Homily for the Admission of Candidacy Vespers on the Feast of the North American Martyrs

Left to Right: Maurice Moon, Jonathan Demma,Most Rev. Michael F. Olson and Rijo Philip.

October 19, 2016
Theological College
Washington, DC

Psalm 116
1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil, Jean de Lalande, Antoine Daniel, John de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel: these are the names of the saints whose feast we celebrate this day. Christ called each of them by name. He called them by name at baptism; He called them by name at their profession and ordination. They heard Christ’s call to follow Him, they said “yes” to Him, and they placed Him first in their efforts to evangelize the Huron and Iroquois people of North America. Each of them were different and were given different gifts as enumerated by Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians from which we have just read. Each of them were clear in their resolve to love Him and His People and they gave their lives for both.

St. Isaac Jogues was a man of clear resolve. He wrote his superior, ‘Yes, Father, I want whatever the Lord wants, even if it costs a thousand lives.” It was the gift of fortitude that brought him and the other martyrs to clarity. When Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil were accompanying a party of their Christian Hurons on a trade mission they were ambushed by a war party of the Iroquois and outnumbered. In the ensuing battle, Isaac Jogues found himself hidden in the weeds while the seminarian Rene Goupil and the Hurons were captured. He could have remained hidden in the weeds but he came forth to absolve, to anoint, and to comfort those who were captured. He came out of the obscurity of the weeds because he was a priest and a priest belongs with his people. Today we need from priests the clarity of hope bolstered by fortitude just as much as we need the certitude of faith articulated with reason.

Isaac Jogues suffered immensely at the hands of the Iroquois for thirteen months—he had hot coals thrown on him, he was beaten daily, malnourished and mocked, he had two of his fingers gnawed off by an Algonquin woman who also sheared off his right thumb with a jagged shell. Most painfully, he suffered by witnessing the murder of the Christian Hurons whom he had baptized and catechized and loved as a pastor. He also witnessed the murder of the seminarian Rene Goupil for whose priestly formation he had been responsible. Isaac Jogues was later liberated by a Dutch trading party and returned to France. Immediately upon his return to France he attended Mass. He kept things simple and prioritized and he did not hide in the weeds of obscurity and cowardice.

The temptation against clarity and simplicity did not end there because the Jesuit leadership had spread the word around Europe about his exploits as a missionary. Isaac Jogues, having suffered all of this, was then presented to the courts of royalty and politicians to further the complicated political agendas of many within the Church and the state. They attempted to use him as a vehicle for promotion. They offered him the weeds of politics and celebrity in which to hide and cower. Yet, he trusted, he loved, and remained simply faithful to Christ’s call. His fidelity brought him to an obedient return to North America where he courageously met his martyrdom being tomahawked to death and decapitated by a Mohawk warrior. This Mohawk warrior was later to be converted and baptized. At his baptism, Christ called this Mohawk warrior by the new Christian name of Isaac Jogues—the name by which Christ was to call him later at the Mohawk’s own martyrdom for the love of God.

The Rite for the Reception of Candidacy is very simple. It seems to be so much of an understatement; it’s almost stark. There are two short and direct questions and an equally short declarative statement of reception made by the Bishop in the name of the Church. Yet, like an evil age, we seek a sign for the Rite. There is no Book of the Gospels; there is no Chrism; there is no imposition of hands, no chalice or paten, no tonsure. Yet, this simplicity is precisely the point. Like the evil age no sign is given it except the Son of Man. It is truly simple.

The Rite is truly marked by the simplicity of hope; it is the hope required to hear the call and courageously to say “yes.” It is the hope of the simple-hearted whom the Lord protects with compassion. The Rite is steeped in simplicity because our human condition encounters so many temptations to complicate our response to the call, even to the point that a man can forget that he is here because he answered a call at Christ’s initiative.

There is much around our lives and ministries to tempt us towards opaqueness and complication. There is much about the human dimension of the Church that tempts us to hide in the weeds and to obscure the true nature of our call from Jesus Christ. This can be done through distractions like inebriation from alcohol, manipulating the formation program, the seduction of power, and the comfortable life of self-righteous entitlement. All of it is marked by the sin of acedia, the “noonday devil”; it is boredom with the spiritual simplicity of one called by Christ. Acedia is the sin that leads us to seek out the weeds in which to cower from love.

Yet, Jesus gives us the courage of the Cross, His selfless love. He enables us to love as He loves. As we have just prayed with the entire Church in Psalm 116, “I trusted even when I said I am sorely afflicted, and when I said in my alarm ‘no man can be trusted’.” Thus, should you, our aspirants to candidacy (and each of us as well), trust God Who is upright and will never reject us (His People, His Church) even when we cannot grasp the details of the entire picture and are frightened. Perseverance in trust is required and specifically sought from our aspirants in the Rite we celebrate in today’s Vespers.

