Homily for the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord with the Rite of Ordination of Mr Shinto Francis to the Diaconate in Year A 2017 at St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills, 27 May 2017
They say that it is the journey and not the destination that matters. When we are open to the mysteries that our life’s journeys have to offer, including the hard and unexpected lessons, we grow and enrich ourselves. When I left Vietnam as a boat person, I had absolutely no idea where I would end up and how my life would unfold. Looking back, I can see the hand of God leading me through all of life’s changing fortunes, the good, the bad and the ugly. I would even say that the most challenging times often turned out to be the most transformative. When we are open to the learnings that we are not looking for, that kind of education can be life changing.
Many years ago, Shinto came to Australia with a set purpose of becoming a member of the Missionaries of God’s Love. Then later on, he came to discover the meaning of the journey that was unknown to him. He learned to alter the course of his life by way of accepting the diocesan vocation and entered our Holy Spirit Seminary. Openness to the journey of life with all its twists and turns, its lights and shadows is critical in one’s formation.
In a way, what you are about to undergo this evening is part of the shaping of your soul. Diaconate is not merely another formal step towards the ultimate dream of a young seminarian. It is not as if the young seminarian has made it by reaching ordination. In fact, when we are ordained deacon, priest or bishop, we have not made it. But as The Carpenters sing “We’ve Only Just Begun”. To enter the ordained ministry is not to commit oneself to a socially upward mobility. Quite the opposite is the case. It is a commitment to availability, generosity, self-sacrifice, service and ultimately what we call the kenosis of Christ, the total self-giving to others.
“I am among you as the one who serves”. With these words, Jesus sums up the essence of Christian leadership. The only way to follow Christ authentically is the way of service, of giving oneself for the life of others. Hence, in the face of all the challenges today, we cannot shirk from the commitment to be the servant in the style of Christ the humble and suffering servant. What we need to reclaim for the Church forcefully and unequivocally is the notion of diakonia. To this end, the ordained together with the baptised need to manifest the diakonia of Christ in who we are and what we do. Until we have reclaimed diakonia, the Church will be less than what Christ intends it to be.
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Ascension. We are told that “the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs”. The Ascension is not about the disappearance of Jesus into the outer atmosphere or the changing of the guard as it were because the Holy Spirit replaced Jesus in guiding the Church. The Ascension is about the beginning of the new era. Jesus is present with the Church in a new and more powerful way through the Holy Spirit, enabling her to fulfill the mission of making disciples of all nations. The Ascension turns the focus on the Church as the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, as the vehicle for His grace and the herald of the Gospel.
Shinto, your ordination this evening brings joy, hope and even renewal to us. The Church in Parramatta is rejuvenated by your youthfulness, reinvigorated by your commitment and enriched by your gifts. The journey might be uncertain but it will be less daunting when walked together knowing that Christ Jesus is with us, to the end of time. Just as we on account of your ordination hear the echo of those words “Be not afraid”, you should feel them reverberate in your heart. It is only with courage and trust that you can go and make disciples in this time and in this place.
In the end, though, what God asks of us is not whatever we human beings construe as success and achievement. If the experience of the pilgrim people in the Old Testament is any guide, it is the exodus often at its most assiduous, most trying, most soul-searching is paradoxically the most formative and the most powerful witness as God’s people. Perhaps, we the new pilgrim people are called to be formed by this difficult part of the journey and the meaning of it might be hidden from us. We must learn to live as a minority in the midst of a secular, diverse and at times hostile society. In this time of diminishment, we must learn to influence society not as lords and masters but as fellow pilgrims.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many”. Let these words be our motto as a deacon. Let it guide your ministry and form you as the minister of the Gospel. May we not be afraid to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body the Church, and in this way become the true servants of God’s message.
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