Like so many other recent events, the celebration of our diaconate ordination this morning is different than usual due to the limitations imposed by safety measures for the coronavirus. Our attendance is limited but, the Church is fully present with us as we celebrate this happy day for the life of the Diocese of Palm Beach. My brother, Michael, as you are ordained today, perhaps the limitations remind us of a significant aspect of the Order of Deacon which is to be a servant and one who identifies with the people he serves who are often bound by limitations. We certainly all can embrace each other at this time in the limitations imposed upon us but also rise above them through the reality of Jesus Christ who is present among us. Christ continues to minister to us in a special way through His ordained ministers. Michael, today you become a member of a wonderful and faith filled college of deacons in the Diocese of Palm Beach to whom I am most grateful.
Today is a most fitting day to be ordained as it is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is a model for all vocations and ministries within the Church. Mary may seem to be one of the most isolated persons in the New Testament, almost always silent on the side, yet her influence rises above that of all including the Apostles. The only exception is her Son, Jesus. It is for this reason that her name evokes who she is and what each and every one of us should be in our lives as followers of Christ.
The biblical notion of a name is a very important one for it understands that when we know someone’s name, it is much more than simply a matter of identifying one person from another. To know someone’s name is to enter into a particular relationship with that person. To pronounce someone’s name is to mysteriously evoke who the person is. That is why the name of Jesus, as Saint Paul proclaims, rises above every other name.
It is significant to note my brother, Michael, that your ordination today will not change the name by which God has called you from your birth. While you will be configured to Christ in a new manner as a deacon, you will be the same person you were before your ordination. It is important for you to know your name and to respect it as it will be your role as a deacon to remind everyone of the unique importance of their dignity as individual persons made in the image and likeness of God. Becoming a deacon, priest or bishop within the Church is not a mask that covers over who we are. The unique role of service we possess enables us to allow others to see us as we are, especially when it requires conversion on our part. We continue to grow in the knowledge of who we are as individuals in order to bring our relationship with Christ to them in a living manner so those we serve may call us by name. This is why Mary’s role was so significant in the life of others as well as in ours.
One of the great experiences of this year, immediately before the pandemic, was the visit that I had with Pope Francis with all of the other Bishops of Florida and the Southern Region. The Pope spoke to us, as a brother called by name to be the Chief Shepherd of the Church. He did not put on any façade or mask, but invited us to be ourselves in his presence so that he could speak to us from the heart about the unique ministry that we share as bishops and as limited human beings relying on God.
One of the aspects of our conversation with the Pope was his highlighting the role of the deacon within the Church as a necessary component of what true service is all about. The Pope has been very consistent in his appreciation of the deacon as well as his articulation of the deacon’s role as one who serves and not one who is set apart. The effective deacon is the one who knows his name, who he is and who he should not be, can change, be converted, can identify with others and lead them to where they should be, most especially by example. He is one who can be called by name.
Almost a year ago on September 25, Pope Francis gave a very clear articulation of his teaching on the role of the deacon in one of the audiences on the Acts of the Apostles. He referred to the Second Reading of today, in which the office of Deacon came about through the Apostles choosing seven men of good reputation to assist them. The Pope explained that that occasion “refers to the deacons who were created for ... service.” The Pope went on to emphasize that, “In the Church a deacon is not a deputy priest, but something else. He is not for the altar but for service. He is the custodian of service in the Church. When a deacon is too fond of going to the altar, he is making a mistake. This is not his path. This harmony between service to the word and service to charity represents the leaven that makes the ecclesial body grow.”
Today, my brother, Michael, you are you are ordained to that service in a unique manner. Your wife, Coleen, and your family will assist and support you in this service. The Church needs your ministry of service so much especially in a society afflicted by so many difficulties and misunderstanding of its true identity. You are called to a service of coming to know your name and yourself even more deeply by seeing it in relationship to the Person of Jesus Christ and by bringing Christ to those you serve in their particular circumstances, as limited as they may be but with so many possibilities Christ can afford them. You have accepted from God an especially unique and noble call which enables others to know their name as well as yours.
In a few moments we will proceed with this beautiful Rite of Ordination which has a long and rich tradition within the Church. After we call upon all of the saints, by name, with individual and unique personalities, to be with us and to intercede for us in the solemn action, you will be ordained by the laying on of hands and consecratory prayer.
My brother, as you are about to undertake by name the unique role of service within the Church, always look to Mary and she will point you to Christ whom you will announce and proclaim. The words that I will speak to you when I hand you the Book of the Gospels today are words fully lived by Mary, “Receive the Book of the Gospels whose herald you are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” These words are at the center of your ministry as a deacon. By living Holy Orders in this manner, you will continue to respond to the call by name which God has given to you and to support others in that same call to them. May the Lord continue to bring that good work to fulfillment in you.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 18, 2020