In a few moments, you will each be called again by name. I will ask you two questions that seek the declaration of your clear resolve to prepare for ordination to which Jesus, who never obscures, who is never opaque, who never deceives, who is never deceived, calls you and offers you His love. Jesus lovingly calls you by name to prepare for service and to come out of the weeds by courageously saying “yes” to Him—to love His People as He loves them—to live in the clarity of His Truth.

+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson
Bishop of Fort Worth


Priestly Ordination of Fr. Joseph Keating, Fr. Nghia Nguyen, and Fr. Matthew Tatyrek

Homily for Priestly Ordination of Fr. Joseph Keating, Fr. Nghia Nguyen, and Fr. Matthew Tatyrek
St. Patrick’s Cathedral,Fort Worth, Texas
May 21, 2016

Numbers 11:11b-12, 14-17, 24-25a
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
John 21:15-17

Photo by Donna Ryckaert

The readings for our ordination liturgy today begin and end with two conversations. The first reading from the Book of Numbers offers us the conversation between Moses and the Lord. The Gospel reading presents the conversation between Peter and the Lord Jesus. There are questions and responses; there are petitions and there are promises.

Moses is following the Lord, leading the Lord’s own People through the wilderness, a journey towards the land that has been promised to them, a journey that requires discernment and trust in the Lord God. It is in this journey that they have begun as refugees from slavery that they are to become a pilgrim people — God’s chosen and pilgrim people — through faithful trust in God and in God’s chosen agent, Moses.

Prayer of Moses
Ivan Kramskoy, 1801
Moses is asking the Lord for help because he needs it. He recognizes that there are an increasing number of the people who are abandoning their identity as God’s Chosen People made so by His Covenant with them — and instead turning back in fear to a life of slavery. They risk losing their identity as one people — God’s one chosen people — they risk dissipating into a mob of individuals, lonely, with no meaning to their lives except the slavery of fear driving them into selfishness and idolatry.

So the Lord answers Moses. The Lord raises up seventy wise men. They aren’t wise in education, they aren’t wise in experience, they aren’t wise in technical skills — they are wise in the willingness to trust the Lord — and in so doing they receive the grace of God in a portion of His Spirit that He has already given to Moses. These elders are to serve as bridges between the people and God. They are to serve as bridges among the people with each other, uniting them in the mission of the pilgrimage to true and lasting freedom in God, when fear would otherwise drive them apart and surround them with the slavery of self-imposed walls of isolation and self-centeredness.

These chosen elders prefigure priests and their ministry in the life of the Church. A priest is a bridge — a pontifex. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote — -“No man on his own, relying on his own power, can put another in touch with God. An essential part of the priest’s grace is the gift, the task of creating this contact… As an act of God’s infinite mercy, he calls some “to be” with Him and to become, through the sacrament of Orders, despite their human poverty, sharers in His own priesthood, ministers of sanctification, stewards of His mysteries, “bridges” to the encounter with Him and of His mediation between God and man and between man and God.”

The marrow of a priest’s being a bridge is anchored in the conversation that Christ initiated with him when he first heard Christ’s call to follow Him. This conversation between Christ and the priest might be better understood in the light of the conversation between Jesus and Peter that is revealed to us in today’s Gospel which ends with Jesus’ words spoken to Peter, “Follow me.” The conversation in the Gospel today is only part of an ongoing conversation that began with Christ’s first call to Peter to follow Him. The conversation intensified when Christ gave Peter the keys of binding and loosing. The conversation continued at the Last Supper with the washing of Peter’s feet and his promised fidelity to be denied in futility. The conversation quiets at Calvary. The conversation echoes through the empty tomb, picks up again in the post Resurrection scene depicted in today’s Gospel, reverberates through the peripheries of the world after Pentecost, and culminates in Peter’s martyrdom — the death for love that Jesus alludes to in today’s reading.

In today’s conversation Jesus asks Peter, are you willing to sacrifice yourself for me. Peter, having been humbled by his threefold denial, responds in a paraphrase, “let’s just be friends.” Jesus repeats the question, are you willing to give yourself for me — Peter responds, “I am your friend.” Jesus patiently meets Peter where he is at and asks Peter for his friendship, because it is in friendship where self-sacrifice begins again. To be friends with the Lord requires the grace of a conversation, a dialogue — the dialogue of prayer by which Peter, and by which each of us priests will grow towards self-sacrifice — the self-sacrifice of true Christ-like love — the love of the Cross — the death that Peter will undergo.

