17/9/10 Celebration for Candidates to Diaconate

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ADMISSION OF CANDIDATES FOR THE PERMANENT DEACONATE

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
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Church of Divine Mercy, Lucan South, 17th September 2010

This is an historic occasion.  It is the first time in the modern history of the Archdiocese of Dublin that candidates are being called to formally enter into preparation for the permanent deaconate.
The restoration of the deaconate in the Latin Church was one of the major developments of the Second Vatican Council.  The deaconate has always been a feature of the life of the Oriental Catholic Churches and of the Orthodox Churches.  The Second Vatican Council proposed the restoration of the permanent deaconate in the Latin Church and Pope Paul VI later set out what would be the place and the function of deacons.
It is only now that in Ireland this decision is being put into place and this group of candidates is the first group to come forward within the Archdiocese of Dublin.   I thank them and congratulate them as I thank their spouses and families for the support they continue to offer to the candidates.  I congratulate all who have been involved in your formation thus far, especially Father Kevin Doran and those at the Mater Dei Institute.  I thank the parish communities from which you come and those in which you worked until now.
This event takes place at a moment in which there is great ferment and renewal in the Church in Dublin.  There are many changes and challenges taking that have to be addressed.  Some are linked with worrying signs of decline in regular Church practice and with feelings on the part of some of alienation from and betrayal by the Church.   In other cases one can witnesses the effect of a rapid secularisation in society.  There are many who today see no need for God in their lives.  Others feel that there is no need of a Church for them to find God.
This is the world into which you will in the coming years be ordained as deacons.  Your ministry will be focussed above all on the liturgy, on the word of God and on service and administration within the Church.  The Second Vatican Council in speaking about the restoration of the deaconate quotes from Saint Polycarp.  He reminded the church: “Let [deacons] be merciful and zealous, let them walk according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all”.
Deaconate like any ministry within the Church is a ministry of service.  It is a ministry in which that service is rooted in an understanding of the word of God as the guide for your own lives and as an instrument to help others understand and interpret their lives.  You must “walk according to the truth of the Lord”.  The Word of God must become central to your lives.
This means that your life must be a coherent and authentic witness. In preaching the word of God your first challenge is to understand that word and make it your own, understand what it means in its otherness and otherworldliness and then to challenge the realities of this world with the sharpness and the vitality of that message.
Like in any other ministry in the Church you must know the modern world around you and be able to understand the life-culture of those to whom you minister.  Yet you must also be able to discern and distance yourselves from the contemporary world; you must find for yourselves and bring to others discernment about the realities of our time and constantly purify yourselves as you inevitably become entangled in realities which are not fully those of the kingdom.   You must learn to read the signs of the times with the lenses of the word of God rather than thorough the lenses of a secularist culture which will never have the ability to focus adequately on the nature of the sacred.
This is not the same as saying that in your ministry you can flee from the realities of the world in which we live into some illusory comfort zone.  Jesus calls us always as children of our own generation, sensitive to the hopes and aspirations but also to the sinfulness, the distractions and the digression of our times.   The deacon must be there amid the risks of the world, mediating in the midst of the curiosity, the doubts, the indifference and the questioning of society and those who compose it.
 The Christian community is constructed on the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.   That truth can only be ascertained and transmitted in the context of love.  Deacons in their ministry of service are called in a special way to minister God’s love.  In that way their relationship with those they are called to service will take on a new character which will mark them off from other individuals and groups who serve the community.
The Church in Dublin is facing many difficulties but there is also much happening on the path which leads to renewal within the Church.
The parish of the future will look very different to the parish of today or yesterday.  When I visit parish churches which were built the 1950’s and 60’s I look around to see how many confessionals there are in the church, which would be an indication of how many priests would have been assigned to the Parish when it was established.  In some very big Churches there may have been six or eight confessionals and today there may be just two priests, one of whom also has other responsibilities outside the parish.
The numbers of priests has gone down and this is certainly placing pressure on our already hardworking and dedicated priests.  We need new priests.  We need young men who are prepared to respond to the call of the Lord with dedication and to commit themselves to their special ministry linked with the Eucharist and the Sacraments.  The ordained priesthood is irreplaceable in the life of the Church.
The ministry of priests is essential to the life of the Church.  But that is not to say that it other ministries are not in their way also essential.  The number of priests has gone down, but in the Archdiocese of Dublin new forms of ministry and involvement in responsibility for parishes are emerging.  It may be true that it was the shortage of priests which spurred that change on, but today we are seeing that what is emerging is not a short-term emergency measure, but a new realisation of the nature of the Church as a people, where every believing Christian is called to be active in the community of faith.
Alongside priests we now have so many lay men and women active in our parish communities with positions of responsibility.  We have parish pastoral councils which foster pastoral planning and coordination.  We have full-time lay parish pastoral workers.  We have finance committees, liturgy groups, and funeral ministries.  Religious men and women bring the spirit of their charism.  We have our teachers in Catholic schools and we have the important ministry of Christian parents.   All belong to the parish community, all contribute to the parish community, all must be nourished within the parish community.
The deaconate is a specific ministry which in the coming years will bring further enrichment and renewal to the Church in the Archdiocese.    Like any other ministry, however, the deaconate is there for the building up of the Church; it serves the unity of the Church. No ministry is less worthy than another but no ministry is a world unto itself.
We have to be careful to avoid any trend towards exclusivism.  All ministry must be collaborative, because its task is to build up the communion of the Church.  We still encounter vestiges of inherited clericalism in the Irish Church.  We do not need new castes or groups.   Our history at times gave rise to a dominant or even domineering role of clergy within what people call the “institutional Church”.  Strangely the very term “institutional Church” only has meaning in a context of clericalism.
We all need to develop a deeper sense of the meaning of the Church through genuine renewal in what faith in Jesus Christ is about.  Otherwise there is a risk that clericalism might be replaced by neo-clericalism or a clericalism in reverse which undermines the ministry of priests.
 Ministry in today’s divided world must be a witness to unity, to the elimination of all division and dissension. The Church by its very nature is a communion, a communion with Christ and with one another.  We pray that today we may begin a further chapter in our process of renewal and of strengthening in our Archdiocese of Dublin of that spirit of unity that belongs to the family of God.   May Mary, Model of Discipleship and Mother of the Church accompany us with her intercession.

 

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