The Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate

We are all familiar with the ministry of deacons in our parishes. In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy. On March 7, 2015, I was privileged to ordain to the transitional diaconate, Rev. Mr. Nghia Nguyen for service in the Diocese of Fort Worth. God willing, I will ordain him to the priesthood in over one year’s time. Please pray for all of our deacons and for those men who are aspiring towards the diaconate. Please also continue to pray for Deacon Nghia and for all of our seminarians who are being formed for the priesthood. Here is my homily from Deacon Nghia’s ordination to the diaconate.

+ Bishop Olson

Homily for the Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate

Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church
Arlington, Texas
March 7, 2015

Jeremiah 1:4-9

Acts 6:1-7a
Matthew 20:25-28

Nghia, you are here today not because of your perseverance through many years in the seminary system, although it is noteworthy for its duration; you are here today to say “yes” again to the call of Christ; Christ who always calls you. Your “yes” is to Christ, trust Him, not anything else.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Church faces a problem of the Greek-speaking widows who are complaining of injustice. This problem becomes an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter once again in a new way into the life of the Church. The problem soon gives way, not a systematic solution, but to a deeper revelation of Christ disguised in the mystery of the human person, especially the human person who is in need; the human person who is not a universal abstraction, but a real person with a name.

The Church needs your diaconal ministry just as it required that of St. Stephen and the other deacons in the early days of the Church, as read in the Acts of the Apostles. The diaconal ministry of Stephen helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and children, an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of differences in culture and language in society, and it was affecting the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity of its human membership. The Greek speaking widows spoken of in today’s reading had begun to be treated more as a “corporate problem” than as particular persons with problems who have been incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church.

Today, we are faced with the same challenges and the same need for diaconal ministry where the busy-ness of our society often propels us towards basic insensitivity and unawareness. This too often leads to our own adoption of a passive attitude whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms. The grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests, and those diaconal aspects of the ministry of the baptized laity, prevents us from facing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve on our own terms. Nghia, your diaconal vocation must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such complacency. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:

“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.”

While today you are ordained a deacon so that you might make the transition towards priesthood, the diaconal quality of your ministry (care for the poor, care for those persons in the margins, care for those persons overlooked, care for those who suffer violence, concern for those without a clear voice, care for those persons threatened by isolation and exclusion from the common good because of existing differences in language and culture) is not transitional in the sense that it ever goes away.

Despite its transitional character, your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry. This diaconal ordination will strengthen you in the command of our Lord “to serve and not to be served” that must imbue your personal character, your human formation, and your priestly identity so that Christ’s Grace more clearly might be seen in the administration of the sacraments and not obscured by the seduction of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement is subtle and often gradual. The promises that you make today of celibate chastity and obedience to me and to my successors are most truly directed to Christ; these are graces given to you by Christ to save you from this subtle and deadly enemy. The subtlety of entitlement involves a gradual shift in priorities when the mission of the Gospel becomes secondary to the human dimensions of the institution of the Church. This can frequently affect parish ministry in that our policies can soon take on a custodianship of the status quo of the parish administration instead of facilitating the authentic sacramental life of our people. The ministry of the sacramental life must establish the priorities articulated in our policies and not vice versa. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry as one who is “to serve and not to be served” will help to guard you against this subtle foe of entitlement throughout your priestly life. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry will prevent your priestly ministry from becoming simply cultic or ceremonial.

As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord Himself became our deacon. Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the Teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow Him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to be of paramount importance.”

The justice that your diaconal ministry proclaims must always be subordinate to charity and love. Justice most strictly delineates the obligations that we possess in accordance with charity–love–the very life of God shared unconditionally with us by Christ.

This love is the same love that Christ offered you in giving you a vocation. Never doubt that it is Christ who has called you; it is He who has chosen you, not you who have first chosen Him. This love you know intimately, He offers to you on a daily basis through the grace of your ordination. Trust this Grace. Trust Him at times of fear and oppression and loneliness, and He will be your joy.


Keynote Address at the Diocese Catholic Schools Banquet

Saturday, January 31, 2015
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Somebody said to me recently, “Congratulations. You made it through a year.” And I said, “Congratulations. So did you.”

It is hard to believe it’s been a year. But what is time but simply a measurement of motion and, hopefully, of growth.

One of the chief things bishops talk about when they get together is oftentimes what are called problems. What some see as problems, others see as opportunities. Opportunities which we are given by God.