St. Peter and St. Paul
El Greco, 1607
This is the love that St. Paul writes about in today’s second reading from his second letter to the Corinthians. It is the love of Christ given to us. It is the love of Christ that we receive. It is the love of Christ that we now have the capacity to offer to other people. St. Paul shows us how Christ has united the vertical dimension of atonement to God for the offense of sins with the horizontal dimension of reconciliation among human beings alienated from each other. The vertical and horizontal dimensions are the two beams of the Cross — Christ’s Cross.

Each one of us shares in the Cross. By his ordination and ministry, a priest shares intimately in Christ’s priestly sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation through his celebration of each of the sacraments — most especially the Eucharist and Penance. It is this sacrificial aspect of a priest’s life that enables him to lead the People of God, the New Israel, from slavery to selfishness and sin towards the freedom of the baptized. It is this sacrificial aspect that motivates a priest to go to the peripheries of society to reach those who otherwise would collapse in fear and confusion. It is this sacrificial aspect of a priest’s life that illuminates a priest with the truth of the Gospel to enlighten those lost in the fog of error. It is this sacrificial aspect that empowers a priest to shepherd people away from the walled off isolation experienced as part of a mob of individuals towards the Communion offered and shared that makes us the Church — Christ’s Body. “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”

Dear Sons, in a few moments, the conversation will continue with the questions that I will ask in the Person of Christ and in the name of the Church. Christ will say to you again, “Follow me.” The conversation will continue with your promises. It will continue with Christ in your daily prayer and ministry throughout your lives. It will grow in your development in God’s Grace to give of yourselves to Christ and His People, to begin with friendship and to culminate in the self-sacrifice of the Cross — of authentic Christ-like love in your life and ministry by which you will be able to meaningfully and humbly stand at the altar and say, “This is my Body, this is my Blood.”

+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson
Bishop of Fort Worth

Chrism Mass

Homily for Chrism Mass
March 22, 2016

Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC
Revelation 1:5-8
Luke 4:16-21

In our celebration of this Chrism Mass today, after this homily, I will ask you my brother priests (and myself) to renew the promises that we made on the occasion of our ordinations.

En unos minutos vamos a renovar las promesas de nuestra ordenacion. Esta renovacion hace presente otra vez la realidad de nuestra participacion en el sacerdocio de Cristo. Somos ungidos con la uncion de Cristo, revelado en el Evangelio de nuestra Misa y en la profesia de Isaias.

For many of us, including me, we made those promises and received our anointing in this Cathedral of St. Patrick. Thus, there might be a temptation for us to become lost in nostalgia, or perhaps experience a sense of melancholy as we remember friends present on that day that have since passed on. We might remember the idealism of our youth that gradually gave way to the reality of our vocation as lived faithfully with God’s assistance and help. We might pause and consider the expectations that each of us had regarding priesthood or the nature and life of the Church, both universal and local, and how these expectations were not met by reality but instead by the Lord’s Providence.

Yet, the renewal of our promises is never an act of nostalgia. It is an act of the present moment that reminds us of the perpetual gift of Christ’s sacramental priesthood to us and through us. To emphasize this, at the Last Supper, where Christ instituted the Eucharist and for its sake, the priesthood, on the eve of His Passion, Jesus prayed for His disciples gathered about Him. At the same time he looked ahead to the community of disciples of all centuries. In his prayer for the disciples of all time, He saw each of us too, and He prayed for each one of us by name. What He asks for the disciples gathered around Him He also asks for us, His priests gathered here today: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (17:17ff.). The Lord asks for our sanctification, our consecration in truth. He sends us forth to carry on his own mission.” Jesus prays for us.

Escuchemos lo que pide para los Doce y para los que estamos aquí reunidos: «Santifícalos en la verdad: tu palabra es verdad. Como tú me enviaste al mundo, así los envío yo también al mundo. Y por ellos me consagro yo, para que también se consagren ellos en la verdad» (17,17ss). El Señor pide nuestra santificación, nuestra consagración en la verdad. Y nos envía para continuar su misma misión.

Our readings today speak of anointing and witness of and by Christ. The sanctification for which He prayed and the mission that He shares with us is accomplished through this anointing. Both belong to Christ. Because of our anointing we belong to Christ, even more than to ourselves. The anointing is more than a sign; it is a symbol. The anointing seeps into our very being; it changes us— ontologically, as the scholastic taught. We become one with Christ through it to such an extent that our priestly identity includes but is beyond that which we do in our ministry. Our ministry—our homilies and the way we preach, the reverence and attentiveness by which we celebrate the Eucharist, our compassionate encouragement offered with absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the solace and healing that we offer in the Anointing of the Sick, the paternal reception and witness of marital vows, and our ministry of teaching and our approachability — do not establish our priestly identity—rather, they manifest Christ, the Head and Shepherd of His Church. They should always show to the Church and to us what Christ has initiated as the Alpha and the Omega.

