Diaconate ordination: Promises to keep

We are grateful to God for the safety we experienced this week as we escaped the fierce effects of Hurricane Dorian. We pray in a very special way today for all those so tragically affected by the storm which directly hit the Bahamas. We are all pleased to be present here this morning for the ordination of five men to the Office of Deacon for the Diocese of Palm Beach. Our ordinandi — Andre, Michael, Charles, Vincent and Edwin — with their wives and families, have discerned the Lord’s call to them in their lives and, in response to that call, have prepared very diligently over the past years to take up now their office of service to the Church. They have grown, through study, in the knowledge of their faith and, through prayer, in their relationship to the Lord. While they will still continue to grow, today the Church formally calls them to be public ministers through the conferral of holy orders. I wish to thank these men and all of my brother deacons for their willingness to follow the Lord’s call to them and for their service to our Diocese. I also thank Father Bob Pope and all those in our diaconate program at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary for the outstanding formation they have given these men. We are deeply grateful to their wives and families for all the assistance they have afforded in their preparation and for the continued support they will offer them in their ministry.

The reading we heard from the Acts of the Apostles today is the account of the foundation of the office of deacon within the Church. The apostles chose seven men to assist them in their ministry so they could better concentrate on the specific ministry which the Lord had entrusted to them. Collaboration in apostolic service was the mission entrusted to the first deacons through the laying on of hands by the apostles. This will be the same office handed on to our new deacons today through the same laying on of hands. They will become collaborators with the bishop and priests in proclaiming the Gospel. The bishop, priests and deacons are all called in holy orders to specific ministries but collaborate in the one ministry of Jesus Christ. In this regard, St. Ignatius of Antioch expressed the ministry of the deacon beautifully when he said, “The office of deacon is nothing other than the ministry of Jesus Christ.”

My brothers, before ordaining you today I will ask you a number of questions in the presence of this community through which you will commit yourselves to the service as a deacon. I would like to reflect briefly with you on three of these questions which are essential to your service and the joy that service will bring to you as well as to the Church. They are also essential to the spirit of cooperation and fraternity which you share with all those who are collaborators in apostolic ministry through holy orders.

The first question has to do with what is essential to your ministry and, indeed, to all of us no matter what our vocation in life may be. It has to do with our fundamental relationship to God which is the very reason for our existence. That relationship grows and takes shape through our prayer and conversation with the Lord. I will ask you, “Do you resolve to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life and, in keeping with the spirit and what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours with and for the people of God and indeed for the whole world?” You will find that people will continually ask you to pray for them because of the unique role you have in the Church. As a public person in the Church, you are seen as one who grows in union with the Lord through a personal relationship with him. That relationship is mirrored in the liturgical life of the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours represents a formal prayer for the Church and its members and should flow from a relationship with God that goes beyond words. What is lacking in our society today is the belief that God relates personally to each and every one of us in that relationship as the center of who we are. It is only prayer, no matter how difficult it may be at times, that deepens this relationship, and is at the core of what people expect of us. The essential foundation of your ministry is prayer and we must never grow discouraged in attending to it. There is a wonderful story in this regard of a grandfather babysitting his granddaughter for an evening. The grandfather passed by her room while she was kneeling to say her prayers and heard her reverently reciting the alphabet. Surprised, he paused at the door and asked her, “What are you doing? I thought you were going to pray.” The little girl responded, “I was saying my prayers and I couldn’t remember the words, so I’m just saying all the letters. God will put them together for me. He knows what I’m thinking.” Simple, but profound.

The second question is related to the first in regard to what is essential to your prayer as carried out in your ministry. I will ask you, “Do you resolve to conform your way of life always to the example of Christ, of whose body and blood you are ministers at the altar?” Your ministry at the altar in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is directly related to the body and blood of the Lord and your personal relationship to it. You are not ministers at the altar for the sake of appearance but for the sake of witness to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Your witness at the altar is a witness of faith in that you truly believe that Christ becomes present in the Eucharist as our food for life and remains present with us in the Blessed Sacrament. Your service at the altar is a service directly to Christ. An alarming recent Pew Research Study discovered that 31% of U.S. Catholics surveyed do not believe the Church’s teaching about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The majority of those surveyed believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist is symbolic of Christ. If the research is true, it is obvious that all of us have a great deal of teaching to do. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a defining element of what the Church is all about. There is no Catholic Church without what Christ has given us in His Real Presence in the Eucharist. This is very evident in His unwillingness to change anything about what He taught on the Eucharist and let those who did not believe in it walk away.

As deacons, you will be witnesses of this presence at the altar as you assist the priest in the ministry of the Eucharist. You are ordinary ministers of the Eucharist and your very presence at the altar is a witness to what we believe in the Eucharist. As teachers and preachers, it will be essential for you to emphasize what the Church believes in regard to Christ’s Real Presence. As men of prayer, you must continue to grow in your relationship with the Lord through His presence in the Eucharist as an intimate part of His giving of himself to you and to the Church. One of the most powerful witnesses to the reality of the Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist occurred this year in the tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during Holy Week. The French priest who was the chaplain to the Paris Fire Department risked his life to enter the burning cathedral to save the relic of the Crown of Thorns enshrined there but first to ensure the safety of the Blessed Sacrament. The priest chaplain’s strong faith in the reality of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist is testimony to the tremendous treasure we possess in the Blessed Sacrament. His courageous and successful efforts to save the Blessed Sacrament during the raging fire reminds us of what is the center of our faith in the Lord’s giving of Himself to us in a manner in which He took our humanity to Himself and even left us the gift of His Body and Blood to be eaten and adored in the Eucharist so we might share in His divinity.

The final question I would like to reflect upon with you today is your promise of obedience. I will ask you, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?” This is a very significant promise you make today, not in regard to me personally, but in regard to the Church. I have no doubt that your wives will testify that there is nothing more to speak about here since you are the most respectful and obedient of husbands! Ecclesial obedience, like the obedience of marriage, means that we are willing to put ourselves aside in order to listen to the needs of others before our own. In fact, obedience means “to listen.” We live in a culture today where listening to others is very difficult to do as everyone wants to place their opinion before that of others. Real obedience is an openness to the Lord and a listening to the Lord in prayer and before him in the Eucharist. Obedience brings a great freedom – the freedom of the Lord.

As we continue with this Rite of Ordination, we again all do so with great joy. We are blessed to have you, my brothers to be ordained, with all of your various backgrounds, families and gifts, as those who will serve, as Jesus Christ present among us, the Diocese of Palm Beach in your parishes and in many other ministries. May your prayer, your witness to the Eucharist and your putting yourselves aside to listen to others, be a source of great joy for you in your new ministry. You will be a witness to all of us as we are called in this way. May the Lord continue to bless you abundantly.