Today, the Church of Orlando is blessed as we are about to ordain 14 of our brothers to the Permanent Diaconate. I welcome you to the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. I thank Father Robert Webster, the rector, and staff for their help in making this day possible. I also welcome the people who are joining us at home via live stream from Orlando to Puerto Rico to New York, to Chicago and to the Philippines.
The priests and deacons join us here today in prayer and thanksgiving to God. As Scripture reminds us, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” (Psalm 118)
We rejoice and are glad in welcoming Peter, Noel, Elbert, David, Samuel, Steven, Dominic, Daniel, Jim, Nelson, Peter, David, Nelson, Ray, your wives and children, your parents and your families. Today, the priests, the deacons, the religious, and the people of the Orlando Diocese give thanks to God for you.
I thank your wives for their prayers and support over these past six years. I thank your families for the sacrifice in allowing your parents to be away from you. They now return refreshed and renewed with the peace and love of God. I thank your teachers and professors for their dedication in forming you to become good deacons and servant leaders. I offer a special thanks to Deacons Joe Gassman and David Camous and the diaconal formation committee.
For many years your parishes have prayed for you and now you are about to be ordained deacons. Today we will pray that God will bless you in your ministry of service to God and His people.
You have been formed by God and His Word, which you are to preach, teach and live as gift through your daily life of prayer. The grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders will configure your heart to Christ so that your life, ministry and service will be conformed to Christ. Pope Francis reminds us that the world of self-centeredness, individualism, careerism and clericalism has no place in the life of ministry in the Church. Be aware that your identity comes not from your title as deacon or from your ministry, but from your relationship with Jesus Christ. You are to become servants of God. This relationship is one of love, lived out in your love for your wife, your family and your sisters and brothers.
Jeremiah the Prophet reminds us, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I dedicated you.” You were formed in the image and likeness of God. At Baptism, you were dedicated to know, love and serve the Lord. In your ministry you must focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect and defend all human life. Preach the Gospel of Life inspired by St. Pope John Paul II, that all life is sacred from the unborn to the elderly, from the person with disabilities to the marginalized.
You have been in formation for six years or more. St. Paul in his Letter to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 spells out the qualities of a deacon; good character, be sincere, do not drink too much, or be overly greedy for money, be faithful to the Gospel, have a clear conscience. You are ordained not for the liturgy alone, but for service to the needs of the people; you are the visible sign of the connection between the Gospel message and our responsibility to look after our brothers and sisters in need. As deacons you are to have a special relationship with your bishop. He is your spiritual father. You are also to have a special relationship with priests who are your brothers in Christ. These same qualities apply to priests as well as bishops in their ministry. All ordained in Holy Orders are all called into a relationship with the Trinity of persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From this relationship we must grow and foster a true missionary and apostolic spirit of service to all God’s people.
Deacon James Keating (former Director of Theological Formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation) reminds us, “it is God’s power – not our efforts – that ‘makes things happen.’” It is God’s power that must occupy the core effectiveness of a deacon’s mission.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, wrote in her diary, “I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.” We say that God is love–this is the God you must embrace in your life and ministry.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us of this in His prayer, “Holy Father, I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.” Pope Francis reminds us too, “In order to know God we need to know His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’” You have been studying and reading Scripture and say, “He is the Savior of the World, the Son of the Father.” These are the words in the Creed. But Pope Francis insists that we must answer the question from our own experience. “Who is Jesus Christ for you?” This may not be an easy question to answer. Pope Francis challenges, “You have to dig into your heart and acknowledge you are a sinner and Jesus consecrated Himself for you on Calvary. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope Francis reminds us that it is one thing to tell our sins, but another to recognize we are sinners. It is only through a life of prayer that God will reveal Jesus Christ to you and me. It is only through a daily life of prayer that you and your ministry will be fulfilling and sustaining. The Liturgy of the Hours will be your source of a daily relationship with God. Pope Francis tells us, “It would be a good habit if every day, in every moment, you would say, “Lord, let me know You, so that I may know myself.” St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, answered the question, “Who is Jesus?” with these words: “Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly, I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.”
My prayer, deacons, is that God will reveal His love to you so that your ministry will be one with Christ in service to all God’s people.
In his prayer intention for the month of May 2020, Pope Francis asked the Church to pray for permanent deacons, who live their vocation in and with their family. These are Pope Francis’ words:
“Deacons are not second-level priests.
They are part of the clergy and live their vocation in and with their family.
They are dedicated to the service of the poor, who carry within them the face of the suffering Christ.
They are the guardians of service in the Church.
Let us pray that deacons, faithful in their service to the Word and the poor, may be an invigorating symbol for the entire Church.” Amen
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe
Homily of Bishop John Noonan
October 3, 2020