Dear brother Deacons, and dear friends in Christ, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in which we are all privileged to serve, is distinguished for many reasons. But perhaps the most distinguishing reason of all is that saints have come from this local Church: our brothers and sisters in the Faith who have “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” These are the ones who served here so heroically, so generously, & so sacrificially, that their virtue has been recognized by the Church and who are now held up before the whole Church as models of holiness.
I think of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint John Neumann. I think of the Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, whose cause for Beatification is currently proceeding in Rome. And today, on what in some parts of the world is his feast day, I think of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, who died 146 years ago yesterday, and who served as Pastor of Saint Alphonsus Church in Baltimore in the mid-1850s.
So even though we celebrate today a Votive Mass of Our Lady on Saturday, for just a moment, let’s let Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a local hero of the Church in Baltimore and the Church Universal, speak to us of our vocation of service.
II. Strengthened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit
The Rite of Ordination of Deacons outlines your ministry in clear terms. It says: “Strengthened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit, [Deacons] help the Bishop and his priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity; showing themselves to be servants to all. As ministers of the altar, they proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful. “Furthermore,” the Rite continues, “it is their duty, at the Bishop’s discretion, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. They preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless Marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.”
This, my brothers, is a tall order, especially since your diaconal ministry in the Church is usually carried out alongside the vocation to Marriage and Family Life, while at the same time you hold down a full-time secular job.
So back to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. When he was Pastor of St. Alphonsus, he too was consumed with pastoral responsibilities both within the parish, and with the Redemptorist novices, who looked to him as a father, and whom he thought of as sons. Oftentimes, he was nearly overwhelmed with the seemingly limitless duties for which he was responsible, yet he was known above all for his smile, for his kindness, and for the peace that radiated from within him.
For this reason, it is said that when he sat in his confessional (which is still there today) the lines of penitents, on more than a few occasions, stretched around the inside of the church, and even around part of the outside of the church!
III. The Pastoral Wisdom of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos
His biographer, Redemptorist Father Michael Curley (no relation, as far as I know, to the Archbishop) records that Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos spoke extensively about perseverance in the face of trials, and of that supernatural pastoral energy which comes about only through a life of deep, sustained prayer. He speaks of the Crosses that come to all of us in our respective ministries as the very means by which we can progress towards holiness. This is particularly instructive for us today.
On one occasion, in words which will no doubt resonate with all of us, he said: “We are so tender toward ourselves, until God finally takes a direct hand in our affairs and does violence to us. In this way He takes complete possession of our hearts, and opens them to the influence of His Divine Grace.” And with timeless pastoral wisdom, he exhorts any who would follow Christ in ordained ministry to “be faithful, and give a deaf ear to the whisperings of the evil one. Dismiss him at once with a strong determination of the will.”
This certainly is food for thought and prayer for anyone who carries out a ministry in service to the Gospel in the midst of a very busy life and in a culture which is increasingly unfriendly.
IV. With Heartfelt Thanks
Finally, dear brothers, allow me to thank you most warmly for the dedicated service which you carry out in this local Church: a service of the Word, of the Altar, and of Charity, in service to the Lord Jesus, and in service to His holy people.
As you proclaim the Holy Gospel and preach on it, and as you stand at the altar and “prepare the sacrifice” week by week, year by year, I ask you to remember that the words of Christ in today’s Gospel apply to you: “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
And in giving thanks for our share in this ministry, pray for me, and be assured of my prayers too, for each of you, especially at the Altar of the Lord.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!