Preacher of the Word - Ordination to the deaconate of Paschal Okpon

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Paschal, your vocational journey has led you, surprisingly, to Tasmania. I am sure you never would have imagined that you would be ordained a deacon in Devonport, Tasmania. From the great nation of Nigeria, the most populous Catholic nation in Africa, you are now on an island of a mere half a million people with a modest number of Catholics, below which is a vast ocean and Antarctica. I often like to mention that the Lord commanded his apostles to go to the ends of the earth. Well, you are at the ends of the earth here, fulfilling the command of the Lord.

Paschal, you have willingly offered yourself to serve the people of this beautiful island. You have left behind your own people, your own culture. This is no small sacrifice on your part. You are willing to be exiled for Christ’s sake. You are willing to embrace a people and a culture so different from your own. This is where your vocational call has led you. This is now God’s concrete will for you.

In being ordained today you are being incardinated into the Archdiocese of Hobart. You are saying that you wish to offer yourself to this Archdiocese for the rest of your life. This is a bold and generous offering and I thank you for doing this.

The first reading from the opening chapter of the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah is very appropriate for today. In calling Jeremiah the Lord said as a command: “go now to those to whom I send you”. The Lord has sent you to the people of Tasmania.

Then the Lord added, “and say whatever I command you”. I would like to dwell on this point. The Lord entrusted a specific mission to Jeremiah. Today the Lord is entrusting a specific mission to you. Like Jeremiah in your ministry as deacon and, God willing, your future ministry as priest you are to be a mouthpiece of the Lord. It is the word of the Lord that you are to announce to the people you serve. The Lord wants to use you to bring his message to the people of Tasmania. Today, you are commissioned by virtue of being a deacon to be a preacher of the faith.

The word you preach is never just your own thoughts. It is the Word of the Lord. To be a preacher you need to be attentive to the Lord. You need to allow the Lord to speak deeply to your own heart. You need to sit with the Word of God. You need to ask the Lord regularly – what do you want me to say?

Jeremiah often struggled with his mission and all the hardships he had to endure. He met with opposition. He met with rejection. He met with efforts to silence him. He said that he would have preferred to abandon his mission. He would much more preferred to have a word that was acceptable to the people. But this was not to be his fate.

Often his word was rejected. Often he was attacked for not speaking a word more palatable to the people’s taste.

He received some encouragement in the reading we have just listened to when the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid of them for I am with you to protect you”. Jeremiah was a remarkably faithful prophet. He did say what he was commanded to say. He did stand in the truth despite being rejected. He carried out his mission to the end.

Paschal, you are called to be a prophetic voice. Speak what God calls on you to say. Be a man of God first and foremost. Be a man whose attention is on the Lord. Do not seek to curry the favour of men by what you say. Do not water down the message to please your listeners. But always preach with love and with a humble awareness of your own frailty and sinfulness. Always preach to raise the people up in holiness of life.

Preach the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith in its fullness. Hold fast to the truth. Despite what may seem to be the case, people want to hear the truth. They want to hear divine truth. Be a servant of truth.

Paschal, you have chosen as the second reading today a passage from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians that has captured my self- understanding as a priest and now bishop. It has long been my signature description of how I see my ministry. One sentence in particular is important to me. Let me quote it: “For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord”. I offer these words to you as you assume your ministry of preaching.

We never preach our own views. We are servants of the Church. We preach the faith of the Church. But more particularly, the focus of our preaching is always Jesus Christ who is the Lord.

We must declare over and over again that Jesus is the Lord, Lord of the universe and Lord of each of our lives. He is the incarnate Son of God; he is the promised Messiah; he is the redeemer of mankind; he is the risen Lord who will come again in glory.

Jesus is the beginning and the end of our preaching. He is the Alpha and the Omega. We declare him to be the single source of hope and life and salvation for all. We can be saved by none other. There is only one name in which salvation is possible.

We preach Jesus Christ that people may come to entrust their entire lives to him. We preach Jesus Christ in such a way that people will surrender their hearts and minds to him. We preach Jesus Christ so that people will make him the centre, the focus, the ground of their life.

Paschal, today by the laying on of hands you are to be ordained a transitional deacon. You take this important step towards the goal of priesthood. You have chosen to serve the Lord by offering yourself to him in embracing celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom and placing yourself in obedience to the Archbishop of Hobart.

The Lord said in the Gospel reading: “if a man serves me, he must follow me”. Paschal, follow the Lord always with an undivided heart. It will be a path, not without suffering and trial, which will be a path to life. It will be a path that will bring you great joy. It will be a path to eternal union with Him who alone is our hope and salvation.

All glory and praise belong to God the Father Almighty, and to Jesus Christ his Son and our Lord in the Holy Spirit for ever and ever amen.

 

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, 21 September 2016