When you preach, preach to yourself, Bishop tells new deacons

Homily
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.

Transitional Diaconate Ordination

May 27, 2017

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Savannah, Georgia

 

Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate

 

Christopher and Patrick, may you accept with joy and gratitude the love the Lord feels for you and pours into your lives today as you are ordained deacons.

Today is a day of joy for you, your parents, your families and friends and for the Diocese of Savannah. I want to especially thank your parents for fostering and encouraging you as you prepare for this day. They have given a great gift to the Church for which we are most grateful. It is a day of rejoicing for me as bishop and for the whole church. We rejoice today that God's grace of Holy Orders will make you servants in the ministry of the church. I welcome Bishop Boland and Father Remek, Monsignor Bosso, Father Melaba, faculty and staff from Saint Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. I welcome my brother priests, deacons, consecrated religious and seminarians.

As we heard in the Scriptures today, at first there were seven who were first prayed over and then hands were imposed on them. Luke goes on to say the Word of God continued to spread while at the same time the number of disciples in Jerusalem enormously increased. And as you know Stephen, one of the seven deacons, was stoned to death outside the walls of Jerusalem and recognized as the first martyr of the early Church.

Christopher and Patrick, the apostles assured the first deacons that when they act out of love the Spirit of God will be with them in their struggles to find the words and the courage to confront evil and hurt. To challenge those who threaten to harm them and those they love.

All of us have seen this kind of perseverance that you are called upon today by virtue of your ordination to exercise.

We have seen this kind of perseverance in parents who continue to love their sons and daughters despite the messes they make of their lives. In couples who will not quit on each other but work together to mend their marriages. In those quiet, committed souls who do their job conscientiously not because of the money, or demanding supervisors, but because they know their work matters.

Although transitional, the diaconate provides you and the church an opportunity to benefit from the grace of the sacrament. The church needs your diaconal ministry just as it required that of St. Stephen, and the other deacons in the early days of the church. The diaconal ministry of Stephen helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and children, an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of difference in culture and language in society. And it was affecting the life of the church through unawareness and insensitivity to its human membership.

My dear sons, we are faced with the same challenge, and the same need for diaconal ministry where the business of our society often propels us toward basic insensitivity and unawareness. This too often leads to our own adoption of a passive attitude, whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms. Thankfully, the grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests and those diaconal aspects of the ministry of the baptized laity, prevents us from seeing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve.

Patrick and Christopher, your diaconal ministry in the months ahead must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such complacency. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, any church community if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone will also risk breaking down.

However much it may talk about social issues, or criticize governments it will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.

While today you are an ordained deacon so that you might make the transition towards priesthood, the diaconal quality of your ministry--that is care for the poor, care for those persons in the margins, care for those persons overlooked, care for those who suffer violence, concern for those without a clear voice, care for persons threatened by isolation and exclusion from the common good because of existing differences in language and culture--is not transitional in the sense that it never goes away.

Despite its transitional character your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry. The diaconal ordination will strengthen you in the command of Our Lord to serve and not be served.

That must imbue your personal character, your human formation, and your priestly identity so that Christ's grace more clearly might be seen in the administration of the sacraments and not obscured by the seduction of entitlement. This sense of entitlement is subtle and often gradual.

The promises that you make today of celibate chastity and obedience to me and my successors must truly be directed to Christ. These are graces given to you by Christ to save you from this subtle and deadly enemy. The subtlety of entitlement involves a gradual shift in priorities when the mission of the gospel becomes secondary to the human dimensions of the institutional church. This can frequently affect parish ministry. That is, our policies can soon take on a custodianship of the status quo of the parish administration instead of facilitating the authentic sacramental life of our people.

The ministry of the sacramental life must establish the priorities articulated in our policies and not vice versa. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry as one who is to serve and not be served will help to guard you against this subtle foe of entitlement through your priestly life. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry will prevent your priestly ministry from becoming simply cultic or ceremonial.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, every priest of course also continues as a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension for the Lord himself became our deacon.

Recall the act of washing the feet where it is explicitly shown that the teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care.

We are not called to serve just those who think like us or agree with us.

In the life of a parish there are all kinds of people just like there are all kinds of flowers in a garden. Some are more attractive than others. Some require more work and care than others. And some grow slower than others. We must be patient with our people. Give them time. Do not judge them. Accompany them. Do not judge them.

When you preach, Patrick and Christopher, preach to yourself and the chances are that you will reach more of your people. You will become more compassionate as a servant. We all struggle with the same human condition. This dimension I consider to be of paramount importance.

Christopher and Patrick, the justice that your diaconal ministry proclaims must always be subordinate to charity and love. Justice most strictly delineates the obligations that we possess in accordance with charity, love. The very life of God shared unconditionally with us by Christ, charity, love.

The love that you share with the people of God is the same love that Christ offered you in giving you a vocation. Never doubt that it is Christ who has called you. It is he who has chosen you. Not you who have first chosen him. This love you know intimately.

He offers it to you on a daily basis through the grace of your ordination. Trust this grace. Trust him at all times of fear and uncertainty and loneliness, and he will be your joy. Trust this grace as Mary did when she said yes to God's invitation to serve as the proclaimer of the Word without fully understanding where her yes would lead her. She trusted in God who looked with favor on her as his lowly servant. All generations have called her blest.

Be a servant for the love of Christ, nothing more and nothing less.

And may the Lord grant you his peace.

Amen.

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