Editor’s note: On June 19 and 20, Bishop Lucia ordained three diocesan seminarians — Brendan Foley, Dennis Walker, and John Leo Oduor — to the transitional diaconate. An adapted version of the homily he delivered on those occasions appears below.
St. John Vianney once said that, “The heart of the Priesthood is the heart of Christ.” Well, if I might broaden that definition a bit, I would say that the heart of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the heart of Christ. Even more, brothers and sisters, one could liken the three levels or degrees of Holy Orders to the communion of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — who reveal God’s presence with us today. Isn’t that then what a sacrament is all about — an outward sign, a living sign, of God’s presence in the world today?
My brother, today you have come to this house of God to offer yourself as a sacrament for the Church through the gift of Holy Orders. In imitation of Christ himself you lay down your life in diaconal service to the People of God to be a much-needed living sign of God’s presence in the world today.
It is most appropriate that you do so on these days in which we call to mind the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today’s solemnity commemorates and celebrates the mercy of God, often represented graphically by the heart. Tomorrow’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of our mother Mary illustrates for all of us, no matter our vocation in life, the call to radiate — to magnify — the love of God to our neighbor, especially to God’s little ones.
In this particular moment of human history, it is most important for you, as well as all of us, to recall that the message of Jesus appealed to those who were on the outskirts of society and religious life of his day. This was a message of good news to those who had been locked out from the benefits of society: laborers who were cheated wages; slaves who by definition did not enjoy freedom; women who were thought of as mere property and had no rights; along with all those burdened because systemic oppression kept them away from power, wealth, privilege, and status.
My brother, you must be a bearer of the Good News of Jesus Christ today not merely by preaching the message, but even more important by making a sermon of it by the life you lead. Through your own Gospel living, as a disciple of Jesus called to imitate his servanthood, you are called to place your lot with the “little ones” and accompany them on their way. Our leader, our master, is meek and humble and invites us to be the same. As Pope Francis has instructed the ordained of the Church of Rome using the image of the Church as a field hospital: get out from your rectories and go and meet people where they are at!
So sisters and brothers, what does it mean to be a deacon? What is this man getting himself into, so to speak? (Note: Here follows the official instruction of the ordination rite.)
Beloved brothers and sisters: since this our son, who is your relative and friend, is now to be advanced to the Order of Deacons, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which he is about to be raised.
Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he will help the bishop and his priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing himself to be a servant to all. As a minister of the altar, he will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful.
Furthermore, it will be his duty, at the bishop’s direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. He will preside over public prayer, administer baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.
Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the apostles and bound more closely to the service of the altar, he will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, he is to go about all these duties in such a way that you will recognize him as a disciple of him who came not to be served, but to serve.
Now, dear son, you are to be raised to the Order of the Diaconate. The Lord has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do.
As a deacon, that is, as a minister of Jesus Christ, who came among his disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart: serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord. Since no one can serve two masters, look upon all defilement and avarice as serving false gods.
Since, by your own free choice, you present yourself for the Order of the Diaconate, you should be a man of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, as were those once chosen by the apostles for the ministry of charity.
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 the service of God and the human family, and minister more effectively in the work of spiritual rebirth.
Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourself chaste and beyond reproach before God and the human family, as is proper for a minister of Christ and of a steward of God’s mysteries. Never allow yourself to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. Now you are not only a hearer of this Gospel but also its minister. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express by your actions the word of God which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God.
My brother, as you contemplate Jesus’ Sacred Heart and see it magnified in the life of our mother Mary, remember that his love for you isn’t meant to end with you. Through the Holy Spirit, he wants to fan the flames of his love so that you can share it with everyone you encounter. Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord, you will be able to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”