Deacon and Vocation
Diaconate Ordination – May 21, 2022 (Saint Matthew Cathedral, SB)
A vocation, as you know, is a call from the Lord. In the Gospels are preserved the beautiful responses given to the Lord when He called. I think today of Saint Matthew, in whose honor this co-cathedral of our diocese is named. Matthew, a tax collector, when called by Jesus, the Gospel tells us, “left everything, and rose and followed Him.” The two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, all fishermen, were called by Jesus. The Gospels tell us their response: “Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him.” As Christ personally called the apostles, He has called five young men of our diocese to share in the apostolic ministry through the sacrament of Holy Orders: today in the first degree, the order of the diaconate. The Lord has called them to give their lives in His service. Today, He will equip them for their mission as deacons of the Church.
During this Mass, Brian, Robert, David, Jacob, and Ryan will be ordained, consecrated for their mission. They will say “yes” to the Lord’s call. I was a little worried when they chose the call of Jeremiah for the Old Testament reading today. I thought “why didn’t they choose the call of Isaiah?” If you recall, when God called Isaiah, he responded: “Here I am, Lord, send me.” But Jeremiah, as we heard, resisted and tried to excuse himself. He said “Lord, I am too young.” I thought: “I hope none of these men will respond like Jeremiah and try to excuse themselves when I ask them after this homily whether they are resolved to be ordained, and say “not really, Bishop. I’m too young. I’m really not ready.” (Just kidding!) (I know) the reason they chose the call of Jeremiah is because they realize how great the responsibility is that they are assuming and, like Jeremiah, they know their own weaknesses. At the same time, they trust in the words of God’s response to Jeremiah: “Be not afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.” They approach ordination with trust in the Lord’s love and grace.
Jeremiah was ready and capable, just scared. God confirmed his vocation when He put out His hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. My sons, the Lord will confirm your vocation today when I lay my hands on your heads. He will touch your souls with His power and grace. Despite your youth and your weaknesses, He is calling you and will be with you to strengthen and guide you. By the way, Jeremiah went on to become one of the greatest of God’s prophets in history, despite his initial fear. He was faithful in his vocation despite much suffering, during what was probably the worst time in Judah’s history. He was able to do so because the Lord was with him.
Through their years of formation for Holy Orders, Brian, Bobby, David, Jacob, and Ryan have entered more deeply into friendship with Jesus. Because of this, they are ready to promise perpetual celibacy as a sign of the dedication of their lives to Him for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, in service to God and others. They are also ready to promise respect and obedience to me and my successors, a sign of their total commitment to Christ and His Church, to the successors of the apostles chosen by Christ to lead His Church. In ordination, the Spirit of the Lord will descend upon them to help them to keep these promises.
My sons, you have heard the Lord’s call to the priesthood. Why is it necessary, then, to first be ordained deacons? Because the priesthood necessarily includes diaconal life and ministry. Why do we have deacons, including permanent deacons, to begin with? Very simply, because the Son of God became a deacon! Diakonia is a central aspect of the mystery of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said: “I am among you as one who serves.” Through His service, Jesus revealed to us the mystery of God’s love. As deacons, you will represent and accomplish the mission of Christ’s love for the Church. You are called to make present the mystery of the diaconate of Jesus Christ, His love in the Church. To be the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church needs the representative of Jesus the Servant, of Jesus who washed the feet of the disciples, who exercised authority through service, who came not to be served, but to serve. And this is for the rest of your lives. A priest who stops being a deacon is not a good priest. A bishop who does not remain a deacon is not a good bishop. The diaconate is and remains an essential dimension of every clerical ministry.
The service of the word is entrusted to you today. After you are ordained, I will present you with the Book of the Gospels and say these words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Brian, Bobby, David, Jacob, and Ryan, you are called to be evangelists, to offer the people the bread of the word of God, to feed them with the bread that comes from the mouth of God. First, of course, you must be immersed in this word and believe it; indeed, have a love and passion for it. You are being called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus joyfully, in all its simplicity and directness. As deacons, your place in the Church’s liturgy will be primarily the proclamation of the Gospel. This is not just some random assignment. This will be your state in life – to bring people the truth and joy of the Gospel. This is being an evangelist. I pray that you will receive this truth and joy ever more deeply throughout your lives, so that you will be able to bring this truth and joy to others through your preaching and through your witness, living and practicing what you preach. As Pope Benedict XVI once said: “A witness is more than a reporter. The witness vouches for the word with his own life. And so being a witness means not only proclaiming the Gospel with words but putting it into action. That is why the service of charity to our neighbor and works of corporal mercy have from earliest times been the core of the diaconal task.” Charity is the necessary fruit of the Gospel. We cannot credibly proclaim the joy of the Gospel if we do not bring joy through our charity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus prayed that the Father would not take His disciples out of the world, but that He would keep them from the Evil One. He said: “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” He then prayed, “(Father), consecrate them in the truth.” My sons, you will encounter challenges, struggles, and even suffering for standing up for the truth of God’s word because there are so many lies present in the world today. You accept the cross today – it’s not an optional part of the Christian life nor especially of the life of the ordained. You can only bear the cross if you remain in Christ and His love. If you are faithful to prayer, you will have the strength to carry the cross; you will have the inner joy and peace of friendship with Jesus; and your ministry will bear good fruit. You promise today to pray the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully. This is not an additional burden, but a means by which you stay in close contact with the Lord. The distinctive character of our ministerial activity must proceed from the fact that we are men who pray.
We must always remember that, in Jesus Christ, truth and love are one. Truth without love is no truth. Love without truth is empty. In being ordained today, you are being consecrated in the truth that also means being immersed in Jesus’ goodness and love. In becoming one with Christ in His diakonia, you learn also to recognize Him in the suffering and the poor and to encounter Him in your service of charity, in visiting the sick, caring for the poor, consoling the suffering, and accompanying the dying. The Lord wants to make you men of truth and love.
Brian, Bobby, David, Jacob, and Ryan, your ordination is a blessing for our diocese and the whole Church. We pray for you; indeed, the whole Church prays for you, including the Church triumphant in heaven. In a few minutes, you will lie on the floor of this sanctuary, at the feet of Jesus Christ, and we and all the saints will be interceding for you. I think particularly of the saints whose memorial we celebrate today, May 21st: Saint Christopher Magallanes and his companions. 22 of these 25 martyrs during the ruthless persecution of the Church in Mexico in the 1920’s were diocesan priests. Remember that they were once ordained deacons and never stopped being deacons. They were men of truth and love who walked in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. They did not stop courageously exercising their ministry when religious persecution intensified in Mexico. During the Cristero war, though they could have escaped, their commitment to the Lord and the Church was so strong that they decided to stay with their people so that they would not be deprived of the Eucharist, of the Word of God, or of their pastoral care. And, at the supreme moment of their sacrifice, they prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. May these holy martyrs be models of faith and courage for you as deacons and later as priests. Today, on their feast day, we ask these martyrs and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of our continent, to intercede for you, that you will be men of truth and love, joyful evangelists, and faithful servants of the Lord! -- Bishop Kevin Rhoades