Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

Deacons are servants of the Word, liturgy, and charity

Voices Oct. 15, 2017

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, kneels at the altar at Holy Rosary Cathedral, alongside other priests and deacons, while Alan Cavin and Peter Gomes lay prostrate during their ordination to the Permanent Diaconate. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

This is an excerpt from a homily given Oct. 7 at Holy Rosary Cathedral for the ordination to the diaconate of Alan Cavin and Peter Gomes.

VANCOUVER—Today is a long-awaited occasion, and a time of great joy for me as your bishop and for the whole Church in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. For the third time in fewer than two years, the Lord is giving me the privilege of ordaining men from our Permanent Diaconate Program whom you, dear friends, have judged to be worthy of this ministry in the service of our local Church.

Here it is certainly appropriate, and a real pleasure, to be able publicly to express my enormous gratitude in the first place to the wives and families of today’s candidates. Without their spirit of sacrifice and their prayers throughout the period of formation, we know that they would not be here this afternoon.

So thank you for your unfailing support of your husbands and for accepting the challenges that will inevitably be yours as a wife of a deacon. Thank you for your “yes,” like that of Mary’s, for allowing the Lord to enter your life in what was undoubtedly an unexpected way. Without your consent, Alan and Peter would not be here today. As families, like Abraham, you embarked on a pilgrimage of faith, and like Abraham you too will be blessed for your trust in the good Lord.

And, with fraternal esteem, I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to you, Monsignor Smith. As the Director of our Permanent Diaconate Program, with your indefatigable zeal, imagination, wisdom and heart, you have accompanied these men to the altar throughout their journey of formation. Thank you, Monsignor, together with all the priests, deacons, Religious, and lay faithful who have lent their hand in so many ways. Working together you have ensured that the formation program followed by our deacons-elect was  spiritually, intellectually and pastorally in line with the norms established by the universal Church and with the best practices gleaned from the experience of other more long-standing programs.

It is also more than fitting for me to thank the staff and faculty of St. Mark’s College for the indispensable role they play in the formation process. They make certain that the theological education of our permanent deacons, in fidelity to the great tradition of the Catholic Church, integrates doctrine, moral teaching, and spirituality in such a way that the candidates are prepared for their ministry of service. 

Servants of Charity and Justice

Service. This is the one word that sums up the ministry that Alan and Peter are undertaking through their ordination. Deacons are icons or images, living embodiments of Christ the Servant in the midst of the community. In the Incarnation, by taking flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Son of God became a deacon, a servant of us all. This is how the Lord comes to meet us: in Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

Being a Christian means following Christ’s example by putting oneself at the service of others out of self-giving love. Because of our baptism, as members of the Body of Christ we are all called to be servants of one another using the charisms given to each of us for building up the Church.

But within the community he founded, Jesus set aside the Apostles for a unique ministry as shepherds of his flock. All that they did in his name was to be carried out after his example as the Son of man who “came not be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).

Under this instruction of the Lord, as we read this afternoon from the Book of Acts, the Apostles sought other collaborators to help in their ministry, especially that of waiting on tables, thereby recalling the Master’s gesture at the Last Supper of being the chief waiter, the maitre d’, by washing his disciples’ feet. The Lord acted as a deacon and “wants those who follow him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, washing the feet of those entrusted to [their] our care.” ( Benedict XVI, Address to the Parish Priests and Clergy of the Diocese of Rome (7 February 2008).

While the text from Acts seems to limit the role of these “seven men of good standing” (Acts 6:3) to acts of charity, other New Testament texts point out, as William S. Kurz says in Acts of the Apostles, that “God’s plan for deacons [was] not limited to caring for the poor of the Christian community, as important as that is, but also entails evangelizing, teaching, and sacramental ministry.”

Like your Master, dear Alan and Peter, go out to the lowly, the rejected and the neglected. As deacons bring “the poor to the Church and the Church to the poor – those who are poor materially, spiritually and culturally, to those who are marginalized and on the fringes of society” ( CCCB National Directory for the Ministry, Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in Canada).

Bring them the Father’s infinite and merciful love. And do so, not at a distance, but by identifying with them: becoming poor with the poor; suffering with those who suffer, entering into the hopelessness of the desperate in order to show them of God’s mercy. A diaconal life of service means knowing and being involved with your parish community, in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other institutions where you may be called to serve.

I pray, dear ordinandi, that whatever the situation you will find yourself in, the service of charity to the marginalized will always be an essential dimension of your ordained ministry.  

As deacons, brothers, you are likewise entrusted with being servants of the Word, heralds of the Gospel of Christ. No one has put this responsibility more clearly than the Apostle Paul when he writes: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). What you are to preach and teach in all the various forms that will take in your ministry down through the years is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma. Pope Francis summarizes it in this way: it is the “proclamation of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[7]

At Pentecost the Spirit descended on the Apostles, and they set out to preach the Word of God in a way that was understood by all who listened “in their own language” (Acts 2:6), that is, in the specific cultural and human context in which they lived. It is the Spirit who enables the Word of God to be translated into the human language. The same Spirit who has spoken through the prophets will enable the Word of God to speak through you, dear ordinandi, if you are docile to his voice, and to do so in a way that is understandable and persuasive to the men and women of our own day.

A final word about your role as servants of the liturgy. Just as the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” so too will you as deacons.  The Sacrifice of the Mass is the source from which the effectiveness of your diaconal ministry will flow and the summit to which it is directed. Your presence at the celebration of the Eucharist and at the other liturgical rites at which you will preside is “a visible sign of the profound relationship between the Church’s worship and service in charity and justice to one’s brothers and sisters” (CCCB). “The intimate relation between serving at the table of the Eucharist and serving the many hungers of the world [must] be evident to the community.”

In a few moments you will lie prostate on the floor of the sanctuary of this cathedral in a position of total vulnerability and submissiveness. Interiorly you will be like Mary at the Annunciation, the account of which was proclaimed in the Gospel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Stripped of your old self, just as you once were at your baptism, you will be raised up by the prayers of the saints, prepared to share in the ministry of Christ the Servant and declare, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). After the Litany, I will follow the gesture of the Apostles “who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). Through mercy of God, you will be forever interiorly changed by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, all of us promise to continue praying that you will be  faithful and joyful deacons ever ready to serve the People of God.