ORDINATION TO THE PERMANENT DIACONATE
November 28, 2020
(Numbers 3:5-9; II Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7; Matthew 20:25b-28)
By the grace of God, our brothers – Eugene, Joseph, John, Peter, Joseph, Gerard, Luis and Joseph – are to be ordained deacons today for service of God’s people in the Diocese of Scranton. I join with this local Church in giving thanks – first, to God – for the call to diaconal service that has been planted in their hearts – an invitation built upon the universal call to holiness which all of us have received in Baptism.
Thank you as well to all who have played such a vital role in enabling these men about to be ordained deacons to hear and answer the call of the Lord: family members and friends, instructors, spiritual directors, pastors – and in particular, Monsignor David Bohr, the Director of our Permanent Diaconate Formation Program.
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.
Finally, to my brothers who are to be ordained this day, I thank you for saying “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve his Church as deacons.
For as blessed and joyful a day as this is, I would certainly be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the obvious. We gather in a very unusual way, don’t we – with masks in place and keeping our distance one from another.
Yet, there’s a powerful lesson to be learned from the manner in which we gather for this Mass of ordination. So much of what we have been called to do during the better part of this year has ultimately been rooted in service and love of our brothers and sisters. Providentially, it’s that same notion of service, reflected in our concern for others rather than our own comfort and well-being that lies at the heart of this day and the sacred order to which our brothers have been called.
Recall the words from today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth, “We hold this treasure – the ministry entrusted to our care by the Lord Jesus – in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” If nothing else, this pandemic has reminded us that life is precarious, and for as capable as we might see ourselves to be, we are not in control of every aspect of life as we often believe. To the contrary, for all that God has given us to do, our surest posture is that encouraged by Saint Paul, in which we recognize that any power that we are able to wield – and any good that we are able to do – comes from God and not ourselves.
Christ’s call to be the servant of others means to let God work through our own efforts to love, to forgive, to secure justice, to support and to help. Seeking this type of “greatness” means never being discouraged by the smallness or insignificance of what we are able to do for others. Indeed, the faith of an authentic disciple enables one to experience fulfillment not in the acclaim that we receive for what we do or in the success we can measure but in the joy and peace that we are privileged to bring into the lives of others through the grace of God at work within us – even when it comes with the price of pain and suffering.
Today’s gospel account from Saint Matthew puts the reality of your ministry into stark perspective. The verses proclaimed are the culmination of an exchange between Jesus and the mother of two of his disciples, James and John. In the exchange, James’ and John’s mother – on their behalf – asks that her two sons be given places of honor, influence and respect when Jesus begins his reign.
We know well how the exchange unfolds. Jesus responds to James, John, and the other disciples with these words, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.”
Jesus’ words – “It shall not be so among you” – constitute perhaps the greatest challenge of the Gospel. To be a disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those entrusted to our care, regardless of the cost to ourselves. The admonition of Jesus links the lives of his disciples to the mystery of our faith, rooted in Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. There is simply no other way to understand and to manifest authentic ministry in the Church.
Brothers, today’s gospel passage is a stark reminder of the human condition that each of us experience, including Jesus’ first and closest disciples. As such, you need to remind yourselves that you have not been called to this sacrament of Holy Orders because you are perfect. … None of us are. … No, you have been called by the Lord, gifted for ministry and chosen in the mystery of God’s plan because in faith, you have opened your life to the Lord’s love and, because of it, you seek to love him in return through your service of his people.
This 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.
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. By your faithful service to the Gospel, you must help the world to discover the Truth that has a human face: the Truth that is 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. As servants of the liturgy, 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. Your ministry – to be fully diaconal and unified – must include some form of direct service to the poor and to those most in need.
In his recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis devotes the entire second chapter to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which he describes as something of an icon for our times. Listen to his words, brothers, as they speak to this moment in your lives. “Belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. … The guarantee of an authentic openness to God … is a way of practicing the faith that helps open our hearts to our brothers and sisters. Saint John Chrysostom expressed this pointedly with this challenge: ‘Do you wish to honor the body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold’.”
My brothers, God has called you to serve the Gospel in an authentic and vital way. While your ministry will not always be easy, set aside your fears and embrace your call with deep trust in Jesus’ promise to walk with you always. Follow Jesus’ 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 all of the Christian faithful of this local Church and beyond 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 completion.