Homily Notes of Most Rev Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin, Saint Saviour’s, Dominick Street at Dominican Diaconate Ordinations
Saturday 16th February 2013
“The Gospel reading we have just heard – which is the Gospel reading assigned to the ordinary liturgy of today – is however particularly appropriate for this ceremony of the ordination of three new Dominican Deacons: Br Colm Mannion, Brother Luuk Jansen and Brother Matthew Martinez. I join in the joy of the candidates, of their families and friends, of their formators and of the entire Irish Dominican province and of their Provinces of origin.
This ceremony is about a call to ministry. It is a call from the Lord. The call from the Lord, as we saw in the calling of Levi, is a call which is radical and which requires that we leave everything in order to follow Jesus in a life of total commitment.
When we read the Gospels we see how the call of the first disciples is particularly striking. Jesus had begun to arouse popular interest. People were hearing about him and trying to understand what was the message of this teacher and healer of the sick, who seemed different to the many other teachers who emerged among the people but who equally quickly vanished from sight and memory. Jesus spoke with a different kind of authority.
Most of the disciples were called and answered the call on their very first encounter with Jesus. Jesus did not carry out mass campaigns or interviews to capture disciples. If anything he tended to hide his power and his identity. Answering the call to follow Jesus was not a process of discussion much less bargaining or putting down one’s own price or conditions or terms for following him. Accepting the call of Jesus does not open the door to a secure, programmed life. It is a unique act of trust and commitment.
The case of the call of Levi in today’s Gospel is a particular example. In almost an instant, Levi is transformed from his existing world. A tax collector sitting at the customs station is suddenly whisked into a radically different world and he becomes a disciple of Jesus.
The call to ministry and service in the Church is a call to total change of life. But perhaps this can be misunderstood. I remember when I entered the seminary here in Dublin, after our spiritual retreat we headed a week later out to University to begin our studies of philosophy. The director of students told us that when we went to university we would meet our former school friends and that we should say to them: “I am a seminarian now, I cannot speak with you”. And he added: “they will understand”. The director of studies was a knowledgeable man, but he evidently did not know my friends (or me) and that there was no way in which they would have understood such a rapid flight from the realities of the world especially on my part.
Let us look more closely now at Levi. He abandoned everything to follow Jesus, but very soon, actually, we find him back with his friends holding a great reception in his house. Jesus and his disciples join with him to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. And they not feel very much out of place in such company, much to the disgust and scandal of the Pharisees and the scribes.
It is true that the call to service in the Church asks one to leave everything, but that leaving does not mean a retreat into an idyllic world of safe isolation. It does not in any way indicate that our coming away from the world means that we create for ourselves an unreal world in which we feel ourselves comfortably surrounded by just the virtuous or those who proclaim themselves to be virtuous. The call of Jesus does not involve a retreat or a flight from reality into a self-defined secure and programmed life. Jesus lived uncontaminated by the world, but he lived fully in the midst of the world of his time. He did not simply preach conversion from a safe distance. Not only did he address the publicans and sinners, he shared table fellowship with them. Jesus was called a friend of sinners.
The texts of the liturgy for the ordination of deacons stress how the deacon exercises a ministry of service. When we say that the call to be a deacon is a call to service, we are not talking about just any worldly notion of service. It is not service to a philosophy or an ideology, but to a person, Jesus Christ. The service of the deacon is to witness through his concrete way of life to “Jesus the servant”, to become like Jesus the servant. The consecration prayer in the Rite of the Ordination of Deacons indicates some of the ways in which authenticity in service and in life is witnessed by the deacon: self discipline, holiness of life, concern for the sick and the poor and unassuming authority.
The service of the deacon is exercised not to feel good or to feel better than others or to obtain the approval of those around us. Hypocrisy is a recurrent temptation for all of us. It is a temptation for all called to religious office and leadership. Hypocrisy is the professional sin of the pseudo-believer.
In handing over the Book of the Gospels to the new deacons, the Bishop stresses what authenticity in service involves:
Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are; believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.
The nature of our relationship with God is determined by the truth. That is why Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday, rejects any form of religious hypocrisy. Pope Benedict in his Ash Wednesday homily, which obviously has a unique significance this year, addressed some aspects of what such hypocrisy might look like. Discipleship of Jesus, he noted, cannot be built on a way of life which seeks just personal praise or approval. Pope Benedict noted that the true disciple does not serve himself or herself or, as he said: [does not serve] “the public” – meaning of course public opinion or popular opinion – but serves the Lord, but always in simplicity and generosity.
There can nothing self-centred or self-serving in discipleship. If anything it is the opposite. Again in that Ash Wednesday homily Pope Benedict noted that there are many who are prepared to tear their garments in the face of scandals and injustice when the sandals and injustices are committed by others. There are too few of us, he added, who allow the Lord to work on our hearts, on our intentions and on our conscience and allow the Lord to transform us, renew us and convert us.
Pope Benedict spoke especially about wounds to the unity of the Church and about divisions within the Church. Sadly there are many who claim to be serving the Church and the unity of the Church and yet damage the unity of the Church, not so much through teaching false doctrine, but through a self-centred life-style. At this particular historical moment in the life of the Church, as we pray for the one who is to become successor of Peter after Pope Benedict, all of us should make this a moment to foster a more intense and evident ecclesial communion, overcoming individualism and rivalry and disunity. The Church needs renewal, but if our discussions on renewal are reduced to disagreements and inner-Church bickering, in no way do we render the Church more attractive to those who look at us from the outside.
The opening prayer of our Mass reminded us that in a mysterious way the call to ministry is a call from God himself. It is the Lord who has chosen you for the office of Deacon. The Lord calls and the Lord sustains. Colm, Luuk and Matthew, if you faithfully and selflessly follow your calling the Lord will be with you revving your spirits just as we heard in the first reading: giving you relief, giving strength to your bones; making your ministry fruitful like a well-watered garden. In that way your ministry will bring renewal to others as you become in the world a “breach-mender” and a “restorer of ruined houses”, as the Old Testament reading notes.
Your fidelity to your mission will bring you personal renewal but will also bring renewal to the Church of Jesus Christ today just as with the institution of the early Jerusalem deacons “the word of the Lord continued to spread and the number of the disciples greatly increased”. May the Lord bless your ministry of the word, at the altar and of service, and make you, as we heard in the opening prayer: “effective in action, gentle in ministry and constant in prayer.