Permanent Deacons: Called to be Servants of Christ

(The following are the words I addressed to the new permanent deacons of the Diocese of Providence at their Ordination on Saturday, February 2, 2013).

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

To the deacon candidates about to be ordained for the service of Christ and His Church, we extend our very sincere congratulations, prayers and blessings on this day which is so important for you, for your families and friends, indeed for the entire Church.

May the Holy Spirit descend upon you to bestow all the spiritual gifts you will need to assist you in being faithful and joyful servants of the Lord.

My brothers, God’s providence has led you to this moment. You have made a pilgrimage of faith; you have listened carefully to the voice of the Lord; you have responded generously; and you are very well-prepared for the task you are about to begin. And that task, as deacons, is to assist the bishop and his priests in the public ministry of the Church, specifically in the ministry of the word, of the altar and of charity.

As ministers of the altar you will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the altar for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and distribute the Body and Blood of Christ to the members of the Church. Your service at the altar, carried out always with reverence and fidelity, will remind us that the Holy Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of our Catholic life.

As a minister of the word, exercised at the bishop’s discretion, you will have the privilege of teaching and preaching, and of instructing the faithful in the Gospel of Christ, always in total conformity to the teachings of the Catholic Church which have been handed down to us.

As a public minister of the Church you will also be delegated to preside over communal prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring Holy Communion to the sick and dying, and to conduct the funeral rites of the Church. These, of course, are key moments in the life of the faithful, and your presence and ministry will reassure them of God’s own presence and care.

The particular charism of the diaconate, of course, is the call to service – humble, generous, effective service – in the name of Christ and His Church. Service of your brothers and sisters is the tangible sign of your vocation and the fulfillment of your ministry. In that way especially you will give glory to God and comfort to His people. In that way you will be recognized as disciples of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve others.

My brothers, you can see how much the Church entrusts to your care. As deacons you will be recognized as public representatives of Christ and His Church with all the rights, duties and obligations that come with this holy office. This is an awesome responsibility. Therefore, and most of all, you must strive always for personal holiness; to be men of prayer, men of “good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit” as were the first deacons chosen by the Apostolic Church.

Your ordination as deacons comes at a very providential time, during this “Year of Faith” which our Holy Father Pope Benedict has asked us to observe. The Year of Faith is an invitation for all of us to appreciate anew the goodness of our Catholic Faith and to refresh our personal commitment to Christ and His Church.

In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict, referring to the Letter to the Hebrews, encourages us to “keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” That exhortation it seems to me, my brothers, is a perfect aspiration for you as you begin your ministry as a deacon.

“Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus” and you will grow in holiness and virtue. “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus” and you will never go astray. “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus” and you will always be enthusiastic and joyful in your work. And in your public ministry – in your service of the altar, of the word, and of charity – inspire others to “keep their eyes fixed on Jesus” and thus encourage them to persevere in their journey of faith.

My brothers, the other context for your ordination today is the beautiful feast day of the Presentation of the Lord when, in fulfillment of the Law, Jesus was presented in the Temple as the “glory of Israel and the light of the nations.” And traditionally on this Candlemas Day, the Church blesses candles, important sacramentals in the life of the Church.

Candles, as they burn brightly, give of themselves so that they might give light to others. It is somewhat ironic that for a candle to fulfill its purpose it must disappear.

In the same way, my brothers, as a deacon of the Church, you are called to burn with the love of Christ, to give of yourselves completely, so that you may give light to others. In that way your pilgrimage of faith will be fulfilled, and your vocation as a Christian will be perfected, until that day when the Lord will welcome you into His Kingdom, with the words we all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”