'Called to serve' - Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate of Michael Smith

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 'Called to serve' - Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate of Michael Smith

Michael, tonight you are being raised to the Order of Deacon. The Order of Deacon was established by apostolic authority as an ordained ministry in the early Church. Deacons were to work in close collaboration with the Apostles in serving the needs of the Christian community. Thus, the deacon has his first relationship with the bishop.

I’m sure you know that people still do wonder exactly what a permanent deacon is. Deacons are not meant to be either mini-priests, nor somehow super-laypeople. Theirs is a calling and a ministry all its own. In a particular way, deacons are to embody the image of Christ the servant.

The first reading this evening reminds us that there is always a mystery in relation to God’s plan for every vocation. I am sure that you are conscious of the mysterious hand of God in your own life: firstly in your journey to the Catholic faith; and then in that journey of increasing desire to serve within your own parish community; and now in your journey over the last four years or so towards ordination as a deacon.

We heard the word this evening in the first reading: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you came to birth I consecrated you.” Michael, you have this sense of a call of God upon you. You have faithfully prepared for this day in the knowledge that it has not just been your own interest but something strangely and wonderfully spiritual in origin. The evident joy that you experience in pursuing this vocation – and now tonight in seeing your desire fulfilled – is testimony indeed to the grace of God being at the heart of this path along which you have travelled.

Ordained deacons served in the early Church. However, over time the diaconate became a stage towards the priesthood, and diaconal ministry in its own right ceased really to operate in the Church. But the Second Vatican Council decided to restore the ancient order. The genesis behind this I find most interesting.  

During the Nazi era, more than 2,500 priests were incarcerated at the Dachau concentration camp alone, many of whom over the years would be assigned to cell block 26, nicknamed the Priesterblock. The priests incarcerated there reflected upon all that had been happening in Europe in their own lifetime: now a second European war. They were moved to consider that the Church did indeed promote Christ the Priest - the name of your own parish - and Christ the King - the great feast at the end of the liturgical year, but the priests - a number of them - felt that there was a need to present another aspect of the mission and ministry of Christ. And that was Christ as Servant. It was from this idea that a movement began in the Church, initially in Germany, to promote the idea of re-introducing the Order of Deacon as a permanent ministry in the Church.

At the heart of the spirituality of the deacon is this notion of servant and Christ the Servant. The phrase - that I’m sure you’ve become very, very familiar with - when the Lord said that “I did not come to be served but to serve”, does capture the spirit of the diaconal ministry.

The revitalisation of the Order of Deacon was then forged during one of the darkest times of recent history, one of the darkest places in that time during the Second World War. It was forged amid suffering of the most intense kind. Thus, the second reading this evening is most appropriate. The language of the cross, says St Paul, may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but to those of us who are on the way see it as Christ’s power to save. In speaking of service the Lord said of himself that he was to lay down his life as a ransom for many. The Lord’s life was oriented towards this total self-giving – the laying down of his life – for the salvation of humanity.

So, Michael, you can always contemplate the mystery of the cross and connect it very directly and immediately with your ministry as a deacon. May you find many, many times contemplation of the mystery of the cross a spiritual nourishment in your ministry.

This spirit of service in the Church can take many different forms. In Australia, it is often associated with the role of the deacon entering into ministry within their local parish. You will have a liturgical role, but your role is principally pastoral. The nature of the pastoral service will differ according to both the needs of the parish and the particular gifts of each individual deacon. If you like, the ministry of the deacon in your local parish will be something which will become negotiated between the parish priest and yourself, as really has already been the case.

In preparation for his ordination this evening, Michael made a Profession of Faith and took an Oath of Fidelity. In these actions he promised to place himself firmly within the teaching of the Church, accepting its authority in matters of faith and morals. Michael is aware that he is to preach and teach what the Church preaches and teaches. He will affirm this in a few moments in the ceremony when he will say that he is resolved to hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience and to proclaim this faith in word and deed according to the Gospel and the Church’s tradition.

We heard in the Gospel this evening that the Lord said that he didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to complete them. So in the end you are to be a faithful servant of the teaching of the Catholic faith.

Michael, you are to be ordained a deacon. The Second Vatican Council, in re-instituting this diaconate ministry, identifies it as a ministry “of the Liturgy, of the Gospel and of Charity”. (LG 29)

The Church firstly entrusts to you the ministry of the Word. You are the minister of the Gospel in the celebration of the Mass. You will be called upon to preach. Proclaim the word - proclaim it with clarity, with boldness and with zeal. It is the word of truth, of light and of life. Never be ashamed of the Gospel and never back away from its challenging truth.

The Church entrusts to you with administration of the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. You may be called upon to celebrate marriages and to conduct funerals where there is no Mass. Thus you become a minister of the transforming power of God, which is brought into people’s lives through the sacraments. Celebrate each sacramental moment with a profound reverence for the mystery that it is and in a spirit of deep prayer.

The Church finally asks you to take a special interest in works of charity, following the example of the first deacons and the ancient tradition of the Church. Develop in your heart a great compassion, kindness and patience. Give to those who need not only practical support, but, more importantly, the witness of a love of Christ.

Michael, always follow the example of Christ himself who did not come to be served but to serve. So give your life willing and in generous service. It will become the great joy of your life as you do see the fruits of your labours.

So, in the words of the Gospel, may you be as a deacon salt of the earth and a light to the world.

This evening at this Mass, we unite together – bishop, priests, fellow deacons, your family and your brethren particularly from your own parish – and we commend you to God: that, as I will say in a few moments, what God has begun in you will indeed be brought to fulfilment.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, June 1, 2018