ORDINATION TO THE DIACONATE OF TOM KOUIJZER S.M.
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Teresa, Donore Avenue, 9 December 2017
The Gospel reading we have heard is a familiar one. We find many of its sayings also in the other Gospels, but not always in the same context. In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, the sayings tell us how Jesus in his time sent out seventy-two disciples on a first mission. These were sent out two by two with specific instructions and they then returned to report to Jesus on their work.
Here in the Gospel of Mathew it is twelve disciples who are sent out and the overall context is more that of the time in which the Gospel was written than the time of Jesus himself.
What Matthew is doing is gathering a number of sayings that Jesus used on particular occasions in his life and at a later stage, some decades after Jesus’ return to his Father, making of them a sort of a guidebook about the mission of the Church. Matthew uses these sayings to help understand what mission in the Church is.
We have then a guidebook about how ministry was to be shaped in the very early days of the Church. If that is the case, the question arises: could this guidebook have some meaning for us today and especially for you Tom as you set out this morning in your calling as deacon in the Church. Let us look more closely at the Gospel text.
Matthew begins with a short comment on the missionary style of Jesus himself. Jesus journeys, he preaches, he heals and he cures.
Immediately then Matthew turns to talk about the people to whom the Church is called to minister. He speaks about people who “were harassed and dejected, like sheep without shepherds”.
The first lesson that we have to learn regarding the missionary style of the Church today is that we have to know and understand the troubles, the sorrows, and the anxieties of the people of our times. Preaching is never just the repetition of disincarnated words, no matter how learned or eloquent. The preacher must know and identify himself with the suffering of his people.
Pope Francis often speaks about the periphery. It is not just that he calls the Church to be more present among the deprived and the marginalised: the “harassed and the dejected” of our days. Pope Francis is saying something more: he is telling is that it is in the periphery that we come to understand the Gospel message in a special way. In the periphery, we shake off much of the false security and the false self-certainties we have about our own faith and realise how dependent we are on God.
Tom: the deaconate is not just an order or a grouping within the Church. It is not just a short transitional step on the path to priesthood. The deacon represents an essential and non-renounceable dimension of the Church itself. The Church is called to reveal the Jesus who serves. The deacon is called to shape his life into being a servant. He witnesses to service – or he fails to witness to service – through the way he lives.
The Gospel then indicates that all service in the Church must have a particular characteristic: the Church must be shepherd. The people are “harassed and the dejected” because they do not have shepherds. Our society is remains when the Church fails to be true shepherd, carer and guide. The Church fails when it does not speak the Gospel as a message that touches and shepherds those who drift in life and seek meaning. Preaching, as I said earlier, is never just the repetition of disincarnated words no matter how learned or eloquent. Shepherding is not simply about structures and about doing things: it must touch and heal and liberate troubled and uncertain hearts in our time.
Let us look at a final dimension of the missionary activity of the Church that we find in our Gospel reading. The shepherd is sent to labourers when the crop is burdensome and when it seems that the labour available is not proportionate to the task to be achieved.
Today this situation is experienced in many of our communities. Priests feel overburdened as numbers go down and the tasks they are called to face increase.
What solution does Jesus propose? Jesus’ response is not necessarily what modern management consultants would advise in similar situations. Jesus sends the disciples out to a cultural climate that is unknown to them and he commissions them to undertake tasks about which they had no experience.
What they are called to focus on once again is not structure, but precisely those things that are central to the missionary style of Jesus, as we noted at the beginning of our Gospel reading. Jesus journeyed, he preached, he healed and he cured. Jesus journeyed. The Church must have the courage to bring the word and the healing of Christ to the real world. The Church cannot be a closed community just of the likeminded or the closed minded. The message of Jesus reaches out to heal and to liberate.
Tom: your ministry as a Deacon is a ministry linked profoundly with the Word of God. As a deacon, you will be called to break the word of God. You will be called to engage with people so that they can encounter the word of God, grapple with it, understand it, and experience it as a call to communion with Jesus Christ in the community of his Church, where the word of God has its home.
When you receive the book of the Gospels today, the sacred rite reminds you of the nature of your ministry as a Deacon:
“Believe what you read,
teach what you believe
and practice what you teach”.
This is in the first place a call to you to live a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel.
Your service as a deacon, Tom, must spring from a true knowledge of Jesus and you are called to bring this personalized knowledge of Jesus to the men and women of our time. The prime thirst of contemporary humanity is the thirst for God, the God of love, as opposed to the false God’s of our or any generation.
The centrality of your life must be this Jesus whose love can overcome the limitedness and imperfection of your own self and permit you to work in your life and through you in the lives of others many signs and wonders as the Apostles did in their time.
Mary, Mother of the Church, accompany you in your ministry you undertake in the Marist tradition. May she accompany you and protect you in the years to come.