Called for service: Eric Flores and Benjamin Grothouse ordained as transitional deacons
FLOWER MOUND — On a day when Catholics around the world celebrated Mary’s “Yes” to becoming the Mother of God, two seminarians proclaimed their resolve to be consecrated ministers of the Church with an emphatic “I do.”
Eric Homero Flores and Benjamin Hunt Grothouse were ordained to the transitional diaconate during a Mass concelebrated by Bishop Michael Olson with diocesan priests and visiting clergy on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in St. Philip the Apostle Church. The morning liturgy marked a significant step in formation for the men who will spend the next year completing seminary studies and assisting in parishes as they prepare for ordination to the priesthood, God willing.
“This is a very important step for Eric and Ben and an answer to continued prayer for vocations to the priesthood,” said Father Jonathan Wallis, vicar general and director of seminarian formation. “Returning to the seminary and their academic courses allows them to really focus their minds and hearts on service to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.”
To serve, not to be served
Derived from the Greek word “diakonia” meaning “service,” a deacon is called, like Christ, to serve others and not to be served. Essential duties include proclaiming the Gospel, performing works of charity, and assisting at liturgies. Deacons may baptize, witness and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and officiate at funerals.
Although they share similar functions and responsibilities as permanent deacons, transitional deacons have the added intention of working toward priestly ordination.
Welcoming families and guests at the start of the Mass, Bishop Olson expressed gratitude to the parents of the ordinands for their support and generosity during the vocation journey.
“I also want to thank the brothers and sisters of Ben and Eric for the love and encouragement offered them in the acceptance of their vocation and perseverance in studies over these years,” the bishop said.
Directing his remarks to the grandparents, some traveling from Colorado and Ohio for the occasion, he added, “Your presence here today is especially important and a cause of great happiness.”
Bishop Olson also acknowledged the organizations and seminaries who prayed and supported the candidates throughout their time in formation.
A ministry to the lowly and poor
In his homily, the leader of North Texas Catholics drew parallels between God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of His Son and a deacon’s ministry to the poor and alienated.
“The lowliness of Mary, called and chosen to be the Ark of the New Covenant, is highlighted and underscored in the call of deacons to be ministers of the charity of God,” Bishop Olson explained. “It is the ministry to the lowly and poor of the world whom God raises up as He casts down the mighty.”
Deacons are entrusted to bring the hope of the Gospel and the grace of the sacraments to those who rely only on God because they have no other advocate. Recalling the words of the late Pope Benedict XVI, he asked the deacon candidates to use the presence of God in them to bring light to the world with all its sadness and problems.
By following Mary’s example and saying, “Let your will be done. I am the servant of the Lord,” your life loses nothing, the bishop promised, but becomes enriched.
“Dear Sons, on this great Solemnity of the Annunciation and this joyful day of your ordination to the diaconate … all of us, the entire Church, pray and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary that you open yourselves even more to God as ministers of His Word, ministers of the sacraments, and ministers of charity,” Bishop Olson said, addressing the soon-to-be ordained candidates.
A sacred, essential moment
During the solemn Rite of Ordination, Flores and Grothouse made promises of celibacy, prayer, and obedience before prostrating themselves in front of the altar as a sign of humility and supplication, while the congregation chanted one of the oldest continually used prayers in the Catholic Church — the Litany of the Saints.
The most sacred, essential moment of the ordination ceremony followed, with Bishop Olson placing his hands on each candidate’s head to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Transformative and powerful, the laying on of hands dates back to the Apostles who used the gesture to confer the Holy Spirit after Pentecost.
Now ordained, the new deacons received the outward symbols of their ministry — the stole and dalmatic. Deacons Rigoberto Leyva and Bruce Corbett vested Eric Flores, and Benjamin Grothouse received his vestments from Deacons Pat Quinn and Joe Standridge.
Wearing the diaconal garments, the men then knelt before the bishop who handed them the Book of the Gospel with the declaration, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
Greeting well-wishers after the Mass, Ben Grothouse was “overjoyed” to have reached this stage in his formation.
“I’m blessed to be ordained with my best friend and guided by Bishop Olson who’s been like a father to me for years,” he enthused. “Men like Fr. Wallis have been an inspiration to me. I’m just on cloud nine right now.”
Influenced by the priests he saw working at St. Maria Goretti Parish, the Arlington native began to seriously discern a vocation and entered St. Joseph Seminary in 2015.
“Growing up they made it very clear what joy there is in the life of a priest by being a servant of the people and sharing God’s love,” Grothouse said, citing Father Mike Ciski, TOR, and Father Jim Gigliotti, TOR, as significant role models. “It’s remarkable how much of an effect they had on me.”
Spending a pastoral year at St. Philip the Apostle Parish under the guidance of Father Ray McDaniel allowed the 27-year-old to witness the responsibilities of a busy pastor and meet parishioners like Ken and Kathy Gelzleichter. Along with other church members, the couple visited with the seminarian once a month to offer comments, suggestions, and encouragement.
“We have seen such growth in this young man and want to support him any way we can,” said Kathy Gelzleichter, who attended the ordination with her husband. “He’s very personable, especially with young people, and that’s a group the Church needs desperately.”
Now in his eighth year of formation, the son of Tom Grothouse and La Dawn Everette will return to the Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he is earning a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and a master’s degree in divinity.
Eric Flores was an impressionable eight-year-old, making his first Communion, when becoming a priest seemed like a good idea. Sacraments were always celebrated at the parish of his mother’s uncle, Father Florencio Rodriguez, TOR, so those family memories played a pivotal role in the 26-year-old’s vocation story.
“I remember thinking my uncle’s got the coolest job in the world,” Flores said. “That kind of sparked an interest in the priesthood for me.”
As he grew up, inquisitive relatives often asked, “Are you still thinking of being a priest?” But the Good Shepherd parishioner, involved in activities at Nolan Catholic High School, was considering other career paths. A heart-to-heart moment with God as a college freshman rekindled childhood thoughts of a vocation.
“From then on I fully developed the drive to be a priest for God,” Flores said. “And that drive is still going strong.”
Attending Our Lady of Victory School operated by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur also fostered a desire for church service.
“My education there is a big part of the faith culture I grew up with,” he added. “It really helped and encouraged me to pursue this call. I just want to give the sisters all my blessings and say thank you.”
Linda Kuntz, a former OLV principal who taught Flores in kindergarten, attended the Ordination Mass.
“It’s exciting to see how he has evolved and grown in his faith,” she observed. “He looks so happy and I’m happy for him.”
The OLV graduate would often return to his alma mater to talk with students about vocations.
“This is the first time I’ve had a student prepare for the priesthood so he’s special to me,” Kuntz said.
Flores, the son of Homero Flores and Mary Regina Moore, will continue to work toward a master’s degree in divinity at Assumption Seminary Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio during his diaconal year.
A strong brotherhood
Second year theology student Blake Thompson felt honored to participate in the Ordination Mass. A longtime friend of both seminarians and classmate of Grothouse at the Theological College, he served on the altar.
“Seeing these men make those promises fills me with a lot of hope and confidence,” Thompson said. “We have a really strong brotherhood in our vocation and discernment so seeing each other succeed is a victory for us all.”