Homily at Deaconate Ordinations

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino, Rome, 18th April 2017



The Gospel reading, we have heard is a description of a journey of faith. Mary Magdalen had set out to find a dead body to and anoint it with oils.  Despite all the promises of Jesus that he would rise again, the disciples seem to have quickly lost conviction.  Mary sees the empty tomb and is saddened, she feels that someone has come and stolen the body of Jesus.


Next, she sees Jesus himself and even speaks to him but in her confusion, she fails to recognise him. It is only when Jesus turns to her and calls her by name that she finally realises who he is and believes.


It is a Gospel written to lead the believer from confusion about faith to belief, which comes only with a deeper encounter with the Risen Lord. Jesus does not force Mary to believe; rather he calls her by name and she responds.


Today we have come to ordain three new deacons: Sean Mulligan who will be ordained for the Diocese of Clogher, and James Daly and Robert Smyth, both of whom will be ordained for the service of the Archdiocese of Dublin.   I greet the candidates, their families, those who were involved in their formation and their friends.


What is a deacon? What does a deacon do?   The deacon is not defined by things that he does or can do.  The deaconate is a witness to something that belongs to the very essence of the Church: the call to serve.  The deaconate is not just the outward forms of service in the community or in the liturgy.


The service of the deacon is not a service of activism. It is a call to journey with the men and women of our times, and especially the young people of our time, leading them into a discernment about the fundamental orientation of their lives and especially their Christian lives and thus helping them find Jesus fully within the reality of their lives.


The Gospel story as we have heard it from Saint John gathers together elements which are to be found in the other Gospels but John rearranges them to show the progression between puzzlement and solid faith, which is the path that we Christians are called to follow. Our missionary activity must also lead people along the same path, not forcing belief, but guiding the believer into an encounter with Jesus and realising that he calls each of us by name.


Pope Francis has said that as a young man his dream was that of being a missionary. He had hoped to be sent to Japan where there is strong Jesuit presence.  He said that he wanted to be a missionary not in the sense of imposing a new and different religion on people who had not yet heard of Jesus Christ.  He desired to walk with people leading them into knowing someone to whom they would be attracted and thus to change their lives.


The journeying of the missionary disciple must be a journey of respect, encountering people which we may not always like, but which we must always attempt to understand; the context will be one which will be pluralist, and where we may attract others to our views but not impose them.   Being missionary is a service in faith, a service in which we teach and in which we learn.  We touch the hearts of others when we can truly call them by name and touch their identity in the deepest form.


In trying, for example, to witness to the power of Jesus through being alongside those who are vulnerable and wounded in their identity, we come better to understand the message of Jesus Christ. It is when we understand the wound and alienation of others, that we ourselves get new insights and a new understanding of Christ’s mercy.


We will not heal those whose lives have drifted from Jesus Christ by throwing books of dogma at them. That would only mean shouting at them in a language at them that they still have to learn.    Reaching out to the wounded will be achieved best by identifying the wounds of others and by picking up the wounded in our own arms and embracing them.


The ministry of service requires self-giving more than self-affirmation. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, delivered a remarkable address to the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church some years ago on the theme of renewal in the Church and the need to develop what he called “self-forgetfulness”. By this he meant an attitude which tries to overcome the temptation of creating god’s, based on our own ideas, but rather walking a path of encountering God through contemplation.

Without that sense of “self-forgetfulness” Archbishop Williams says, the Church runs the risk “of trying to sustain faith on the basis of an un-transformed set of human habits – with the all too familiar result that the Church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions: anxious, busy, competitive and controlling”.


The service of the deacon is not about trying out our own ideas. It is ecclesial service, a service within the Church alongside, but not superior to, the service of other believers.  The deacon – or the priest – is not a sort of self-standing general practitioner in spiritual goods.  The service of the deacon is a service within the community of the Church.


Where that is not understood the temptation towards a dangerous clericalism can arise.  Pope Francis warns continuously about the dangers of clericalism and his definition of clericalism is significant:

“Clericalism forgets that the visibility and sacramentality of the Church belong to all the People of God not only to the few chosen and enlightened”.


“The visibility and sacramentality of the Church belong to all the People of God”.   We need to stress the complementarity of ministries within the Church. The priest has an irreplaceable role in the ministry of leadership in the believing community, but that unique role of the priest can never relativize or override the equally irreplaceable role of lay faithful.


I am always struck at the Rite of Ordination to the Deaconate and Presbyterate – when the Bishop asks about the worthiness of the candidates, the immediate answer is not a report from the seminary, but rather: “After enquiry among the people of Christ”. This is a recognition that the people of Christ possess an innate sensus fidelium in discerning your worthiness for your mission and that that ecclesial sense of discernment of the people of Christ will apply also to the worthiness of your later service as deacons.


A little later in this ceremony of ordination, when I will consign the book of the Gospels to each of the new deacons, the liturgical text stresses how the minister must interiorise the Gospel, with these words: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”.


“Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach” is a mandate to live a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel. We pray that these new deacons will maintain that integrity of life and ministry and we pray for all of us, whatever our calling in the Church, will keep alive and will remain always faithful and enthusiastic to what our initial faith-dream may have been, even if our life’s journey may take unexpected directions.

May the Lord accompany our new deacons, wherever they will be called to minister, as they proclaim the word of God, and as they strive to believe what they read, teach what they believe and practice what they teach.  ENDS