Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
25 November 2017
(Jeremiah 1:4-9; II Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7; Matthew 20:25b-28)

It is a joy to welcome all of you to Saint Peter’s Cathedral this morning, together with Bishop Timlin, Bishop Dougherty, so many brother priests and deacons, and especially the wives and children, family members and friends of those to be ordained.  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 this morning in our cathedral, for the entire Church of Scranton and especially for those of you, who, through God’s grace in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, will be ordained as servants in ministry 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.

Not too long ago, I celebrated Mass in a parish in our Diocese where I had served as pastor.  During a reception after Mass, I saw numerous parishioners whom I had gotten to know well from my time with them.  Many of them very kindly recalled events from those days 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 renovations or building projects that I led.  They reflected upon simpler things – like a visit 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!

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.”  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 seeming 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 or list on a resume 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 and often when that privilege comes with the price of pain and suffering.

Today’s gospel account from Saint Matthew puts the reality of our ministry into stark perspective.   The verses proclaimed are actually the culmination of a very uncomfortable exchange that takes place 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 – each of us – to the reality of the cross and 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.

Just about a month ago, Pope Francis wrote the prologue to a book on the diaconate entitled The Diaconate in the Thought of Pope Francis: A Poor Church for the Poor.  Among the many thoughts that the Holy Father shared, the following provide particular meaning and insight into what those to be ordained this day are called to embrace in their ministry:  “The service of the diaconal ministry finds its identity in the act of evangelizing, as John Paul II said in a homily in 1979, addressed to a group of new deacons, and reminding them of the words of the handing to them of the Book of the Gospels during their ordination: ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.’  …  In your role as deacons, you have come to be and are associates of Peter, John, and all the apostles. You help in the apostolic ministry and share in its proclamation. As the apostles, you ought to feel impelled to proclaim the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in word and works. Also you ought to experience the urgency to do good, to be of service in the name of Jesus crucified and risen, and the urgency to carry the Word of God to the life of his holy people.”

My brothers – Carl, Paul, Herbert, Andrew, Maxime, Michael, Leonard, Ronald, John, James and Robert – 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 ordination because you are perfect.  …  None of us are.  …  Like the disciples, 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 be agents of the New Evangelization and proclaim Christ to the world.  …  However, in receiving the Gospel of Christ, remember that it is his Gospel that you preach, not yours.  As ministers of the Church, you must understand that it is the truth that judges events – not vice versa.  By your faithful service to the Gospel in its integrity – without compromise, without 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.  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.  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.  You are to serve the poor and needy, imitating the Lord who washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper.

Pope Francis, in the recently published work referenced just a moment ago, offers a passionate plea on behalf of the poor.  “The diakonia of the church – of which the ministerial diaconate is sign and instrument – has its heart beating in the Eucharistic Ministry and is made real in the first place in the service of the poor who carry in themselves the face of Christ who suffers. The deacon Lawrence, who was the administrator of the diocese of Rome, when the Emperor asked him to bring the treasures of the diocese to pay something to the emperor and save himself, showed him the poor. The poor are the riches of the Church.  …  If your heart is poor and not attached to money, it will always be a heart at the service of others. Poverty is this type of detachment in order to serve those in need, to serve others.  …  Therefore, a poor Church for the poor.”  …  My brothers, your ministry, 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.  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.