Before I begin I want to let you that I am not very comfortable with my homily today. I say that not just because I do not like to talk about myself and because my call was very simple, but, and meaning no disrespect, because I am not happy with the program called by name because it appeared to me at first that the only vocation we have to be concerned about is priesthood. And apparently I am not the only one who felt that way because we now have called by name II which addresses deaconate, religious life, and lay ecclesial ministry, but what about the rest? In my humble opinion when our church begins to really consider the role that each of us was called to at our baptism and let each baptized person, male and female, answer that call the life of our church will continue to struggle.
Vatican II, 50 years ago, recognized the need to involve the laity in the life of the church, started to do so a little, but we still continue to hinder the laity, especially females. Thank God, it appears that Pope Francis is trying to bring the teachings of Vatican II back to new life. Lets pray that it happens and works.
My call happened many years ago, 65 to be exact, on the day of my baptism. However it was years later before I heard the call. My life as a child was one of following what I thought was a call to become a priest. After graduation I followed my dream and soon learned that it was just a dream. I understand it now, I didn’t then. I moved on and still thought I heard that call and thought of going back to the seminary but knew it wasn’t the call.
It was then that I started to understand that this call thing was all about love. I fell back in love with God, prayer, and sharing that love. In the summer of 1972 God’s call to love and to serve, lead me to one of the greatest gifts that I could have ever imagined, this beautiful girl named Kathy. Yes, I heard the call; we married in May of 1973 in the Lutheran Church in Watertown, NY. As our love continued to grow stronger and stronger my love for God and neighbor did the same. The second gift came with the birth of our first daughter, Kathy. My role as a husband and father changed when we moved to Ogdensburg, back to my place of birth, and I began cooking at the Seminary. It was there that my eyes were opened and I felt God urging me to again answer my baptismal call.
The young men discerning priesthood would talk for hours asking me if their call was real. Telling me how much help it was for them just to talk, just to have me care and listen. A dear friend, Fr. Paul Kelly, a professor at the seminary, would stop in my office in the kitchen, close the door, open a cold beer which I always had on hand and say is spiritual direction still open? It was Paul who said to me God’s call just might be to deaconate. Kathy and I talked and prayed and agreed that I should at least inquire. We did and formation began. Then gift number 3, the birth of daughter number 2, Angela. Formation and formal classes on weekends continued and on the day of our final class on the Sacrament of Baptism, gift number 4, our daughter Teresa was baptized.
So here we were, ten years married, three beautiful daughters, and the call to ordination just months away. Again I questioned because I had to promise that if my wife was to die I would not remarry. I panicked, had I been in this position before? Yes, that was one of the reasons why I left the seminary. I talked to my bishop and expressed my concerns and in his kind and simple way he said: “Thomas, God will speak to you then the same way he does right now. Cross that bridge when and if you ever get to it.” That was good enough for me and on October 1, 1983 my name was called, I stood and said: “Present” and my wife, Kathy stood and said: “And I give my consent” and the Sacrament of Holy Orders was conferred. Following the prayer of consecration by the Bishop I was vested in stole and dalmatic by my wife and former pastor.
Vested as a newly ordained deacon, I went and knelt before the bishop and he placed the Book of the Gospels in my hands and said: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” My sisters and brothers, thirty years later I stand before you as Christ’s unworthy herald, as your deacon, I ask that you always listen for God’s call and know that the best way to answer it is by living these words of Jesus that I try to practice in my life: “Love one another as I love you.”