We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…
I have since my youth been fascinated by the saints. I remember having these little books with a story of a saint and a colored picture on the opposite page.
As I grew older I began reading more and more of the saints, running across some obscure saints who became very important for me, including Saint Benedict the Black and Saint Benedict Joseph Labré. Saint Francis of Assisi was one saint who began to enchant me from my grade school days and still moves me.
Later I began to encounter other holy men and women, only some of whom were canonized. The commitment to the poor and the spirituality of Monseñor Oscar Romero and Brother Charles de Foucauld challenged me and still sustain me.
And so, as I lay prostrate before the altar last Friday in the Mass of ordination, I felt myself surrounded by so many witnesses – saints in heaven and saints around me. I felt myself sustained and challenged by them.
The Litany has a healthy number of saints but in special events, such as ordinations, the Church encourages us to add special saints.
I added these:
- Saint Raphael the Archangel, who guided Tobias on his journey, and was the patron of the church where I was baptized as well as the Archdioceses of Dubuque where I served for 24 years.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas, the patron of the church and student center in Ames, Iowa, where I served and which is the sister parish of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.
- Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who run two universities where I studied: the University of Scranton and Boston College.
- Saint Bonaventure, a great Franciscan leader and writer, whose feast was that day.
- Saint Scholastica, whose brother Benedict is already in the litany, but whom I added to recall the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who made my dalmatic.
- Saint Clare, the founder of the women Franciscans, who should be joined with Saint Francis in the litany, recalling the Franciscan Sisters who sustain me here.
- Blessed Oscar Romero was already added to the litany but I added Blessed Charles de Foucauld immediately after him.
As I lay on the ground before the altar, I found myself feeling the presence of all these great witnesses. But then Romero was called upon to pray for us, followed by Charles de Foucauld.
I had dedicated my ordination to Romero when I visited his tomb a few weeks ago.
His deep faith, profound spirituality, and courageous accompaniment of the poor have inspired me for years.
At the ordination of a transitional deacon, Jorge Benavides, on August 15, 1977, he said:
Beloved deacon, we are going to impose our hands on you and we are going to see in you an image of the Church that serves, the deacon. Would that you understand that all your theology, all your studies, the beauty of your vocation mean bringing to the world the face of that Church which serves, loves, and hopes.
Charles de Foucauld, the little brother who lived among the poor in Algeria and was killed there, inspired me by his commitment to live with and for the poor – being there with them. My white diaconal stole bears the image of the cross and the heart that he wore on his simple white habit.
As Monseñor Romero and Brother Charles de Foucauld were asked to pray for us, my body was rocked with deep sobs – not of sorrow but of an experience I cannot define. It was partly joy, but as I look back it might have been a feeling of the mercy of God and the challenge of these holy men to live as a servant of God and the poor.
Yesterday I came upon this quote of Brother Charles, which expresses that challenge so beautifully:
Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of the ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, silent virtues, practiced with no witnesses other than God, his friends and neighbors. Nazareth, the place where most people lead their lives. We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers… let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted by them.
I pray that I may live my calling as a deacon, in the image of Christ the Servant, might be lived as Romero and Foucauld did – giving one’s life very day with the poor.
The quote from Charles de Foucauld is taken from Charles de Foucauld: Writings Selected by Robert Ellbserg, p. 28.