Homily of Bishop Christopher Jones at ordinations of six men to the Permanent Diaconate , Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo
“I see your ordination as deacons today as a magnificent start to the Year of Faith in our diocese” – Bishop Jones
You are all most welcome today as we gather for the ordination of six young married men as permanent deacons in this diocese of Elphin. We gather on this beautiful Feast Day of the Diocese – the feast of “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception”. We welcome, in a special way those to be ordained: Wando, William, Damien, David, Frank and Seamus. We welcome their wives and children: Edilaine, Carmel, Trish, Louise, Meg and Teresa with Bruna, Bianca, Leonardo, James, John, Gilbert, Rachael and Kate. We are delighted to see so many of your extended families and friends gathered here today.
I welcome all the priests and religious who have gathered and especially the priests from whose parishes those men have come from: Canon Eugene McLoughlin, Roscommon, Fr. A.B. O’Shea, Riverstown, Fr. Eamon Conaty, Ballinameen, Fr. Tadgh Quinn, Knocknacarra, Galway, and Fr Hugh Lee, Curraghboy. We welcome also the recently ordained deacons from the Archdiocese of Dublin who started their training with those from Elphin four years ago now. We welcome especially Rev Dr. Michael Duignan our Diocesan Director of the permanent diaconate.
It is truly a joy to be gathered here with all of you for this historic occasion in our diocese. We have to search back almost 1,500 years of our history to find perhaps a similar ordination – back almost to the times of Saint Patrick himself. We are certain that we have never had permanent deacons in our diocese since it was founded back in the twelfth century AD; that is until today. I feel humbled to be part of such an historic occasion.
Response to the Call of the Lord
All of us who are called by the Lord to a special ministry in the church including our six candidates today can be inspired and take courage from the response of Mary to the call of the Angel Gabriel as recounted in the Gospel we have just heard. She had within her heart the faith and generosity to say “Yes” to the call and to live that “Yes” every day and every hour of every day of her life.
Thank God for Faith and Generosity
Today we thank God for the faith and generosity of these men who have said “Yes” to the Call of the Lord and who despite their responsibilities as husbands, as fathers and as professional men are willing to devote their free time to the service of God for the Church in Elphin. Surely their courage, their faith and their generosity gives us all great hope for the future of the Church that has suffered so much in recent years.
We thank God too for the faith, courage and generosity of their wives and children who have also said “Yes” to the Lord by the way in which they have supported their husbands and their fathers by their sacrifices and prayers during the years of training and formation. What a magnificent witness and testimony of their love for God as we begin this very special Year of Faith and Trust in God.
Thanks for Faith of Families and Communities
Vocations to the priesthood to the diaconate or to the religious life do not come out of a vacuum. Vocations come from the Lord through families and communities of faith and prayer. And so we remember with gratitude the families of origin and the parishes of Wando, William, Damien, Frank, David and Seamus.
You Did Not Choose Me
Jesus said to the Apostles “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you”. He is saying the same words to you today. You may be worried that you are not worthy of this call. The great consolation is that the Lord who knows you better than you know yourself has called you. And the grace of your ordination will empower you to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Marriage and Family Life are Central to Your Call as Deacons
For you as married permanent deacons it will be from your living of the Sacrament of Marriage that so much of your spiritual experience and strength will come
“God is Love” (St. John). You will find God every day in your love for each other as a married couple. It is the same God who will strengthen you every day and open your hearts to the graces of the Sacrament of Ordination.
Origin of the Permanent Diaconate
At this moment it is good for all of us to reflect for a few moments on the origin of the permanent diaconate. It brings us back to Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles and to that day in Palestine when the Greek converts to the Christian Faith complained to the Apostles that their widows were being neglected materially and indeed spiritually. The Apostles, rather than neglect their ministries of bringing Jesus to the people of God in word and sacrament called together the community of disciples to choose seven reputable men.
These seven men inspired by the Holy Spirit were sent forth to a ministry of service especially to the poor. Indeed the word deacon in Greek means “service”. Always remember that like Jesus you are called to serve and not be served. Remember how he took the basin of water and towel at the Last Supper and washed the feet of the Apostles. By that action he endeavoured to inspire the Apostles and all of us who are called to ministry that we are called to serve each other in love.
Development of Diaconate
Through the first three centuries we have evidence from great leaders in the Church and indeed from Church Councils of how the ministry of diaconate developed in response to the needs of the day.
In his letter to Timothy St. Paul identified the qualities required of the permanent deacon. The deacon should be a man of faith, morally upright, a good husband and father. Then writers like Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Augustine and others tell us how the permanent diaconate developed into a Ministry of the Word, of the Altar and of Charity. The permanent deacon was very much an assistant to the Bishop in all of those areas.
