July 05, 2022 – Faithful to Jesus

Installation as Pastor of Assumption in Bellingham


Preached at Assumption in Bellingham

English Recording and Transcript


[00:00:01] I can tell you the most important day of my life was the day of my baptism. Without question. It was the day I was united to Jesus Christ. But the happiest day of my life was my diaconate ordination. And that continues to be true. Six years later, the happiest day of my life was my diaconate ordination. And the reason is because… We think about priesthood ordination, and fair enough. That was the day I was able to celebrate the sacraments and live the fullness of the vocation to which I felt called. But the diaconate ordination was the day I gave my life to the Church. And I tell people regularly, I fell in love with the Church before I fell in love with Jesus. I fell in love with the Church in high school. And I only really got to know Jesus in college because the Church kept talking about him and I’m like, I guess I should take him seriously at some point. But I love the Church, and as I was discerning priesthood, it was clear to me that the deep desire of my heart… My deepest desire is to give my life to Jesus. But my path to that was giving my life to the Church.

[00:01:11] And as important as priesthood ordination is, the diaconate ordination was the first time I made my vows of celibacy and obedience. The first time I said, my entire life belongs to the Church. Bishop Elizondo was the one who ordained me a deacon. And so I made those vows through his person. And it was an incredible joy, because I just, I knew that this is what my life was for. And I finally reached this fulfillment after a year living with Father Zender and then five years of additional academic study, I finally got to fulfill that desire. I tell people it was very much like my wedding day, because your wedding day is when you give your entire life to someone else. My diaconate ordination, I gave my entire life to the Church. The priesthood ordination was sort of like having the first kid. It was seeing how fruitful that union would be. And the sacraments are the fruit of that. With the diaconate, ordination was the existential choice. This is the purpose of my being. This is why I exist.

[00:02:15] Well, you never get to see it because it’s done in the sacred and secret halls of the seminary, but before a man is ordained a deacon, he has to make a profession of faith and oath of fidelity. He has to say the creed and say he believes everything the Catholic Church says, and he has to pledge fidelity to the church. And what’s amazing is that we’re going to do that again today. So the reason we do that is because if we continue this marital imagery, before I could give my life to the Church, I had to profess that I knew what I was doing. I had to profess that I knew that giving my life, I was giving it to a specific thing. And I had to say, I am going to be faithful to that thing.

[00:03:01] There is an analogy in the wedding liturgy. If you’ve been to a wedding recently, the priest will ask the couple three questions before they get to the vows, and he will ask, Have you come here freely to give your life? Do you understand that marriage is a lifelong commitment? Are you willing to bring children from this union? He’ll ask those three things because those are the three keys to Catholic marriage. They have to know what they are professing. And so they say, yes, yes, we understand what marriage is. And then the priest is like, okay, now I’ll let you make your vows. Well, that’s similar to what we have to do with the profession of faith and oath of fidelity. The man preparing for the diaconate has to say, I know what I’m getting into. I know what I believe. I know that this is the faith that I am making a commitment to.

[00:03:50] The thing that’s different is that I made those vows generally, sort of to the archdiocese; I did this at Mundelein outside of Chicago. But my vocation is lived specifically. I can give my life to the Church as much as I want, but as we discussed on Sunday, the Church has faces. The Church is you. I have given my life to the Church, but in so doing, because of Archbishop’s assignment here in Bellingham, I am at this moment giving my life specifically to you. And it is a disservice to you that you did not get to see me make my vows to you. You didn’t get to see me pledge my fidelity to you. And so it’s a great gift that we do these installation ceremonies because you, the people of this parish, have a right to see that. You have a right to see me tell you that I will be faithful. I will be faithful to you and I will be faithful to the Church. If I’m going to give my life to that, you should be able to see it.

[00:05:02] Now we do the specific things that we do for a reason. And this is where Providence is amazing. You might hear these readings and you’re like, Oh, it has nothing to do with a pastor installation, but it does. The first reading talks about the infidelity of the people of Israel. I’m making an oath of fidelity. Here’s a reading about infidelity. What does infidelity look like? The people of Israel had erected for themselves princes. They had erected for themselves idols. None of this was approved by God and it was leading them astray. This is preaching to me as much as anybody else. I cannot erect my own version of power. I cannot erect my own version of belief. If I were to bring you, the specific faces of the church to which I am entrusted, to idolatry, if I were to bring you to infidelity, I would be an unfaithful spouse. I would be leading you to your destruction. When I make my pledge of fidelity to you, it’s not a pledge to say, Oh, I’m always going to be with you necessarily. It’s not a pledge to say, oh, I’m always going to, you know, be unified without a meaning of that unity. It’s a pledge to say that I will always, invariably, no matter what, bring you to Jesus Christ. If I bring you to anything else, I am bringing you to destruction. And so I have to stand before you and publicly state that I believe in the teachings of the Church.

[00:06:34] And it’s fun the way we do it. We say the creed together. We all know the creed. But I’ve got to add stuff to the end of the creed. I have to say, not only do I believe these doctrinal statements, but I believe the magisterium of the church. I believe the definitive teachings of the popes. I believe the definitive teachings of the bishops. I believe the long teaching tradition of the Catholic Church. And then I have to stand up and say I will also be obedient to the bishops. I will be obedient. And this is my favorite line, and I will smile through the entire thing: I will be obedient to the Code of Canon Law. I have to publicly declare that to you, and I love it. But it’s important because you, as the people of God, have a right to know that I will be faithful. You have a right to know that everything I do with my life is oriented toward leading you toward Jesus Christ. You have a right to know that nothing I do in this position as pastor will bring division between you and the shepherds of the church, division between you and the bishops. Division between you and the Pope. If I am going to hold this office, I have to do so faithfully. It would be incredibly, incredibly detrimental to my own soul if I led you away from Jesus Christ and his Church. My diaconate ordination was the happiest day of my life because I gave my life to those things. For me to be unfaithful to Jesus or to the Church, for me to lead you into that infidelity, the way in which I would have to answer to God at the end of my life would be horrific. I couldn’t answer for it. It would be impossible.

[00:08:21] And so I am so happy not just to be with you for the next six years. I am. We’ve had an interesting three years together with COVID right in the middle and a lot of other things that I did that well, you know what they were. But anyway, interesting three years together, we’ve got another six years hopefully left. The letter from the bishop said, “Yeah, six year term, unless I think otherwise.” It’s like right in the letter. Like he can just end that. But, but, you know, we have hope, right? I’m looking forward to that time with you personally. I’m looking forward to that time as a community. I’ve been so blessed by my time here, and I know I’ll be blessed by my continued time. But more than anything else, the thing I’m looking forward to is growing together toward Jesus, having a common orientation toward Jesus, believing together the great faith that we have inherited from the apostles, through the bishops, to live that faith together, to follow Jesus together. That’s the identity of the parish. That’s what I gave my life to. And I am so happy to renew those vows today in your presence.

1 Comment

  1. Janene Szczesniewski says:

    We are so blessed to have you be our Pastor!! May the Father, Son & Holy Spirit walk with you always!! Janene S.

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