“In so many ways we are at a crisis point for religious faith. A decision for or against faith is required. This faith will be costly but it is the conviction that the world is shaped, defined and formed by the power and reality of God.” – Archbishop Neary
I welcome you all, Shane; his parents, Seamus and Mary; his family; the President, Dr Mullaney; the Rector, Dr Tomás Surlis; Formators, staff members, students, Shane’s local priest, Canon James Quinn; Vicar General, Monsignor Dermot Moloney; Director of Vocations, Father Francis Mitchell and priests from the Archdiocese of Tuam, as we come to pray with and for and ordain Shane Costello to the Diaconate. It is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, the 7th Sunday of the Easter season. It is the day when the Church celebrates the Ascent of Jesus to His Father, from where he will send the Holy Spirit. It is also the Sunday preceding the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit when the Church remembers, celebrates and anticipates God’s gift of the Spirit to the Church. On this Ascension Day we celebrate a rich convergence of feasts: resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Spirit.
It would be relatively easy on this ordination occasion to become excessively nostalgic and romantic for the times this sanctuary was crowded by ordinands. The loss of the old leaves us at times terrified. Whether we are liberal or conservative, we feel threatened and dislocated. We react in ways that may be anxious, mean or selfish. Furthermore, nobody knows what shape the future will take, thereby causing uncertainty and anxiety. This rather uncertain time requires that we be alert, watching for glimpses of God’s work, his call and his will. The newness which God brings about demands obedience on our part. We are not permitted as those in the first reading from The Acts of the Apostles were not permitted to stand and stare, to gaze towards the heavens to sit and wait. There is work to be done. We have to preach Jesus Christ and find new ways to do so as we face the future with courage and hope and continue his mission in the in the city and in the world. It is for this that we have been called. It is for this that Shane is being ordained Deacon today. God reminds us through the prophet Second Isaiah during a lean time in the history of the people of God “I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it? Do you not notice?”
Of course there is a danger in forgetting what we must remember, there is a danger in remembering what we must forget. There is a danger in staying where we are when we must go forward in faith.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read of crises when the early Church was led by God’s spirit into a large world that seemed strange and threatening. In our society the Church is being led to newness, new awareness, new duties, new forms of mission, new possibilities which may be puzzling for us, which may scare us and make us defensive. In many ways we are tempted to keep things the way they used to be. Living between the nostalgia of what might have been, and the promise of what will surely be, Shane is invited to entrust himself to the Lord. As he is being ordained to the Diaconate, he declares himself available for service in the Lord’s work. Shane will find that the challenging vision of faith will clash regularly with the self-indulgent fantasy of our culture. It would be easy to resort to sociological remedies, focus on structures and recoil from our responsibility to preach the Gospel. When that happens we no longer entrust ourselves to the promises of God, to hope, to faith, to mission, to the journey. In that situation it would be so easy to accept the dominant values.
In so many ways we are at a crisis point for religious faith. A decision for or against faith is required. This faith will be costly but it is the conviction that the world is shaped, defined and formed by the power and reality of God. As you read the Acts of the Apostles, in scene after scene, you cannot escape the tough meeting between the Church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power of God and resentful of it.
Shane, for the past 5 years you have been availing of the rich and varied opportunities presented here in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth; philosophy, theology, scripture, canon law, the interaction with your fellow students, the support and guidance of formators and professors. You have reflected on all of that in your prayer life and in your relationship with the Lord. This form of prayer, reflection, interaction will, in your diaconate ministry, take place in a somewhat different context. You will be a minister of Jesus Christ in word and sacrament. People will very quickly detect whether you believe what you say and put into practice what you believe. In your situation, your diaconate ministry will be a step towards priesthood. The way in which you avail of the opportunities presented to you in your diaconate will influence your later life as a priest.
It is significant that the Gospel reading today ends in a remarkable outburst of worship. Far from being depressed that Jesus is withdrawing from them and has entrusted to them a heavy responsibility, the disciples are ecstatic and worship Jesus. Worship and witness co-exist. Our mission as representatives of the Church needs to be renewed by worship. Worship however, if separated from witness, will be empty. A Church which is turned in on itself becomes an end in itself and is no longer the Church of Jesus Christ. This Feast of the Ascension and the Ordination of Shane as Deacon provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the Church’s mission in the world and the way in which worship and witness need and enrich each other.
I join with the whole congregation gathered here, the family of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in warmly congratulating you and in doing so, I congratulate your parents, your family and all who have been involved in your formation for the way in which they have contributed to making you the person that you are, ready to go forward as a minister of Jesus Christ. On behalf of the people of God in our Archdiocese of Tuam, I extend a hearty welcome to you, assure you of our prayers and support and look forward to working with you.
• Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam. This ordination Mass took place on Ascension Sunday 2 June 2019, in the College Chapel of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
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