Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate
26 November 2022
(Jeremiah 1:4-9; Acts 6:1-7b; John 17:6, 14-19)
It is a blessing to welcome all of you to Saint Peter’s Cathedral this morning. Thank you for your presence, for your prayers, and for the vital role that you have played in enabling these men about to be ordained deacons to hear and answer the call of the Lord. Today is a day of great rejoicing for all of us gathered in our cathedral, for the entire Church of Scranton and especially for those of you, who, through God’s grace will be ordained as deacons in service to the People of God.
Thank you as well to all who have been responsible for the formation of our candidates – countless numbers of instructors, spiritual directors, pastors – and in particular, Monsignor David Bohr, Director of Permanent Diaconate Formation.
I am especially grateful to the wives of our candidates. In so many respects, because of the call that you and your husbands answered to your first vocation to married life, you assumed an integral role in their journey to their second vocation: Holy Orders. Your willingness to encourage them to listen to the call of the Lord – your selfless love and support amid their struggles to discern their place in the Lord’s plan – and your fidelity in prayer as together you have journeyed to this day – have been a blessing not only to your husbands but to the Church of Scranton and to the lives of all those who will be touched by their ministry of service. Thank you. May you too find fulfillment, meaning and peace in the days ahead.
Some time ago, I celebrated Mass in a parish in our Diocese where I had served as pastor. During a reception after Mass, I spoke with numerous parishioners whom I had gotten to know well from my time with them. Many of them very kindly recalled events when I apparently did something that impacted their lives in a positive manner. What was interesting to me, however, was what they remembered. They didn’t reflect upon programs or councils that I implemented in the parish. They didn’t recall balanced budgets that I produced or renovation projects that I led. Instead, they reflected upon simpler things – like a visit I made to the hospital when they were sick – a listening ear when they needed someone to talk to – a thought from a homily that I had long ago forgotten. … In short, what they remembered most were moments when I got out of the way and allowed God to touch them!
True discipleship, my friends, is rooted in a relationship – a relationship with the person of Jesus – a relationship in which we hand ourselves over in trust to God and give God room to act in and through the fragile, earthen vessels of our lives. … True discipleship calls us to seek out and embrace the gospel’s unvarnished proclamation of truth centered in the love of God and the sacredness of every human being as created in the image and likeness of God. … True discipleship grows when we get out of the way and allow God’s mercy and love to flow abundantly through us into our world – on God’s terms, not ours.
In Saint John’s account of the Last Supper, after offering his final teachings to his disciples before his passion, we find the high priestly prayer of Jesus from which today’s gospel passage is taken – a passage specifically chosen by our ordinands for today’s Mass. In these verses, we hear Jesus pray that his disciples would be united in love, persevere despite the world’s hatred of them, be protected from the Evil One and be consecrated in the truth. Jesus then asks his Father that his disciples be given the courage and integrity to embrace the light of truth in order to recognize the hand of God in all things and to embrace the life of God breathing in every human interaction.
In so many respects, brothers and sisters, the gospel challenges us to confront the prejudices, biases and ambitions that exist within each one of us in order to realize how they affect our perception of the “truth” and the decisions we make based on that perception. It calls us, instead, to uphold, regardless of the cost, the holiness of “truth” that is found in the person of Jesus, the pattern of his life and the mission of selfless service and unconditional love that he proclaimed.
Last year, in an address to the deacons of Rome, Pope Francis shared words that speak powerfully to this moment in the lives of our brothers who are about to be ordained. “Let us remember, please, that for the disciples of Jesus, to love is to serve and to serve is to reign. Power lies in service, not in anything else. … If we do not live this dimension of service, every ministry is emptied from within, it becomes sterile, it does not bear fruit. And little by little it becomes worldly. … Faithful deacons who live the truth of the gospel remind the Church of what Saint Theresa discovered: the Church has a heart enflamed by love. Yes, a humble heart throbbing with service. Deacons remind us of this when, like the deacon Saint Francis, they bring God’s closeness to others without imposing themselves, serving with humility and joy. The generosity of a deacon who gives of himself without seeking the front ranks has about him the perfume of the Gospel. He tells of the greatness of God’s humility in taking the first step. God always takes the first step to meet even those who have turned their backs on him.”
My brothers – John, Thomas, Steven, John, Martin, Nicholas, Frank and Matthew – the message of today’s gospel passage and the powerful words of Pope Francis are stark reminders that at the heart of authentic diaconal ministry is a calling well beyond what any of us can do on our own. As such, you need to remind yourselves that you have not been called to ordination because you are perfect. … None of us are. … Like Jesus’ disciples down through the ages, we too carry a lot of baggage as we set out on mission to serve the Lord in his people. … You have been called by the Lord, gifted for ministry and chosen in the mystery of God’s plan because the Lord knows that you love him and seek, however feebly, to serve him in his people.
The words of the Second Vatican Council put your role within the Church in perspective. “Strengthened by sacramental grace,” you are called “to serve the People of God, in the diakonia of liturgy, word and charity, in communion with the Bishop and his presbyterate.” As such, you are ordained to be a sign and instrument of Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve.”
Your service to the People of God is three fold: service to the Word of God – service at the altar of the Lord – and service to the poor. Allow me to share a few words about each of these ways in which you are called to serve.
As deacons, you shall proclaim the Gospel, preach homilies, convey the needs of the people of God in the General Intercessions and offer many other forms of instruction. You are to proclaim Christ to the world. By your faithful service to the Gospel in its integrity – without compromise, accommodation, hesitation or fear – you must help the world to discover the Truth that has a human face, the Truth that is the person of Jesus Christ.
As deacons, you shall also serve at the altar of the Lord, preparing the altar for the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice, distributing Holy Communion to the faithful, as well as to the sick and homebound. You will baptize, preside at weddings, funerals, and other prayer services. … I urge you to be good servants of the Church’s sacramental life. Fulfill your role with reverence in accord with the Church’s liturgical directives and always point to Jesus, our life and our hope.
Finally, as deacons, you are called to be the living and working expression of the charity of the Church. To you, then, is entrusted in a special way the ministry of charity that is at the very origin of the institution of the deacon. Several years ago, in the prologue of a book entitled The Diaconate in the Thought of Pope Francis: A Poor Church for the Poor, the Holy Father stated quite simply that your ministry, brothers, to be fully diaconal and unified, must include some form of direct service to the poor and to those most in need.
My brothers, God has called you to a vital ministry in service of the Gospel. Set aside your fears. Embrace your call with deep trust in Jesus’ promise to walk with you always. Live the truth of the gospel that is rooted in the person of Jesus. Follow always his example of selfless love and mercy. And serve God’s people generously as you would serve the Lord himself.
Supported by the prayers of your wives and families, by the Christian faithful of this local Church and by the great communion of Saints whom we will invoke in prayer, may the Lord who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfillment.