Homily for Priestly Ordination of Fr. Stephen Hauck and Fr. John Martin

Photo by Juan Guajardo

May 20, 2017
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 61:1-3
1 Peter 5:1-4
John 15:9-17

Several years ago, when Bishop Vann was transferred from our Diocese of Fort Worth to the Diocese of Orange, each and every one of us began to pray that Christ would send us a new bishop for the good of our local church. As a priest of this diocese, whose term of assignment was approaching its end, I prayed with particular zeal and specificity for this intention. I prayed ardently that Christ would send us for our bishop, a patient man, a man of reticence of speech, and a man with enough aversion to controversy to at least stay out of the newspapers. Our faith teaches us that God answers all prayers but sometimes He says "no." That was the case on November 12, 2013 when I received a call from the papal nuncio who informed me that the pope had appointed me to be the new bishop of Fort Worth. With disbelief, I quickly responded to the archbishop, "Your Excellency" (we use such salutations when we want very much to get our own way). "Your Excellency, there are certainly very many priests and bishops who are more patient, more prudent, and more experienced than me to be the bishop of Fort Worth." To which the nuncio responded, "Your Excellency, the pope knows that but he has chosen you."

I tell that story because Christ’s choice of you to follow Him and to serve His people as priests is not based upon your talents. Christ’s choice of you is not made reluctantly by Him because of your weaknesses. Christ’s choice to call you is based upon His love for you and for His people; it is a love that is fully displayed in His Sacrifice of the Cross. Your priestly vocation is an act of Christ’s generous love for you and for His people, the Church. Your priestly vocation is not a career or a form of self-identification. Christ’s choice is trustworthy and it is decisive in offering you a particular share in His mission. His choice enables you to make a decision that is as firm, trustworthy, and purposeful as His.

This is important because we too frequently misunderstand choice in our contemporary world as being an expression of a type of freedom that is indifferent to permanence and stability. We mistakenly think that to be free means to maintain as many options among abstract goods as possible. Choice becomes only the temporary expression of my current and changing preferences indifferent to reality or to anybody else. This too often adversely affects discernment of a vocation where the discerner becomes paralyzed in making a decision from among such abstract goods as priesthood or marriage. Yet, in fact, priesthood and marriage are not abstract goods. They are very real. They involve very real human beings responding to the very real God. They only become misunderstood as abstract goods when we draw our attention away from Christ by placing our focus on our preferences in considering these vocations apart from Him who extends the invitation and the call to us to love.

Perseverance in our vocation and our discernment requires simplicity of heart in order that we can say, “yes when we mean yes, and say no when we mean no, for as Christ teaches us, anything more is from the evil one.” Trust in Christ ensures our perseverance and spares us from indecision and the sadness of not belonging to anyone.

How do we come to recognize with clarity that He has chosen us? The Gospel from today offers us some insight. The Gospel includes a series of sayings that alternate between commandment and love. These are held in tandem, commandment and love; they express the rhythm of Christian life and discipleship. Follow Christ’s commands, do so out of love — His for you and the Church, and yours for Him and His Church. The more we obey, the more we love, and the more we become His friends. In this friendship we hear His invitation and are able to respond to it and to trust Him.

Christ’s choice for us is permanent and lasting and far from being indifferent. He will never take it away. In order for our choice to respond with reciprocal permanence and love to His choice, His assistance is required because of our weak and wounded human condition. This assistance is brought about through the grace of anointing with chrism. Anointing with chrism marks us as belonging to Him and to each other as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of His Church. It is His brand upon each of us the baptized as His sheep, the sheep of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. Anointing on our heads with chrism at Baptism and Confirmation makes us belong to Him, and each of us to each other as brothers and sisters and as sons and daughters of the Church born through Baptism. The anointing with chrism is permanent and far from being indifferent. It shows us as belonging to Him by His choice and by our choice to accept His choice.

Today’s celebration involves a further choice by Christ to call these men into deeper belonging and particular service with a further response required by our candidates for ordination. Therefore, another anointing with chrism is required to bring about sacramentally the permanence of Christ’s call and their response to a priestly vocation. Dear sons, your hands are to be anointed with chrism. This anointing of your hands makes them belong to Christ as His hands. He remains in you and you in Him manifested by the ongoing tandem of obedience and sacrificial love. Your hands belong to Him and His hands belong to you. Never forget that Christ’s hands constructed and created as a carpenter at work, His hands healed the sick, His hands cleansed the leper, His hands imparted mercy as they wrote upon the ground to free the woman caught in adultery and to admonish the self-righteous to conversion. His hands washed the feet of the disciples, His hands offered the bread and wine at the Last Supper in instituting the Eucharist, His hands were pierced and bloodied by nails in the freely-offered sacrifice of His life at the crucifixion, and His wounded hands were glorified at His Resurrection and they dispelled the darkness of doubt by their open display to Thomas. He gives you His hands to become your hands in the anointing with chrism that you are about to receive. He gives you His heart, the heart of the Good Shepherd who cares for the lost sheep through the imposition of my hands accompanied by those of your brother priests with whom you will soon belong as brothers in the priesthood.

