The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on January 28 on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, at the Cathedral of Thomas More in Arlington. During this Mass, the Rite of Candidacy for Those Preparing for the Permanent Diaconate was also celebrated.
Whom does God intend us to be as authentic members of the Church which Jesus Christ founded? Today's Alternative Opening Prayer tells us once again so beautifully: "Father in heaven, you have formed a people in the image of Your Son." As members of the Church, we are indeed the people formed in the image of Jesus. God forms us, molds us, shapes us so that more and more, each one of us may reflect the image of Jesus through our attitudes, words and actions.
How does God form us into the image of His Son Jesus? Often, through other people, and above all, through Jesus Christ Himself. We should remember what happened to us at our Baptism. We were born again of water and the Holy Spirit and inserted into Christ Jesus. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ" (§ 1272). Notice how strong these words are: "incorporated" and "configured." Without a doubt, from Baptism on, each one of us is intended to undergo a continuous process of being formed into the image and likeness of Christ.
Yes, God the Father sent His Son to show us how to live as His sons and daughters, imitating Jesus Himself. Both the Father and the Son send us the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, to continue this process of formation. Moreover, other people are also called and missioned to share in forming us in the image of Jesus. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work through them, these people become true instruments of this formation.
Among these chosen instruments are the parents. At the baptism of their child, parents are told that they are the first teachers of the faith to their children. This they do by word and example. Moreover, the domestic church — the family itself — is the setting where this initial and fundamental formation takes places with mother, father and the other family members.
Nonetheless, in God's Providence, others also share in this process, assisting and supplementing the formation by parents. Part of being formed into the image of Jesus involves coming to know Him and to love Him, so as to be better able to serve Him in this life and be with Him forever in the eternal life of heaven. Catechesis is therefore essential. Both the first reading and the Gospel point to the role of preaching and teaching. The Catholic School is the best place for this formation to occur, since students find themselves in an atmosphere which is consciously Catholic five days per week for five hours or so per day. We begin Catholic Schools Week today and I thank all those who support our Catholic schools, including parents, priests, principals, teachers, staff, alumni and parents. Religious education classes within each parish are also places where this formation into Christ's image occurs. I likewise thank the catechists and volunteers as well as the directors of religious formation and the priests and religious. Youth ministry, campus ministry and adult catechesis also play key roles in this formation process. Whatever the particular setting, people are being formed into the image of Jesus.
Yet, another aspect of this formation into the image of Jesus involves sharing God's own life, the life of grace. This divine life comes to us, is deepened within us or is restored to us through sacramental celebrations, beginning with Baptism, and including in a special way Penance and the Holy Eucharist. Christ acts through the ordained priest in the sacramental celebrations as He does through the ordained deacon in Baptism and Matrimony.
Finally, part of being formed in the image of Jesus involves loving our brothers and sisters, not only within the household of faith, the Church, but also within the human family. St. Paul's instruction to us in today's second reading must become woven into our attitudes and actions, for when we love the way he describes, we are truly reflecting Christ's image.
Being formed in the image of Jesus is the privilege and responsibility of every baptized person. Formed into Christ's image, we each live out our lives within an individual vocation, be it the priesthood, the diaconate, the consecrated life of a religious brother or religious sister, marriage, widowhood or the single life lived chastely for the sake of God's kingdom.
Today, 20 men are being admitted as candidates for the Order of Deacon, to be exercised permanently within the Church. Theirs will be a threefold ministry: Word, Altar and Charity. How fitting that they be admitted today, with God's Word to encourage them and to point to them their essential responsibilities. Like Jeremiah the Prophet and Jesus the Divine Preacher, they will proclaim the sacred Scriptures, preach and teach. In their ministry of charity, they will reflect St. Paul's manifold description of gospel love. They will serve Christ the Priest, ministering at the altar and assisting those ordained to the ministerial priesthood.
Yes, these future permanent deacons will share in forming people into the image of Jesus. But, they will be able to do so only if they themselves are being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Their willingness and commitment encourage us in our own formation. We offer them our prayer and support in the formation they officially commit themselves to and begin this day. God bless you and keep you — always!