Homily at Ordination to Diaconate of Reverend Kurt Zion Pala
By Bishop Honest F. Ongtioco, Diocese of Cubao
On 15 March this year the Reverend Kurt Zion Pala was ordained at the Columban Formation House in Quezon City. The Formation House is within walking distance of Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Diocese of Cubao. The homily has been slightly edited.
The readings for the Mass are here.
The new deacon with Bishop Ontioco and Columban priests and seminarians
We are now in the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Laetare Sunday. Today the Church invites us to reflect on God’s love for the world and to be joyful because of it. ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourn for her’ (Is 66:10-11). The Church invites us in the middle of the penitential season of Lent to rejoice. Why? What is the reason for this rejoicing? Because God loves each and every one of us so much that He gives us His only Son. The message of the Gospel is clear - it is the love of God that allowed Him to give His only Son. It is in this context, Kurt, that you are to be ordained today to the diaconate – a ministry of charity. Your ordination therefore is not only a sign of charity but also the very sacrament of God’s self-emptying love.
The first reading reminds us tenderly of this love, unworthy as we are. Because of their forgetfulness and many infidelities, the Israelite people were punished and forced into exile, brought low by slavery. But God reminds us that His ways are not our ways, that His love is more powerful than our sins. And so, using a pagan, King Cyrus, as instrument, he frees his people from exile and brings them back home. The darkness of the Israelites’ exile allowed them to appreciate more the light and in going back, love ever more deeply the God, who in St Paul’s words to the Ephesians, ‘is rich in mercy’.
The new deacon with Bishop Ontioco, his family and Columban priests
In the Gospel, we see Nicodemus – an expert in the law and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court at the time of Jesus, a good man and an honest searcher of the truth. He came to consult Jesus at night because he did not want to risk damaging his reputation. But the message of the Lord that night continued to search him and disturb him: ‘Whoever lives the truth comes to the light’ and slowly but surely and bravely, he steps into the light.
He then becomes more daring by defending Jesus’ right to a hearing. When Jesus dies, Nicodemus comes forward publicly with myrrh and aloes to anoint His body. The journey that led him to the dead body of Christ was a journey of faith – an honest search for the truth and before the lifeless body of Christ ‘lifted up’ on the cross – all he sees is the brightness of truth – an encounter with the truth that is the love of God.
Kurtseems to me another Nicodemus. Last Tuesday, I came to know his vocation story and how God has been working in his life. Being a sacristan, a catechist and in the constant company of priests, he decided to enter the seminary after high school. In October 2002 he finished his AB Philosophy at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City, and decided to leave and work as a teacher and later on as a government employee. He wanted to be independent but he was not happy. He was somewhat empty. He decided to reapply and enter a program that helped him find his direction. In 2008, after a year of accompaniment with Fr Pat O’Donoghue, he was accepted and started the initial formation for a year as a Columban. In 2009 he took up his theological studies at Loyola School of Theology.
After two years of theology, he was sent to Fiji on his First Mission Assignment. In 2013 he came back to resume his theological studies and it was in Fiji that he saw the hand of God leading him to the missions. He led a simple life with the Indian Fijians whose ancestors came from India between 1879 and 1916 and worked as sugar cane laborers. He came to know more about their culture. Thus, Fiji became his home so much so that when he had to leave, he felt he was leaving home. It is a beautiful experience – when someone stays and puts his heart in what he is doing. (Read Back From Fiji, Part I and Part II. This is mission! This is coming to the ‘light’ encountering the truth! It was also in Fiji that he realized the primacy of prayer. He frequently saw his parish priest before the Blessed Sacrament and it was here that he developed all the more his personal prayer.
The newly-ordained deacon with his mother, Lilian V. Pala, and his sisters Karina Mae and Krisha Marie (L&R)
Brother Kurt, allow me to offer you some matters for consideration and reflection.
First, you are asked to make constantly visible in the midst of the world the characteristics of Jesus – the chaste, the poor and the obedient one. Through your ordination to the diaconate you are consecrated to serve the community in charity and justice. As a deacon therefore and later on as a priest, you are to en-flesh and manifest in the world that same human heart of Jesus. It is not just a ministry of charity. The very life you live must be one that is shaped by love.
Second, your life is to be marked by service. Remember that Jesus came into the world to be an example of what it means to be a ‘humble servant’ Do not forget what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Jesus did not ask His disciples to wash His feet but rather He washed theirs as sign of His love. The stole you receive today, which you will wear over your left shoulder to signify the office of deacon, is a reminder of the towel Jesus used to wipe the feet of His disciples. As deacon, your role is to serve the poor, serve the priest and bishop at the altar and be initiated to preach the Gospel.
Third, you are to be faithful to your promises. You will be making some challenging promises today. You promise to commit yourself to celibacy. You will promise obedience to legitimate directives of the bishop and your superiors. You will also promise to live a simple lifestyle worthy of your vocation. They are not easy to keep. If you are able to live them, it will be because of God’s grace. Remain celibate in your ministry. Understand celibacy as an act of self-giving, an act of love for the Lord, for the people and for His Church. Celibacy will free you for the things of the kingdom and will make you available to serve God’s people with openness to all, especially those who are most in need. To sustain your promise of celibacy, rely in unity with your fellow deacons and with priests. Pray! Prayer is also essential to remaining celibate. As one spiritual writer says, ‘The secret of your happiness in service of the Lord rests in great part on the seriousness with which you commit yourself to daily prayer.’
Ordination rite: the Litany of the Saints
Kurt, as you are ordained deacon, you are also called to be obedient to the Church and to your superiors. Remember that obedience is an event, not simply a concept. It is one thing to accede to the idea, but to fulfill it is quite another. Obedience to the Church is what unites the ministries of deacons, priests bishops and religious. Indeed freedom is the greatest gift God has given to us. But your life is not your own only because you have freely given your life to God.
Like Nicodemus in the Gospel, what brought you today to this chapel was a long journey from darkness to light – from the darkness of uncertainty to the brightness of certitude. It was God who searched for you, pursued you and brought you back to His love. I shall lay my hands on you as a sign of your being set apart and dedicated to the service of God and ministry of the Church patterned to Christ who was ‘lifted up’ in total surrender to God’s love. Today is Laetare Sunday, a day of rejoicing, a memorable day. But it will be more so if you take to heart your commitment to poverty, obedience and celibacy and these words that the Church says to you while handing you the Book of Scripture: ‘Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.’
May our Mother Mary continue to keep you under her maternal care. Amen.