Diaconate Ordination of Eric Burgener and Dennis DiBenedetto
This past Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost. Today, this cathedral is like the upper room in Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. Today at this ordination, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit will take place as Dennis and Eric are strengthened by the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit for the faithful carrying out of the diaconal ministry.
In the first days of the Church, not long after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles to choose seven men of good repute to assist them in the daily ministry. By prayer and the laying on of hands, the apostles entrusted to these seven men the ministry of serving at table. The same will happen today. I, a successor of the apostles, will pray and lay hands upon Eric and Dennis. They will be ordained for service, diakonia, like Stephen, Philip, and the others, a diakonia that includes ministry at the altar, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the service of humble charity. Strengthened by the grace of ordination, they will become deacons, ministers of Jesus Christ, who came among us as one who serves.
Dennis and Eric, by your own free choice, you present yourselves for the Order of the Diaconate. Inspired by your love of Christ, you promise celibacy so that you may cling to Christ more easily with an undivided heart. This sign of your love is also a source of spiritual fruitfulness. It frees you more completely for the service of God and the Church.
You also promise respect and obedience to me and my successors. Like celibacy, obedience is radically countercultural in society today. What can possibly motivate Eric and Dennis and other young men to promise these things that are so contrary to the values of our contemporary culture? Many can’t figure out why someone would freely embrace celibacy, obedience, a minimal salary, and a life of sacrifice for others. When I entered the seminary, a friend told me what I was doing was crazy and foolish. Maybe someone has said that to you, Eric and Dennis. I’ve learned through the years to admit that my friend was right. After all, Saint Paul admitted this when he wrote to the Corinthians: “we are fools for the sake of Christ.” He wrote: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” What you promise today is foolish with the world, but wisdom with God. It is the wisdom of love. To answer my earlier question, what is it that motivates Eric and Dennis? There’s only one explanation: love. True love can make one do things that seem crazy in the eyes of the world, like hang in agony on a cross. That’s Christianity! Only love, love for Christ and His Church, can explain the free choice of celibacy and obedience. And only this love can explain why Dennis and Eric give their lives today to the service of Christ and His Church. I’d say these men are ambitious, not in a sinful, prideful, way, but in the only way that is really and authentically Christian: they are ambitious to serve. This is the only really authentic Christian ambition: the desire to serve. This was Jesus’ ambition: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Eric and Dennis, in the Church and in the world, you are to be signs and instruments of Christ who came not to be served but to serve. In your ordination today, you are configured forever to Christ the Servant. This character will remain with you also as priests. As the Catechism puts it, “the sacrament of Holy Orders marks the deacon with an imprint which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made Himself the deacon or servant of all.
Dennis and Eric, as deacons you will exercise a threefold diakonia: that of the Word, of the altar, and of charity. You will be ministers of the Word, not your word, but God’s word, the Word that, according to the letter to the Hebrews is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” You will preach this Word at the liturgy. I encourage you to prepare your homilies well, by meditation and prayer. Saint Augustine once said: “he is undoubtedly barren who preaches outwardly the word of God without hearing it inwardly.” Saint Thomas Aquinas similarly taught that preaching means “communicating to others what one has contemplated.” Our people thirst for authenticity. True evangelizers speak of the God whom they themselves have come to know and are familiar with. Dennis and Eric and my brother priests and deacons, we must devote time to conversing with the Lord and praying with His Word. We must let God’s word into our own hearts and then pass it on to others. Pope Francis gives us wise advice when he says that in addition to contemplating God’s word, we must also contemplate His people. He says “the preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear.” Dennis and Eric, I pray that you will be good preachers who listen to God, revere His Word, and pay loving attention to the people to whom you preach.
Deacons also serve as ministers of the altar by preparing the Eucharistic sacrifice and distributing the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful. They preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless Marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites. Dennis and Eric, it is an honor and a profound joy to serve in these sacred moments. May you always treat the holy mysteries of the altar with interior devotion and humility! By entering deeply into the mysteries of the Lord that you serve, may His love possess you so that you may witness to that love to His people. I especially encourage your devotion to the Holy Eucharist, spending time in adoration of Him whom you receive and whose Body and Blood you will distribute to His people. As deacons and later as priests, may you also devote time to bringing Holy Communion to the sick and dying in their homes and in hospitals and nursing homes. Remember always that you are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion and this holy task is primarily yours and not primarily that of extraordinary ministers who so generously assist us in this ministry.
Finally, deacons are entrusted in a special way with the ministry of charity, the ministry that is at the origin of the institution of the diaconate. What was originally called “the service of the table,” and involved the care of the Hellenist widows, grew and developed to include the service of the poor, the suffering, and those afflicted by any need. Deacons are called to bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted, like the Good Samaritan, pouring the wine and oil of God’s merciful compassion into the wounds of those who lie beaten along the road of life today. Eric and Dennis, may you and all of us heed the call of Pope Francis “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.” Like Jesus, make the poor and the suffering priorities in your ministry. May your hearts, like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, have a special place for the poor and suffering! Your diaconal ministry of charity is not optional. It is an essential part of ordained ministry in the Church because it was an essential part of the ministry of Christ the deacon and priest.
In the upper room with the Apostles at Pentecost was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was with them in prayer. She is with us today in this cathedral that is dedicated to her. Dennis and Eric, I know you are devoted to Our Lady. She is with you today as you are ordained deacons of her Son. May her maternal love always give you comfort! In the midst of any trials, may you hear her whisper in your ears the words she said to Saint Juan Diego: “Let your heart not be troubled…Am I not here, who am your Mother?” May the Handmaid of the Lord, the Mother of the Church, intercede for you today and every day that you may experience deep joy in serving her Son and His Body, the Church!