19 November 2013

Nine years ago today

Nine years ago today I knelt before His Excellency the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, then Bishop of Springfield in Illinois and now Archbishop of Omaha, and received through the imposition of his hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit the grace of the office of Deacon.

After inviting the faithful to pray "that God the all-powerful Father will mercifully pour out the grace of his blessings" on me and my "classmates," he knelt with the faithful as we lay prostrate on the floor and invoked the intercession of the Saints.

Rising, in the prayer of ordination, he prayed that, "In the offering of a clear conscience, may they remain strong and steadfast in Christ, so that by imitating on earth your Son, who came not to be served but to serve, they may be found worthy to reign in heaven with him."

Afterwards we were vested with the sacred stole and dalmatic, the vesture of the Order of Deacons,which William Durandus (+1296) said "makes the form of a cross, wherein it is a token of Christ's Passion, and so is worn in the Office of the Mass, in which that Passion is shown forth."

Though as a priest I no longer wear the dalmatic, this association with the Lord's cross of course necessarily continues.  Just before ordaining us to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, Archbishop Lucas asked me and my classmates, "Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all?"

We answered, "I do, with the help of God," for such a life without his grace cannot be lived.

Recently I have been reading through the homilies of Saint Bonaventure and in one of them he describes himself in passing as "a servant of the Cross" (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 4).  It is a phrase that has stuck with me these past several months since I first read it.

Bonaventure does not expound on this phrase or what it means but being a close follower of Saint Francis of Assisi it must have been at the heart of his spirituality.  What does it mean to be a servant of the Cross?

After recounting how Saint Francis received the Stigmata on Mount LaVerna, Bonaventure urges him: "Come now, knight of Christ, vigorously bear the arms of your unconquerable Leader!  Visibily shielded with these, you will overcome all adversaries.  Carry the standard of the Most High King, and at its sight let all who fight in God's army be aroused to courage" (The Life of Saint Francis, 13.9).

Yet, for Bonaventure, it was not enough that Francis alone be slowly conformed to the Cross.  In his The Tree of Life, Bonaventure includes a moving prayer:
Who will grant me that my request should come about and that God will give me what I long for, that having been totally transpierced in both mind and flesh, I may be fixed with my beloved to the yoke of the cross (26)?
Bonaventure longed to say with Saint Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

To be a servant of the Cross requires the complete surrender of one's life to God; nothing can be kept for oneself.  To live as a servant of the Cross is to spend one's life in the service of the Gospel.  The words of Saint John the Baptist must ever be on the lips of one who would be a servant of the Cross: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

To be such a servant of the Cross is the desire of my heart.  May the Lord bring it about in me so that I may say at the end of each day, with all sincerity, "I am an unworthy servant; I have done only what was my duty" (cf. Luke 17:10).