Ordination to the Diaconate – 23 May 2020
Jeremiah 1:4-9; Acts 6:1-7b; Matthew 20:25b-28 

Today, we call forth our brother, Mark DeCelles, to the Order of the Diaconate for service to the People of God in this local Church of Scranton.  What a blessing this day is for Mark, for all of us, and particularly for those of you who have been entrusted with the care and formation of our brother throughout the many years of his journey of life that brings him to this faith-filled moment.

To Mark’s family and friends – his brothers Chris and Sal – and especially his parents – his mom, Mildred, who is with us today here in our cathedral – and his dad, Charles, who is watching today’s ordination from his home – thank you.  Thank you for your commitment, your faith, your example and the gift of your son to the Church.  Mildred and Charles, I don’t know that any candidate for Holy Orders has ever received such a powerful formation in the mysteries of our faith as Mark has received.  From the selfless love and commitment to each other that you have all lived as a family on a daily basis – to the dignity with which you have embraced the crosses that have come your way – to the hope that you have placed in the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection – you have taught Mark invaluable lessons that most of us take a lifetime to learn.  Thank you.

To the parishes, schools and individuals who have touched Mark’s life over many years – from his home parish of Immaculate Conception in Scranton, led by Father Pat McLaughlin and our dear friend, Father Joe Sica, who left us all too soon – to the wonderful people of Saint Matthew’s Parish in East Stroudsburg along with Father Shantillo, Father Chmil and Father Jaime, where Mark is spending this pastoral year – to Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore – to our diocesan vocation team led by Father Don Williams, Monsignor David Bohr – and to all of the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and faithful who, through your example and concern for Mark, have helped to prepare him for ministry in the Church, please know how grateful we all are for your care and dedication.

It should be obvious that our call to ministry doesn’t just happen.  It is born from communities of faith in and through which God is present.  Sadly, the presence of many members of these faith communities who have nurtured Mark in his journey and have helped to bring him to this moment today is diminished because of the health crisis in which we continue to find ourselves.   Yet, this moment in our lives and in Mark’s, for as sobering as it may be, is also a moment of grace.  Mark captured the unique nature of this moment best in his own words, shared in an interview for our diocesan newspaper.

“The world of COVID-19 is a world full of pain and uncertainty and despair, a world that needs Christ more than ever.  It is because of this that I am eager and excited for the day of my ordination. My desire to carry the light of Christ to the front lines of our hungry, suffering world has only grown over the course of my almost three years in formation, and the pandemic has made this desire still more acute. To be sure, I am disappointed that I will be ordained in a nearly empty cathedral.  …  At the same time, I am hopeful that the walls of that empty cathedral will echo all the more resoundingly the good news that this ordination is not about me; it is about the work of God bringing about healing, transformation, and new life in our very day, in the midst of an afflicted Church and world.

Mark, your very own words assure all of us that you have discerned quite carefully the will of God and his call in your life.  And so, today you respond to God’s call to be a co-worker with your fellow deacons, with the priests of this local Church and with me, your bishop.  Consider carefully that to which you’ve responded.

Jesus articulates the nature of your calling very clearly in the gospel proclaimed just a moment ago.  Listen again to what he says:  “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This admonition is perhaps the greatest challenge of the Gospel, calling us not to accept “business as usual,” not to accept injustice and estrangement as “the way things are,” not to justify flexible morals and ethics with the mantra “everybody does it.”  In short, to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others and to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.

So if you want your ministry as a deacon to be fruitful, Mark, you must root yourself in Jesus’ life and love.  The disciplines of prayer, obedience and celibacy that you are called to embrace this day are meant to enable you to grow in the same spirit of service and mercy that so characterized Jesus’ ministry.  These disciplines are not obstacles, hurdles or distractions that are somehow detached from what it means to be an ordained minister of the Church.  They are not meant to set you up as being better or greater than others.  Here, there is little room for pride, selfishness and arrogance.  Rather, they are the vehicles that will carry you to a deeper union with Jesus.  As Pope Francis has often reminded the bishops, priests and deacons of our Church, you must cultivate in your heart “the virtues of courage, humility and generosity” and surrender yourself to Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church, in order to serve as an authentic and effective minister for the sake of those entrusted to your pastoral care.

Mark, your service to the People of God as a deacon is a threefold ministry:  service to the Word of God – service at the Lord’s altar – and service to the poor.

As a deacon   …   you will 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 be an agent of the New Evangelization and proclaim Christ to the world.  …  Yet in receiving the Gospel of Christ, remember that it is the truth of the message of Jesus Christ that you proclaim, not yourself.

As a deacon   …   you will also serve at the altar of the Lord, preparing it 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 and funerals and other prayer services.  …  Be a good servant of the Church’s sacramental life and always point to Jesus – not yourself – as our life and our hope.

Finally, as a deacon   …   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 diaconal ministry.  As Pope Francis has reminded us, you are to go to the margins of our world where you will find the poor and the broken.  Be generous in your service, Mark, imitating the Lord who washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper.

And so, with great joy, Mark, the Diocese of Scranton calls you forth for the sacrament of Holy Orders.  While you have been given tremendous gifts and talents, we pray that you will always rely upon the grace of God to fill up whatever may be lacking in you to carry out fully the ministry entrusted to you this day.

I now ask that you proclaim your intentions before the People of God and trust that God who has begun the good work in you will bring it to fulfillment.