One of the scripture passages, which I reflected on as I prepared for this evening, involves the issue of fear. And how really antithetical to the Gospel, and how antithetical to scripture, and how antithetical to Catholic education is this problem of fear.

And yet how tempting it is in so many ways.

The scripture passage from Mark’s Gospel chapter 9 verses 2-9 comes to mind. It talks about how our Lord Jesus takes three of his apostles—Peter, James and John—to the summit of Mount Tabor. And there, in prayer, they experience Christ transfigured.

They experience him as the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The apostles are simultaneously overcome by fear and, at the same time, a great desire to erect three booths—three monuments to remain on the top of Mt. Tabor. But, Christ is not interested in these booths, tents, or institutions. Rather, He directs them to their mission. And not only does He direct them, He accompanies them. He accompanies them through their fear down the mountain onto Jerusalem, to the place where He will give his sacrifice — the sacrifice of love, which is the cross and the Resurrection. It is this mission of the Church, in particular Catholic education, we are entrusted with. The mission of the Gospel must always drive the institution, not the other way around. And when we let fear dominate our lives, or even infiltrate the way we assess schools, we are losing sight of the mission entrusted to us by Christ.

This, like the Gospel, is nothing new, yet it is always new. It’s always been a part of Catholic education to teach as Jesus taught: To instruct and to enlighten us in our ignorance and to continue forward in service to our neighbor; to accompany each other as Pope Francis says. It has also been a part of our local history as a Diocese, and as a local Church in North Texas where the institutions founded in Catholic education have always been in service to the mission of evangelization.

During this year dedicated to Consecrated Religious Life we especially want to acknowledge the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. They illustrate how the mission of evangelization and Catholic education go hand in hand. And their institutions have always been dynamically filled by that mission and assessed by that mission as a means to an end. We can see in our history how Our Lady of Victory High School became the foundation for Nolan Catholic High School. And without their generosity, Nolan would have never taken root.

Academy of Mary Immaculate in Wichita Falls with their generosity became the foundation for Notre Dame. And, since I’m in an ecumenical mood, in Dallas Our Lady of Good Counsel, founded by them, became Bishop Dunne. Our Lady of Victory College through their generosity became the charter foundation for the University of Dallas.

Mission must always drive our institutions and keep them alive, and keep us all free of fear.

When we’re afraid, we begin to compare ourselves to others. And there’s a proverb that says, if I compare myself to somebody else, I always lose in that comparison. You see in our identity as Catholics, schools comes from our “yes” to Christ to accompany him in his mission—not to appropriate him for our own. We’re not in competition with other institutions, others booths, or other tents. We do not grow in our Catholic identity by defining ourselves by what we are not. “We are not public schools,” “We are not private schools,” “We’re not home schooling. We’re not even charter schools.”

What are we? If we become overly encumbered with those questions, we’ll be lost in fear just as Peter was on Tabor. We begin to isolate ourselves in individualism with a destructive sense of competition.

We’re not about marketing our schools. We do not have a product. We have a call to serve God and our neighbor in love which is Christ’s mission to establish the Kingdom of God here that we might be prepared to flourish in the Kingdom yet to come.

If we lose ourselves in fear, we choose not to accompany Christ down the mountain to Jerusalem, the site of his sacrifice and resurrection. If we lose sight of that, we lose our sense of sacrifice and it becomes simply private in investment. Education soon becomes the acquisition of useful skills and our schools become sadly, instruments of division and exclusion.

Our “yes” to Christ as Catholic Schools, and the mission that it entails, can only be made if we are all in solidarity with each other. We do not have a series of branch offices in our schools but rather, particular local sites to carry out the one mission of the one Church of the one God.

We have to keep in mind the preferential option for those who are most in need; and that carries with it the responsibility to serve the poor well with the optimal and most prudent application of our resources in the stewardship appropriate for disciples of Jesus. Those who exercise stewardship, always do so in gratitude and with a sense of generosity for the good of my neighbor. The decisions we make in each of our schools affect and impact each and every one of our other schools. The objective of the evil one is to disperse, to scatter and to isolate the sheep so that he might pick us off one by one—the weakest first, but not exclusively. It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to keep the sheep together—mostly.

