Saturday, May 10 was a joyous day for our diocese. I ordained nine men to the permanent diaconate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The following is the homily I preached on that occasion. Please join me in praying for our permanent deacons. May they faithfully minister to the people of our diocese.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
During these days following the resurrection of the Lord, the Paschal Mystery which we are celebrating renews in a special way the bonds of faith, hope and love which unite us as members of the Church. Christ’s passing from this world to the Father established a communion between God and humanity, as well as a communion among us, which can never be broken. This communion with God and among ourselves is strengthened by the Eucharist which we are now celebrating.
It is clear from Sacred Scripture that when we share our faith, and when we journey together towards the fulfillment of our hope, the mutual support which we experience enables us to live the Christian life with a greater sense of peace. In service to that communion, we are about to ordain nine men to the sacred diaconate.
The selections from Sacred Scripture, chosen for this liturgy by these men, give us an indication of the qualities which they wish to convey in their diaconal ministry. They wish to be bearers of the good news as described by the prophet Isaiah, bringing the oil of gladness to the lowly and the brokenhearted. They desire, like the seven original deacons in the Acts of the Apostles, to collaborate with other ordained ministers so the needs of our brothers and sisters can be met. The touching description of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples puts in bold relief their willingness to serve as the master served, stooping to embrace ordinary and common people.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis, from the first moment of his election, shows us more by deeds than words the important role of a deacon in the life of the Church. Upon his election, he chose the name of a deacon as his name. More than taking the name of a deacon, however, Francis has lived his papacy first and foremost as a deacon, a servant to others.
Watch what he does. He greets the outcasts, embraces the forgotten, blesses refugees, washes the feet of those in prison. No one goes unnoticed by Pope Francis. Dear brothers aspiring to the diaconate, Francis teaches by everything he does. Watch him. Listen and learn from him. Follow his example. Share his love, his joy, his outreach, his compassion and his hope. See what he is doing. Go forth and do likewise.
The men, who will shortly be ordained, heard God calling them to the sacred ministry. With the love and prayerful support of their families, and especially their wives, they have come to this moment when they will respond freely to the initiative of God and accept a sacramental share in Christ’s ministry. Through the ancient rite of the laying on of hands in prayer described in today’s reading from Acts, a successor of those same apostles will confirm this decision with God’s irrevocable gift of sacred ordination.
My dear brothers, henceforth every aspect of your lives must be motivated by one force: sincere love for God and His people. This is the same love which moved our Lord to wash the feet of His disciples and to offer His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins which alienated us from Him and from each other. It is the same love which Jesus mysteriously shares with us in this Eucharist.
In addition to your service to God’s people, you must remember your sacramental responsibilities. As deacons, you will have a special relationship to the liturgy, where the Paschal Mystery of Christ is actualized for the sanctification of His people. As you preside at the public acts of worship entrusted to you, inspire the faithful to imitate in their lives the mystery which is celebrated.
You are also to dedicate yourselves tirelessly to the Ministry of the Word. You cannot give to others what you do not have. You must love God’s Word and cherish it before you can authentically proclaim it to others. “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. . . . We have been entrusted with a treasure. There is nothing more precious that we can give to others” (The Joy of the Gospel, 264).
In the Ministry of the Word, you must remain faithful to the tradition which we have received from the apostles, and which is authentically proposed by the magisterium of the Church. According to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council, all clergy exist for one reason: to build up the Body of Christ (Cf. 18). As deacons, your task is to build up the Body, not acting in a manner which derides or tears down the Body of Christ.
Keep in mind that, as members of the clergy, you are always a public person. We represent Christ and we also represent the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas famously taught that the cleric acts “in persona Christ and in nomine ecclesiae” (in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church). And always remember, as Pope Francis reminds us in his recent apostolic exhortation, the joy of the Gospel is for all people. No one can be excluded (Cf. The Joy of the Gospel, 23).
Finally, my brothers, although your relationship and ministry to your family must be primary, be conscious also of the special relationship which you hereby establish with the Church, and especially with your Bishop and our Holy Father. Do all things in communion with them. Never forget your responsibility to keep me informed of decisions which may affect your relationship to the diocese. In turn, I assure you that you are in my heart and in my prayers. I not only welcome but rely upon your collaboration in serving the members of Christ’s Body throughout our diocese.
As you pray for the Church, as well as for yourself, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours, you will imitate an essential aspect of the service of love which Jesus Christ fulfilled on our behalf. By so doing, you will live in God and God will live in you.
Bishop Walter Foery, who served this diocese as bishop for 33 years, had as his motto, “Stand firm in the faith!” Dear brothers, follow that advice: be authentic in your life and ministry; live a modest life; serve everyone; be accessible in parishes; support families; remember the poor and abandoned; inspire the young by the witness of your life. “Go forth” and be, in the words of Pope Francis, “missionary disciples” who are willing to leave their comfort zone “in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (The Joy of the Gospel, 20).
If you live by faith, the Holy Spirit will suggest to you what you must say and how you must serve. You will always be able to count on the help of Mary who goes before the Church in faith. I exhort you to make her, the star of the new evangelization, your favorite companion on the journey. She will help you “to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world” (The Joy of the Gospel, 288).
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.