Homily: Bishop Stephen D. Parkes
May 29, 2021 – Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, Rejoice!
Today, Holy Mother Church rejoices. Our Diocese of Savannah rejoices, along with the Archdiocese of the Military Services.
The Church rejoices because as we hear in the beautiful tradition of our Church today, from our first reading in the Acts of the Apostles, how seven were chosen to help serve for a threefold ministry. The pillars of this ministry being: servants of the Word, servants of the liturgy, servants of others in the gift of charity.
So the Church today asks of you, Will and Esteban, to embrace the gift of these pillars, to embrace the gift of this diaconal ministry, and that you may walk in the footsteps of many who have gone before you, rejoicing that God has called you to this place and in this particular time.
We rejoice today with your families: Hector and Maria, Isabel, your brother Hector. We rejoice with your family, the Cooks: Bernie and Cindy, your brother, John and Navas. We gather with you in this holy place today, because you may remember when you presented this child for baptism – did you have any idea at that moment of where the Lord would lead them in their spiritual life?
My friends, my brothers, on the day that you were knit in your mother's womb, with God and your parents as co-creators, He breathed into you the beautiful gift of life. Today you give that life to the Almighty.
I think as parents you wonder when your children are growing up, siblings as well, what is in store for them? And there's great mystery involved with it. Today is a milestone on that journey – a milestone on the journey for you as parents, to realize that your sons – now our sons – are making a commitment to service, selfless service within the Church.
We rejoice today with those who have helped to form you. The people of God, of our Diocese, the military services, the parishes where you have served, the relationships that you have formed. We rejoice with the seminary communities of Mount Saint Mary's and Notre Dame in New Orleans, and Father Wehner, we’re grateful for your presence here today as the rector.
You're grateful for your formation in the seminary, which brought to you a foundation spiritually, pastorally, academically, and human, and I hope that these have been good years. You're not done yet and still have a little bit more to go, but enjoy this time and be renewed in it as you now are called to a another state within the Church.
Today, Esteban and Will, you rejoice. You rejoice because the Lord has called you into this special gift of ministry. For you, Will, you grew up in Oklahoma, I believe you went to Jenks High School there near Tulsa, Oklahoma State for a degree in construction management and you really have a great love for building, for history. I believe you also have a great love for Caravaggio paintings. And also for the South.
And that's kind of what brought you here to us, besides your love for faith, for family and also for fraternity. The gift of our country, which you have served very well, and it was the military that brought you here to us, to the Diocese of Savannah.
I think you kind of wanted to come here as well, and maybe had a few choices at that time, but this is where the Lord called you in the Marine Corps to serve, inevitably going on a year of mission and transition, working here in Savannah. And then coming to us. I can only think, Will, that you found us. But we also found you. And we embrace you as part of our family here, and we are grateful to you, and in wonderful partnership with the military to be able to realize that in your ministry you will have worldwide effects of evangelization. It is the gift of service to others that has drawn you into that particular call. So today, the gift of being a Deacon is also one of service that you will embrace in a spiritual manner, in a spiritual way. We always look forward to what the Lord has in store, but we rejoice with you today.
For you, Esteban, you are a native son, a native son of this area, between the river of the Savannah River, which kind of separates Augusta and North Augusta, you crossed that river a number of times from what I understand. You have some experience in Catholic education and the public school system. You have a lot of interests. I think you're somebody who's multi-talented; you have a lot of different kinds of places where your attention goes. You're extremely social. I think people know that about you. And you're also someone who's very spontaneous. You are, I believe, the first person, the first seminarian, that I met from our Diocese. And that was last summer because you just suddenly showed up there in the parish in Florida before I came here to Savannah. And you were there for Mass and said hello and we ended up going to lunch. You and John Paul, who is now entering the seminary as well.
Your family has certainly supported you in this journey, and I believe that you may be one of the first from our Diocese who is fully bilingual. You grew up here and now that is such a gift and really such a need to be able to minister to the people in our Diocese of Savannah. So you bring all of that giftedness to us.
