Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Rite of Admission to Candidacy for the Permanent Diaconate
Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary – October 7, 2017
Acts 1:12-14; Luke 1:26-38
On the cover of the program for today’s liturgy, there’s a copy of a 15th century icon from Moscow called “The Mother of God of Tenderness.” In this type of icon, of which there are many examples, Mary listens attentively and sadly while her Son reveals to her his passion and death. The icon captures so well both the role that Mary plays in salvation history as well as the unique ministry in the Church that we celebrate today and to which you, our brothers who will be admitted to Candidacy aspire.
First, a few thoughts about Mary, as we celebrate her today in her title as Our Lady of the Rosary. For all that we have come to attribute to Mary in her many titles, in the devotional life of the Church, and in our personal journeys of faith, the scriptures portray Mary as the ideal disciple, the model listener that is reflected so powerfully in the icon that I referenced a moment ago. Mary hears God’s word and acts on it.
This theme, not unique to Mary but certainly epitomized in her life, is most explicit in Saint Luke’s gospel, from which today’s proclamation is taken. Recall that in Luke’s first two chapters, Mary encounters Gabriel, Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and Jesus himself, each of whom proclaims, in his or her own unique manner, the good news of God’s presence and praise God for his mercy and fidelity. Luke then goes on to tell us that Mary kept all these things in her heart, turning them over and over again. Yet, it’s her response to what she hears from the angel Gabriel that sets her apart as a model of faith and discipleship: “Be it done to me according to your word.”
Later in the same gospel, Luke captures the essence of both Mary’s response to Gabriel and the heart of authentic discipleship. You’re familiar with these words. His mother and brothers came to be with him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He told them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who listen to the word of God and act upon it.” (Luke 8:19-21)
This theme, Mary as the listening disciple, has often been overshadowed by other more exalted Marian titles. But it is an extremely important one. In fact, it lies at the core of New Testament spirituality: all disciples, like Mary, are called to listen to the word of God attentively and act on it.
My brothers, who are to be admitted to Candidacy this afternoon, having listened to the word of God, remember that, like Mary and like the eleven who gathered with her in the upper room to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, you too, are being called to act upon that word today.
Eugene, Joseph, John, Peter, Joseph, Gerard, Luis and Joseph – like the first disciples, you have been chosen by the Lord Jesus through his Church for this role. This means that no one enters into ordained service who has not first been called, chosen and sent. Ordained ministry is not like a career which one self-selects, but a divine vocation and grace to which one strives to be faithful.
With this formal recognition of your Candidacy, you enter into a new and deeper phase of formation to prepare you for the singular seal of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. While all of us as baptized followers of the Lord Jesus are called to make a decision to embrace his life and to make his example of selfless love and service a pattern for our own lives, as those preparing for ordination to the diaconate, this decision speaks to your lives in a unique manner today. … Seek, therefore, to imitate the example of Jesus who washed the feet of his friends in humble service and then commanded them, “As I have done, so you must do.”
Reflect often on the nature of your call. A deacon’s 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. While all three types of service are essential in the life of the Church, know, however, that the ministry for which you are being formed must include some form of direct service to the poor and those who are most in need.
My brothers, as you consider what you are asked to do this day in response to the Lord’s call, the entire Church is especially grateful to your families and particularly to your wives. … In so many respects, my sisters, you have and will continue to assume an integral role in your husbands’ spiritual journey. Your willingness to encourage them to open their hearts 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 – is a blessing not only to your husbands but to the Church of Scranton and especially to the lives of all those who will be touched by their ministry of service. Thank you.
Finally, while we focus at this moment on the calling that God has given to these men preparing for unique service to the Church through ordination to the permanent diaconate, all of us today are reminded through the scriptures and this memorial that we celebrate in honor of Mary, our mother, of the radical decision that we must face each day. … Through baptism, we are all called to discipleship – to remove from our lives everything that can separate us from the things of God or diminish our capacity to serve and to love. … And we are all called to echo Mary’s words to the Lord, spoken through her exchange with the angel Gabriel, “Be it done to me according to your word.”
The call to holiness and mission, my friends, is both a blessing and an incredible challenge. It’s demanding – for me – for these men – and for every one of us. It is, however, the only way in which we will find our peace. And so, my brothers, assured of our resolve to love and pray for you as you continue on your unique journey of faith, when you are called by name, come forward and declare your intention before the Church assembled here.