You will belong even more profoundly to Him in a deeper way through your use of these anointed hands for His mission of salvation in your perseverance in ministry as His priests. Use these hands well. Offer the sacrifice of the Mass daily with them, absolve sinners with them, anoint the sick with them, baptize and mark new members of His Church by using chrism with them, bless His people with them, comfort the afflicted with them. Remind those who are on the margins of the sheepfold that they belong to Christ through their anointing with chrism at baptism, for you will today be anointed to anoint them and to mark them as belonging to Christ, to the Church, and to nobody else as a possession. Because your hands belong to Christ through this anointing, do not fill them with lesser goods and possessions selected by indifferent choices. If you were to do so, you would go away sad like the rich young man who could not decide to answer Jesus’ call to follow and to belong to Him or to anyone else.

In our contemporary world, in which we are to bring joyfully the Gospel of Christ, the people of God especially need your ministry as priests to be reminded that they belong to Christ and to each other and are not isolated from either. Joyfully receive this share in His mission with which He entrusts you.


Homily for the Ordination of Maurice Moon and Jonathan Demma to the Transitional Diaconate

Bishop Olson with newly ordained Transitional Deacons
Jonathan Demma (left) and Maurice Moon (right).
Photo by Susan Moses.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
Keller, Texas
April 29, 2017

Numbers 3:5-11
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5,18-19
Acts 6:1-7
John 6:16-21

In the Gospel just proclaimed, we see Jesus walking 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. The chaos caused by sin, is subservient to Him and can only be conquered by Him. 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 evening and that it is dark. They are attempting to navigate the waters of chaos alone and in the dark. Jesus appears and utters the divine phrase in Greek "Ego eimi"—“I am”—translated as "It is I." In so doing Jesus articulates that He will never leave the Church alone and unprotected against the forces of chaos and darkness.

Jesus Walks On Water, by Ivan Aivazovsky,
1888, Public Domain

The boat represents the Church. The apostles are attempting to lead the church in the dark without recognizing Jesus’ presence. They struggle to row and to navigate by their own will power and the darkness frightens them. It is only after they recognize Jesus and invite Him into the boat that their fear leaves them and they arrive at the ultimate end of their journey. The Church arrives at the ultimate end of her journey—the Kingdom of God when the Church treasures Jesus’ presence and follows His direction and example. Without Christ as the Church’s focal point, the Church can soon become misunderstood as only the product of our human and organizational designs straining against forces of fear and darkness. Jesus will be with the Church always—even when the Church’s members fail to understand that truth. When members of the Church 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.

The right order promised by Christ’s Gospel and the authentic teaching of the Church requires more than positive thinking. It requires a real relationship of love. The relationship of love is forged by the Church’s sacramental life—chiefly the celebration of the Eucharist—the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass, whereby we experience the real presence of Christ and not simply his historical memory or his values and ideals—that are really more truly our own values and ideals. As Saint Augustine says, “The Eucharist makes the Church.” Yes, and the Church that the Eucharist makes is one of order and hierarchical structure complete with purpose and direction; it is not simply a chaotic mob of individuals seeking their own will at the expense of others and of the common good. When chaos reigns, the weakest among us are most in danger of being harmed. Right order provides us with just relationships among real people with clarity of purpose for Christ’s redeeming mission. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, “We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!”

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents the call of the first deacons by the Apostles. We hear of how the Church is confronted by the forces of chaos in that the Greek-speaking widows are sinfully being excluded from participation in the life of the community and are threatened by effects of poverty. The problem is compounded by a language barrier between them and those Jewish Christians who speak the dominant language of Aramaic. We are reminded that the confusion of Babel was a sinful force for chaos that destroyed the fabric of human society.

Yet, in the life of the early Church, chaos does not have the final say. Just as in the life of the Church today, chaos does not have the final say. God’s Grace enters mercifully once again into the life of the Church. We read that the Apostles declare, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word."

This is an important point that must not be misunderstood. The Apostles are not delegating the problem of the poor away from themselves so that they can be free of their responsibilities to the poor and focus on the more attractive and glamorous activities like prayer and preaching. It is not a decision of exclusion. The Apostles are not abandoning their ministry that has been entrusted to them by Christ in the great commissioning. They are instead ordaining the men of good reputation as discerned by the Church to be deacons, so that these deacons might more closely and intentionally unite the ministry to the poor and marginalized with the Apostles’ mission of prayer and preaching. The deacons bring the poor into closer proximity of the ministry of the Apostles. For this relationship between the Apostles and deacons to happen, there must be a clear order and trust established in love between the Apostles and the deacons.

