ORDINATION TO THE DIACONATE OF JOHN REGAN S.A.C.
AND SAMSON MANN CSSp
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Patrick’s Church, Corduff, 16th December 2017
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is often presented as the moment of the call of the first deacons. The story of the calling of the seven, however, is not just telling us about what happened but about “what should be”. The story is not so much an historical account of the institution of the deaconate, but a lesson about ministry in the Church at all times. What is it telling us about the Church today?
The text begins by recounting a dispute within the Church community, as the Church began to spread to different cultural situations and conditions. There was already a real diversity of culture and a diversity of needs in the young Church.
What brought difference to the level of dispute was something practical. It was about the charitable commitment of the community to its own members, something that had been a characteristic of the Church community from its earliest days. In this case, it was about the commitment within the Church to its members who were destitute, symbolised in the text by widows. It is said that one cultural group of the widows were being neglected and another prioritized.
The apostles react quickly. They see the need to adapt their ministry and hence they call these seven men to take on and coordinate the ministry of what we will hear later on in the Prayer of Consecration of the new deacons was called: “serving at tables”.
The quick reaction of the Apostles is interesting in that it reminds us today of how the Church should act when it becomes evident that ministry is failing in one or other of its aspects. The Church is slow to change. So often, we place obstacles in the way of necessary change. Some would want the Church to bury its head in the ways things were always done. Ministry and leadership in the Church must listen and learn to discern and react more rapidly.
The reading tells us also of the criteria for change which inspired the action of the Apostles. The guiding principle must that of ensuring that ministry is more authentic. What measures did the Apostles take to see that Hellenist widows were not neglected? Their answers are theological. They stressed that ministry should respond to two essential characteristics of the Church. Ministry must become a more effective ministry of charity. Ministry must witness more authentically to the universal nature of the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ.
Ministry today must be exercised in such a way that it responds to new needs and new cultural interactions, but also that it does so in such a way that the authenticity and the newness of the message of Jesus becomes ever more evident.
The Church of Christ takes flesh in each age, in a way that speaks to that age and dwells in that age and is at home in that age but which also rises above and enlightens the culture of any age.
The message of Jesus Christ is always one of newness. We have to rediscover that newness in every age. We have to purify our Church from factors that impede that newness from breaking through.
Being present in the culture of the day does not mean identification with that culture. The witness of the one called to ordained ministry must today very often be counter-cultural, a witness which is the very opposite of our consumer society, where the craving for wealth, pleasure and power so often dominates.
In a world marked by indifference to God, the minister must witness to the difference of the Gospel. In a world proud of its progress, the minister must be sensitive to what Pope Benedict calls the “ambiguity of progress” and indeed must address those who are distracted by progress or even hurt by progress. Many signs of progress and success mark our world. Yet, despite the outward clothing of progress, there are still many signs of fragility in human hearts.
The ministry of the Deacon in the Church is a ministry of service. That service is a service at the table of the word, at the table of the altar and at the table of charity. The deacon in the Church is in a particular way a sign and a witness to Christ who came “not to be served but to serve”.
For the deacon then life and ministry are united. The ability of the deacon to be servant is determined not by managerial skills but by the fact that they are to be men “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. The deacon has a particular responsibility to order his life in such a way that he himself appears as one who shows forth the loving kindness of our God. Witnessing to the Gospel is never just an external thing. It means letting the Gospel, letting Jesus, take ownership of our lives.
John and Samson: as you present yourselves here before the Church this morning in answer to God’s call, remember that ministry and witness are not external actions. Ministry is not like any job that can be done at various junctures and then left aside. Ministry has no dimmer switch that I can tone down or turn up with greater intensity just as I wish. Witness to Jesus Christ means total identification with Jesus.
The deacon represents an essential and non-renounceable dimension of the Church itself. The Church is called to reveal the Jesus who serves. The deacon is called to shape his life into being a servant. He witnesses to service – or he fails to witness to service – through the way he lives.
A little later in this ceremony of ordination, when I consign the book of the Gospels to you, the liturgical text stresses how the minister must interiorise the Gospel, in these words:
“Receive the Gospel of Christ,
whose herald you now are.
Believe what you read,
teach what you believe
and practice what you teach”.
This is in the first place a call to you to live a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel.
Your service as a deacon, John and Samson, must spring from a true knowledge of Jesus and you are called to bring this personalized knowledge of Jesus to the men and women of our time. The prime thirst of contemporary humanity is the thirst for God, the God of love, as opposed to the false God’s of our or any generation.
The central focus of your life and ministry must be the Jesus whose love can overcome the limitedness and imperfection of your own self and permit you to live that unique logic of the Gospel that we have heard presented in the Gospel of the Beatitudes. That countercultural logic of Jesus must shape your life every day as you undertake the call to service in the order of deacons.