Dear brother priests and deacons, Dear brothers soon to be ordained to the sacred ministry, Dear wives of these chosen eight, dear families, Dear friends all in Jesus Christ:
This morning, the Church of Syracuse gathers in joy-filled and grateful prayer as these chosen men — your husbands, your fathers, your friends — are to be advanced to the Order of Deacon. Consider carefully the rank in the Church to which they are about to be raised.
Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they will assist the Bishop and his priests in the ministry of the Word, of the altar, and of charity, showing themselves to be servants of all. As ministers of the Word, they will proclaim the Gospel; as ministers of the altar, they will prepare the sacrifice and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to His faithful people. As collaborators with the Bishop, they will devote themselves to works of charity.
The Church selects these men, called by God, for the role of service. Their service is linked to the servanthood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There are deacons in the Church only because Jesus Christ came to serve and because service is His legacy to the Church.
By their ordination, these men are configured to Christ in His servant role. They are living signs of the servanthood of the Church. In our readings this morning, we return to the source. Eight men of good reputation are chosen to assist the Apostles in meeting the needs of God’s people. Following the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they place themselves in readiness to go where they are needed — they are sent — for in the life of the Church no one takes a mission on his own. This is made clear too in the Gospel. Although you may think otherwise, you have not chosen the ministry — it is the Lord who has chosen you. Today in a very real way these eight are called to share in the work of the Church. In this call, they are supported by loving wives, devoted children and loyal friends. They know the prayerful support and concern of parish priests and parishioners. They pledge to serve them as they offer their promise of obedience to the Bishop.
Following the inspired action of the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, the Church has discovered more and more the richness of the permanent diaconate. Today, as you anticipate the conferral of this sacred order, I invite you to reflect upon two aspects of your life which will evermore become part of who you are: the ministry of the Word and the ministry of charity. And as you reflect upon these two aspects, I hold out to you for emulation two deacons of the early Church.
The ministry of the Word, for deacons, has as its great model St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr. This ministry requires of ordained deacons a constant struggle to study the Word and to live it, at the same time as one proclaims it to others. Meditation, following the style of prayerful reading, is a well-traveled path to understand and live the Word of God and make it one’s own. Your intellectual, theological and pastoral formation is a challenge which does not end today but must continue throughout your life. A qualified and up-to-date ministry of the Word depends on this.
The second deacon whom I hold out to you has been known throughout the history of the Church as a minister of charity. The diaconate has its roots in the early Church’s efforts to organize charitable works. At Rome, in the third century, during a period of great persecution of Christians, the extraordinary figure of St. Lawrence appears. He was archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II and his trustee for the administration of the goods of the community. Our much loved Pope Benedict XVI says regarding St. Lawrence: “His solicitude for the poor, his generous service which he rendered to the Church of Rome in the area of relief and charity, his fidelity to the Pope, from him he was thrust forward to the point of wanting to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic witness of his blood, rendered only a few days later. These are universally recognized facts.” (Homily-Basilica of St. Lawrence, Nov. 30, 2008)
From St. Lawrence we learn that the riches of the Church are the poor. He assisted the poor with great generosity. He is an example for permanent deacons and those who love the Lord. We must love the poor in a preferential way, as did Jesus Christ; to be united with them, to work toward constructing a just, fraternal and peaceful society. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, gives us an updated guide. In this encyclical, the Holy Father affirms a fundamental principle — “charity is the royal road of the social doctrine of the Church” (#2). Deacons must identify themselves in a very special way with charity. The poor must be part of your daily ambiance, and the object of your untiring concern. One could not understand a Deacon who did not personally involve himself in charity and solidarity toward the poor, who today in our troubled economic times are multiplying in number.
In your preaching, keep in mind two venerated and much loved saints. We recall St. Francis of Assisi, who never felt worthy to be a priest. He lived simply and served the poor. He suggested that we preach by the quality of our lives, when he suggested that we preach God everywhere and when necessary use words. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta has told us that one filled with joy preaches without preaching. Imitate their example and make their advice your pattern of living.
In your own lives willingly submit to the teaching authority of the Church. It is through the Church that we have our mission. The message of Christ has been entrusted to the Church. Cherish and love the Church as a mother.
Always give religious assent of intellect and will to the teaching authority of the Holy Father. Pray for him and for your Bishop as they make the Lord’s teaching live.
Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourselves chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for the ministers of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Never allow yourselves to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel.
Let me express anew my gratitude and appreciation to your wives, to your children, to your family members and friends who have supported you and encouraged you on this journey. Never forget the bond of love which binds you to them. By your good example help your family also to always stay close to Christ and His Church.
Finally today, my brothers, in ordaining you to the Order of Deacon, I am not giving you simply a job or even a tenured position of great importance. Neither am I calling you to a position of employment, but rather to a partnership with Jesus Christ in the task of leading others to Him. In choosing you, He has asked you to be His ambassadors. And in choosing to “send you out,” He has not chosen you to live a life retired from the world, but to represent Him in the world. My brothers, in calling you to be his deacons, Jesus has called you, first to come unto Him, and then go out to the world.
That must ever remain the daily pattern and rhythm of your lives. May the satisfaction and joy which comes from serving God’s people as ordained deacons be yours in abundance.
May Mary, Mother of God and the Church, patroness of the diocese and this Cathedral, accompany you on the journey.
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
(If you have an intention for Bishop Cunningham’s prayer list, please forward it to him at:
240 E. Onondaga Street
PO Box 511
Syracuse, N.Y. 13201)