This relationship of trust and love is defined today by the promise of obedience that you make to me and to my successors as your bishop. The obedience owed to a bishop by a deacon is not simply a protocol whereby the deacon passively does whatever the bishop tells him to do. The obedience of a deacon to his bishop (and that of a priest to his bishop) is rather a decisive relationship strong with justice and replete in love whereby each the bishop and the deacon has the heart and mind of Christ present to each other within the life and ministry of the Church. It is this relationship of obedience which gives vitality and muscle to the body of the Church in order to overcome the power of chaos and fear that threatens the Church. Without this relationship of obedience between deacon and bishop the Church can become anemic and sick. If the Church becomes anemic and sick, the weakest among her members are most in jeopardy of abandonment.

Christ will never remove His presence and love from the Church; yet the Church’s members and servants can ignore and deny Him through the abandonment of prayer, the neglect of preaching of the Truth, and the refusal of service to the poor—unless we decide to trust Him. How you live your obedience is essential to the quality and character of your ministry as a deacon and affects the health and life of the Church. How I, as your bishop and as a successor of the Apostles, call and receive your obedience is essential to the health and life of the Church. Each of us will be judged by Christ accordingly. Therefore, we must each consciously and intentionally maintain the centrality of Jesus Christ as the anchor of our respective vocations in His love and mission through our relationship that is given backbone by your promise of obedience to me and my successors. Arbitrariness on the part of the bishop is as destructive to the health of the Church as apathy is on the part of the deacon or priest.

St. Catherine of Siena, on whose feast you are ordained today, understood well the essential relationship between fidelity to one’s own vocation within the Church and to the Church’s health and vitality. She did so, in part, because she lived at a time of great chaos in the life of the Church—the time of the Western schism when there were three claimants to the Papacy. This schism came about in part because the previous pope had ignored his pastoral responsibility as the Bishop of Rome in favor of the life of a prince at court in Avignon. The weakness on the part of this pope, Gregory XI, in not deciding to live his vocation, prompted many to abandon their obedience to the Pope’s sacred office causing darkness, fear, and the chaos of disunity. St. Catherine called the Pope back to the integrity of his own vocation and ministry. She writes to him, “I beg you Holy Father, for love of the Lamb who was slain, consumed and abandoned on the cross, as His Vicar fulfill his holy will by doing what you can do, leave Avignon and return to Rome.” She writes to priests at the same time, “I long to see you enlightened with true, most perfect light, so that you may know the dignity in which God has placed you. For without light you would be unable to know this.”

Do not leave the shore in the darkness without the presence of Christ. “Do what you are able to do.” “Live in the light,”—just as Saint Catherine wrote these words to Pope, bishops, and priests at the time of her life, she speaks them to each of us today, bishop, priests, and deacons, to live our respective vocations faithfully in accord with the justice of obedience and the clarity of purpose provided by our promise of celibacy. Prayer maintains our awareness of the presence of Christ and prevents us from placing lesser goods like money, career, power, social status, and privilege, in the place that rightfully belongs to Christ alone. Prayer also enables us to live in the light in times of doubt and darkness; it is by prayer and confidence that we see that in our vocation Christ has gotten the man He called and we trust His decision joyfully to choose us.

Maurice and Jonathan, the Church depends upon your promise of celibacy to help to make clearly present the unconditional love that Christ has for the People of God. For this to happen, your celibate commitment depends upon your living as a friend of Jesus who selflessly loves His people for love of Him. Celibacy is not being an indecisive bachelor. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The avoidance of marriage is based on a will to live only for oneself, and therefore a ‘no’ to the bond. Celibacy is a definitive ‘yes’ to give oneself into the hands of the Lord. It makes present the scandal of a faith that bases all existence upon God.” Our celibacy is a firm decision that makes us poor; our celibacy makes us to rely on God alone; it shows the generosity of the love of Christ to the people whom we serve. Without a friendship with Christ, our celibacy can quickly become embittered with fear, narcissistic, self-directed, isolating, sterile and chaotic.

In conclusion, your ministry as deacons can be expressed by the words of Pope Benedict XVI spoken in his inaugural homily as pope, “The purpose of our lives is to reveal God to human beings. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.” God breaks into the world and dispels the power of darkness and chaos.


Easter Sunday: Christ is risen, alleluia!

April 16, 2017
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118
I Corinthians 5:6-8
Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew’s gospel account of the empty tomb and the encounter with the Resurrected Lord that we have just proclaimed includes a detail that grounds the truth and power of the Resurrection of the Lord in reality: “Jesus met [the women] on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.” Why did they embrace his feet? The feet are that part of the body closest to the ground. As we recall, it was the feet of the Apostles that were washed on Holy Thursday. Feet ground a human being in reality. Feet represent the human condition, never totally clean, sensitive and always in need of cleansing. Today’s actions by the women in the Gospel reveal that in Jesus, our human condition is redeemed.

