Given at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 19 July 2014
As we begin this moment of ordination, let me offer some words of thanks. I thank all of you present who have been contributing to the formation of our new deacons. I thank Deacon Anthony Clark, the Director of our Deaconate Programme and Mgr Martin Hayes, his predecessor in that post. I thank the formation team at Wonersh and all of you, friends and parishioners, who have encouraged these men. Of course, I give very special thanks to their wives and families for the love, support and encouragement which you most evidently have given. Thank you all very much.
To be a deacon is to be called to exercise a ministry in the name of the Church, a ministry of service and proclamation.
This is what we have just heard in the readings chosen for this Mass. In the first reading, we heard of the Tribe of Levi, chosen for service in the Temple. Indeed, the prayer of ordination itself places the Tribe of Levi as fore-runners of those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, of which the deaconate is, of course, a part.
And in the Gospel we heard of Jesus' own ministry: 'to proclaim the true faith to the nations.'
And to these two elements we add a third: the service of the poor, for in Jesus this becomes a hallmark of our faith.
There are two people to whom I want to turn for help in this reflection on this ordination. And they are both called Francis.
The first is Pope Francis. Central to his thinking, to what he wants us to grasp, is that by baptism we are all called to be missionary disciples of Jesus. This is a rich and important truth. We are all called to share in the mission of Jesus, his being sent out, by his Heavenly Father, to bring his peace, his redeeming word, his love to this world. We are also called to be his disciples, living close to him always. And we cannot be one without the other. We cannot be his disciples and not be missionary. We cannot be missionary without being his disciples. They are inseparable.
Here is the Pope's latest tweet: 'The Church exists so that every man and woman may encounter Jesus.'
The missionary disciples, he says:
1) Always gives thanks to God;
2) Is always full of joy because they know Jesus;
3) Faces squarely the realities of the day with our sinfulness, our pain, our joys and happiness;
4) Is in touch with the struggles of humanity, whether they are economic, political, social or family centred; 5) Proclaims the Good News of life as a gift of God, from its first moments to its natural end;
6) Proclaims the Good News of the family, as the place where new life is born, nurtured and brought to maturity;
7) Proclaims the Good News of human creativity, in work, in art, in charity;
8) Lives their discipleship in the community of the Church, which for us is centred on the parish;
9) Is thereby enlivened by the Holy Spirit through prayer and the sacraments.
This is the first reality of Christian living. It is from this first reality that all other vocations emerge, not least that of Holy Orders, of bishop, priest and deacon.
And it is this reality, of the Church as a community of missionary disciples, that those in Holy Orders are to serve -and not the other way round!
Pope Francis says that the deacon is to be an apostle in his family, in his employment, in his community and on the new frontiers of our mission in the world today. He is to be an apostle of service, proclamation and charity, working with his fellow deacons, in close unity with the priests and in faithful communion with his bishop.
This is the path on which you, Justin, Ian and Stephen, set out today, with much joy and with the prayers and love of us all.
And now my second Francis - Saint Francis of Assisi.
St Francis was a deacon, never a priest, and he is a fine example for our new deacons today. He had such a rich and irresistible joy in the Lord. He showed such a radical sense of service. He lived a life of total dependence on God. He is an inspiration for us all.
In one of his letters to the faithful he spoke movingly of our service of the Lord, in a manner which has such resonance and appeal. This is what he wrote:
'The Spirit of the Lord will rest on you and you will have His house and His dwelling within you; for you are sons of the celestial Father whose work you do and you are the spouses, the brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.'
'We are spouses when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are brothers for him when we do the will of our Father who is in heaven; mothers when we carry Him in our hearts and in our body by divine love and by a pure and sincere conscience, and when we give birth to Him by holy works which must be an enlightening example for others.'
Remarkable words, from one holy deacon to three deacons to-be. With these words, then, let us proceed with this ordination.