Diaconate homily

Cunningham formal robes

Cunningham formal robes

Saturday, May 18 was a joyous and blessed day for me and for our diocese. I ordained Rev. Mr. Jason Hage to the order of deacon at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. Please join me in prayer for Jason as he completes his formation leading to priestly ordination. Remember also all our seminarians who are studying for the priesthood for our diocese.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
   Jesus has been raised from the dead! For 50 days we have proclaimed this glorious message. The death and resurrection of Jesus is truly the “good news” which gives meaning to our lives. In the Resurrection of the Lord, we have the basis for our faith.

   During the Easter season at each Mass we have prayed, “overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise” (Easter Preface). Because of this extraordinary event, so central to our life and faith, we praise the Father “with greater joy than ever.” Two thousand years after the event we are the witnesses to the Paschal Mystery present in the Church’s proclamation in Word and Sacrament.

   Yes, this is truly “good news” which we have received. Likewise, it is the “good news” which we must proclaim. The commission to proclaim God’s word cannot be taken lightly. It is an awesome responsibility. Jeremiah, in our first reading, knew this. When he is called to be a prophet, to speak God’s word, he offers an excuse, “I know not how to speak; I am too young” (Jer 1: 6). God, however, assures Jeremiah, “have no fear because I am with you” (Jer 1:8).

   We hold God’s word as a treasure, St. Paul tells us in the second reading. This word, the Gospel, the very person of Christ Himself, dwells in our hearts. We bring the light of this knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus to others when we proclaim the good news.

   Like Jeremiah we need divine assistance to proclaim God’s word. How vital it is, as the Gospel reminds us, to remain in God’s love and to remember that God chooses us, commissions us to speak His word. We proclaim His word especially by the way we conduct ourselves. By our lives, we must show that Christ is alive, that His teachings are true and that, in fact, He makes a difference in our lives. Proclaiming the Good News is the Church’s mission. It is our mission.

   This Eucharist has a unique meaning because of the share in the sacrament of orders which we are about to confer on our brother, Jason. The apostles chose deacons to be special ministers of charity. Today, in a rite which comes to us from my predecessors in the apostolic college, I grant this chosen man a special gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of my hands. Thus, Jason is chosen to be a minister of God’s love. As our brother he strives to become a life-giving sign of the presence of Jesus, the servant in our midst. May he experience our prayerful support in faith, hope and love.

   My dear brother, the proclamation of the Gospel, which you must carry on in the name of Christ and His Church, must become evident in every aspect of your diaconate ministry. Through your sacred ministry, you become “a distributor of God’s manifold grace.” Be generous in your service.

   When you exercise the ministry of the Word, be faithful to the teaching of the apostles, as it has been handed over to us in the Church. The people have a right to hear God’s Word — His message — and not your own. “For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (1Cor 4:5).

   In your liturgical ministry, you will proclaim Christ’s saving presence especially in the celebration of Baptism and the distribution to the faithful of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body and Blood. It will be your duty also, at the Bishop’s direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. You will preside over public prayer, bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying and conduct funeral rites. As you fulfill these responsibilities you will witness to the Church’s belief in Christ, “who lives to make intercession for us.”

   Your service of charity is intertwined inextricably with the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, the service of charity, the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments are the constitutive elements of the Church. Hereafter, they are to be part of your daily life. As a minister of charity, be a servant of love. Whatever you do on behalf of others — whether caring for the sick or elderly, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, teaching the ignorant — do it always as the apostle Paul tells us: “with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly.” Let faith reveal to you the very person of Christ in every person who asks for your assistance.

   As you pray with and for the Church, particularly in the Liturgy of the Hours, may you come to trust more and more in the strength which God provides for you through this prayer that sanctifies the hours of the day.

   By your own free choice, you present yourself for the order of Deacon. Know that 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 this service of God and His people, and minister more effectively in the work of spiritual rebirth. Firmly rooted and grounded in the faith, you are to show yourself chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for a minister of Christ and the steward of God’s mysteries.

   In a few moments, you will make a promise of obedience and respect to me and my successors, with this entire community as witnesses. This promise must become manifest in the way in which you remain aware of your unique bond to the Diocese of Syracuse.

   Jason, remember you did not choose Christ. It is Christ who has mysteriously chosen you and who has been generous in bestowing special graces on you. Through prayer and continuous study, grow in the knowledge of Him whom you serve. A deeply spiritual life is essential if you are to be a true servant of the Lord and His people.

   As you strive to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, be comforted by the prayerful support of your Bishop, by the priests and deacons of our beloved diocese, by the seminarians and consecrated religious who journey with you and by your family and friends — those gathered here and those unable to be with us.

   With affectionate loyalty and loving obedience, be attentive to the teachings and directives of our Holy Father and of your Bishop. To them, the fullness of the pastoral office has been entrusted. By the sacramental gift which you are about to receive, you become “a public person,” a representative of the Church in a new way. Others will look to you for an example which encourages and supports them in the faith. Fulfill all of your tasks responsibly and with deep humility in imitation of Jesus, the servant of God.

   Before all others, know of the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother. When Mary met her cousin Elizabeth she honestly and humbly declared, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Through Our Lady’s prayers and inspired by the example of her life, may you make her words your own this day and always.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.


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