Their embrace of his feet follow upon their discovery of the empty tomb and the encounter with the angel who urges them not to be afraid. We no longer need to be afraid of death because of the Resurrection of Christ. Not only does death have no more power, but also nothing can keep or seal off the power of God’s life in a tomb or any other place in which we might attempt to conceal it. No human deception or plan, no physical barrier or obstacle, can hold back the power of the new life of the Resurrection offered us in Jesus Christ.

At the end of the account of Jesus’ passion and death in Matthew’s Gospel which we proclaimed on Palm Sunday, there was the interesting line from Pilate to the chief priests and Pharisees after they had come to Pilate asking him to secure the grave so that Jesus’ disciples might not steal his body. Pilate responded: “The guard is yours; go, secure it as best you can” (Matt 27:65). “…Secure it as best you can.” There is no securing anything from the love of God in the world. All attempts to do so are futile.

“The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men” (Matt 28:2-4). The wisdom of this world, the drives of fear and death, attempt to keep the tomb locked. They attempt to control the narrative. They attempt to keep the power of death and sin alive. Yet, nothing can hold back the love of God. The wisdom of this world is futile and marked by death.

Pope Francis preached last evening, "In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration. Worse, we can even convince ourselves that this is the law of life, and blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us."

It is a light that conquers darkness, a love that quells hatred, a life that destroys death forever. This is what we celebrated on the great night—last night—of the Easter Vigil, and it is what we celebrate today—this Easter Day—this day which the Lord has made.

The new life, the new being, that Christ gives us in the Resurrection changes human beings forever. St. Paul powerfully captures this idea in the second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians when he exhorts them and us today: “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The new life, the new being means that the old ways will not work anymore. One cannot secure themselves against the power of God’s deathless love in Christ, like the guards, representing the old ways, tried to do when they thought they sealed Jesus’ body in the tomb. There has been a radical change not only in Jesus but, because of Him, also in us, a change that the forces of death and its practitioners are powerless to seal, conceal or undo. God in Jesus Christ has brought it about and we are recipients of it, those of us who have been baptized into Christ—who celebrate “…not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.

This Easter day which the Lord has made and every day are forever changed. Stones and guards and human scheming and sin and the personal tombs we often bury ourselves in cannot keep the awesome power of God in Jesus Christ from doing what He wills. God cannot be chained; God cannot be bound. God cannot be buried; for God is not dead. He is alive. As the angel tells the women at the tomb: “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia!


Homily for Good Friday, Celebration of the Passion of the Lord

April 14, 2017
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

The high priest questions Jesus in the account of the Passion that we have just proclaimed. The high priest questions Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus’ responds to the high priest, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”

Jesus’ response reveals that it is for us to answer the question of the high priest. We’ve heard Jesus speak to us. Well, do we know what He taught us and what he said to us? Do we really believe it? How do we answer the high priests of our contemporary world when they ask us what Jesus has taught us in the Gospel revealed in Sacred Scripture and in the Tradition of the authentic teaching of his Church? Do we witness clearly or do we run and hide? Do we stand at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple, or do we deny Christ as we lurk in the shadows of conformity with the contemporary world steeped in relativism and apathy for all that is good and true?

Perhaps, Pilate too frequently provides the grounding for our response to the high priest’s question with his own cynicism, “What is Truth?” The manipulative character of Pilate is displayed when he moves from asking cynically as to what is truth to his self-serving declaration before the crowd that he finds no guilt in Jesus. How can one witness to guilt or innocence, right or wrong, virtue or vice, if one has no room for the truth? Pilate with firm purpose omits to state that he finds Christ to be innocent. Pilate lies by omission. He short-sells the fullness of the truth. It is the Truth that is crucified today and every day when we cowardly fail to witness to the high priest’s interrogation of the nature of Christ’s doctrine—the Truth in Love.

Without Christ we are lost. So, Jesus gives us Mary, his own Blessed Mother to be our mother as his last gift to us from the Cross. Mary shows us the bravery of discipleship and silently answers the high priest’s interrogation by her attentiveness at the Cross of her Son—her witness to the Truth. Her loving and hopeful surrender to the will of the Father in assisting Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will in offering his life for our salvation strengthens us and shows us what we must do with gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us. Mary shows us that there is nothing secret with her Son’s mission or doctrine. We cannot hide anything that Christ has revealed or taught us in Scripture and Tradition. We cannot adequately live our Christian faith, given to us by Christ, without the assistance, example, and intercession of our Blessed Mother who stands by us in our own share in her Divine Son’s Cross. The answer to the high priest’s question that Jesus asks us to answer is that of love, the sacrifice of the Cross, the statement of truth, the fullness of the truth spoken with courage, and hope in the face of sin and death.