Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, 27th May 2012
The ordination of these deacons, as they progress on their way towards priestly ordination, is a very significant day in the life of this Seminary. I join in the joy of the future deacons and their families and friends. I join in the joy of the formation staff of Saint Patrick’s College and with the parish communities from which the future deacons sprang or where they spent some part of their formation. I join in the joy of their bishops and of the diocesan communities where they will minister: Cork and Ross, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Achonry, Glasgow and Dublin.
This ordination day is a significant day in the life of the College. It is a day in which we celebrate the calling of these men to exercise ministry in the Church “in the person of Christ”. In the ordained ministry, the presence of Christ as the head of the Church is made visible. The person called to ministry in the Church is thus called to witness Christ through their concrete life.
The life and the purpose of the seminary draws its inspiration from what happens here today and the future ministry as priests to which these men are called within the Church. The life of a seminary should be forward-looking in that sense: a total commitment of each seminarian to prepare himself for the call to ministry and service, not just as an individual, but within the communion of the Church. The seminarian must integrate his life of prayer and study, spiritual formation and personal development into an understanding of a life of service modelled on Jesus, the one who came to serve. Seminary life is never an end in itself. A narrow pre-occupation of what goes on in the day to day life of the seminary is often an unhealthy sign, as it tends inevitably to be inward-looking, self-serving and individualistic, rather than focussing of the self-giving love of Jesus Christ to which the deacon and the priest are called to witness in the communion of God’s people.
Next week, I will have the privilege of ordaining a further eight deacons. On that occasion, I will be ordaining the first group of permanent deacons to be ordained in Ireland since the re-institution of the permanent diaconate by the Vatican Council. The rite of ordination to the permanent diaconate and to the daconate as a path towards priestly ordination is identical, with the exception of the commitment to celibacy on the part of those – permanent or transitional – who are not married. There is only one diaconate and your calling as deacons today is not simply transitional; it is not simply an obligatory passing step on your road to priesthood, another box to be ticked on the road to priestly ordination.
Today you will be ordained into the order of deacons and you assume the particular ministry of what a deacon is, for the rest of your life. The Vatican Council spoke of a true diaconal ministry in the Church which is exercised in the liturgical and pastoral life of the Church, in charitable works, but which is strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles.
There is a tendency in our times – due to the fact that for centuries the permanent diaconate and other institutionalised ministries were present in the Latin Church in a limited manner – to look on ministries in a distorted way, asking what can person called to a particular ministry can do, as opposed to others. The lack of the figure of the permanent deacon in the Latin Church had a strange negative effect on the very theology of ministry.
The order of deacons is not about doing things; it is a call to be configured in a special way to Jesus who serves and to represent that Jesus who serves in the life of the Church. That is why your diaconate is not just simply transitional. Your configuration to Jesus who serves becomes part of your identity and is something you must continue to integrate into the way you live always. Without a proper understanding of your configuration as deacons with the Christ who serves you will not fully understand your later ordination to priesthood.
A special dimension of that ministry of service of the deacon is linked to the ministry of the word. In each of the rites of ordination in the Latin Church a special place is given to the Book of the Gospels. The Book of the Gospels is handed to the deacon and to the priest and is held over the head of the bishop at the moment of his anointing.
In the rite of the ordination of a deacon the liturgical text stresses how the deacon must interiorise the Gospel. These are the words we will hear later in the liturgy this morning:
“Believe what you read,
teach what you believe
and practice what you teach”.
This mission to interiorize the word of God into your lives is intimately linked with the work of the Spirit in the Church which we celebrate on this Feast of Pentecost. The Spirit accompanies the Church in the task of guiding believers to understand and to make interior in their lives the teaching of Jesus but also to grasp those things which were not fully understood by the disciples when Jesus was still with them.
Our understanding of Jesus and the mystery of salvation is not static. On more than one occasion, Jesus told his disciples that they would not understand what he was teaching, until after after he had died and rose again. When he promises the gift of the Spirit, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus stresses: “[the Spirit] will lead you to the complete truth” and indeed “he will tell you of the things to come”.
There are elements of the truth about the revelation of Jesus which we will come to understand fully only in the way they revealed to us by the Spirit within the life of the Church. This is not to say that they constitute new revelations. The Spirit does not distance himself from the teaching of Jesus but leads us into a fullness of our understanding of the truth: “All he tells you, will be taken from what is mine”.
Jesus is no longer present in the Church in the visible form in which he was present during his earthly life. After his resurrection, Jesus already lived in a different relationship with his disciples than before. He no longer lived continually with them. But he was not absent. Still today, the Church does not remain as an orphan. The Spirit is with us, the Spirit of Jesus who will enable us better to understand the truth.
There is a sense in which the fullness of Christ’s truth precedes the Church and goes ahead of the life of the Church as challenge. The Spirit is guides this process of coming to the complete truth with the gift of prophecy. Certainly within the early Church the gift of prophecy was perceived as predicting things which were to happen, as we can perceive in the Gospel reading. But as the history of the Church develops the gift of prophecy takes the form more of explaining and interpreting human experience through a deeper understanding of the word of God. As history progressed it becomes evident that the Spirit is present with the Church to provide prophetic understanding of the various situations which the Church encounters.
The gift of prophecy is still present in the Church not in a magical way, but through the ability of individual Christians to penetrate the mystery of Christ presence among us through prayerful reading and interpretation of the word of God.
How does the Spirit work in leading us into the truth? This is a task which is exemplified in the Church in a special way precisely in that ministry of deacons: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”.
Given for the building up of the Church the ministry of the deacon must be exercised in a way which witnesses to the very nature and structure and mission of the Church, exemplifying what the Church is. “A Church which lives and interprets the scriptures to bring the saving message of Jesus to our world in a spirit of service”: that indeed is a wonderful description of the Church we wish to celebrate and showcase with the upcoming Eucharistic Congress. That is the Church which you as deacons are called to exemplify in your lives.
“Glorify the Lord with your life” is a phrase that you as deacons will utter on many occasions as, at the end of Mass, you will send the community of believers out into the world to incarnate the teaching of Jesus in that world. That is also your mission, as through your lives, you witness to the Jesus who serves.