A Sign of Hope in Troubled Times
“Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Amid various calls for accountability, purification and reform among the ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, I was blessed over the Labor Day weekend to participate in the ordination Mass of a good friend to the diaconate. It was a consoling reminder that the Church’s Great Commission continues, including in troubled times, precisely because Jesus Christ, the one high priest, is the divine founder of our Church who thus will make good on his promise to remain with us always, sustaining us until he returns to culminate salvation history (Matthew 28:18-20).
Fittingly, this reassuring passage was the Gospel Acclamation at the diaconal ordination Mass:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
As I’ve written elsewhere, while working to purify and reform the clergy wherever needed, we can have confidence that the gates of hell will not prevail against the hierarchical structure of the Church, precisely because Jesus has established the Church’s clerical leadership with divine authority (cf. Mt. 16:18-19; 18:15-18).
My friend Deacon Michael Baker, MIC, was ordained at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., joining his MIC confrere Deacon Matthew Holladay, Deacon Evan Cummings, CSP, and Deacon Tage Danielson, OFM Cap., in receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders. Bishop Roy Campbell, an auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., was the principal celebrant of the Mass and the minister who ordained the four deacons.
The diaconal candidates and their friends and family also heard from the prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading, who reminds these new ministers, and all of us in our respective vocations, that the Lord will see us through our individual and collective trials:
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Deacon Michael is a great witness in this regard. We were friends and roommates while we both worked at the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in Alabama. Michael had discerned with a couple of religious congregations, but his desire to become a priest did not bear ultimate fruit with either one. At yet Michael continued to joyfully persevere, always waking early to participate in the daily televised EWTN Mass, although Michael would arrive a half-hour early at 6:30 a.m. to pray. One time snow and ice threatened to shut down driving in this hilly southern region which seldom sees such inclement weather, but Michael firmly pledged that if he had to navigate the mile-plus trek on foot in the darkened morning hours, so be it. He would not be deprived of communion with his Lord.
Michael’s solid interior life was also manifest when a religious order he strongly desired briefly reconsidered him as a candidate, though it was not to be. It seemed like the clerical equivalent of the guy who doesn’t get to marry the great Catholic woman for whom he has long yearned. However, amid his disappointment, Michael didn’t become downcast, exploring instead how he could serve the Lord joyfully in various ways as a layman in the short term, while still holding out hope for a priestly call in the long term. I was edified, because Michael showed the radical childlikeness that is indispensable in following Christ, but which is something that can become more challenging as we get older (cf. Matthew 18:1-4; 19:13-15).
And within a month or two thereafter, Michael connected with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception (MICs) and found a vocational home. He left Alabama in the summer of 2010 for Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and took his first vows as a novice in the summer of 2011. Three years later, at the same Basilica in Washington, D.C., he took his perpetual vows as a religious. And now he is a deacon. And next year sometime, God willing, he will be ordained a ministerial priest of God.
I am very confident Michael will make an excellent deacon and priest. I have personally benefited from his wise counsel on many occasions, and I know he has provided consoling and encouraging words to many others. And when he is able to celebrate the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, his ministry will further increase. He is steadfastly committed to the mission of Christ and his Church, as I’ve learned through our mutual love for and discussions of the classic movies A Man for All Seasons and The Exorcist (with one or two edits on viewing the latter). And he has a great sense of humor that can put people at ease, such as is on display in watching and discussing Blazing Saddles (for which we make a few other prudent edits in viewing).
And like St. Thomas More, in season and out of season he is committed to accompanying the faithful in their joys and sorrows, seeking out those who have strayed in person and in prayer, and realizing that truth and love must be inextricably wedded if we are to bear fruit for the Kingdom.
Let us pray for Deacon Michael and the other three deacons as they move forward in their new ministry, thank God for them and a multitude of other faithful clergy who answer the call the world over on a daily basis, and remember that that same Lord Jesus is always with us to guide us and strengthen us in our own respective vocations.