Ordination to Diaconate, Terenure College

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin,Archbishop of Dublin

Carmelite Terenure College, 12th June 2016

“For centuries, in the minds of ordinary Catholics, the office of deacon was understood simply as the final step on the road to priestly ordination.  The understanding of the diaconate as a distinctive element of the ministry of the Church – which the Oriental Churches had maintained – had been lost. One of the significant achievements then of the Vatican Council was the restoration in the Latin Church of the ministry of deacons.

The diaconate is a permanent ministry with its own characteristics: it is a call to witness to a particular dimension of the mission of the Church.   It is called to be a sign and a witness to the Christ who came “not to be served but to serve”.

I personally do not like the term “transitional deacon” when we refer to a candidate on his way to priestly ordination. It gives the impression that being ordained deacon is something that the candidate, when ordained a priest, can forget and lay aside simply as part of one’s past personal history.

There is a plurality of ministries in the Church which emerge within the believing Christian community.  You will have noted the words of the presentation of the candidate this morning when asked if he was worthy.  In the first place the answer speaks about: “after enquiry among the people of Christ”, and only later about those responsible for his formation.   Ministry is something which springs from the Church, out of the faith of the people of Christ.

The fundamental call of the Christian to missionary discipleship belongs to all God’s baptized people.  Individual Christians may receive Christ’s call to specific ministry from within the believing community.  These ministries are not just functions, but involve a closer configuration to Jesus Christ and they demand a specific style of life and spirituality appropriate to their calling.

At the moment, later in the liturgy, of the presentation of the Book of the Gospel to James we will hear the striking words:

Receive the Gospel of Christ who herald you now are.

Believe what you read,

teach what you believe,

and practice what you teach.

Being herald of the Gospel of Christ is not a task to be carried out, but something that must involve a total identification with Christ.

James, in all your future ministry never look on yourself as self-directed or self-sufficient.  Never consider yourself outside or much less above Christ’s people.  Your vocation springs from out of Christ’s people, beginning with your parents and your family, and the communities in which you grew up and were educated, and of course the Carmelite tradition to which you belong.   Your ministry belongs to the Church.

What Church is James being called to serve in?  There is a sense in which the deaconate is in itself an image and an icon of what the Church is and should be. The rite of ordination mentions on more than one occasion the tasks assigned to the deacon:  proclaiming the word of God, service at the altar and service to the community.

Jesus himself is the true model for those who would aspire to the deaconate.  Jesus showed us his true identity and that of the Father through humbling himself and emptying him and he “did not consider his equality with God a thing to be exploited”.

In Ireland for so long ministry and priesthood were almost identical and exclusive.   This history can trap us within a sort of clerical culture.  Clericalism is not just about a particular style of living among priests.  Pope Francis gives us a more fundamental definition of clericalism: “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 have to learn again what that involves.  We noted in our Gospel reading how Jesus made his way through the towns and villages.  With him were the twelve but also many others including women: each shared in his or her specific way in the challenge and responsibility of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.  All of us share in the responsibility of spreading and sharing the “Joy of the Gospel”.

It may seem a paradox, but a without vibrant lay affirmation of the “Joy of the Gospel” we will never produce priestly vocations.  It may go against the tradition of the Irish Church but we have to learn anew that the preparation of future priests belongs to all the people of God, and not just to the protective and at times unreal hothouse of a seminary.

“The visibility and sacramentality of the Church belong to all the People of God not only to the few chosen and enlightened”.   Renewal in the Church requires a vibrant affirmation of the “Joy of the Gospel” by the entire people of God.   A Church which does not at all levels radiate the “Joy of the Gospel” is a Church doomed to stagnation, closed in within an unreal comfort zone.

James the time that you will spend as a deacon is not just an interlude.  It must be a moment which renews the sense of your call to service within religious life and your fundamental call to serve God’s people so that the Good News of the Kingdom of God may touch the hearts of many and be a source of renewal for the community of God’s people out of which your vocation has emerged.”