Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zec. 9:9-10; Rom. 8:9, 11-13; Mt. 11:25-30
As many of you know, I recently spent nine weeks in the Holy Land
to pray and study with other guys from my class at the seminary.
We spent three weeks in Bethlehem, three weeks at the Sea of Galilee, and three weeks in Jerusalem.
One night in Jerusalem,
a good friend and I doing our best at being armchair philosophers
and we arrived at a question that I had never considered before.
At that time, I was just about a month away from being ordained a deacon,
from making those permanent and somewhat intimidating promises
of obedience, prayer, and celibacy.
We were talking about celibacy, and how it might look in each of our lives,
and we arrived at a strange question:
will the heart always be broken? Will the celibate heart, in particular, always be broken?
In my earlier years of seminary, I remember always getting very defensive
and feeling like I had to agree with the people who were against priestly celibacy
because they saw it as something totally negative and painful; a life of denial.
I felt like I had to agree with them
and then also go out of my way to put a positive face on the choice I was making.
Hence, for those who follow me on social media,
the #borncelibate hashtag was born
and anytime I was doing anything crazy or funny or kind of stupid
that ended up on Facebook or Instagram
was almost always accompanied by #borncelibate.
But now, as a deacon, I’ve made the promise to be celibate forever.
It is interesting and a little overwhelming to know that I am a part of something now
that has “forever” attached to it.
And I’m more inclined now to admit to those who question me that celibacy is hard.
But whatever. Life is hard.
The truest things and the best things in life are sometimes the things most arduously attained.
Will the celibate heart always be broken?
My friend and I arrived at an answer: yes.
Why? Because it must.
When we argue that the priest becomes another Christ,
that is not some pious, 1950’s Catholic propaganda.
That is the reality.
The Spirit of Christ takes over a man so completely,
that if his heart is not broken, is not torn and purified and made new,
it will be as though new wine is poured into old, cracked wineskins;
the skins would break, and the wine would be ruined.
In his book God or Nothing, Cardinal Robert Sarah describes the priestly heart,
and in some sense the heart of every Christian who knows what it is to suffer,
as akin to the fruit of a sycamore tree.
Sycamore fruit is inside of a hard shell, filled with sap.
Before it can be harvested, the farmer must slice open the shell, drain the sap,
and expose the fruit to the air otherwise it will never ripen.
The celibate man must become an expert in letting go.
The heart must always be broken, because it must always be drained
of anything except the will of Christ, and the will of the Father who sent him.
Celibacy requires that a man become so conformed to Christ, so one with him,
that the voice and will that echo within him are not his own.
The priest is called to be radically and eagerly available to the will of God,
so that he might be radically and eagerly available to the people
he has been called to serve.
It is Jesus who works in me, it is Jesus whom you encounter in my ministry, it is Jesus.
Because it is Jesus who, sent by the Father, looked me in the eyes and said,
“I wish to live my mysteries again in you. I wish to take you over,
and to be carried in you, through you, with you to the world.”
The question of Jesus is clear: will you be available to me?
Those of you who are married,
can you imagine loving someone so intensely and deeply,
while trying to love someone else as intensely and deeply at the same time?
Our hearts are made for depth and intimacy, not widespread, but shallow, interactions.
In the same way, those who are called to be celibate must have a singularity of heart,
a heart that is in love with only one.
When the heart belongs only to God,
only then can it belong to every person, to every creature, to every circumstance, to every situation. Radical availability.
The sacrament of Holy Orders “defines” me
“as eagerly available to both listen to the pain of [my] brothers and sisters, and to pour the Gospel into it.” (Keating)
The hidden line in today’s gospel says it all:
“Yes, Father, for such has been your gracious will.”
One commentary writes, “Perfect repose in the will of the Father is the end of all Christian striving.
In this prayer Jesus turns away from all interaction with men,
from all words directed to man,
and reveals his natural state as being the ongoing act of loving surrender to his Father.
Here is the source of all his external dynamism, wisdom, and mystery.” (Leiva-Merikakis)
Becoming a priest was not my idea.
Being at St. Mary Immaculate was not my idea.
Being celibate was not my idea.
But it is, I really believe, the will of the Father.
And, although it is painful for my sin-inclined heart to deny many things,
this is the will of the Father.
And while my heart will always be in some sense broken,
it also means that it will, in a beautiful way, be always open.
Since my heart is taken by and belongs to only God himself,
and because God has this way of transforming us and own breathing life
into his own image and likeness in which I have been created,
I am given the grace to love in a crazy way.
By denying what the world tells me is ultimately important
– marriage, and sex, and a nuclear family, and lots of money –
I am radically and eagerly available for you.
For your joys and your sorrows;
for your accomplishments and failures;
for your happiness and shame.
Think about it: in the priesthood, in the diaconate,
you have a whole caste of men who said “yes, Father, for such is your gracious will”
and, by doing so, have given Jesus so much permission and room to work.
It is as if we have said, “Jesus, take my heart.
Take it, and break it, and come and live within it.
Make it meek like yours and humble like yours.
May it be forever full like yours.”
“Yes, Father, for such has been your gracious will”
that you would send men into our midst
whose only occupation is you and their neighbor.
There is an entire caste of men, set apart
– not out of rigidity and high-status, but of lowliness and peace –
whose one job is to stand, broken and open, before the world and to proclaim:
“come to me, all you who labor and burdened,
and find the rest and peace of the Father,
brought through the person of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.”
“Other people have access to Christ in and through the one who lives his rightful calling,
filling the earth with a witness
and enabling people to see the Lord.
Each cleric living his vocation becomes an icon of the Lord,
drawing people to, and then through, the minister to ultimate rest in the Risen Lord.” (Keating)
Must the celibate heart always be broken?
As a witness that even in the pain,
which is rare, the will of the Father is always worth it.
Love is always worth the risk.
Faith is substantial,
and the Father has promised us that he works for the good of those who love him,
and that his way,
even if it seems hard according to our wimpy standards,
is the best way.
This was not the topic of my homily tonight to get you to feel bad for me
and all the priests and deacons you know.
I preached about this because I want you to know how amazing God is.
That even today, he raises up men from every place,
and speaks so sweetly to them
so as to convince them that his will, indeed,
is always worth the risk of pain
and, in so doing, raises up another generation of “other Christs” who stand in his place
and with courage and zeal look out at you and say with conviction:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will show you to the One who is meek, and humble,
and who is radically and eagerly available to receive you,
and heal you,
and love you.
He is the One whom we will receive from this altar tonight.
As a way to start our week of Totus Tuus,
we will have 30 minutes of adoration right after Mass in the Church.
Please stay, and hear him say,
“Come to me.”
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to us the mysteries of your kingdom.