His 'Great Gift from God'

I woke up much earlier than usual - 3:50 a.m. to be exact - on Wednesday, Nov. 17. I wanted to go back to sleep, but I was too excited. I had a sense I was going to receive a great gift from God. I felt somewhat like a little child on Christmas morning. I knew I was going to be a deacon ordained to the ministry of service so I began reflecting on the word "servant." I noticed how closely it resembled my last name - Cervantes. Hmmm, I thought curiously to myself. (I remembered that in high school, I discovered that one possible meaning of my name was "servant of the Lord.")

I was ordained at 9 o'clock in the morning at the Cathedral of San Agustin in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, by the Most Rev. Nereo P. Odchimar, bishop of the diocese of Tandag, along with two diocesan seminarians - Lino Macatol II and Alvin Pobar.

During the entrance procession, my mother walked with me down the aisle, towards the altar. The other seminarians were also accompanied by their parents. Since it was only my mother and me (my father stayed home in California), I felt as if she were offering me to God, like Mary offering the gift of her only Son back to the Father. As the music started, I looked to Mom, smiled and asked her, "Are you ready?" She smiled, took a deep breath, nodded to me and said quietly, "Yes."

As I reached my chair, I looked around and saw a lot of familiar faces. Some of my relatives came from various parts of the Philippines. I also saw my fellow priests and brothers of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, as well as some members of the Divine Mercy Foundation, which manages the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in El Salvador, Philippines; friends and workers from the Shrine of Divine Mercy in El Salvador; and seminarians of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, of whom I had gotten to know during my time of study. As I looked at them, they looked at me and we exchanged smiles. I felt the love and encouragement of many people (present and not present) who have walked with me in my vocational journey.

During the first reading, I happened to notice a stained-glass window up high near the dome of the cathedral depicting the Annunciation. It seemed God was inviting me to be humble and receptive like Mary in receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The laying on of hands by the bishop was a very simple rite. I watched and prayed as my fellow seminarians knelt before the bishop to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was the great gift that I was going to receive today - the Holy Spirit, Himself. When I knelt before the bishop, I wanted to be completely open to what I was about to receive, but I did not sense or notice anything. However, after I got up, returned to my place and knelt for the consecration prayer, I did notice something within me. I don't know how to put it into words, but I felt the Spirit moving within me. I also sensed in some way that I was strengthen by God.

Afterwards, my mother and Fr. Jan Migacz, MIC, helped with the investiture of my stole and dalmatic. It was time for me "to put on Christ." I smiled to my mom as she helped me put on the stole. I could see the happiness in her eyes and feel how proud she was of me. Father Jan, one of the Marians' missionaries to the Philippines, assisted with the dalmatic. The sight of Fr. Jan's smile made me smile even more. They both hugged me, then I turned around and continued with the ceremony.

During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the newly ordained deacons got the chance to assist. I prepared the altar by spreading out the corporal. The other deacons helped by pouring the wine and incensing the people. When it came time for Holy Communion, the newly ordained deacons distributed Communion, but first to their parents. I have never experienced so much joy in distributing Communion as I did that day. People walked forward with big smiles on their faces. I could feel so much joy, that I could not hide my own smile. There was great joy in sharing and giving Christ to others.

At the end of Mass, during the dismissal rite, there was one part left for me to do. Although the Mass was said in the native Visayan, I said to the people in English "The Eucharist has been offered, go in peace to love and serve the Lord." After hearing the people respond, "Thanks be to God," I felt there was something indeed special and powerful in being able to say those words as a deacon for the first time. Then the newly ordained deacons accompanied the bishop to the altar, and we kissed the altar for the first time. I looked to my fellow deacons and saw big smiles on their faces. There was a feeling that something new and great is happening.

I feel truly blessed to be ordained to the diaconate. Interestingly, I feel both strengthened by God, as well as supported by His people, the Church. It is an invitation and command for me to serve the Lord and His Church. In a particular way, I am called to proclaim the Gospel. The bishop's words to me when he handed the Book of the Gospels were, "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach."

Now is my time to be a minister of His Word. I am here to serve the Lord, for that is my name, as well as who I am. I am Deacon James L. Cervantes, MIC!

To make a gift to help the Marian seminarians, visit marian.org/seminarians, or call 1-800-671-2020.

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