Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Milltown Park, 4th January 2015
“We come together to pray with the Irish and Korean Provinces of the Society of Jesus for these three men who will be admitted to the Order of Deacons through the laying-on of hands and prayer to the Holy Spirit.
We pray for each of these men and for the families and the Christian communities from which they spring. We pray for the Church in Asia as Pope Francis sets out later in this week to visit Sri Lanka and to the Philippines. We pray for the Society of Jesus.
The deacon is called to witness to a particular and essential dimension of the Church, that of being servant. Our prayer is that the characteristic of being a servant will become a dominant characteristic in the life of the new deacons. Whenever any ministry in the Church loses that characteristic of service, then it can so quickly degenerate into the opposite to ministry, to the temptation towards self-centeredness, towards using ministry and using others really to satisfy oneself and not as ecclesial service.
As a Christian community we pray then this afternoon that the Lord Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve, will bring to fulfilment in these men the seeds of missionary generosity that he has established in their hearts.”
“Pope Francis became a Jesuit with the desire to become a missionary. His identity is still today clearly marked by that initial desire, a desire which he may not have realised geographically, but which is still very much part and parcel of the Pope’s identity, of who Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit, is.
This afternoon we have come together to invoke the Holy Spirit on these three Jesuits, who are being called to the ministry of deacon. One is Irish and two are from Korea. All three are called to live out the ministry of deacon, which is a ministry of service founded on the word of God, in the spirit of the Society of Jesus, not knowing fully where that call to service may lead them.
The service of the deacon is not just that generous outflowing of charity which should inspire every Christian, especially those called to ministry. The service of the Church today is not simply about activism. The service of these deacons and all of us called to ministry is one where we must journey with the men and women of our times, and especially the young people of our time, leading them into a discernment about the fundamental orientation of their lives and especially their Christian lives and thus find Jesus fully within the reality of their lives.
The young Jesuit Bergoglio had a vison of being missionary, not in the sense of imposing a new and different religion on people who had not yet heard of Jesus Christ. He desired to walk with people leading them into knowing someone to whom they would be attracted and thus to change their lives. For the missionary disciple of Jesus, Japan is not a distant country: “Japan” is “where we are”, “Japan”, in that sense, could be Dublin. The journeying of the missionary disciple must be a journey of respect, encountering cultures which we may not always like, but which we must always attempt to understand; cultures which may well be pluralist, and where we may attract others to our views but not impose them.
Our three candidates for ordination this morning are called technically “transitional deacons”, men who are ordained deacons as part of the path to priestly ordination. That may be technically true, but the deacon is never simply a category within the Church. The deacon is a witness to something that belongs to the essence of the Church, that call to serve, not just the outward form of service within the liturgy, but a service of journeying with others on the path of life. The ordination of any deacon, therefore, is not a transitory moment while waiting to receive the specific calling of the priest. Every Christian believer is called to be a missionary disciple of Jesus “where we are”, in whatever state within the Church.
The concept of discernment is central to the message of Saint Ignatius; it is a dynamic process of prayerful accompaniment, first of oneself and then of being alongside others.
When this Church here in Miltown Park was built, Ireland was a very different place. Faith was imbedded in so many dimensions of personal and public life. That is no longer the case today. Of course there are many roots of faith present in Irish society. Our young people, however, no longer automatically inherit faith. That may not be a bad idea. Faith must be sought. Faith must be intimately linked with the search for identity as a person and the search for purpose as a society and a world in which we live.
Generosity and idealism are the mark of so many of our young people and that generosity is certainly not totally removed from Christian inspiration. But young people do not today automatically link that generosity with a deep bond of faith. Some struggle with faith; some struggle with their own identities; some struggle through anxiety or through the failures of our society. Being a missionary disciple of Jesus means reaching out towards those who seek true meaning and hope and helping them to discern. Young people need the accompaniment of men and women who can help them find God in the midst of the realities of life and in the depths of their own hearts and ambitions. They need the accompaniment which will enable them to form their own personal and professional life in terms not just of self-realisation, but in service and moving on from closed individualism into a new understanding of community.
Being missionary is a service in faith. But it is never an imposition of faith. Neither is it leaving everything drifting and leaving people alone with their wounds and alienation. For Pope Francis being missionary involves precisely seeking out those who are wounded and alienated. Pope Francis is very much attracted to the image of the Church as “a field hospital in battle”, an image which has Ignatian roots. The missionary disciple must have a special antenna which identifies where the wounded are to be looked for in our world and which are the specific wounds of our times.
There is a sense in which it is in in trying to witness to the power of Jesus through being alongside those who are wounded, that we come better to understand the message of Jesus Christ. It is when we understand the wound and alienation of others, that we ourselves get new insights and a new understanding of Christ’s mercy. We will not heal those whose lives have drifted from Jesus Christ by throwing books of dogma at them. That would only mean shouting at them in a language at them that they still have to learn. In the field hospital, healing is not done in the first place by the technical experts; it achieved by those people who pick up the wounded in their own arms and embrace them.
One Bishop at the recent Synod while noting how Pope Francis spoke of the Church as a field hospital said that in so many places the Church had often come to resemble more the office of the State Pathologist, analysing all the ways in which things go wrong.
Woundedness and alienation can only be overcome by a discernment which accompanies. Another analogy used at the Synod by one of your own Jesuit confreres, Father Antonio Spadaro, was that of the Church understood not so much as a beacon but as a torch. The beacon can light up; it can have strong foundations; but it stays put and does not move, and indeed it can also blind those who seek with a light that can become unbearable, while the small torch can accompany people step by step, day by day, moving always that little closer into the true light.
When this Church here in Miltown Park was built, Ireland was a different place. The Church today has to find a new way of communicating with the realities of today’s Ireland. God is by nature the one who communicates. He does so, as we heard in our Gospel reading, through the Word who is Jesus Christ and who took on our flesh. Our catechesis and our way of communicating all too often begin with God and then we attempt to fit Jesus into our concept of God. We fail to see that we can only come to know God through knowing Jesus Christ; he alone is the Word. “No one has ever seen God”, the Gospel says; “it is the only Son… who has made him known”.
Our communication about God can only be effective if it leads people to come to know Jesus: not a vague Jesus of our own liking and making. We come to know Jesus not simply through social media and gadgetry. We come to know Jesus through the way he communicated to us, through his word.
A little later in this ceremony of ordination, when I will consign the book of the Gospels to each of the new deacons, the liturgical text stresses how the minister must interiorise the Gospel, with these words: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”.
“Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach” is a mandate to live a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel. We pray that these new deacons will maintain that integrity of life and ministry and we pray for all of us, whatever our calling in the Church, will keep alive and will remain always faithful and enthusiastic to what our initial faith-dream of “Japan” may have been, even if our life’s journey may take unexpected directions.
May the Lord accompany our new deacons, wherever they will be called to minister, as they proclaim the word of God, and as the strife to believe what they read, teach what they believe and practice what they teach.”