Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate
Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola
September 9, 2023
On the recent occasion of his visit to Portugal for World Youth Day, Pope Francis celebrated vespers with the bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers of the Diocese of Portugal. In his homily for the occasion, Pope Francis spoke in a personal manner to all those in service to the Church in Portugal in regard to matters essential to the life of those who commit themselves to the Church. My brothers, Benny and Sandi, these words are most appropriate for you today as you are ordained deacons and become servants of the Church in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed, they are applicable to all of us in Holy Orders as well as to all of us in service to the Church. It is almost providential how the words of the pope are so much in keeping with the readings chosen for today’s Mass of Ordination, from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. Matthew. They are personal to you, my brothers.
Pope Francis, in his typical Jesuit style, emphasized three decisions that are essential in the lives of bishops, priests, deacons, religious and all those who minister in the Church. Benny and Sandi, these are decisions you are making and articulating today and will continue to carry out every day in your ministry as deacons. They are: the decision to act with courage, the decision to work together in offering pastoral care, and the decision to become fishers of men and women. I would like to refer to the three decisions as those to be courageous, cooperative and compassionate, the three C’s.
In the first reading today, the Lord exhorts the prophet Jeremiah not to hesitate and to have courage, the first C. Jeremiah is reluctant and fearful to follow the Lord’s call and makes excuses that he is too young and does not know how to speak. The Lord assures Jeremiah that he is not to be afraid because He will be with Jeremiah. It is the Lord who places His words in the mouth of Jeremiah, just as He will place them in your mouths, Benny and Sandi, if you have the courage to follow His call. We live in a world and culture today where it is easy to give into the temptation to hesitate, especially when the word that we speak is not accepted and challenged constantly. You begin your ministry with a decision to be courageous.
In speaking to those at the vespers service in Portugal, Pope Francis made clear that prayer is essential for acting with courage. He emphasized that, “Only in adoration, only in the presence of the Lord, do we truly rediscover our taste and passion for evangelization. Oddly enough, we have lost the prayer of adoration; and everyone, priests, bishops, consecrated men and women need to rediscover it, the ability to be quiet in the Lord’s presence. … In prayer, we overcome the temptation of a ministry of nostalgia and regrets.” It is prayer that takes the focus off of ourselves and puts it on the Lord in a relationship with Him, which is the center of our ministry. In a noisy atmosphere today, we need to listen to the Lord as He speaks to us in prayer.
In the second reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, it is important to note that the apostles choose deacons to assist them in their ministry so they could devote themselves to prayer. They were not indicating that the chosen deacons would not have the same need for prayer, but were emphasizing its centrality in the life of ministry, theirs as well as the deacons who would assist them. My brothers, today you promise to deepen the spirit of prayer, which includes the faithful praying of the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church.
Pope Francis reminded the group in Portugal that a lack of prayer and adoration leads us to turn to frustrations, disappointments and complaints. We turn in on ourselves and become too focused on our concerns and not those of others. He said that a spiritual worldliness overtakes us, and this is what gives rise to clericalism. How often we have heard the pope speak of clericalism and the danger it encompasses. He emphasized that, “Clericalism is our ruin. As a great spiritual master once said, spiritual worldliness — which provokes clericalism —is one of the worst evils that can come about in the Church. We need to surmount our difficulties without ideologies, without worldliness, impelled by a sole desire: that the Gospel be preached to all people.” It is prayer which overcomes this temptation and puts things in the proper perspective. The pope also emphasized that clericalism is not limited to those in Holy Orders and exclaimed that, “Clericalized laypersons are worse than clerics.” All we have to do is to look at the political world today to see how true that is and what Pope Francis is speaking about. How clear is the Lord about this in the Gospel today as He says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” You decide for courage, the first C.
On this day of your ordination, you make the decision to cooperate in offering pastoral care. This is exactly what the seven deacons did as they were chosen by the apostles to assist them in carrying out their ministry. No one of us is involved in an individual ministry. We are involved in the ministry given to us by the Lord so that we can cooperate together in preaching His Gospel and making His presence known. We serve in a particular parish, and we serve in a particular diocese. Our ministry is not separate from them, and the needs of the diocese and the parish define our ministry. My brothers, as you are ordained today, you are incardinated into the Diocese of Palm Beach and join a college of deacons who are extraordinary in their giving of themselves to the mission of the Church present before them. I have no doubt that you will be equal to their commitment and that through it the Word of God will continue to spread among us as it did through the first deacons. This can only occur by your decision to cooperate, the second C.
Finally, today, Benny and Sandi, you confirm your decision to be compassionate, the third C. As I said before, our world today is a challenging one and needs the example of Christian life to inspire and lead others to the truth that makes a difference and brings joy to life. As Pope Francis said in Lisbon, “There is so much darkness in today’s society, also here in Portugal, everywhere. We seem to have lost the sense of enthusiasm, the courage to dream, the strength to confront challenges and to be confident about the future; and so, we sail amid doubts and uncertainty, especially economic uncertainty, an impoverishment of social friendship, and a lack of hope. As Church, we are entrusted with the task of putting out into the waters of the sea and casting the nets of the Gospel, not pointing fingers, not accusing, but bringing to men and women of our time an offer of life, the life of Jesus.” Compassion drives us to call others to the Gospel. To become fishers of men and women is a decision to do so not by being judgmental but by being compassionate, the third C.
My brothers, Benny and Sandi, as we now continue with this Rite of Ordination, let us do so in the spirit of prayer and adoration, which is at the center of the ministry that you will carry out as deacons and that we will carry out together in the Diocese of Palm Beach. As you now make your promises and commit yourself to the Church in a particular way today, do so with courage, cooperation and compassion. May we do so, hearing the words of the Lord to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I have appointed you.” May the Lord who begins this good work in you today continue to bring it to fulfillment.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 15, 2023