HOMILY FOR THE ADMISSION TO CANDIDACY OF THOSE WHO ARE STUDYING FOR THE DIACONATE.
I welcome you all as we come to celebrate this historic occasion in our Archdiocese, the admission to candidacy. This ceremony marks a certain definite transition in your life. I welcome those who are being accepted for candidacy, welcome to your wives and families on this special occasion. Welcome to those who have been nurturing and monitoring you on the journey, Fr. Stephen Farragher, Maureen Behan and Fr. Fergal Cunnane.
While admission to candidacy helps to clarify something with regard to your own vocation on the way to diaconate, it also makes you more aware of uncertainties along the way. On the one hand there is clarification for yourself because prior to this you were making the journey in the hope that your good will, your application and conviction would be acknowledged, accepted and approved by the Archdiocese for the Church. Candidacy underlines the acceptance and the welcome by the diocese. On the other hand after candidacy there will always be the sense of uncertainty, puzzlement and surprise in your relationship with God. This is illustrated in our first reading.
The background to the first reading from the Book of Genesis in which we find Jacob wrestling with God is this: Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau after an estrangement that has lasted 22 years. Jacob is understandably afraid and distressed. He prays. We have the story of Jacob’s wrestling match. Jacob has no doubt who this is. It was God. He called the encounter “peniel”, “because I saw God face to face, yet my life was spared”. Prior to this Jacob had struggled with human beings, with his brother Esau and with others. Now the text reminds us that he has struggled with God himself. Some commentators say that this story testifies to Jacob’s struggles with himself.
Names in the Bible – especially a name given by God, are no mere labels but signals of change of character or calling. While you are not being given a new name in this ceremony of candidacy yet there is a parallel because there is a calling involved and a new responsibility. You will notice that Jacob received a blessing. Likewise you receive a blessing on this occasion. In different ways as you were preparing for your vocation you too have wrestled with God, perhaps with yourself also, and received a blessing from him.
Applying this story to ourselves and our situation, we too can feel that we are alone, afraid or in distress. It can happen in many ways. We can suffer bereavement and feel ourselves surrounded by a cloud of grief. We can find ourselves in the midst of controversy, subject to the sometimes brutal criticism of others. We can feel ourselves to be a failure. These are terrifying moments when life seems drained of meaning, when we can no longer concentrate or connect with others, when we find it difficult to understand what is taking place. Challenges and crises can happen and there is no way we can make ourselves immune to them. This is the human condition and we cannot escape it. And yet faith is not certainty: it is the courage to live with uncertainty. Indeed that is why we need faith, because life is uncertain. Even in the 21st century when we know so much about the universe we never know what tomorrow will bring. Crises and difficulties can challenge us at the deepest level of ourselves, threatening our self-confidence and self-respect and that is where we need to concentrate our efforts and focus our energies. We are here because the Lord wanted us to be here and to take this step. He loves us, understands us, forgives us and believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.
The Gospel today is short and snappy and presents what is taking place in the First Reading in short and summary style. The man who is cured in the Gospel enters an entirely new life.
Here we have Jesus in his ministry of word and action. You will notice the way in which Matthew stresses the sense of compassion that Jesus feels for the crowd of ordinary people, dejected because they lack true leaders. Matthew uses a very strong term to describe the compassion that overwhelms Jesus at the sight of the crowds. The Greek word which Matthew uses to designate the compassion of Jesus suggests that this compassion is deep-seated on the part of Jesus and not a superficial emotional reaction.
Immediately Jesus thinks of the need for a mission by his disciples. Jesus himself is the true shepherd and he desires his disciples to act as genuine shepherds of his people in his place. Jesus does not wave a kind of magic wand in order to produce shepherds. This lies in the hands of the Father, the Lord of the Harvest. All the disciples can do is beg him in prayer to send more labourers on mission. In this sense prayer itself becomes missionary.
As men preparing for diaconate and today being accepted in Candidacy you are in many ways an answer to the prayer for labourers in God’s harvest. I congratulate you on the generosity of your availability and on the support that you receive from your wives and families.
I would like to pay a special tribute to Fr. Stephen, Maureen and Fr. Fergal who have been journeying with you on this mission. I know that on this journey they themselves have also been the receivers of God’s grace in a special way in their particular vocations, in priesthood and in married life.