The Lord looks at the heart - Ordination to the Diaconate of Steven Smith and Chathura Silva

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The Lord looks at the heart - Ordination to the Diaconate of Steven Smith and Chathura Silva

The saint on whose feast day we are ordained provides a significant point of reference for us. I was ordained a bishop on the feast of Pope St Gregory the Great, September 3.

This led to a personal interest in Pope St Gregory the Great and an association with him as I began my ministry as bishop.

Today as we celebrate the ordination to the diaconate of Steven and Chathura, the Church commemorates St Matthew. He is acknowledged in the readings of this Mass.

St Matthew is well known to us as firstly the tax collector whom the Lord called to become a disciple. And he is the author of the second Gospel. Today our Gospel reading is his own account of his calling and the subsequent celebratory dinner that he held which included a number of his professional acquaintances. This, as we read, excited a good deal of criticism from the Pharisees.

Matthew would seemingly be an unusual candidate to be called specifically by the Lord. Tax collectors were a very unpopular group. They were effectively collaborators with the Romans. They were often guilty of extortion and amassing wealth at the expense of the battlers.

Why would the Lord call someone who was likely to give a bad impression of the quality of his close disciples? Usually, it is wise not to risk negative comment when starting a new enterprise. Yet the Lord deliberately chose Matthew, knowing full well that his decision would attract criticism.

As St Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “It was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen.” (I Cor 1:27-28) The significance of these words should not escape us.

God does not choose according to human reckoning. The history of God’s dealing with humanity reveals this over and over again. God does not choose the obvious ones. In fact, there have been many public sinners who have become saints.

We could count St Paul among these as he was the great persecutor of the Church. St Augustine led a very carnal life prior to his conversion. St Mary of Egypt was a prostitute. Blessed Bartolo Longo was a satanic priest prior to his conversion.

The list of saints is full of those whose conversion was a significant reorientation of their lives, like the Jewish banker, Alphonse Ratisbonne. 

God is not averse to choosing those who were directly opposed to him. Those who experienced dramatic conversions often became extraordinary saints. As the Lord commented on the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears, those who are forgiven much have great love. (Lk 7:47)

We also know that God calls those who in the world’s eyes are weak and insignificant. We see this in choosing children to receive visits from the Blessed Virgin Mary, at Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje. St Faustina was the lowliest of the nuns in her convent.

The logic of the Lord defies human explanation. However, at the same time, there is divine wisdom at work.

Those saints who have been called unexpectedly responded in remarkable fashion. This suggests something. While the Lord is not influenced by human appearances He does look into the heart. The Lord sees something in the heart and this becomes the ground for the action of grace.

The story of the anointing of David by the Prophet Samuel is a case in point. We are told: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Sam 16:7) David will later be acknowledged as one “after the heart of God”.

My brothers, today the Lord looks not at your appearance but at your heart. The Lord sees into the depths of yourself, beyond what you know of yourself.

I am sure you are mystified by the fact that you have been called to sacred ministry. You have been strangely drawn to this life and the commitment to priestly service of God and God’s People. You do not understand why you have been called, but you know that you have been called. Something has drawn you down this path.

My dear brothers, your calling will always be something that resides in the deepest realms of your being. It is there, in your heart, that your vocation will be realised.

God has taken possession of your heart, and today this is confirmed by receiving the first level of the Sacrament of Orders. You are raised to the rank of deacon in the Church.

Today I offer you a simple thought: the key to having the right dispositions of heart is, and will always be, the knowledge that we are sinners. This is something I am sure Matthew himself felt when the Lord came over to him at his tax collection desk.

In a similar fashion St Peter was overwhelmed by his encounter with the Lord and said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”

Always keep in mind that you are a sinner. Be like the publican who went into the temple, knelt in the back corner and beat his breast: “Be merciful to me a sinner” – and not like the proud self-satisfied Pharisee who boasted of his spiritual worth.

The prayer for mercy is the prayer that is always heard. This is the prayer that opens to heart to receive grace. This is the prayer that marks a path for the visitation of the Holy Spirit. For as long as you can say this prayer with deep conviction and genuine humility, God will be able to work in you, and do great things in and through you.

I draw your attention to the words of the Gospel. Jesus is asked, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Lord, hearing of this, comments, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.”

We are in the right place in our relationship with Christ when we acknowledge that we are sinners. From that right place Christ will be able to use you as his instrument of mercy, of healing, of salvation.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 21 September 2019