This symbolic reality challenges us not to take for granted the anointing that we have received from Christ. When we take it for granted, as the Nazarenes took Christ for granted, we can simply celebrate the Sacraments in a minimalist and functional manner—as if our priestly anointing received from Christ is something that we can merely wipe away from the surface of our lives—reapplying it in accord with our own preferences. This symbolic reality also enables us to avoid a minimalist celebration of the Sacraments, especially the celebration of the Eucharist—which the needs of God’s people require us to celebrate more frequently than might be the norm in other places. Yet, Christ has called us and sent us on mission to serve here in the Diocese of Fort Worth and He will not abandon us in His mission entrusted to us.

El simbolismo de la unción crismal nos apoya celebrar los sacramentos en un segundo idioma también. Nuestro ministerio es una respuesta y a la misma vez una gracia y don de Cristo a nosotros y a la Iglesia, especialmente aquí en la Diocesis de Fort Worth. Es Su mission primeramente y es nuestra misión por Su permiso.

The Grace of this anointing prevents us from making Christ’s mission subordinate to our own desires and plans. This challenge is most clearly experienced in the manner in which we administer the Sacraments and in the style and substance of our preaching. Here are some points for our examination: When we celebrate the Eucharist, does our manner draw more attention to ourselves or to Christ? When we preach, does our style and substance make known the mystery of the Gospel, or does it thrust upon the people the riddle of our own frivolous self-absorption? As Pope Benedict XVI spoke to his priests of Rome in 2009, “All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn 7:16). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.”

As Saint Augustine wrote, “If we do not preach ourselves, and if we are inwardly so completely one with Him who called us to be His ambassadors, that we are shaped by faith and live it, then our preaching will be credible. I do not seek to win people for myself, but I give myself.”

No me pertenezco y llego a ser yo mismo precisamente por el hecho de que voy más allá de mí mismo y, mediante la superación de mí mismo, consigo insertarme en Cristo y en su cuerpo, que es la Iglesia. Si no nos anunciamos a nosotros mismos e interiormente hemos llegado a ser uno con aquél que nos ha llamado como mensajeros suyos, de manera que estamos modelados por la fe y la vivimos, entonces nuestra predicación será creíble.

With the anointing and mission that Christ has shared with us, He offers to us His priests the possibility of ongoing and intimate conversation. The conversation of prayer is what reminds each of us that we belong to Him. Prayer is what reminds us that our ministry is not ours but His. Prayer is what reminds us that the Gospel is His teaching not mine and that I can teach it as something that has claimed me instead of something that I have claimed. I can also hold opinions and intellectual theories that at a superficial glance sound like the Gospel, but without prayer and the humility that comes from prayer, such preaching can still be more about myself than about the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church—of which we are always first and foremost students who need to learn more from the Master. For Christ loves us, He has prayed for us, and has touched our hearts by calling us to serve His people as His priests. We see this exemplified in our priestly patron, St. John Vianney. He was not scholar or an intellectual. He is not honored for his ignorance or for his inability to learn in the usual way. He is honored for his sanctity. His preaching touched people’s hearts because his own heart had been first touched by Jesus Christ.

Finally, we renew our promises in the midst of the celebration of the Chrism Mass in which the oils with which God’s people are to be anointed will be consecrated and blessed. It is in this light that we recognize that the anointing that we have received as priests from Christ is part of our experience as a baptized and fully initiated member of the Church. It is an ecclesial reality. As Pope Francis reminds us, “The ecclesial dynamism of the call is an antidote to indifference and to individualism. It establishes the communion in which indifference is vanquished by love, because it demands that we go beyond ourselves and place our lives at the service of God’s plan, embracing the historical circumstances of his holy people.”


Ordination of Stephen Hauck & John Martin to the Transitional Diaconate

Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC

Homily for the Ordination of Stephen Hauck & John Martin to the Transitional Diaconate
St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Arlington, Texas
April 9, 2016

View Ordination Pictures

Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 88
Acts 6:1-7
John 6:16-21

Jeremiah's life could be seen as embodying what will happen to Israel: rejection that leads to destruction that brings about the possibility of renewal and restoration. Jeremiah's vocation is very difficult, because it will involve mostly calling the people to be accountable in light of the looming exile. He'll have to speak some hard truths to them, something they won't want to hear, and he’ll have to speak these truths well and in fidelity to the Lord.

