First Homily: The Church is Worth Loving

This homily was delivered at my first mass I served as a deacon at St. Mary’s in Richmond, VA on May 19, 2019

At the end of mass last weekend, after inviting the entire St. Mary’s community to yesterday’s diaconate ordination, Fr Mike shared some off-the-cuff words with us. He said: “It fills me with faith to see young, talented men who are still willing to give their lives for the Church at a rather difficult time.”

The unscripted sincerity and the rawness of those words left a profound impact on me. And, to be perfectly honest, they forced me to totally rethink this homily. 

Thanks a lot, Fr Mike…

In all seriousness: What I took away from what Fr Mike said is something centrally important — not just for the seminarians here who are discerning the ordained priesthood — but for each one of us. 

And that fact is this:

The Church is still worth loving.

In fact, the Church is always worth loving. No matter what.

Our Gospel this morning reveals this saving truth with beautiful simplicity:

“As I have loved you,” Jesus says, “so you also should love one another.”

Let’s focus in on those first words: “As I have loved you.” 

Do you hear that? The Lord says to us: “I have loved you. You are my Church! And I’m willing to die for my Church. I’m willing to conquer DEATH itself for my Church. I’ll do anything to transform you, to heal you, to cleanse you, to bring you back to life. I’m willing to wipe away every tear, break every addiction, deliver you from every sorrow, strengthen you in every trial. You are worth all of my love. Not just some of it. All of it.

My brothers and sisters: The Church is worth loving even now at this rather difficult time — because YOU are worth loving now. 

But how can this be possible? I know when I look at my own heart, I don’t feel terribly love-able. I see all my brokenness and my weakness rush at me, and I start compiling a laundry list of reasons why God can’t possibly love me — why I’m not worth loving. Truth be told, I’ve spent the last five years of seminary wrestling with this tangle of lies: “You’re not good enough. You haven’t done enough. You’re not worth loving.”

When I listen to these lies — lies which I suspect many of you wrestle with as well — I begin to doubt that I have anything good to offer anybody. I begin to doubt I could ever fulfill the second half of Jesus’ commandment: “As I have loved you — so you also should love one another.” From this place of doubt and fear, I’ve wondered many times: “How can I possibly hope to serve the Church as a deacon? As a priest? My love is so selfish, so weak! I can’t do it. I can’t love!”

Thankfully the Lord has been patiently untangling that knot, saying over and over to my soul — after each and every failure to love, in the midst of every single struggle — “As I have loved you, so also you should love. I have loved you. My wounds stand wide open for you and for all sinners. Love me, and I will show you how to love.”

The fact of the matter is — Unless we first receive love from the Lord, unless we grow absolutely convinced that we are worth loving and that He will stop at nothing to give us ALL of his love — then we will never be able to truly be ourselves. That means that unless we give God the permission to love us, we simply won’t be happy. Period.

So each time you hear the lie: “You’re not enough,” let the Lord intervene and say to your soul: “I am enough.”

Each time you hear the accusation: “You need to do more, you need to BE more!” let the Lord defend you and say: “I am more.”

Each time you find yourself questioning whether or not you’re worth loving, listen to the Lord’s healing words: “I have loved you. Behold! I make all things new.

The offer of God’s love stands.

The wounds of Christ remain open for anyone who would come and be healed.

The light is on in the confessional for a reason. Go! Receive ALL his mercy!

Never exclude yourself from God’s love!

Let Him say to your soul: “I have loved you. You are worth loving.”

This is the best news anyone could ever hope to receive: God loves us!

Now maybe you’re sitting there in your pew thinking… “That’s it? Deacon Anthony’s FIRST EVER HOMILY boils down to that? God loves us? I’ve heard that……….. a million times!”

To that, I say this: 

WOE TO ME if I don’t kick off my preaching ministry by proclaiming God’s relentlessly merciful love. It’s really the only thing really worth saying! So yea… God loves you. If we’ve heard it a million times, may we hear it a million times more.

I consider it an honor and a privilege to be ordained to boldly proclaim God’s infinite love to each and every person I meet until the day I die. But if you think it’s just the clergy’s job to preach this truth, think again. ALL the baptized are to be living witnesses of this love. It’s the only reason we’re sitting in this church today!

And that brings me to my final point: The greatest proof that the Church is still worth loving is the Eucharist we are about to receive. Every single time we gather as a Church for the Holy Mass, Christ shows up and bellows into the silent breaking of the bread: “You are worth loving. You are worth my Body and my Blood.” Be attentive to that silent proof of His Love. Allow God to fill you in the Eucharist. It is a pure gift.

But never let that gift go to waste in you. Receive God’s superabundant love here at this altar, and then immediately give it away to others. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Be the Eucharist for others. Be Christ’s love for your neighbor. Be a walking, living Host — the surest proof we have of His crucified love for the world.

As we learn to do this together, then all… “all will know that we are His disciples.”

By Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a transitional deacon preparing for the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently assigned at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Petersburg, VA

9 replies on “First Homily: The Church is Worth Loving”

Words to live by Anthony. Hearing your first homily is a blessing – knowing that you will be proclaiming in years to come fills me with hope for a renewed CHURCH. God bless your
continued studies.

Thank you Patty! We all are part of that renewed Church!!!! God wants us to be holy today, not tomorrow.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Msgr. Charles Kelly used to say, “a good priest looks like a man who is madly in love.” Well, this photo says it all – and your first homily says the rest. Congratulations on your ordination as a deacon. Many prayers for your mission and ministry. AE

Thank you Anne!!! This means so much — Continue to pray for me and my brother seminarians to fall “madly in love” with the Lord!

Dear Anthony,

Thank you so much for providing me with opportunity to read this. I love it. It is so inspirational. As soon as you and your mother left the store I work at I went to the back and sat down to read and my heart is full. Thank you for praying with me as well. It was a pleasure meeting you and if you don’t get to stay in Richmond I’ll keep up with you through your mother.

Hello Tammy! Sorry for the late reply!!! I’m SO THRILLED you have been lifted up by this homily. We had a blast meeting you the other day. You are certainly filled with the joy of Jesus. God bless you and keep you always 🙂

I am thoroughly impressed by your first homily, especially after hearing that you rewrote it completely after hearing some off-the-cuff comments by Fr. Renninger the week before. You were very vulnerable and therefore very courageous in sharing about your own struggle to accept God’s love into your own heart. And you’re absolutely right, the Church, you, and each one of us is lovable. Congratulations on an amazing first homily and surviving a very busy weekend as an introvert!

Thank you so much for the encouragement, Trisha! Praise the Lord 😀 Please pray for me that I’ll always remember to preach to myself first — and that I practice what I preach

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