Will, I think that you have a great way of being very focused. I think you are determined. Your name actually means “a strong willed guardian,” or “a resolute protector.” You're named after your grandfather and have the initials of your maternal grandfather, who was Wesley Calvin. It's pretty remarkable today as we see you go forward that you will take on characteristics of that name, to be a guardian of the scriptures of the Word, of the altar, of people.
Esteban, we share the name Stephen, and I'm sure that in your growing up years you probably were reminded or found out that your name means “the crowned one.” And I hope that you told your siblings that. Because I did as well, especially being the youngest, sometimes we always have to fight. We're sort of at the bottom of the food chain there. But your name is from a Deacon. Stephen gave his life in service of the Word, who said, “Lord, let it be done into your hands. I commend my spirit.” And your middle name José, in this year of Saint Joseph, to be ordained into this sacred ministry, is something that really is unique and I hope that you look to Saint Joseph always for the gift of protection.
In just a few moments, gentlemen, I'm going to hand you a book of the Gospels. You will place your hands on it along with mine, and I will say these words to you: Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. May you believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.
Strong words, to be a herald. Maybe that's not a word that is part of our usual vocabulary everyday.
So what is a herald? A herald is one who is a messenger, who goes before, who sends a message of anticipation of what is to come. A perfect name, a perfect title, for one who proclaims the Gospel, who is a caretaker of the altar in preparation. And also, who exerts the gift of charity and love to others. Being a herald is something that is a responsibility. You are a herald here at Mass, yes, to proclaim the Gospel, prepare the altar. But my friends, you also are a herald 24/7. As a public minister of the Church, you represent the Church, and I ask that you do so with an incredible sense of goodness and of love. So not only here or in holy places, but at all times we strive to be that herald that God has called us to be.
Being a herald means you are a messenger. It does not mean that you are an editor. And being a messenger means that we proclaim the Word of God as it is – we don't put our own little nuances on it, but rather we are true to the Gospel.
And finally, as I know my brother Priests and Deacons would attest to also, being a herald can sometimes bring a life of contradiction. It is a contradiction because the world does not appreciate the herald of the Gospel, does not understand it.
In a few moments you will take a promise of celibacy. Many will look to you and say, why would you do that? To give up the love of one woman and your own family in order to embrace the entire family. Why? Because you have been called to this. And also it is generative. Because the gift of celibacy is a gift. Yes, it can bring challenges, but it is something that God is giving and bestowing upon you, that you may be a life-giving witness to all to whom you minister.
Being a herald is contradictory because in a few moments you take a promise of obedience. Some people would say, well, that's a burden, is it not? No. Obedience brings great freedom. It brings great freedom because we know that the will has been discerned and we trust in the Holy Spirit.
In preaching the Gospel, you also will be one who contradicts, because when it comes to the issues of life, when it comes to issues in our world today of morality, many will not understand. But that does not mean that we get beaten down or that we compromise. God needs us to be authentic witnesses. And that means that we do what we say. It doesn't mean I act one way in some circumstances and another in others. It means we are true to the Gospel. True to what God has given to us.
Believe, teach, and practice in the midst of whatever challenges you may face.
I share with you and I pray for you, that in your journey you will do so each and every day by discovering beauty, understanding truth and inspiring goodness. That you will do so by recognizing the beauty of your vocation, the mystery to which you have been called, and how you have said yes to that mystery.
To be in an awe of it. To never try to figure it out, but merely to live it.
That you will understand truth. Always be on a quest to be better. That’s what each one of us should do. But in understanding truth we also must realize that truth without love is brutality. Love without truth is sentimentality. So where do we find that balance? I’m confident that the grace of orders will help you in that.
And inspiring goodness. As a public witness, may you be a witness of charity, a witness of God's love. As he has given to you, so may you share. For as we have heard in the Gospel today, Christ came not to be served, but to serve.
There is great joy in service to others. When we give of self, we deepen our relationship with God.
And as you continue to work out your own salvation here on this earth, our God will look forward to one day looking into your eyes, tapping you on the shoulder, and whispering into your ear the seven words we all long one day to hear, every one of us. Very simply, Well done, my good and faithful servant. May you strive to hear those words.
Yes, rejoice in the Lord, the Church, your families, our community, your formators, your heart. Rejoice in the Lord not only today, my dear sons, but always.