The part of today’s first reading left out of the lectionary passage is the next verse that follows; it is an ominous phrase that Jeremiah is sent to "pluck up” and to “pull down,” to “destroy” and to “overthrow,” to “build” and to “plant." There are six verbs. Four of these verbs point to dying (plucking up, pulling down, destroying, and overthrowing). Two of these verbs (building and planting) point to new life. All of these verbs point to Hope in God’s Mercy. It is only from the ash heap of Jeremiah that new life can spring forth: the rubble of Jerusalem that led to exile at the hand of the Babylonians will lead to return and rebuilding for God’s chosen people. Sometimes, structures have to be torn down so that they can return—not the same—but renewed. In my own spiritual life I find this to be a fruitful metaphor for seminary formation and priestly ministry. It is worthy of reflection for each and for all of us.

Likewise, in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Church faces a problem of the Greek-speaking widows whose loved ones are complaining of injustice. The problem is that these poor women and their children are isolated from the rest of the community because of their poverty and of a language barrier between them and those Christians who speak the dominant language of Aramaic. Some might suggest that this cultural and social barrier presents a problem that could be resolved by building a wall—a HUGE wall—to isolate the problem from the rest of the community who are annoyed by the problem. However, this problem becomes an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter mercifully once again into the life of the Church. The problem, approached by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, soon gives way not to a systematic solution; it gives way not to a larger wall and barrier; it gives way to a deeper revelation of Christ disguised in the mystery of the human person. It is especially the human person who is in need; it is the human person who is not a universal abstraction, but is a real person with a name, a family, and naturally part of the community.

Stephen and John, your vocation to serve as deacons now, and later as to what will be an essential part of the character of your priestly ministry, is a difficult and frightening call to answer. Like Jeremiah, you might be afraid of the difficulty and offer good reasons not to answer. Jeremiah gives good reasons not to say “yes.” It is true that he is too young. Yet, the Lord calms your fears and is present to you within them, just as He calmed those of Jeremiah with His Divine presence.

Stephen and John, the Church needs your diaconal ministry now just as the Church required that of Saint Stephen, of Saint Philip, and of the other deacons in the early days of the Church as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The diaconal ministry of Saint Stephen and his martyrdom helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and their children. It was an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of differences in culture and language in society reminiscent of the chaos that ensued as the bitter fruit of the sin of Babel. It was an exclusion that harmed the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity on the part of its human membership. It was an exclusion that was a serious sin of omission. The Greek speaking widows spoken of in today’s reading had begun to be treated more as a “serious corporate problem” than as particular persons, members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and who have serious problems hurting them.

In the Gospel just proclaimed, we see Jesus coming towards the disciples on the water. The water is a primordial symbol of chaos. Christ’s walking upon it makes known that He, and He alone, is the Master of creation and the only Provider of what is needed to overcome the chaos caused by sin and its bitter fruits. Chaos, especially the chaos caused by sin, is subservient to Him and can only be conquered by Him.

Jesus Walks On Water
Ivan Aivazovsky, 1888
Public Domain
Notice that the disciples at first don't recognize Jesus, because they left the shore without Him. The Gospel reading mentions also that it is dark. They are “in the dark" about who Christ truly is. They are attempting to navigate the waters of chaos alone and in the dark. Jesus utters the divine phrase in Greek "Ego eimi"—“I am”—translated as "It is I." It's more of a promise, like the promise of God speaking to Jeremiah in the first reading. Jesus will be with the disciples always—even when they fail to understand. When they set out without Him, Jesus will come to them to be with them, assuring them that they have nothing to fear from the chaotic when they are with Him. Both the call of Jeremiah and our Gospel reading have the Divine imperative not to be afraid. Jesus makes the same promise and gives the same command to you, Stephen and John, today as you make your promises and are ordained. He also keeps this promise to you each and every day of your life. Listen to Jesus. Pray. Take the time to be with Him. Do not set out on your day without Him especially when you are afraid.

Today, we are faced with the same challenges and the same need for diaconal ministry where the chaos of our society often propels us towards a basic insensitivity and unawareness; this too often leads to our own adoption of a passive and lazy attitude whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms so we wall them off. The grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests, prevents us from facing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a corporate problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they might be misunderstood by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve on our own terms. Stephen and John, your diaconal vocation must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such evil complacency and spares us from sinning by omission in failing to love our neighbor.

+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson
Bishop of Fort Worth