Blessed day for the Church of Ogdensburg
Editor’s note: Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the May 28 diaconate ordination of Deacon Thomas J. Higman follows:
What a blessed day it is for the Church of Ogdensburg! Here we are, sisters and brothers all, gathered in this beautiful sacred space of St. James to celebrate God’s call to one of our own, Thomas Higman, to serve the Church in Sacred Orders. In a few minutes, Tom will be advanced to the Order of Deacon as a minister of the Word and of charity. It is the duty of all the faithful of the diocese to assist the candidate by our prayers. So, your presence here marks our public commitment to hold him in prayer, today and always. Thank you for being here to share in this sacred moment.
Pope Benedict XVI announced my appointment as Bishop of Ogdensburg on the Feast of St. Polycarp. Ever since, I’ve paid particular attention to the writings of this early Church Bishop and Martyr. In admonishing the deacons of his day, Polycarp said, “Be merciful and zealous, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.” Through the centuries, his words continue to challenge the deacon to this very day.
Be merciful! St. Paul told the people of Ephesus to bear with one another through love with all humility, gentleness and patience.Tom, these sacred words which you selected for your ordination to the diaconate should become the identifying feature of your ministry. When you remain faithful to your daily prayer, including the Liturgy of the Hours, and through your service at the Altar, you will come to know, more and more, Jesus as friend. Your ministry will reflect His humility, His gentleness. A trusted friend has that kind of an effect on us.
Tom, let this define your loving service in His Name and mercy will be yours.
Be zealous! No easy task, given our own human limitations and the crosses encountered in witnessing to Jesus in a world so often uninterested and even hostile to the Church. In the Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that we are to keep the Commandments if we are to remain in his love. He tells us this so that we might possess His joy, a complete joy. Again, this can only happen to a person of disciplined prayer. This joy will be the motivation for your zealous proclamation and witness of the faith.
Never allow yourself to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. Your people, your Church expects this holy energy from you. Again, this will be fueled by your prayer, Tom. Rejoice in your faith and share that joy! Polycarp told the early deacons that they are to walk according to the truth of the Lord. There is no room for a cafeteria style ministry of preferences. The splendor of all God’s truth must be taught. Our people deserve it, our Church expects it, and our God demands it.
Tom, you are to be a lifelong student of the faith, confident teacher, and gentle servant of the Truth. Jesus’ word must become a very part of the fabric of your being. “Christ became the servant, the ‘diaconus’ of all.” Tom, the Model is before you, before all of us. Soon, like the deacons set apart by the early Church, about which we have just heard in our first reading, you will be set apart for ordained ministry. You will freely promise to live the celibate life with total dedication so as to cling to Christ with an undivided heart. Through perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom, you will be an inspiring sign of love and hope for all who know you. Tom, firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourself chaste and beyond reproach before God and the faithful. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express by your actions the word of God which your lips proclaim and your heart embraces.
Ministry of charity
The ministry of charity is most characteristic of the deacon. In fact, with sacred ordination, the deacon is constituted a living icon of Christ the servant within the Church. So, as you conform your life to Christ the Servant, making yourself a generous and faithful servant of God, you will help to shape the vitality and genuineness of the exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of charity in the life of our faith family. Be attentive to the needs of all those with whom you come in contact.
Tom, your Church is so very proud of your persevering study and formation. We are grateful for your generous heart in responding to the Lord’s call to serve His Church. With much love and deep appreciation, Jim, Mary, Mike, Dot, and Maureen, the Church thanks you for the gift of your son, brother, and grandson. We rely on God’s grace, Tom’s life of sacrifice, and the prayers of all gathered here to make Tom’s ministry among us a heavenly reality with earthly application.
Tom: “Be merciful and zealous, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.”
May God be praised… forever may God be praised!