Given at the Diaconal Ordinations of those men preparing to become priests, on 11th June 2022 at Westminster Cathedral.
Mark, Marco, Domagoj, Juan, and Francis, as the Church prepares to ordain you it is important that we acknowledge first of all that it is the action of God and his choice of you that has brought us here. No doubt you will have noticed the wonderful parallel between what we are doing now and the events recorded in the first reading. The Church assembles to appoint and send messengers. Today we will appoint and send you.
In the Church at Antioch where the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ there were also five men. We know their names, though Luke the evangelist wants us to know that one of them, called Manaen, had ’been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch’. Why does he wish us know that? Perhaps he wanted to make the point that even though Manaen had been exposed to the same influences, the same teaching, had the same background as Herod, he was now different, now a prophet in the Church. The voice of God had somehow touched him, it was stronger and more attractive, and eschewing all that had gone before, he became a leader in the Church.
You too have had many experiences, been exposed to many influences, heard voices calling you, there are so many in world, yet the one that appealed to you most, gained your attention and you followed was the voice of God. It is he who has brought you to this point. We give thanks to him.
As with Barnabas and Saul there will be today a laying on of hands which with the Prayer of Consecration will set these men apart. As Deacons their ministry will be that of Service and Preaching. Those two words, however important and meaningful, do not capture completely the great task to which God has called them.
Tomorrow the whole Church will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, a Feast that speaks of a God who overflows with life and invites us to share his life. The Church as Christ’s Servant continually speaks about this life, abundant life, eternal life, life in all its fullness.
Proclaiming this life giving message is the task of the Deacon. We use words like service and commitment to anchor what is involved. The Deacon’s mission is to keep before our eyes the invitation of Jesus to everyone to come and share in the dynamic of God’s life. They are to let the reality of that life be seen through their own life of faith and service.
Pope Francis pleads with us to carry that message of life to what he calls the existential peripheries, to the places where hope has died, the desolate places which people inhabit not only through living conditions but lifestyle. That is how we in our own day ‘cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils’.
The instruction of Jesus to those he sent was, ‘You received without charge, give without charge’. The service to which our Deacons are called is not one of drudgery and menial tasks but one of generosity born of deep faith that they are indeed God’s servants. The lived out ministry of the Deacon can be compared to the farmer of whom Jesus spoke who went out scattering seed freely and generously not caring where it fell.
St Ignatius of Loyola had a true understanding of what service involves when he ‘Teach us good Lord to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and to ask for no reward save that of knowing that we do your will’. God’s grace is needed for such selfless words to be come totally sincere and genuine.
Our Deacons will promise to pray. They will promise to pray the Divine Office not only for themselves but for the Church and the whole world, another means generous service. It continues the looking outwards which Pope Francis encourages in the Church today. A concern and love for the world.
This theme of service continues throughout this Ordination Ceremony of Deacons, in the Commitment to Celibacy, in the Examination, in the Prayer of Consecration.
Though service can be demanding it is also life giving, which is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity. In the hymn in the Divine Office on the Feast of the Sacred Heart there is a line which says, ‘he binds us with a weightless chain which leaves the willing captive free’. The one who is willing to serve Christ completely, which the Deacon is called to do, discovers a great freedom, not a freedom from, but a freedom for. Living a life dedicated to Christ results in making one, ‘a witness to the Resurrection’.
Following ordination and investiture the Deacon is presented with the Book of the Gospels with the words ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach’. The saving word of Christ is what they are to proclaim. The letter to the Hebrews says that that word of God can find its way into the deepest and most secret part of us and transform us.
Therefore the Deacon needs to be familiar with scripture. A Deacon must assiduously search for language which speaks to today’s world in a creative way and to seek means of applying those words, conscious of the reality of people’s lives. In so doing they bring much needed hope, understanding and life.
The ministry of a Deacon is challenging but it is a great adventure, a journey of discovery. Making God’s love and concern a known reality is blessed vocation.
At the beginning of our Mass today we sang words written by St John Henry Newman. He confidently and in faith wrote of God, ‘In all his words most wonderful, most sure in all his ways’. God knows what he is doing, we trust him, we believe he is calling these five men, and so with confidence we ordain them for service in the Church.
We thank God for calling of Mark, Marco, Domagoj, Juan and Francis and we thank them for their generous response, ‘Here I am, I am present’.