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Homily for the Ordination of MJ Deacons Carlo and Juvy, 14 May 2023, Jn 14,15-21

It is the sixth Sunday of Easter as we celebrate this Eucharist, in which you, our dear brother deacons Carlo and Juvy, will be ordained to the sacred priesthood of Christ.

This ordination, as a sacrament, is meant to give a fuller expression to the foundation of all sacraments—baptism, through which we are all empowered to participate in the common priesthood of the faithful. Carlo and Juvy, the ministerial priesthood is meaningless without the common priesthood at its foundation. We have no right to even be called priests, apart from Christ. St. Augustine once said, “For you I am a bishop; with you I am a Christian.” He knew fully well that he could only be a bishop for his people if he was first a Christian with them, sharing in the common dignity of our baptism into Christ.

I would presuppose that your long process of formation has made you grow in your discipleship and configuration to Christ, which is made possible only by communion with Christ. A Christian receives the sacraments only to be transformed into “sacraments” themselves, meaning, signs and instruments of Christ and his continuing work of redemption in this world. You have received the Holy Spirit, the gift of all gifts, not only so that you could become CHRISTIANS, meaning, followers of Christ, but more importantly, so that you can BE CHRIST, meaning, LIVE IN CHRIST, PARTICIPATE IN THE LIFE AND MISSION OF CHRIST in the Church, his living body.

Listen to how Luke describes the mission of Philip when Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached the Gospel to the Samaritans. “He proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the Samaritans paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and SAW THE SIGNS HE WAS DOING.”

What did Luke mean? What signs was he talking about? That his words had power over the evil spirits, his touch effected healing, his presence brought about joy and liberation. Signs that he was speaking and acting “IN THE PERSON OF CHRIST.” He conducted himself in such a way that it was Christ himself whom they heard and experienced through him.

Please do not forget that when you begin to celebrate the Eucharist. It is HIS SACRIFICE, not yours, that you will offer. It is his words that people will want to hear through your words. It is his body and blood that they wish to be nourished with, through your own body and blood. This is what I mean when I say, we are called, not just to be Christians but to BE CHRIST, to make Christ’s continuing presence in the world felt by people—through you, whom he has called to be his FRIENDS.

The call to Christian discipleship is a call to friendship, a deeply personal and intimate relationship that alone can empower us to represent Christ. Peter himself understood this only later, already when he encountered the Resurrected Christ right where his discipleship began, by the Lakeshore of Tiberias. It happened also while he was fishing and feeling again like a miserable failure, coming home with an empty boat, but learning a new way of fishing by casting his nets in deep waters. That was when, instead of saying “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man,” he jumped into the water and just wanted to disappear in shame for having abandoned his friend to die alone on the cross.

It was then that the Risen Christ changed him, raised him back to life by inviting him to a meal, by taking blessing, breaking and giving him a morsel of bread and asking him the intimate question, DO YOU LOVE ME? It was only after saying his yes to the love of Christ that he would receive the command—to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, nourish his flock. I call this the PASTORAL MANDATE that none of us is capable of fulfilling without first expressing our love for the Shepherd, without professing our COMMUNION with him, our oneness in heart, oneness in spirit with him. Does that sound familiar to you? COR UNUM ET ANIMA UNA. One heart, one spirit.

My dear brother deacons, Juvy and Carlo, we cannot do shepherding in the Church apart from Christ. We can only do it for love of him. That is why he had to ask Peter first, DO YOU LOVE ME? The implication is, “If you don’t, you have no right to even come near my sheep.” You can do shepherding only for love of our Chief Shepherd. The Shepherd calls us to protect the Lambs. Don’t ever let it happen that he will end up protecting his lambs from us.

Did you notice how Jesus said it in the Gospel? IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WILL KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS. The commandments are meaningless outside the context of covenant. That was supposed to be clear already in the Old Testament. That is why I prefer to call the TEN COMMANDMENTS TEN COMMITMENTS, sampung kasunduan imbes na sampung kautusan. It is when we remove the commandments from the foundation of covenant commitment that we succumb to Phariseism.

And so, for Christianity, Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant. Paul has even boldly claimed that Christ has replaced the Law as an embodiment of the covenant. In the person of Christ—truly divine and truly human but one person—we have the very embodiment of the covenant. The old covenant that they deposited in an ark in the form of stone tablets with the words of the commandments, which they safeguarded in the innermost sanctum of the temple, has been replaced by Christ. In Christ, we have the covenant in person, the word made flesh, uniting humanity and divinity so intimately, so permanently, such that St. Paul exclaims, “WHO CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD?” In Christ’s body which builds his disciples into a new and living temple, the covenant is no longer merely symbolic but real.

You also heard what St. Peter said in our second reading, “Always be ready to give and account to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Carlo and Juvy, you cannot proclaim the Good News if you cannot give hope. BUT WHAT IS THE REASON FOR YOUR HOPE? ONLY THE LOVE OF CHRIST. We can hope, only because we have been loved by Christ.

This should make you understand why Paul once explained to the Corinthians when their unity was being challenged by forces of division that if their diverse charisms were to truly serve for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, they must learn to aspire for the “greater gifts”. Paul identified these as FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE. But which of the three did he identify as THE GREATEST? Not FAITH. Did he not say, “Even if I have faith great enough to move mountains, if I have no love, (what am I? ) I AM NOTHING. “ (1Cor 13:2) Not even if I can speak with the tongues of men and of angels. Without love, we are just making noise. Without love, we are like broken gongs or clanging cymbals. Without love, we are nothing but empty vessels carrying no treasure.

If the greatest gift is not FAITH, the greatest is not HOPE either! Hope is that which enables you to endure even in the darkest of nights. Hope cannot come from sheer human bravado or courage in the face of adversity. None of our holy martyrs in the Church died for an idea, for principles, or for a mere ideology. They did so ONLY FOR LOVE OF CHRIST. Remember that romantic song that says, you can kiss today goodbye along with all its sweetness and sorrow…only if you do it FOR LOVE, no not any love, but the love of God revealed to us in Jesus, the love that we are able to respond to, only by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Carlo and Juvy, finally, I remind you TO REMAIN in the love of him whose name you have attached to your names, as MJs, as Missionaries of Jesus. I know, the word REMAIN is a painful word for you, who once were part of another congregation, before you became MJs. Forgive me for saying this openly. I think you do know what I mean.

It is easy to FALL IN LOVE; it is not as easy TO REMAIN IN LOVE, to remain ONE IN HEART AND ONE IN SPIRIT WITH CHRIST (Cor Unum et Anima Una). It is not easy when we allow our love to be defeated by the conditionality of human love, or by the politics of powerplay, or by the temptation to mistake mission and ministry for ego-tripping.

Remember never to allow yourselves to be motivated by hatred, anger and resentment. You cannot engage in the MISSION OF JESUS if it is not love that motivates you. Only love can transform you from DISCIPLES TO APOSTLES, to MISSIONARIES empowered to do the work of Christ. Only love will bestow on you “tongues as of fire”, only love will empower you to speak all the languages of the world. Only love will prove that the Holy Spirit is in you, to make Christ at work in you.

Love will teach you how to be African with Africans, Indian with Indians, Chinese with the Chinese. As Paul once said in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save even just a few. And I do all this only for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” Carlo and Juvy, from this day on the one who has called you friends and who loves you as his own will give you a share in his mission. But only if you remain in his love.

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