CLOTHES MAY NOT MAKE BUT MAY DENOMINATE THE MAN
This morning (Saturday) at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa, just hours before the Tampa Bay Lightning annihilated (for the moment) the Boston Bruins in the race to Lord Stanley’s Cup and within blocks of that arena, I ordained C. Timothy Corcoran III a transitional deacon for our Church. Tim is a former federal judge/magistrate and asked if he could be ordained in his parish Church and the place to which he would sometimes retire midday for Mass during the recess in his courtroom. Three weeks ago a second seminarian (Deacon Victor Amarose) for the diocese was similarly ordained a transitional deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach with six of his classmates. Tim is an older vocation after spending all of his life as a lawyer and some as a bankruptcy judge in the Middle District Federal Court of Florida. Originally choosing to join first our Lay Pastoral Ministry Program to learn more about his Catholic faith, he first thought about the permanent deacon program which is open to married men (he is single) and then discerned a call to priesthood. He has been studying at my alma mater, Blessed Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts for the past three years. Both men will be ordained to the priesthood, God willing and their own sense of call still strong, one year from today for our diocese.
Many of our seminarians were present today and from my vantage point I can see them intensely watch and ponder the beautiful ordination rite. Tim’s parents are both deceased and there were only one cousin and spouse present but there were friends from his judicial days among the several hundred in attendance. There is something about ordinations that make them special and today’s congregation joined heartily in participating in the ceremony, from singing loudly to responding in voice and applause at all the appropriate times. There was one moment when the applause went on so long that the former judge in Tim came out and he seemed to be signaling “order in the court, order!” Below is my homily for the occasion.
Homily at the Ordination of Deacon C. Timothy Corcoran III to the Order of Deacon
Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Tampa, FL, Saturday, May 21, 2011
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Mark Twain, the great American humorist of the 19th and early 20th century once said that “clothes make the man,. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Often we hear the reverse of what Twain actually wrote, “clothes DO NOT make the man.” Society certainly does acknowledge what one wears and in some instances, the sight of certain clothes be they uniforms, robes, or vestments can bring a sense of peace, a sense of justice, a sense of service.
I think of Twain’s cryptic comment this morning as our local Church prepares to ordain and receive Tim Corcoran as a deacon. I remember well the first time I met Tim. It was here, at Sacred Heart, some thirteen years ago. On that occasion he and I both entered this sacred space vested according to our state and vocation. It was the first Red Mass for me in the diocese and Judge Corcoran processed with his legal colleagues of the bench into Mass. On that occasion he was vested with a robe which signifies to we Americans, “justice is present, fairness and equality before the law will be observed, rich and poor mean nothing before the bar of justice.”
Soon Tim will be vested in another sign or symbol – the dalmatic of the deacon. It too conveys a meaning rich in both history and current praxis. In assuming the office, and its vestiture, the candidate for ordination as a deacon accepts a three fold responsibility before God and God’s people: to proclaim and preach the Word, to celebrate two sacraments and assist at the others, and to practice the works of charity. Judge Corcoran when soon ordained and vested once again in this Church which he loves and where so many wonderful moments of his life have transpired will set aside the examples of Thomas More, Thomas Jefferson, or Justice Clarence Thomas and put on Stephen the first martyr for the faith, Lawrence, and appropriately enough here in this place, Deacon Francis of Assisi. The poor should immediately see in the deacon a friend, a source of consolation and assistance, a helper and guide.
Old Testament prophets were understandably not deacons of the New Covenant but they were precursors. As we have so often heard it said, and may it never become a “throw away line”, the task of the prophet is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. The first reading this morning recalls Jeremiah’s call and commission. He was an unlikely candidate for office of prophet and while God may have waited a number of years before approaching him for the prophetic role and task, God makes it abundantly clear in the reading that God had God’s mind made up even before the prophet was born. We are pieces in the divine puzzle, put in place sometimes early in life and sometimes later.
Peter graphically sketches out in the second reading the perils of pastoring. The first Pope’s words would not make great print for vocation recruitment material as they spell out the challenges of ministry but they are a source of consolation for the minister. When you now preach justice from the sanctuary, Tim, instead of dispensing it as you did so well in a court of law, have the courage of the early Church, of Peter who has finally discovered his backbone, and be prepared for the predictable pushback if your preaching begins to cut close to the bone. In this moment in time, even the Ten Commandments can be a source of controversy but like Stephen, Lawrence and Francis, soon you will dispense on behalf of God true mercy and forgiveness. Use this time of transition to prepare yourself for the ministry to come.
Thank you for responding affirmatively to the call of the Lord of the Harvest and today responding present. Preach well, celebrate with dignity as the presence of Christ in the sacraments deserves, and serve those whom the Lord sends to you in their moments of need. Your pastor for this past year, Father Frank Silva of the Archdiocese of Boston, wrote these words to me this week when responding to my blog on “priestly anniversaries”: “You and the Church of St. Petersburg will be blessed to have Tim as a priest when he is ordained in 2012. I believe he is ready now to embrace a life of service to God’s people given the extraordinary manner in which he involved himself in our parish community this past year.”
For my part I need hear no more. It is time to robe you in the mantle of deacon which is also the mantle of justice, confident that it is God who has called you to this moment and grateful for your response.
Photos courtesy of Bill Peek