To keep this solidarity of all of us together requires not that we be judged by the world as being better at education than anybody else; it requires that we care for each other, and that we are grateful for the opportunity to sacrifice in many ways for the education that always shows us Jesus. Sacrifice—not investment—sacrifice that is consistently offered through the action and example of parents, students, teachers, administrators, pastors, staff, parishioners, alumni, and even the bishop. Sacrifice—a willing and loving and generous sense of inconvenience—an inconvenience not for the best—not for ideals, but for the real and true risen Lord who so loves us that He trusts us with his mission. A mission that Catholic schools are an absolutely important means in bringing about the evangelization of our society that so needs to understand the dignity of the human person—that so needs to understand, the right relationship among people, the common good of society. That so needs to understand that those that are disenfranchised and vulnerable are not our adversaries.

How can we teach Christ in and through our schools? Where do we see Christ? Where does He disperse our ignorance in our lives? It is good for us to be here, as Peter would say, but let us not build booths or institutions out of fear. Let’s accompany each other together with Christ down the mountain, eschewing fear and consoling each other in the certitude of faith in Christ—who teaches because He can neither deceive nor be deceived. This is his mission that He entrusts with us for Catholic education. And may our schools always strive to serve the means to that end.


Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration of Governor Abbot, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Texas Legislature

Benediction Prayer for the Inauguration

January 20, 2015

Blessed are you, Gracious God, Source of all that is true and beautiful. You, who delight in all people, we stand in awe before you, believing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of your Divine presence. Through your goodness to us, we live in this great State of Texas – some of us born and nurtured here by your grace and wisdom, some of us called from afar and delivered here through your mercy and compassion, each and all of us sustained here together in fellowship and solidarity by your loving and generous providence.

Bless us, as one people, with the courage to seek the common good for all members of our towns and cities, of our counties and state, of our nation and world. Deliver us as one people from selfishness and distrust that would foment fear and incite violence within our homes and in our communities. Instill in us, as one people, your spirit of integrity that we might do our part in diligently exercising our own personal responsibility for the betterment of our society.

Bless us, as one people with the desire for authentic freedom and justice as promoted by love of our neighbor and protected by the rule of law. Deliver us as one people from apathy and cynicism that would divide and scatter us into the shadows of isolation and moral listlessness. Instill in us as one people, your spirit of compassion that we might actively inconvenience ourselves to care for each and every human being in the reality of need, and not abstractly enshrine humanity in the emptiness of idealism.

Bendícenos, como un solo pueblo, con el deseo de libertad y justicia auténticas promovidas por el amor al prójimo y protegida por el estado de derecho. Líbranos como a un solo pueblo de la apatía y el cinismo que nos dividen y ahuyentan a las sombras del aislamiento y la apatía moral. Inculca en nosotros, como un solo pueblo, el espíritu de la compasión que nos incomode en el cuidado de cada persona humana en su realidad social, y no ver la humanidad en el abstracto y en el vacío del idealismo.

Gracious God, we entrust to you our Governor and our Lieutenant Governor, our legislators and our judges. Bless them as our public servants, in their responsibilities of government, with the courage to be humble in their sincere commitment to the unity of action required for the promotion of a just social order. Deliver them, as our public servants, from temptation to arrogance and dishonesty that would do damage to our development as one people in fellowship and solidarity. Instill in them, as our public servants, our spirit of confidence, that they might lead us in deed as well as in word in the direction set for the by your guidance for a better society marked by the dignity of human flourishing and concern for the poor who live in the margins of our society.

Bless them with wisdom and right judgment that they might, through their decisions, strengthen our state in the present moment with an eye toward the future development and peace for generations yet to come. Deliver our public servants from impatience with the complexities of government. Instill in them your virtue of prudence that they might see, judge, and act within the proper balance of eternal values and present needs for the sake of your peace. We ask all of this in your name.

Bendícelos con sabiduría y buen juicio para que puedan a través de sus decisiones fortalecer a nuestro estado ahora en el momento presente con la mirada puesta en el desarrollo y la paz para las generaciones por venir.


Homily for St. Luke’s Mass for Catholic Medical Guild

St. Luke’s Mass for Catholic Medical Guild
Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

October 12, 2014

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:12-20
Matthew 22: 1-14

In our Gospel reading, Christ speaks in a parable to and about the People of the Old Covenant, and also to and about us (His Church–the People of the New Covenant) as guests invited and called to a wedding banquet. This metaphor conveys images of celebration, fun, revelry, and joy. The wedding imagery conveys an invitation to an intimate covenant made between God and human beings. Who would not want to be a part of such a celebration? Well, apparently, many.

