HOMILY FOR THE ORDINATION OF PERMANENT DEACONS
CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION, TUAM
21 November 2021
Feast of Christ the King
A new beginning
I extend a very warm welcome to you all on this special occasion as we celebrate the Rite of Ordination of three permanent deacons for service in the Archdiocese of Tuam. This is the first ordination to the Permanent Diaconate in our Archdiocese and, in that sense, it indicates a new beginning. It is also the first ordination ceremony to be held in our beautifully refurbished Cathedral. We thank God for this great day, this historic and joyful occasion for the Archdiocese.
I congratulate the three candidates on this your Ordination Day. I welcome you Cathal, Julian and James, and your wives and families. Welcome to those who have been involved in your formation, Fr. Stephen Farragher, Maureen Behan and Fr. Fergal Cunnane. I welcome the priests of the Cathedral Parish, Fr. Pat Farragher, the Administrator, Fr. Seán Flynn; our Diocesan Secretary, Fr. Francis Mitchell, the priests, the religious and parishioners from throughout the Archdiocese. You are all most welcome indeed.
‘Diákonia,’ meaning service
One cannot disassociate the diaconate from its original Greek word Diákonia, meaning service. Central to the mission and ministry of Jesus is a text (Mark 10:45) which captures the concept of the diaconate, and in which he reminds his disciples that he came to give his life for others. You will recall that on that occasion James and John and the other disciples were more concerned about places of honour but Jesus emphasised that the Son of Man came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In the original Greek, the word does not imply being served or “deaconed to” but rather “to deacon to” – to do the serving. The deacon is not the one who receives the service of others, but the deacon is the one who offers service. This is the essence of the diaconal ministry. It is of the essence of the diaconate that the deacon will have a definite and deliberate outreach to those who are poor and on the margins. This outreach, as you know, is one of the pillars of the Synodal Pathway upon which the Holy Father has now, in a very deliberate way, set the Church. This is a very exciting time for the Church, and a very challenging time to be ordained to the diaconal ministry.
1. The ministry of charity
The ministry of charity involves the deacon witnessing to the Gospel through a life of grace and thereby witnessing through service to the poor, to the aged, to the sick and infirm, to prisoners, to the marginalised, to youth, to young adults, to groups like St. Vincent de Paul, the Legion of Mary, to young people who may be interested in exploring their faith, and to other groups who may be endeavouring to find their feet in matters of faith and spirituality.
2. The ministry of the Word
In the Ministry of the Word, these new deacons will proclaim the Gospel and carry out the vitally important ministry of preaching. They will accompany and assist through catechesis, religious instruction and prayer those who are preparing for the sacraments, and they will gather and encourage and help to form those who are called to exercise parish-based ministries of all kinds, not least among which are those who are members of Baptism Teams and those who dedicate themselves to supporting and consoling those who are bereaved. In all of these cases, in everything you do, the Word of God in the scriptures will be a valuable and an indispensable resource. Remember what St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be upright. This is how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
3. Liturgical ministry
In the liturgical sphere, James, Cathal and Julian, you will have the privilege of conferring Baptism, you will assist at the altar during Mass, you will witness and bless sacramental marriages, you will bring Holy Communion to the sick, you will preside at funeral liturgies and carry out the Rite of Christian Burial. You will have the honour of serving parishioners by presiding at other non-Eucharistic liturgies and leading the Christian community in prayer in all kinds of different circumstances – some very joyful, others under the veil of sadness.
You will identify and call forth the God-given gifts in others so that they may also put their gifts at the service of the liturgical assembly as Altar Servers, stewards, ushers, members of choirs, readers of the Word, and ministers of Holy Communion.
Pope Francis on the Diaconate
When addressing deacons in the United States some years ago, Pope Francis stated that, “it belongs to the baptismal mission of every Christian in accordance with his or her state of life to take an active part in society by virtue of their baptismal calling. Yet every deacon has a special witness to give. The sacramental grace of ordination to the diaconate is meant to strengthen the deacon, to make his efforts fruitful even as his secular occupation helps him enter into the temporal sphere in a way that is perhaps not appropriate for other members of the clergy.”
Deacon as intermediary
Historically the deacon serves as the eyes and ears of the Bishop and as the Bishop’s heart and hands. The deacon is a “go-between”, a bridge linking the secular and the Church. Deacons are intended as intermediaries informing the community of the Bishop’s pastoral priorities and in turn conveying what the community has to say to the Bishop. Again, this is a vital and healthy feature of the synodal model of the Church.
A gift for the Church, not a diminution of the laity
The ministry of the deacon, understood and exercised properly, does not detract and should never detract from the vital role of the empowered laity. Indeed, it should and does enrich it. A vibrant diaconate will enhance, expand and empower the ministry of the laity, the religious and of the priesthood since the diaconate is a God-given grace for and gift to the Church. And in the case of the three permanent deacons ordained today, you bring an additional blessing to your new ministry. As married men, as husbands and fathers, you bring an experience and expertise to the ordained ministry that is already totally supportive of and fully committed to the vocation of the laity, of the priesthood, and of the consecrated way of life too.
Christ the King
In the Gospel the Church chooses for the feast of Christ the King today, we are permitted to listen to a conversation between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate is trying to understand why the Jews have handed Jesus over to him to be tried. There’s an allegation that Jesus is claiming to be a king and thereby undermining the authority of the Roman Emperor. So, the conversation centres around Jesus’ kingship. It is very interesting to discover what constitutes kingship in Jesus’ mind. He says, “Yes, I am a king. I was born for this; I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” The claim of Jesus distinguishes his rule from various forms of power and prestige, of domination and economic exploitation so common in our world.
Julian, James and Cathal, as you begin your new, privileged and challenging service of God’s people, seek always “to bear witness to the truth” in everything you do and say. In that way, those whom you serve will hear and respond to the Lord’s voice through you. “May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfilment.”