WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Archbishop Richard Smith speaks directly to the deaf community in sign language at Fr. Matthew Hysell's Dec. 7 ordination.
This evening it escapes no one that we are the privileged witnesses of an historic moment in the life not only of this archdiocese but also of the Church in Canada. For the first time in our country, a man who is deaf is ordained to the ministerial priesthood.
Our brothers and sisters unable to hear are especially close to our hearts. Therefore, we give thanks to God that he has called from among them one who is uniquely gifted to announce to them the good news of salvation in Christ.
At the same time, the ministry of a priest who is deaf is not limited to the members of that community. As with every priest, Matthew Hysell is ordained for the service of the diocese, and is thus called to place his gifts at the service of us all.
This is a moment of great joy for us, and in particular for the members of Matthew's family. I note that his mother, sister and brother-in-law are with us, and I take this opportunity, on behalf of all, to thank you for the gift of your son and your brother.
Every ordination Mass is an opportunity to reflect upon the gift and ministry of the priest. The circumstances of this celebration enable us to do so in a unique way. Tonight our attention is drawn to the world of the deaf. This context offers a fresh perspective within which we can appreciate the mystery and responsibility of the ordained priest.
The deaf inhabit a world of silence and sign. Silence, because they cannot hear sound. Sign, because they are often unable to speak with words. Many might think of this in terms of handicap.
The deaf, however, speak of blessing. Indeed, tonight we share that assessment as we realize that this world of silence and sign offers us important insight into not only the life of the priest but also that of every Christian.
Let's begin with silence. This has become strangely and tragically absent in the life of Western society. Ours is a world of noise, of babble. We suffer under what I have often called the tyranny of the "tweet," which opens the door to an endless variety of messages and images that crowd our minds and fracture our attention.
We seem unable to live without the accompaniment of television, radio, Internet or MP3 noise, and quickly grow uncomfortable if time spent with another is not filled with words. Yet silence is necessary for human existence. It is necessary, indeed of prime importance, because it is in silence that we hear the voice of God.
God's Word, voiced in the beginning, created the world. God's Word, incarnate in Christ, redeemed the world. God's Word, spoken in the Church, enlightens the world with the truth and beauty of God's love and saving plan. The hearing and reception of this Word demands a silent and attentive listening.
This is especially true for the priest. He is called to announce what God has revealed in the Word made flesh. Yet this cannot happen in any convincing way if he himself is not constantly listening, in the silence of his heart, to the voice of the Lord.
If the deaf cannot speak it is precisely because they cannot hear. One has great difficulty forming a sound one has not heard. Similarly, a priest who is deaf to the Word of God cannot possibly speak it to others.
We priests, living in a world of noise, must be always cultivating, with the help of God's grace, that still centre in which we are disposed to hear and be transformed by the Word of God. Only thus can we articulate it before others with clarity and conviction.
This brings me to that other dimension of the world of the deaf I mentioned earlier: sign. Their "speech" is that combination of hand gesture and facial expression known as sign language. Through sign, the thoughts of their minds and sentiments of their hearts are known to others.
Yet this is not unique to the deaf. We all communicate in sign everyday, such as by a hug or sending flowers. In fact, what we learn from the the Lord himself is that communication in sign is indispensable for the proclamation of the Gospel.
This is precisely the lesson of Jesus in the passage from St. John. In silence he washes the feet of his disciples. He, who the letter to the Hebrews tells us is by nature the Son of God, designated in virtue of his obedience eternal High Priest, performs an act of humble service.
In so doing he communicates in sign, in a richly significant gesture, that his proclamation of God's favour to the poor, brokenhearted and captive, foretold by Isaiah, would be accomplished not only in word but also by the sign of loving service.
So, too, must it be for the priest. "I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you." The priest must speak in both word and sign. Indeed, he is ordained for that combination of word and sign that we call "sacrament."
In sacramental celebration, word and sign mutually enlighten one another for the annunciation and communication of God's saving grace. This dynamic must be replicated in the very life of the priest. When word and sign are mutually coherent, that is, when the word he speaks is reflected in his actions, he is a credible and effective witness to God's love revealed in Christ.
Matthew, you are now to be ordained a priest for the service of God's people. We thank you for your generous response to the call of the Lord that has for some time now echoed in the silence of your heart.
From this encounter with the Lord in silence you know that you must never remain silent whenever there is opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ. Make that proclamation in word, yes, but also with the sign of an entire life dedicated to the care of God's people.