Bishop Robert's Ordination Sermon
Br Oliver, it is a great privilege and happiness for me to return to Oxford to ordain you as a deacon. It is a day which I hope you will always remember because, to quote our blessed Cardinal Newman, it is the day on which you will be given the responsibility of souls for ever. You are about to be given a special character that will align you for eternity to Christ the deacon: the one who came to serve and not to be served, who humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples and gave himself to us on the cross in self-sacrificing love. You are to model yourself on his example of service and sacrifice for God’s people. This gift is not your achievement or as a result of a competitive examination but it is a call to which you have responded after a protracted period of prayer, study and pastoral preparation.
It is especially fitting too that you are to be ordained on the feast of the Annunciation. Today we commemorate that unique moment in history when God, the eternal Word took flesh. No longer does humanity live in shadows and uncertainty but in the clear light of the Gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ begins today and as one of his ordained ministers you are configured to him so as to continue and further his work of evangelising and sanctifying.
As we know the deacon exercises a threefold ministry of proclaiming the Word, assisting at the Eucharist and care of the poor.
So firstly you will be a herald of the Gospel, a minister of eternal salvation and a prophet of a Christ’s love and mercy. You must fearlessly become a bearer of the Good News which can transform the lives of all and bring us to a deeper knowledge and love of God. In order to do this your own life should be suffused by prayer and a living relationship with Him whom we serve. Of course the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office is to be an obligation placed on you as the unceasing prayer of the Church. Keep alive that love of prayer which helps us climb above the humdrum to the eternal. In this way you will have the eyes and heart to love God and your brothers and sisters as God loves them.
The deacon is also called to assist the priest at Mass: to you is entrusted the Body and Blood of the Saviour that the faithful may be nourished on their way through life. Remember to have a great reverence and interior attitude of adoration and affection for the sacred things you handle. Our reverence becomes the reverence of others and is a sign of our own interior devotion for the Mysteries of faith which are our touchstones with eternity. The liturgy is a powerful tool of Evangelisation and especially as an Oratorian you should come to appreciate its inner power to sanctify and evangelise God’s people.
Lastly, you are called to serve the poor as we read so clearly in the Acts of the Apostles. To have a living love of the Lord means that love will naturally overspill into your love of the poor and marginalised, and these take many different forms in our complicated society. You are to be a co-worker with the bishop and priests as a living expression of the charity of the Church tirelessly championing and upholding the rights of all men and women and relieving suffering in any form.
Most importantly what will set you free to be an ordained minister in the Church is the promise of celibacy you take. In the eyes of the world it is madness, but in fact celibacy is a liberation and a sign to the world of our poverty. Through your celibacy you will be free to give yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord and the Church. What you are saying by living celibacy with a full heart is that the only object in your life is to further the gospel of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. That is why it is a sign of our poverty, because we have nothing else to offer the world other than Jesus Christ.
Of course to serve Christ and his people as a deacon is an enormous privilege and a daunting task. Nonetheless you have the example and prayers of our holy father Philip who will teach you to trust in Christ with a humble heart and help you to realise that whatever good you do is through the grace and mercy of God.
As a son of St Philip you will exercise your diaconal ministry of service in the way of “gentleness and kindness”. Philip teaches us to trust in God and to be tied to your community with a cord of love and mutual respect. Our way is St Philip’s way, which may seem curious to some, but is a daily challenge in a very real and hidden way. Kindness is the watchword of our Congregation.
So Oliver, be assured of my prayers and support today. Learn to rely on the prayers of our Lady who on this day showed herself open and obedient to God’s demand on her. Like you she did not know where her fiat would take her but her faith and love were such that she realised that our only happiness is found in doing God’s will. Pray to her, the mother and foundress of the Oratory, that you will have that same disposability to God’s grace. May the prayers of our holy father Philip, the blessed cardinal Newman and all the Oratorian saints and beati support you in the years ahead.