Mark Hellinger and Brian Isenbarger
The words of Jesus to the disciples resonate for us today at this Ordination Mass. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
God, the master of the harvest, has heard the prayers of the faithful of our diocese for laborers for His harvest. He has called Mark and Brian to be these laborers in His vineyard and they have freely and generously answered that call.
The harvest is an image for bringing people into the kingdom of God. Jesus Himself was the laborer bringing in this harvest. As we heard in the Gospel, “Jesus went about to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and illness.” Our Lord was in contact with many people and saw their needs and sufferings. The Gospel tells us that “He was moved with pity for them.” The Greek verb actually has the connotation that Jesus was profoundly moved in the depths of His heart because the people were troubled and abandoned, hurting and distressed. Jesus had the deepest compassion for them. This is important for our understanding of ordained ministry in the Church. The laborers the Lord calls are to share in His mission, to carry it on, and to have the sentiments, the attitude and the intent of Jesus. They are to be His emissaries as laborers who proclaim His Gospel, bring people into His Kingdom, lift their burdens, give them His healing and mercy, drive out evil and bear His gift of salvation. This is what Jesus empowered the apostles to do and what He empowers their successors to do as well through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the sacrament of apostolic ministry in its three grades of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate.
Being emissaries of Jesus through the apostolic ministry cannot be done by one’s own human powers. Divine grace is needed. Brian and Mark receive this grace today, the grace of Holy Orders according to its first grade, the diaconate. They will receive strength from the Lord to serve His people in communion with me and our presbyterate in the service of the word, of the liturgy and of charity. They are called to have the heart of Jesus the servant, the heart which was moved with the deepest compassion for the troubled and abandoned who were like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark and Brian, you are being called in a particular time and place in the history of the Church and of the world, a time and place with particular needs and challenges. Like in the time of Jesus, there are many who are hurting and troubled. You are called to be close to them and to bring them the loving tenderness of God. As Pope Francis so often reminds us, you are called to tend to people’s wounds, like the Good Samaritan did. The harvest is still abundant today. We see in our time the truth of Jesus’ words when He compared people, worn out from the lack of guidance, to sheep without a shepherd. In the confusion of today’s culture, many wander about like sheep in search of grass that can satisfy their hunger and water that can quench their thirst. They are hungry and thirsty for meaning and purpose in life. They are hungry and thirsty for truth and for love. Without guidance, many travel along paths where the grass is scorched, paths that do not lead to refreshing streams – paths of relativism, materialism, consumerism and hedonism. These paths really lead nowhere except to emptiness, boredom, sadness and even despair. Mark and Brian, you are called to lead people as good shepherds along the path of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. To do so, you must have Jesus’ passion for the human person, passion for the people you are sent to serve, and great compassion for those who are poor and suffering, those who are hurting and distressed. This is the heart of the diaconate and all ordained ministry: diakonia, service. You are being ordained to be servants of Jesus and His mercy for human beings. You are called to be the living presence in the Church of the One who said that He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many. You are called to be icons of Jesus the servant who washed the feet of the disciples.
Mark and Brian, you commit yourselves today to live a life of celibacy so that you can serve the Lord and His people with total dedication. With love for Jesus, you make your lives an oblation to Him. When I lay my hands on you today, your lives become His. Every day at Mass, you can cultivate this attitude of self-offering by uniting the offering of yourselves with the Eucharistic offering of Jesus.
You also offer your lives today through your promise of obedience. In a few minutes, you will make a solemn promise of filial respect and obedience to me and my successors. Being faithful to this promise requires the virtue of humility exemplified by Jesus who humbled Himself to become a servant.
I pray you will always remain faithful to your promises of celibacy and obedience, that, with the help of God’s grace, you will reject all temptations to unchastity and to the disobedience that is rooted in arrogance and pride. St. Joseph, whom we honor in a special way this year, is a great model for you of chastity and obedience. May he intercede for you throughout your life and ministry!
Mark and Brian, I have confidence that you will be laborers who work hard in the vineyard of the Lord. This is obviously important – the Church needs hard-working and industrious deacons, priests and bishops, not lazy ones. At times, you will experience, as I and our priests do, weariness and fatigue. I think of this as a good “tiredness.” At the same time, you will need to rest with the Lord and be re-energized by Him for your ministry. Your own deep personal relationship with Jesus is essential. A consistent and disciplined prayer life is important, including the daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours which you also promise today. I also encourage your personal relationship with our Blessed Mother and her rosary. Her love sustains us in our ministry. If you ever feel sad or discouraged in your ministry, listen to her say to you as she said to Juan Diego: “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” We are supported by the prayers of Mary and the saints, the Church in heaven. In a few moments, you will lie prostrate on this floor as we all call upon their intercession for you. Remember that you can always seek their prayers and benefit from them.
Finally, Mark and Brian, I pray the Lord blesses you with joy and that you will joyfully serve Him and His Church. With Mary, may your spirit always rejoice in God our Savior!