Given at Westminster Cathedral on 13 June 2015 at the ordination to the diaconate of Christian de Lisle, Daniel Palmer, Damian Ryan, Tony Thomas and Chinedu Udo.
My dear brothers,
Christian, Daniel, Damian, Tony and Chinedu,
In the opening hymn we sang, ‘Thy hand O God has guided Thy flock from age to age’. We rejoice today in the way in which the Lord has been guiding you through your lives to this point when you commit yourselves to his service in a new and definite way as deacons. The Lord will continue to guide you as you become heralds of the gospel, inviting people to recognise and accept the mercy of God, to allow themselves to be drawn into his friendship and to walk more closely in his ways through your preaching and the celebration of baptisms, marriages and funerals. You are called to offer people a message of hope and the promise of God’s steadfast love.
The Holy Spirit has been leading you over the years of discernment and formation to follow Christ the Good Shepherd and now you are to be sent out to announce that, ‘the Kingdom of God is very near to you’. This kingdom is built on justice, truth and love. The words of Jesus, ‘Peace to this house’, invite you to be servants of peace who are sent to bring the gift of peace to those you meet and to help the ministry of the Lord’s work in establishing the peace of his kingdom. The dismissal from the Mass, properly the words of the deacon, send the people nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament into the world to bring the gifts they have received into their work of service and love. They remind us that the deacon is a bridge between the altar, the Church and the world. As ‘bridge-builders’ you will help people to relate their lives and their faith in Jesus Christ.
As you proclaim the gospel, so you are called to be a messenger of joy. The prophet Isaiah says that the Lord’s people will be famous throughout the nations and that all who see them will admit that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed. Recognising your dependence on Christ who invites you to share in this office, you can sing out the words from Isaiah, ‘I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation.’ These words are echoed in Mary’s Magnificat which you will pray each day. I hope that your evening prayer will be an opportunity to thank the Father for the gifts and blessings of the day as well as the prayer of petition offered with Christ and asking the intercession of Mary for those you have met during the day. This joy is to borne in your faces because joy is attractive and infectious and will make people think about how you find meaning in your lives.
As a minister of the chalice you will bear in your hands the blood of Christ which is poured out through the suffering of his Passion and Death so that sins may be forgiven. You are invited to share in his suffering and also be close to the suffering of the people whom you serve. As you begin to know them and they grow in trust of you, they will share the secrets of their hearts and reveal the suffering and pain that they carry within their lives and their families. The gospel today tells us that we must stay with people long enough so that they have time to tell their story. It invites us to spend time in the houses of our people, accepting a meal, and finding those opportunities to give a word of encouragement, a word of hope, or help them to grow in their friendship with Jesus Christ. The work of evangelisation requires time and patience as well as recognising that the particular situation in which you find yourself is part of the whole through which the Holy Spirit is at work. Don’t worry about success but rather, just as the seeds spring up in a garden or the season of spring brings forth new life, trust in the power of God.
Today you commit yourselves to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God. It is a calling to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ and to speak ever more deeply ‘heart to heart’ with him. Through your prayer you will deepen this relationship that will sustain and strengthen you. Consecrate yourself to him; in times of struggle seek refuge in him. Such a commitment will require sacrifice and perseverance. At times you will feel keenly the pain and cost of discipleship in the renunciation of marriage and one’s own family. This choice enables you to serve Christ and his people. Many people will not understand this choice but its meaning is better understood when you reveal lives of simplicity and service focused on Christ. St. Luke encourages a growth in simplicity and invites you to live as good stewards and remember that as celibate priests you have relatively few material needs. This calling invites you to walk lightly and humbly upon the earth, being sparing in the ownership and possession of goods, as well as being grateful to God for the gifts given to you. You are called to witness to the love of Christ as the heart of your life and so point others to the fact that their hearts too are restless until they rest in God.
I know that you look forward, God willing, to ordination as priests next year. Whilst you will exercise your ministry as deacons this year, it will always be a reminder that you are always a deacon and so called to service and to stay close to the chalice of suffering in the lives of your people. Pray fervently for them, offering them to the Lord through the Liturgy of the Hours, and always encourage one another. You are sent out to glorify the Lord by your lives and will bring the hope of the gospel to those you meet.