Ordination of Dominican Deacons

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Saint Saviour’s Priory, Dominick Street, 15th March 2015

“We come now to ordain these six men as Deacons of the Church of Jesus Christ, within the Order of Preachers.  I join with the relatives and friends of the candidates as well as with the entire Dominican province in sharing the joy of this significant event.

Dear candidates: you are called to be preachers.  The preacher is not just one who is learned and gifted in speech.  As preachers you are called to be authentic witnesses in your lives to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Later in the liturgy you will be handed the Book of the Gospels.  Alongside the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration, the assigning of the Book of the Gospels is one of the most significant parts of the rite of Ordination of Deacons.  You will be told that, as you receive the Book of the Gospels, you are called to:

Believe what you read,

teach what you believe

and practice what you teach.

Your accepting the Book of the Gospels is thus not just a symbolic gesture.  It is a call to become true disciples.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a well-known figure in Jerusalem, a scholar and a Pharisee, but one who, as Saint John tells us earlier in his Gospel, was impressed by and attracted by the signs that Jesus worked and thus came to believe in him.

Nicodemus was fascinated by Jesus, but he would only come to him by night.  He was a believer but he could not bring himself openly to be a disciple.  His path of coming closer to Jesus was a true one, but it was not enough to lead him fully to proclaim his faith publicly.

His questioning and seeking the true identity of Jesus was indeed a good thing, but he was still trapped in his own human questioning and in his own fears and compromises.

In today’s world there are many what I call “Nicodemus Catholics”, whose faith remains personal and important for them, but it does not bring them to the point of public witness to the truth of Jesus’ life and message.

Just over a year ago, a well-known Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis, out of which a public dialogue between journalist and Pope emerged.  I was struck by Scalfari’s self-description: he described himself as a “convinced atheist who had always been interested in and fascinated with the preaching of Jesus”.

For me, many believers today find themselves in a situation similar to Scalfari.  They are in many ways the new Nicodemus Christians: interested in and fascinated with the preaching of Jesus, yet living in a sort of de-facto atheism: making their fundamental choices as if their faith in God was only marginal to the realities of their lives.  And when I say believers, it must be said that clerics and religious too can fall into such a situation.

Nicodemus does finally become a true believer later in the Gospel, when together with Joseph of Arimathaea – also one who believed in secret – he came to care for the body of the crucified Jesus.   True faith in Jesus comes only when we recognise the Mystery of his death and resurrection.

Mystery is not a magical conundrum but more a journey of discovery, something we enter into day by day, ever more deeply.  Our Lenten path is part of the journey which began with our baptism, a journey of following Jesus on the path to his sacrificial death and thus to his new life.   That path is, however, always a path of love since, as the Gospel reminds us, God gave his Son because he so loved the world, and that through his self-giving we could have life.

Our path of Christian life must also be one of moving away from all self-centeredness to one where we become like Jesus in our lives, and thus become witnesses to the love of God in the world in which we live.

To you candidates I say – taking up those words of the rite of ordination – that without practising in love what you believe, your teaching will not be authentic, because it will be preaching a Gospel that you only pretend to belief.  Without love you preach only what is fruit of your own uncertainties, your own fears and frustrations and compromises.

Jesus reminds Nicodemus of what happened when God’s people in the desert were invaded by poisonous serpents and God ordered Moses to raise up a serpent and anyone who looked on and followed that serpent would be healed.  The serpent became a symbol of deliverance.

Jesus, Saint John is telling us, is now the new sign of deliverance and salvation. Too often we have taught people to look on God as a relentless judge. When we think in that way, our faith becomes harsh and we become harsh within ourselves and in our interaction with others and we then betray the real truth about God, that he is love.

The truth about Jesus Christ can only be proclaimed in love.  This is a challenge in today’s culture where often there is a clash of viewpoints and where we find it difficult at times to bring the message of our faith into a culture where faith is considered irrelevant to or out of place in public discourse.

Is a message of faith irrelevant in a pluralist society?  Should we Christians return to a Nicodemus style existence and keep the insights of faith within our own hearts alone.  People tend to forget that much of what is cherished as good in secular society is, in fact, the fruit of Christian culture.  The message of a God of love is anything but irrelevant to today’s harsh world, if we present it not just in words but through witness to the truth in love.

The message of Jesus is a message of light.  Today’s Gospel calls on us to turn our lives towards Jesus, the sign of deliverance. He comes not as a harsh judge, but as light which brings us freedom to be the people God wished us to be, free from the bonds of sin, free from all self-centredness and free to serve, that other great characteristic of the life of the deacon.

Dear candidates: the credibility of how you preach the message of Jesus in today’s society will depend on the quality of your witness:  “the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God”, the Gospel reading concludes.

The credibility of how you preach the message of Jesus in today’s society will depend also on the sensitivity of the language which you use.  “God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved”.   In Jesus the love of God appears as a light which enlightens.  As preachers we must always find a language of light which patiently opens the hearts and minds of others to the truth and to the beauty of the teaching of Jesus, a language which never is harsh or hurtful, unthoughtful or insensitive.

Together we pray that these candidates will be accompanied by the Spirit of truth and of love in the ministry they now assume in the complex world of today and tomorrow, witnessing through prayerful reflection on the word of God, through loving words and through the integrity of their lives. ENDS