Given at the Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of Anuranjan Ekka and George Stephen Thayriam at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street on 10th February 2018.
My brothers, Anuranjan and George, the Holy Spirit has led you to this day when you will commit yourselves to the service of the diaconate in the Church. Guided by the hand of the Lord and his grace, and assisted by the Society of Jesus, you now commit yourselves to the next stage of your calling as a servant of Christ who emptied himself and became a slave, even unto death, death on a cross. Through his suffering and service, God raised him high and gave him a name which is above all other names.
As you accept and enter into the order of deacons, you become more fully the servant of Christ to minister faithfully to those in your care; by your preaching and teaching, your service at the altar and in the way you reach out to the poor and needy in works of charity. As we hear in the prayer of consecration: you are called to ‘excel in every virtue, in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline and in holiness of life’. The Scriptures remind us that God’s call is not of our own making but dependent upon the grace of God who transforms those who are weak and lifts them up through his grace to witness faithfully to Christ the Servant.
The prostration which you will make during the invocation of the saints is a symbol of submission to Christ and your willingness to follow him ever more closely and be more deeply configured to him, even unto the cross. As St Ignatius reminds you in the exercises of the third humility; you are called to pray: ‘in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ the Lord. I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honours; and a desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, who first was held as such, rather than wise and prudent in this world.’ (SE 167).
The call of the prophet Isaiah tells us that his lips were touched, ‘kissed’, with a ‘live coal’ which must have produced a searing pain; the lips being so tender and an intimate part of the person. This action of God was both painful and transforming. His heart was purified and he heard the voice of God saying ‘your guilt has been removed and your sin forgiven’. What wondrous news! He responded, ‘Here I am, send me’.
When Peter put out into deep water in the early hours of the morning by the Sea of Galilee, he would not have expected to catch fish. It is not the time when wise men catch fish! In the absurdity of taking this risk, Christ transformed the event so he netted a huge catch and was then called by Jesus; ‘Do not be afraid, from now on it is men you will catch’ (Luke 5: 10). Sometimes your ministry as deacons will require the risk of what may seem absurd and yet it is in the losing of life that you will find life. In the commitment to celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom and the renunciation that accompanies it, you will find life in serving the Lord. Sometimes you will be reminded of the searing pain of the first call and in the moments of loneliness, will be invited again to say, ‘Here, I am Lord, I come to do your will.’
Like Isaiah and Simon Peter, you will know in your ministry as deacons that you need God’s mercy and that you are sinful men. This is not a cause for despair or a reason for turning away but rather the moment of grace to have faith in the forgiveness of God.
George and Anuranjan, both of you are inspired by the great Jesuit missionaries to India.
George, you are inspired by the life of the Portuguese Jesuit St Joao de Brito, better known as ‘Arul Anandar’ (or the John the Baptist of India) who was martyred in Oriyur in Tamil Nadu, the town where you went to school. There John de Britto was beheaded on 4th February 1693 and the sand dune is said to have turned red, stained by the blood of the saint. His work at the Madurai Mission was a bold attempt to establish an Indian Catholic Church that was relatively free of European cultural domination. He found ways to be close to God’s holy people by learning their languages, becoming an ascetic, and having a freedom for his ministry by becoming a pandaraswami, since they were permitted to approach individuals of all castes. He sought to teach the Catholic faith in categories and concepts that would make sense to the people he taught. His life is an example for your service as a deacon.
Anuranjan, you have studied the life of St Francis Xavier for your thesis and again understood better his mission and zeal for the Gospel. When he arrived in Goa in May 1542, he travelled to south east India and worked for three years among the pearl-fishers there. He was close to those in the greatest need when he visited the sick in the hospitals and preached in the streets by ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. He used the architecture and art of the church to explain the Christian faith to them and found ways to communicate in a new culture the truths of the faith. When he sailed to Japan, he first learnt Japanese and translated some basic documents about the faith into local dialects. He reminds us of the missionary journey to the peripheries wherever people are marginalised, and live and die outside the gates of the town.
Your service as deacons calls you to go beyond the gates and find the people who huddle there in their poverty. What you have received, you are called to hand onto others:
‘Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.’