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Deacons: 'Ordered' for service in the name of the Church

Homily by Archbishop Wenski at Mass with those aspiring to the permanent deaconate

Homily by Archbishop Wenski at Vigil Mass with those aspiring to the Permanent Deaconate. Rite of Candidacy at St. Mary Cathedral, August 17, 2013.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Pope Francis said something similar last month in Rio when he was talking to a group of young people from Argentina. “Yo quiero líos”, he said, “líos en la diocesis. Yo quiero a la Iglesia en la calle”.  Roughly translated he told the young people to go out and stir up a fuss – in their parishes, in their dioceses and bring the Church out into the streets. These words of Jesus (and Pope Francis) may seem to us to be quite startling. And that we are shocked by them only underscores how different the Jesus of the Gospel is from the image of Christ that prevails in our culture today.  Today, the popular image of Jesus is of a Jesus who demands nothing, who never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything – a Jesus who no longer does anything but affirm us.

As a great theologian –who was once known as Cardinal Ratzinger – once said, “The Jesus that makes everything okay for everybody is a phantom, a dream, and not a real figure.”  The Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus that the Catholic Church preaches, is by contrast demanding and bold. If he was really accepting and tolerant of all things and toward all people, do you think he would have ended up murdered on a cross? 

Jesus is certainly understanding and compassionate. To be understanding does not imply acceptance. And to say that Jesus is compassionate doesn’t mean that Jesus is stupid: He knows right and wrong.

The Jesus whom we meet in today’s Gospel, in saying that he has come not to bring peace but division, is telling us that peace is not to be found at any price. Those “people pleasers” – and we all know them – in trying to make everybody happy end up making no one happy. Avoiding conflicts does not solve anything – and yet that’s what many people try to do. And they inevitably end up frustrating themselves and others.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t want us to be conflictive for the sake of being conflictive. St. Augustine once said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity.” We should all strive for unity, freedom, and charity in our common life in Christ as Christians. But as Jesus’ demanding boldness shows, not everything is negotiable, not everything is “up for grabs”.  Father will be set against son, son against father; mother will be set against daughter, son-in-law against father-in-law, mother-in-law against daughter-in-laws; households will be divided and Jesus himself will undergo a bloody baptism on the cross because we cannot betray our faith and our values. As the long history of the holy martyrs shows so well, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not always “convenient” for us in its boldness and its demands.  And, today, we who make up the Church of Christ, if we are to be the effective presence of Christ in the world today, cannot be ashamed or afraid of the very real demands of discipleship that Jesus boldly makes on those who would be his followers.

Those demands of discipleship will increasingly put us in conflict with the culture that surrounds us – if we are to be faithful to Christ and his teachings we will have to swim against the tide – the tide of relativism that is changing the way our contemporaries understand sex and marriage, the dignity of human life at its very beginnings and its end.

The demands of discipleship pertain to all of us who are baptized. The words of St. Paul in today’s second reading are addressed to each one of us. St. Paul writes, “…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

But today, at this Mass, we address ourselves to those who are called forth as candidates for the order of deacon. These men – with the approval and support of their wives and families –aspire to be ordained as deacons. In receiving them this evening “officially” as candidates, the entire Church wishes to encourage them “to persevere in running the race” as they continue in their studies and formation.

Deacons are “ordered” for service in the name of the Church. As deacons, as you fulfill your ministry, you should “model” service for the entire community – and not just service within the safe confines of the parish property. 

If we can associate the words “Christian” and “ambition”, it should only be when “Christian ambition” describes the Christian’s passion to serve.  For “service” is the highest calling of every Christian. 

Discipleship should be a service industry in which there is no unemployment. There is enough work for everyone – priests, deacons, religious and members of Christ’s faithful – and that work is simply to help Jesus “set the earth on fire” or as Pope Francis says, “formar lios” – make a fuss and stir things up.

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