thing about being a priest and the biggest sacrifice that Brian and Ben will be making today as they promise celibacy in this ceremony, but as a matter of fact, gross violations of celibacy are pretty uncommon. Indeed, that's why they are so shocking. If they happened all the time, they wouldn't be news.
A more common threat is the vice of ambition, which well-meaning people reinforce whenever they tell their pastor: "You'd make a good bishop!" What they don’t realize is that unlike in business, success in the things of Jesus is not about career advancement. It is a matter of dedication, not ambition. People think that being a bishop is surely better than being a simple priest or deacon and definitely better than being a layperson. It’s not! It is simply one role among many other worthy roles in the life of the Church. What is "better" is whatever God wants you to be, not what the world considers success. In the Gospel you just heard on this feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Jesus often addresses the issue of ambition. For instance, he uses his story of the guests at a wedding banquet to warn us not to seek the places of honor lest a more distinguished person come and the host have to tell us to give up our places, and humiliated, go and have to take our seat in the lowest place. Rather, we should take the lowest place right from the start. If the host wants us to sit at the head table, he'll come and get us — as frequently occurs in parish events.
Notice that ambition and dedication are opposites. Ambition is living for oneself, one’s own advancement while dedication is living for something bigger than oneself. Ambition is about upward mobility — the pursuit of power, while dedication is about downward mobility — the search for opportunities to serve, which often requires us to risk doing things just because they are right, even though they are not in our own personal self interest. Jesus is the Son of God, but he came to earth to serve, not to be served, pouring out his very life on the cross for our salvation. Jesus made himself our servant and that's why we want him as our King. Jesus takes the lowest seat, but every one of us wants him to sit at the head of our table.
Brian and Ben, the bigger sacrifice you make today is the promise of obedience, which involves the sacrifice of your will. Obedience is more than just compliance; it has to do with what goes on inside your heart. Compliance by itself is just external behavior. Jesus didn’t just keep his Father’s commandments, he also “lives in his love” and invites us to do the same, listening with a loving heart as humble servants — hence the name of this ministry: deacons, which is from the Greek diakonoi meaning “servants.” Hence through ordination today you make a self-sacrificing gift of yourself to the Lord and so you promise not only to do what the Lord, through me, asks of you, but also to do so with a listening, loving, humble heart.
And isn’t that what the Blessed Mother did throughout her life? The person who is living for something bigger than himself invariably brings that big-hearted attitude with them in everything they do. The dedicated person is not interested in who sits at the head of the table at home. What he cares about is that the needs of all are met.
Ambition or dedication? Take Mary as your model. Whatever our walk of life, this may be the greatest spiritual challenge that any of us ever faces and our choice will impact every sector of your life — and this is especially true for those of us whom God calls to serve him as bishops, priests and deacons. It is the choice between pursuing success as the world judges success or placing ourselves at the service of others in a way truly worthy of the Lord, which is what Ben and Brian commit themselves to do. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
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