Diaconal Service: The Heart of Christ
St. John Vianney was known to say that “the heart of the Priesthood is the heart of Christ.” Well, if I might broaden that definition a bit, I would say that the heart of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the heart of Christ. Even more, brothers and sisters, one could liken the three levels or degrees of Holy Orders to the communion of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who reveal God’s presence with us today. Isn’t that then what a Sacrament is all about- an outward sign- a living sign of God’s presence in the world today?
My brother Matthew, today you have come before this community to offer yourself as a Sacrament for the Church through the gift of Holy Orders. In imitation of Christ himself you lay down your life in diaconal service to the People of God to be a much-needed living sign of God’s presence in the world today. The late Pope Benedict XVI in his own reflections on diaconal ministry spoke of it as being an “icon” of Christ, the deacon. He said in a 1977 Ordination homily in Munich: “The greatness of the diaconal ministry that you now receive consists of the fact that it is commissioned to make the deacon Jesus Christ present in the age of the Church… Making the deacon Jesus Christ present means representing and accomplishing the mission of his love in the Church.”
Matthew, it is most appropriate that you accept this commission on these days in which we call to mind the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today’s solemnity commemorates and celebrates the outpouring of the mercy of God, often depicted by a heart with rays stream forth from it. While tomorrow’s memorial of the Immaculate Heart of our mother Mary – Queen of the Apostles – illustrates for all present here, no matter our vocation in life, the call to radiate… to magnify … the love of God to our neighbor… especially to God’s little ones.
In this particular moment of human history, it is most important for you, along with each one of us to recall that the message of Jesus appealed to those who were on the outskirts of society and religious life of his day. This was a message of good news to those who had been locked out from the benefits of society: laborers who were cheated wages; slaves who by definition did not enjoy freedom; women who were thought of as mere property and had no rights; along with all those burdened because systemic oppression kept them away from power, wealth, privilege, and status.
My brother, in your own missionary journey, you are reminded today to be a bearer of the Good News of Jesus Christ not merely by preaching the message, but even more important by making a sermon of it by the life you lead. Through your own gospel living, as a disciple of Jesus called to imitate his servanthood, you are called to place your lot with the “little ones” and accompany them on their way. Our leader, our master, is meek and humble and invites us to be the same. It has been noted that one of the founders of the Maryknoll family, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers often spoke of the Maryknoll Spirit “as being a reflection of the love of God, nothing more nor less than that, a reflection of the love of God.”
So, sisters and brothers, what is the order of deacons all about?
What is Matthew getting himself into, so to speak?
Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will help the Orders of Bishops and Priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing himself to be a servant to all. As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful.
It will be his duty, at his Superior’s direction and in union with the local bishop, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. He will preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless Marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.
Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the Apostles and bound more closely to the service of the altar, he will perform works of charity in such a way that you will recognize him as a disciple of the One who came not to be served, but to serve.
Matthew, the Lord Jesus has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do. As a deacon, that is, as a minister of Jesus Christ, who came among his disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart: serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord. Since no one can serve two masters, look upon all defilement and avarice as serving false gods.
You will exercise your ministry committed to the celibate state: know that celibacy is both a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it, as well as a source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. Compelled by the sincere love of Christ the Lord and living this state with total dedication, you will cling to Christ more easily with an undivided heart. You will free yourself more completely for the service of God and the human family, and minister more effectively in the work of spiritual rebirth.
Matthew, never allow yourself to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. Now you are not only a hearer of this Gospel but also its minister. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express by your actions the word of God which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God.
My brother, as you contemplate Jesus’ Sacred Heart and see it magnified in the life of our mother Mary, remember that his love for you isn’t meant to end with you. Through the Holy Spirit, he wants to fan the flames of his love so that you can share it with everyone you encounter. At the time of the I00th anniversary of the foundation of Maryknoll in 2011, your then Superior General, Fr. Edward Dougherty stated: “We will continue to seek first the kingdom of God, to look to the future with hope-filled anticipation and to keep alive the flame of mission. When we serve others and witness the Gospel, we continue the mission Jesus began.”
And so, Matthew, we pray this day: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto yours.” Amen.
Photos from the Ordination