Here is my introduction homily to the people of St. Mary Church, Caledonia
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
I am Deacon Bob Yerhot, and Bishop Quinn has sent me to St. Mary’s and to St. Patrick’s. What an honor for me to be among all of you! St. Paul’s words to the people of Thessalonica echo in my ears today, “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Th 5:16-18) I have been rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks ever since I first heard I would be coming to you as your deacon. Actually, this is not my first connection with St. Mary’s. Back in 1985, I worked for Catholic Charities and I staffed an office one day a week here at the parish. Father Kunz let me use his office, and Mrs. Mabel Gullien fixed my lunch when I was here. I have very fond memories of those days! I was shown such hospitality! The desserts from the Caledonia bakery were unforgettable!
I am sure there are many questions you have about me, so here is a short autobiography:
I grew up the oldest of seven in Waseca County in south central Minnesota on a farm where I learned at an early age the importance of manual labor, hard work, and the care of animals and the fields. After I graduated from High School, I studied at St. Mary’s College in Winona and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I then worked for several years at a printing company, and was married. I became the father of two great kids, John and Rebecca, and I have four grandchildren. I knew I wanted to work with people, so I left printing and went to the University of Minnesota for a graduate degree and became a psychotherapist at Gundersen Clinic where I retired in 2015 after 34 years practicing psychotherapy. I have lived in Dakota since 1986. I felt the call to the diaconate in 2005, and was ordained 13 years ago and have been active in ministry all those years at Crucifixion Parish La Crescent, and for about 5 years at St. Patrick’s in Brownsville. I was the assistant director of the diaconate for the diocese for a number of years. I write and publish articles on diaconal spirituality, am a columnist for the magazine The Deacon, and I work with deacons and theologians across the country in developing an Institute for Diaconal Renewal at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I give deacon retreats and am in training to become a spiritual director. Yes, I am a busy man, but I love it all! I love being a deacon, a dad, a grandpa, and the son of a farmer! (The people with whom I am most comfortable are farmers.)
I am sure you have a lot of questions about deacons in general. I know Father Wagner printed a series of great explanations in your bulletin. The first question people always ask is, “What can deacons do?”
Here is the list of things we can do: deacons assist at Mass, proclaim the Gospel, preach homilies, baptize children, witness marriages, bury the dead, bring Holy Communion to the sick and dying, preside at adoration and benediction, and bless rosaries, medals, homes, and people.
Here is a list of things deacons cannot do: “Say Mass” meaning consecrate the bread and wine, absolve people of their sins, anoint the sick, be the pastor of a parish.
Here is the more important question, “Who are deacons?” The Scriptures give us a couple of deacon images that may help answer the question.
We heard in the Gospel today: “At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit…. Whatever town you enter… eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” (Lk 10:1, 9-10) What a great description of deacons!
Deacons are sent by the bishop to places he intends to go. The bishop ordains us and sends us, just like Jesus sent the seventy-two, to be his envoy, to be his ambassador, to preach in his absence the Kingdom of God. Deacons are obedient sons of the bishop and we go where the he sends us and we preach the Gospel there, and in that way “cure” the sick by strengthening their faith or connecting them to the Church. When we are ordained, the bishop literally tells us that we are heralds of the Gospel which we must read, believe, and teach. He sends us to do just that.
Deacons must always give witness to — speak about and be willing to die for— Jesus. Deacons must tell everyone about Him. Deacons are to tell those who are in doubt that Jesus died and rose for them and He is alive and present. Deacons are sacramental heralds of the Good News. So, one thing you will probably notice about me is I will be talking a lot about Jesus and the Gospel!
There is another great image of who deacons are in Scripture.
We read about the day Jesus died. We hear about him carrying the Cross all the way to Golgotha. Jesus bore the Cross. He carried the wood of the Cross and the weight of our sins. He gave Himself as a ransom for our sins and gave us eternal life. But in the Gospels, we find another man that day: Simon of Cyrene. You know the story. Simon carried that same wooden cross with Jesus. Simon carried that same cross so close to Jesus that he had to have smelled and tasted Jesus’ sweat and blood as it splashed against his own face that day. Simon heard the same sounds that Jesus heard. Simon heard Jesus groan in agony. Simon felt the same whip. He saw the same crowds. He heard the same words coming from the people. Simon carried the Cross cheek to cheek, side by side with our Lord. Jesus and Simon were so close that day that they labored as one man under the Cross. Here was the difference between them: Simon did not offer the sacrifice (Jesus did), nor was he the victim of the sacrifice (Jesus was), but he assisted in that sacrifice and did it at the risk of his own life and reputation. Then after the sacrifice was made, Simon bore witness to it all. Ancient tradition tells us that Simon of Cyrene preached the Gospel. He proclaimed to the world what he experienced that day with Jesus. Simon is an image of who a deacon should be.
So, in some way, I must imitate Simon. In some way, Father Wagner and I must carry the Cross together, I as deacon and he as priest. I hope you see in Father and me a priest and a deacon carrying the Cross for you. I must be like Simon of Cyrene, and Father must be like Jesus! What a great honor it is to carry the Cross with Father, to assist at the sacrifice of the Mass, and then to preach to you what God has done in Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, one of the worst things a deacon can do is preach himself, his own gospel, in order to make himself look good or acceptable. One of the worst things a preacher can do is advance himself. I pray that as I begin my ministry with you, I never do such a thing. I pray that when I stand at this ambo to proclaim the Kingdom of God I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not my own gospel. I pray that when I stand at this altar I always do so in humility.
So now, I begin my ministry among you. Pray for me, as I will for you every day. May God bless you all!