An Expanding Church
In the first three centuries Christianity was essentially lived in the cities of the Roman Empire where the Bishop assisted by deacons ministered to the people.
As Christianity increased in size and began to move out into the countryside in the third century the Bishop could no longer minister to them. Ordained priests were sent out because deacons could not celebrate Mass for them. Therefore from the third century to the fifth the permanent diaconate became less and less important as a ministry in its own right and became eventually a step on the way to the priesthood.
The Restoration of the Permanent Diaconate
From the middle ages and for centuries the permanent diaconate became an integral part of the journey towards priesthood. A seminarian had to be ordained a deacon before becoming a priest. But the permanent diaconate ceased to be a separate ministry in its own right.
At the Council of Trent 1563 A.D. some bishops and theologians sought to have the permanent diaconate restored. However they were unsuccessful.
Four centuries later a discussion between two German priests who were prisoners in the Concentration Camps of Dachau – Fr. Pies and Fr. Schamoni sparked theological debate on the matter. They highlighted the possibilities the restoration of the permanent diaconate might bring for renewal in the post-war Church. They emphasised how a permanent deacon married and working in secular employment might powerfully connect the sanctuary with the home and the workplace with the sanctuary. After much discussion the Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, fifty years ago this year, restored the permanent diaconate as a separate ministry in the Church, and I quote: “Strengthened by Sacramental Grace and in Communion with the Bishop and his group of priests permanent deacons serve the people of God in the ministry of the Word, of the Liturgy and of Charity.” And so with all six of you who are being ordained permanent deacons today and therefore “Ministers of the Word”, “Ministers of the Liturgy” and “Ministers of Charity”, I would like to reflect for a few moments on each of these ministries.
Ministers of the Word
I appeal to you through prayer, contemplation and study and through the power of the Holy Spirit to cultivate in your hearts a great reverence, respect and love for God’s Word. Try to listen with your hearts to the Word of God because people who love each other always listen with their hearts to each other. It is only as you grow in love for Sacred Scripture that you will be able to help your people discover the beauty and presence of God in His Word through your homilies and your entire ministry.
Ministers of the Liturgy
I pray that through the grace of the Sacrament of Ordination you will grow daily in love for Jesus present in the liturgy of the Church – especially in the Eucharist. Whenever you have the privilege of ministering at the Eucharist or bringing the Eucharist to those at home may the reverence and respect with which you surround Jesus in the Sacrament of His presence touch the hearts of your people and deepen their faith and their trust in Jesus.
As you assist at marriages where two young people in love give themselves to each other forever, may you help them realise that their love for each other has its source and strength in the love God has for all of us.
As you welcome children through the Sacrament of Baptism into the Family of God – into the family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may you realise that it is always God who takes the first step. In Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the “Door of Faith” is always open for ushering us into the life of communion with God. To enter the door of faith is “to set out on a journey that lasts a life-time and it begins with Baptism.”
As you help children take their first step of life’s journey in baptism may you also help those who are dying to take that final step through death into the Glory of God. May you help the bereaved discover in their hearts that hope that is rooted in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – in the victory of Christ over sin and death.
Ministers of Charity
You will remember that the very first ministry of permanent deacons was the Ministry of Charity to the neglected widows of the Greek Community.
Therefore, as a priority you must always carry in your hearts a great love for Jesus in the poor, the rejected, the marginalized and the outcasts of society. Beneath the poverty of the poor, the sickness of the sick, the addiction of the addicted may you always have the eyes of faith to recognize the face of Jesus Himself and seek in every way possible to rediscover the dignity and beauty of every individual made in the Image of God and redeemed by the Blood of Christ.
As permanent deacons, you are called to care for the poor on behalf of the local and universal Church. The Holy Father, in Deus Caritas Est, tells us that love of neighbour is rooted in the love of God. It is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire Church community at every level. He tells us that in the choice of the seven deacons which marked the origin of the permanent diaconate, the Church took a decisive step in honouring its responsibility to care for the poor. He said, and I quote, “with the formation of the permanent diaconate the ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian orderly way became part of the fundamental structure of the church.” (Deus Caritas Est)
And so Wando, William, Damien, Frank, David, and Seamus as ordained permanent deacons, you will have a special responsibility on behalf of the local and universal Church. May the grace of your ordination empower you to exercise this sacred ministry of charity with great energy compassion and love.
And may all of us remember that, according to Jesus Himself, our final assessment will not be the measure of our achievements in this life but of the extent of our love for each other in Christ.
Once again it is a joy to see married men of your competence proud to bear public witness to your faith and trust and willing to share that faith with the people among whom you live daily. I see your ordination as deacons today as a magnificent start to the Year of Faith in our diocese.
- Bishop Jones delivered his homily on Saturday 8 December 2012
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