Dear brothers and sisters, these five young men, your relatives and friends, are about to be ordained deacons, ministers of Jesus Christ, who came among His disciples as one who served. The word “deacon,” from the Greek “diakonos” means servant. Jesus Himself is their model. Our Lord said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to serve His Father and to do the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. God sent His Son to serve His people, to free them from sin and death, and to draw them into His Kingdom. And this is the service of those who are ordained for the Church’s ministry. They are called not to be served, but to serve. Jesus Himself has set the example. He gave His life in humble service. The Son of God became a man, emptied Himself, as Saint Paul says, “taking the form of a servant.” During the Last Supper, Jesus showed that He was among the disciples “as one who serves” when He made the humble gesture of washing the feet of the disciples, a duty of slaves, thereby setting an example so that His disciples might imitate Him in service and in mutual love. One of the Church Fathers, Saint Polycarp, wrote that Jesus was the diakonos, the deacon, the servant, of all.
By their ordination as deacons, Nathan, Jay, David, Thomas, and Patrick will be configured to Christ, who made Himself the deacon or servant of all. They will share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way as they are marked with the diaconal character. Before they are ordained priests next year, God-willing, it is important that they first serve as deacons. And when they are ordained priests, they will still be deacons, since the priestly character will not erase their diaconal character. Jesus the Priest was always the Servant. And so it is with us. Underneath, this chasuble I am wearing a deacon’s dalmatic, the vestment of the deacon, which reminds me that as a bishop, I am also still a deacon.
My brothers, the tasks you will do as deacons, your service in the liturgy, your service of God’s Word as preachers, and your service of charity are all very important expressions of the identity you will have as deacons. In carrying out these tasks, I encourage you to allow them to touch your heart. In preaching, serving at the altar, baptizing, etc., allow what you are doing to form you, your minds and hearts, to teach you to offer your whole selves in serving the Kingdom of God and His Church. May your humble service spring from hearts and minds that are conformed to the heart and mind of Jesus! In other words, may what you do shape your way of thinking and acting ao that you truly embrace day by day the attitude and interior disposition of Jesus. Here is where your prayer life is so very important. Diaconal service is not just about doing various tasks, as important as they are, but it is about doing these holy tasks with the mind and heart of Jesus, with a generous spirit of service. The sacrament you receive today develops this inclination in you as you receive God’s grace for diaconal service. May you open yourselves to the Holy Spirit who imbues your will with this special grace, so that in all your actions, you will be motivated by an ever-new and profound desire to serve your brothers and sisters.
Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote the following: “Deacons serve the mysteries of Christ and the Church, and must abstain from any vice, strive to please God, and be ready for any good work for the salvation of souls. Therefore, because of their reception of this Order, they should far excel others in their liturgical lives, in devotion to prayer, in the divine ministry, in obedience, charity and chastity.” So my sons, Thomas, Nathan, Jay, Patrick, and David, you will have a duty to witness to Christ the Servant in a beautiful way, not only by your service and apostolate, but with your whole life: your example of prayer and devotion, your obedience, your charity, your humility, your kindness, and your compassion. This is the witness to which you are called, the witness to Christ the Servant.
I wish to highlight your witness of chastity. Today you commit yourselves to observing celibacy for the rest of your lives. This is a witness to Christ who was celibate. You will live this state of life which Jesus Himself lived: celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, so that you can serve God and His people with an undivided heart. Your chaste celibacy is to be a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it, as well as a source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. You will be freed more completely for the service of God and His Church. Your consecration and commitment to celibacy is not a consecration to individualism or to a life of isolation. You are making a promise to put yourselves completely and unreservedly at the service of Christ and His Body, the Church. You receive this celibacy as a gift, a gift for others, not unlike the gift a husband receives in marriage to give himself to his wife and children. Through celibacy, you do not become aloof from interpersonal relationships. On the contrary, you enter into a deep relationship with Christ and, through Him, with those whom you will serve.
In today’s second reading, Saint Peter writes: “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God provides.” These five young men receive today the gift of the diaconate that they are called to use as good stewards. They will preach God’s word. They will serve God and His Church. And they will do these things with the strength that God provides, the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders. My brothers, may you open yourselves to this grace every day. It is God who will supply you the words to speak and the strength to exercise your diaconal duties faithfully. And remember always, that everything you do is to be done not for your own honor or popularity, but for the glory of God. As Saint Peter says: “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” As Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” And as Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
My brothers, may you never tire of following Christ in His humility and service. I pray that, with the help of the prayers of our Blessed Mother, you will be good and faithful servants. May Our Lady of Humility, the humble Handmaid of the Lord, help you to be faithful servants of her Son, good and holy deacons not only in this diaconal year, but also later as priests! Then, on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord, you will be able to hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”