Editor’s note: This is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily delivered last Saturday morning during the Ordination Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Order of Deacon; 10 permanent deacons were ordained for the diocese. 

Formed … Dedicated … Appointed. These three words, brothers and sisters, set the context for our gathering in this Cathedral church this morning. Today, after a period of being formed, these husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and fellow believers have come to dedicate themselves to the service of the People of God as deacons of the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the first deacons chosen in the Acts of the Apostles, these men come before a successor of the Apostles to receive the laying on of hands and be appointed, that is, ordained to follow Christ in ministerial service. Sisters and brothers, through this ancient rite, as members of the Body of Christ, our brothers are being sent forth with their God-given talents and gifts to be the living Gospel for all people to hear.  Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI was fond of saying, “Christianity is not ‘a new philosophy or a new form of morality,’ but an encounter with the person of Christ, an event that ignites a personal relationship with Him.”

My brothers, through your daily living and service, you extend Christ, the Word of God made flesh, to those you meet along the way.

In truth, your ministry is all about being a manifestation — an icon of Christ the deacon. You are to be a bearer of the Good News of Jesus Christ not merely by preaching the message, but even more importantly by making a sermon of it by the life you lead … by telling the Gospel vividly.  

One afternoon in 1953, reporters and officials gathered at a Chicago train station to await the arrival of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner. He stepped off the train — a giant of a man, six-feet-four, with bushy hair and a large mustache. As cameras flashed, city officials approached with hands outstretched and began telling him how honored they were to meet him. He thanked them politely and then, looking over their heads, asked if he could be excused for a moment.

He walked through the crowd with quick strides until he reached the side of an elderly black woman who was struggling as she tried to carry two large suitcases. He picked up the bags in his big hands and, smiling, escorted the woman to a bus. As he helped her aboard, he wished her a safe journey. Meanwhile, the crowd tagged along behind him. He turned to them and said, “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

The man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the famous missionary-doctor, who had spent his life helping the poorest of the poor in Africa. A member of the reception committee said to one of the reporters: “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.” My brothers, you must now be that sermon walking — inviting the crowd to tag along in following Jesus!

So sisters and brothers, what does it mean to be a deacon?  What are our brothers getting themselves into? The “Instruction” found in the “Ordination of a Deacon” states:

Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they will help the Bishop and his Priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing themselves to be servants to all. As ministers of the altar, they will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the Sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful. … They 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, they will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, they are to go about all these duties in such a way that you will recognize them as disciples of him who came not to be served, but to serve. In particular, sisters and brothers, as friends of the Lord Jesus, they are called to be men of prayer making intercession for those in need.

  Now, dear sons, you are to share in the Order of the Diaconate. The Lord has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do. As we heard in this morning’s Gospel reading: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. … This I command you: love one another” (Jn 15:16-17).

As deacons, that is, as ministers 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 yourselves for the Order of the Diaconate, you should be men of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, as were those once chosen by the Apostles for the ministry of charity. … 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. 

Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord of the Harvest you will be able to hear him say, “Well done, my friend … my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

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