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Ordination to the Order of the Diaconate: Carlos Andres Rivero and Nathanael Drew Swann

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist | Savannah, Georgia

Homily
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Savannah, Georgia

May 25, 2019


At first, there were seven who were first prayed over by the apostles and then they imposed hands on them.

Luke goes on to say that “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, of the seven deacons, was stoned to death outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Nathanael and Carlos, 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 loved.

The deacon, the servant of Jesus, is the one who, like his master, goes out to the poor, the lowly, the rejected, and those in the shadow of death.

As a deacon, you are to carry, to those on the periphery of society, the Father’s infinite and unconditional love.  And you are to do so, not “at a distance” but through identification:  you are to become poor with the poor; you are to suffer with those who suffer; you are to enter into the hopelessness of the desperate in order to convince them that “nothing can ever come between us and the love of Jesus Christ”

Although transitional, the deaconate provides you and the Church an opportunity to benefit from the Grace of the Sacrament.

The Church needs your diaconal ministry just as it was required 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 a difference in culture and language in society, and it was affecting the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity of its human membership.

My dear Sons, we are faced with the same challenge and the same need for diaconal ministry where the busy-ness of our society often propels us towards 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.

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 facing 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 by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve.

Nate and Carlos, 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.”

Despite its transitional character, your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry.  Your diaconal ordination will strengthen you in 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 to my successors are most truly 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 institution of the Church.

This can frequently affect parish ministry in that 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 throughout your priestly life. 

It was Pope Benedict XVI who said that “Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord himself became our deacon.  Recall the act of the washing of 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.”

This dimension, I consider, to be of paramount importance.

Carlos and Nate, during this diaconate rite, you will promise to celebrate the Liturgy of Hours “for the Church and for the whole world.” 

You cannot be a servant in the spirit of Jesus unless you “pray constantly.”

In praying the Liturgy of Hours, day in and day out, you will draw into intimacy with the Lord.  You will find yourself more and more conformed to the image of Jesus.  In prayer, you will take on the mind and heart of Jesus.

My dear brothers, prayer is not optional for Jesus’ minister.  It will be your lifeblood, your source of inspiration, your indispensable support.

If, throughout your life, you want to be a minister who radiates the message of the gospel, never stop praying.  Never cease to stare at the beauty and wonder of Christ.

Today, you commit yourself to service, prayer and also celibacy.  My brothers, this may be the most difficult and demanding promise that you will ever make.

Why?  Because the celibate life is inherently challenging.  It is so “politically incorrect”, so countercultural.  To many people in our society and in some cultures, celibacy appears strange, psychologically unhealthy and even bizarre.

Celibacy is an expression of that radical gift of self.  Are there “reasons” for celibacy… arguments that can be used to explain it?  Some suggest that the celibate is effectively “marrying” the people he serves.  These explanations are not entirely without merit.  But they do not get to the heart of the matter, because they try to rationalize something which is deeper than reason.

You are embracing celibacy because you want to make of yourself a gift to the One who has loved you so surprisingly, so overwhelmingly, so completely.

Carlos and Nate, I want to offer a special word of gratitude to your seminary formators and to your parents and grandparents, your siblings, relatives and friends.  They have supported you with their prayer and their encouragement and by their example as disciples of Christ.

Be a prayerful and celibate servant…. for the love of Christ…. nothing more…. and nothing less.

And may the Lord grant you His peace.