These "many" are invited and called to the wedding banquet that the king is providing for his son, and they refuse to come. Just like in last Sunday’s gospel of the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, when the vineyard owner sends servants to obtain the produce and the tenants abuse, mistreat and kill the servants. So also in this gospel, the king’s servants are abused, mistreated and killed when they summon the invitees to the wedding feast. It is not now a refusal to give the fruits of the vineyard to the landowner; it is now a refusal to let oneself be invited to a wedding banquet, image of joy, covenantal union, communion and life. How hard-hearted and close-minded might these supposed invitees be? They feel that they have enough knowledge about their status and identity independent of their host’s initiative. They understand their participation in the life of the kingdom to be sufficiently established on their own knowledge alone, and a response is not only unnecessary, it is not wanted because it would move them from their selfish complacency. Even joy will not move them. Their knowledge is self-contained; a covenant would only inconvenience them with expectations to practice and to offer an active response. In other words, “Why should they bother?”

The imagery of marriage and the wedding banquet is used in many places in Sacred Scripture to denote closeness and intimacy with the Lord. The Lord wants his people close to him in joyous celebration. So, in the parable from today’s Gospel, the king then sends out his servants to invite other people who are not complacent in their own status and who accept the invitation to enter into covenantal unity. They enter and join the celebration. Their entrance and joining the celebration requires a preparation and action on their part–simple passivity will not suffice. Thus, the late invitee who is not adequately dressed for the celebration (who does not follow through with his response to the invitation) is cast out into the street.

The relationship between physicians and patients is often understood as a covenant; that is, as consisting of intimacy and trust in a unity unlike any other simple professional occupation. For some physicians, the structures of contemporary medical education steeped in technology and a disproportionate demand for publishable research, have prompted them not to respond to the invitation to medicine as an actual practice involved with the needs of patients. Sadly, some physicians instead mistakenly settle for science as sufficient for their identities and status as physicians. Like the invitees who refuse the generous call of the king, they view the invitation to the celebration of the intimate covenant of medical practice as not only unnecessary but also as a burden. Research is enough for them; they need not respond to people.

The covenant between physicians and patients has been further jeopardized in recent years by the same old selfishness of sin but dressed in the new and insufficient garments of bureaucratic proceduralism and commercialism. This jeopardy is caused by those that bother to enter into the medical practice but never really follow through in the sacrifice required to care for patients. Instead they fearfully surrender their covenant of care to the demands for cost-efficiency made by third party payers steeped in bureaucracy and other false idols of for-profit healthcare. Like the man in the parable, they respond to the invitation but do not follow through with perseverance but cave in to fear.

The parable in today’s Gospel conveys the fulfillment by Christ of Isaiah’s prophesy proclaimed in our first reading–the unshrouding of the veil that covers all nations–that is sin and its bitter effects including ignorance, sickness, and ultimately death. The victory of Christ establishes a new covenant and fulfills the old one. It falls to Christ alone to unveil the veil of death that clouds humanity. While physicians and health care practitioners assist in this mission of overcoming suffering and death through care and healing–it is never for physicians to remove the veil neither through inducing death nor by unnecessarily prolonging it.

Our lives as Catholics involve a response to an invitation from the Lord. The response begins in Baptism and continues through the twists and turns and requires not only preparation but perseverance in good deeds. During this month dedicated to Respect Life, it is incumbent upon us to pray for our physicians and to thank them for their covenantal care for us–which they regularly do at great risk to their livelihood because of their courage in following through with perseverance in their Baptismal response.

We are all invited to the wedding banquet, but being chosen depends upon our response and our perseverance. The poor, speechless guy in the gospel is not appropriately clad, and as a result is cast out from the wedding banquet. He remains a bystander even after he is invited to participate. Though invited and called, he was not prepared–not ready, not chosen. The invited, but poorly dressed and cast out individual is likewise the “half-hearted,” “not-too-sure,” “blows with the prevailing winds”, unfaithful and ill-prepared supposed “follower.” Though invited and called, he was not ready for where the call would take him.

Every Sunday, and today again, we are invited to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb–the Eucharist instituted by Christ. We are called to communion with our God–closeness, intimate proximity with the Lord. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb and we are not worthy to have Him taken under our roof, but He says but the word and each of our souls is healed.” “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” What about you and me? Are we “dressed” for it? Are we ready and prepared?