Deacon Koehr delivered a version of this homily for the men preparing to receive the Ministry of Lector this year. He preached at the Holy Hour for the candidates preceding their Installation Mass.
One of the most exhilarating movies in Hollywood history is a film called Ben-Hur. I’m talking about the 1959 version with Charlton Heston. It’s set at the time of Christ and is about a Jewish prince named Judah Ben Hur. Because he refuses to give up his faith, he is betrayed by his best friend and condemned to be a slave as an oarsman on a Roman war galley. This was practically a death sentence. Often rowers would die of exhaustion within months.
One powerful scene is when the Roman Consul, Quintus Arius, comes down into the wooden hull of the ship to inspect the oarsmen before going into battle. They are at attention, chained to their oars and sitting in rows. After inspecting them, Arius pauses and levels with them: “You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well and live.”
This is how many in society see the clergy: condemned men who are chained to the oars of the Roman Catholic Church, men who will go down with a sinking ship.
But you aren’t condemned men. You aren’t chained to your oars. You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to row for this ship. You can walk away.
But you haven’t. You, too, are in rows. Ready at your oars…ready to take the next step in formation for battle…to fight for a wounded fleet.
This is because you know a secret: this ship is never going down. If you don’t row, God will find someone who will because the Word of God must be proclaimed.
With Candidacy and soon with Lector, you are choosing gradually and freely to chain yourself to the oars of the Barque of Peter, which is sailing into battle to save souls. Today you sit in your pews with Jesus ready to take orders from God through Bishop Burbidge.
I remember this reality at my Lector Installation and then, again, at my Diaconate Ordination. The most moving part of the ceremony was after I took the promise of obedience. I knelt down in front of him and he commanded me under that obedience to “believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
Today you are called to new a level of integrity: a new level of alignment in your word, intent, and deed. Today you are being called to align your life with the Word of God that you will be commissioned to proclaim. You’re not called to report God’s Word. You’re called to embody God’s Word.
Feel the full weight of your responsibility, and know that you cannot live this integrity on your own. If you try, you’ll die of exhaustion. No matter how great of a guy you are, no matter how good your upbringing was, you can’t. You can only cooperate, and then consider whom you’re cooperating with. It is not some careless Roman Consul who doesn’t care if you live or die, but God the Father who has planned this for you from the foundation of the world.
So today, you sit at your oar and prepare to take the next stroke in a messy war, a war where the enemy has entered our ranks. Now is not the time to run. Now is the time to row.
Jesus is next to you at the oar as you move deeper into suffering and into glory. You sit at attention as God the Father inspects you and levels with you: “You are all my beloved sons, destined for eternal life. I have given you this life to serve my ship. I give you all the graces you need for this task. So row well and live.”