The Deacon – An Image of God’s Mercy
At the conclusion of May this year, there was in Rome, from May 27 through May 29, a special Jubilee for Deacons. It was an occasion for deacons and their families from all around the world to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to participate in a major gathering of deacons on the occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The Jubilee included events for the deacons to have opportunity to discuss the important role of the deacon as the image of mercy especially in the promotion of the New Evangelization. There was time for individual pilgrimages to the churches in Rome dedicated to St. Lawrence, one of the patrons of deacons, and for a pilgrimage through the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Peter. Among the celebration of Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Penance, the culmination of the three days was the celebration of Mass at St. Peter's Square by Pope Francis for the deacons and their families.
My brothers, Rodney, David, Michael and Kenneth, it is a graced moment for you, your families and for all of us in the Diocese of Palm Beach, as today you are ordained Permanent Deacons. You truly will become images of mercy not only for the Church but for your families and for the entire community of which you are a part. It is a graced moment for all of us as this occurs during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and as all of us walk through the Door of Mercy here at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola reminding us of the infinite mercy of God as the most important encounter in our lives. Your service as deacons will be an image of God's mercy in promoting the New Evangelization especially at a time when the realization of God's mercy is needed more than anything else. At this time of violence, prejudice, political uncertainty, acts of terror, both physically and psychologically, God's mercy truly is the only manifestation of that which can heal us and give us direction. Your ordination occurring on the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 affirms this reality. The ugly face of evil which revealed itself in that horrific event, became overshadowed by the countless images of mercy which came forth to assist. My brothers, as you are ordained this morning, you will be intimately united with the mercy of God who freely bestows His presence in you in a unique manner in order that you may share that presence with others.
At this time, I would like to thank your wives and your families for the support and sacrifices they have made in bringing you to this day. They certainly reflect the image of mercy in their lives by their unique relationship with you. I also thank Father Robert Pope, Deacon Dennis Demes, and all those so involved in your formation at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary over the years. We are all grateful to Monsignor David Toups and all at the seminary, which provides one of the finest programs of diaconate formation within our country. The seminary truly is another manifestation of the mercy of God in our midst. I have no doubt that you will continue to grow in your relationship with the Lord, with your families and with all of us as you take up this new ministry of mercy today. That ministry will be a source of assisting us in the security of our identities as made in the image and likeness of God and always most precious to God no matter what our sins and failures may be. Your years of formation, study and prayer to which you applied yourself so diligently will bear much fruit.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that we heard this morning, we hear of the beginning of the diaconal ministry within the life of the Church. The apostles, needing assistance in their ministry, choose seven men of high repute to work closely with them but in a different manner. What is significant is that both were images of God's mercy that enabled the Good News of Christ to be proclaimed and to make a difference in the lives of others. The passage from the Gospel of St. John that was proclaimed is a glaring reminder that we often do not see the need for God's mercy in our own lives. If we cannot do this, we will not be able to be ministers of it in the lives of others. St. Peter refused to have his feet washed by Christ and the Lord admonished him that if he would not permit it he would not be able to participate in the life of Christ. How often we see our society refusing to accept the free mercy of God by believing it has no failures but always justifying them. Without the acceptance of God's mercy, which He freely bestows upon us, we choose to cut ourselves off from what we need the most. Our society is living example of this.
During the homily of the celebration of Mass concluding the Jubilee for Deacons in May, Pope Francis spoke wonderful words of reflection on the ministry of service of the life of deacons. These words are certainly very appropriate for you, my brothers, this morning. However, in reflecting upon these words, it is important for us to realize that the Pope speaks to all of us whether we are priests, deacons, bishops or not. In fact, on many occasions the Pope has emphasized the dangers of clericalism which can tempt the ordained to believe they are privileged and separated from others. It can also tempt the laity to believe that a higher standard of Christian living is expected of the ordained than from them. Pope Francis has emphasized that many of the things that priests and deacons can do, can be done by laypersons. However, the call to service within the life of the Church is one which is equal to all, whether ordained or not. This reminds all of us of the significant role we play in the life of the Church in being images of mercy especially in promoting the New Evangelization and in building up the Body of Christ.
Pope Francis reflected on three aspects of the life of deacons which you, my brothers, will take up today. They are – availability in life, meekness of heart and constant dialogue with Jesus. You can certainly see that these aspects of Christian living are part of the Christian life of all of us, ordained or not. Certainly the ordained lives these aspects in a manner that is different from others in order that others might realize their call to the same in their lives.
Availability is the key to diaconal service. Each day, a deacon realizes that he must be generous with his life and give his time to others even when it is an infringement upon himself. Availability means that one is not attached to his own agenda but always ready to deal with the unexpected and the constant surprises that come before him. As Pope Francis said, "The servant knows how to open the doors of his time and inner space for those around him, including those who knock on those doors at odd hours, even if that entails setting aside something he likes to do or giving up some well-deserved rest. One who serves is not worried about the timetable." How significant this is for the deacon as well as for all of us as images of God's mercy.
Meekness of life is essential to anyone who has been called to ordination. It is the realization that it is Jesus who was meek and humble of heart and only by taking His yoke upon us do we find freedom and joy in life. In the Gospel today, Peter, by refusing to have his feet washed by Jesus, seems to be acting in a meek manner. However, it is quite the opposite. He displays a pride which says I have no need of your mercy as I am able to do the proclamation of the Gospel on my own. Meekness means that we realize our own unworthiness in order to help others accept unworthiness as well. The Pope stated that "Meekness is one of the virtues of the deacon. When a deacon is meek, then he is one who serves, not trying to ‘mimic’ priests; no, he is meek." Meekness imitates God by serving others. God is ever ready to serve us and is always patient, kind and always there for us. These are the characteristics of Christian service which is always welcoming, patient, tireless in sympathy and always making others feel welcome and at home in the Church. The Pope expressed to the deacons, "This, dear deacons, is how your vocations as ministers of charity will mature: in meekness."
Finally, Pope Francis emphasized how the deacon must be in constant dialogue with Jesus through prayer. This dialogue realizes the need for having a healthy heart which is open to healing by God and which knows forgiveness and never closed nor hardened. Again, St. Peter is a good example of one who had to learn to be healed of his many shortcomings. His words to Jesus refusing to have his feet washed are quite indicative of his pride which caused him to brag that he would never leave Jesus and then is one of the first to deny Jesus. However, Peter is always open to the forgiveness of the Lord and does not let his shortcomings stand in the way of God's merciful love. It is in receiving this merciful love through the healing of our heart that we become more and more involved in the relationship with God which we foster each day in our dialogue with Jesus. The Pope expressed to the deacons, "Dear deacons, this is a grace you can implore daily in prayer. You can offer the Lord your work, your little inconveniences, your weariness and your hopes in an authentic prayer that brings your life to the Lord and the Lord to your life."
My brothers, Rodney, David, Michael and Kenneth, we all come together as a family this morning as the Lord ordains you to the ministry of being an image of His mercy in a unique manner. You become part of a great fraternity of deacons in the Diocese of Palm Beach. We assure you of our support and prayers as you assist us in our relationship with the Lord. All of us, deacons, priests, religious and lay faithful, are called to experience the merciful love of God in our lives and to share that love with others. While we all have different roles in ministry within the Church, we are all equal and the same before the Lord as we do our best to also be images of His mercy. This morning, as we exit the Door of Mercy of this Cathedral, may our deacons be that image to others and may we all go forward renewed in the same spirit.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 16, 2016