I thank you for gathering to share in our joy as Kyle and Barry—your sons, brothers, and friends—are advanced to the Sacred Order of the Diaconate. This is a wonderful moment in their lives and in the life of our beloved Diocese, as they are ordained into Holy Orders. While it is true that their eyes look to the Priesthood, there is a singular value and a genuine wisdom to this moment, which in itself has a permanent effect in both their lives.
In addition to their families, I am honored to welcome our dear brother priests from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, to whom we have entrusted the formation and training of Barry and Kyle in their preparation for Holy Orders.
It is true that for several years, these candidates have participated in the Church’s intensive program of, human, spiritual, intellectual, and social formation so that they would be found worthy of this call, this vocation to serve the Church as ordained deacons.
Baptism calls each of us to be disciples and to be servants, but the ordination of a deacon calls certain ones among us to exercise a unique and particular service for the community of the faith. This service is near and dear to the heart of the Church because it specifically manifests the Church’s ministry of service in the manner of Christ Himself.
Theirs will be a service of the Word, not the word of modern culture, which all too often leads those who follow that word down paths of comfort, expediency and convenience. No theirs is a service of the Eternal Word of Truth, Salvation, and New Life. They will now have the authority to teach and to preach the burning Word of God with authority and mission. They teach now in the name of the Church and so they must do this with the profound recognition that what they teach is not theirs, but Christ’s truth. They must teach so as to be aware that what they teach is passed on with integrity and fullness, never watering down the Faith, but presenting it in ways that are concise, complete and consistent with the Magisterium of the Church. The Church deserves nothing less from them and in that they are providing an invaluable service to us all.
They will now be preachers of the Word. Preaching is no easy task or responsibility in our times. They will encounter from time to time, of course, a resistance to the message of the Gospel; but, in our society, they may sense in their listeners an inability to receive the Word, often as a result of the chaos and anxiety that so fills people’s hearts and minds today. This may be difficult for them; but they must attend to this great service with dedication and tireless zeal, never surrendering to the temptation to speak only what people want to hear or to do so with inappropriate cliché’s and less than useful and irrelevant humor or examples.
They must transcend all of this and preach with courage, authenticity and conviction, first hearing and receiving the Word themselves, and then offering it as food for spiritually hungry people who look to the Church for a deeper encounter with Christ. My sons, preach from your heart and teach what you have learned, and you will find a power that comes not from you, but from the Holy Spirit, who will be speaking through you.
Dear brothers, you will now be near the altar, assisting the priest with all that is sacred. Conduct yourselves there with profound reverence and humility, with awareness and a keen understanding of what you are doing. Assist in a purposeful way because in doing so you are helping the priest to offer the Sacred Sacrifice in a worthy and prayerful manner bringing the community to authentic worship.
Yours, also, is a service of justice and charity. The first deacons, Scripture tells us, were chosen to distribute the food to the hungry and the needy so that the Apostles could be devoted to the preaching of the Word and to prayer. And so for centuries, the Church has set apart certain men to fulfill this diaconal role. Today you will join them and you should never lose this call of service; and when, God willing, you are called to the priesthood, you will bring with you, a lifelong order to serve in the manner of Jesus. You will be called to look for concrete ways to help others by living and practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Indeed everyone is called to these acts of mercy, all the baptized, but you will do it now officially in the name of the Church. In so doing, associate yourselves freely with the poor, the sick, and those who are powerless. As you serve them, you will serve Christ. I charge you today to make your service as deacons in the ministries of justice and charity, a hallmark of your entire life.
To signify your willingness to offer yourselves for this lifelong ministry as deacons, you give the Church two profound and indescribable gifts: the promises you will make to be obedient and to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. These promises, so moving for all of us to witness, will never make sense to a world, to a culture that highly prizes one’s individual freedom and one’s natural desire to be united with a life-long spouse. Our society in this present age will no doubt consider your total gift of self to be senseless—foolish, in fact; but the living tradition of the Church, ever desiring to follow the transforming example of Christ who gave Himself entirely as the obedient suffering servant teaches us of the heroic witness of such a life, the kind of witness of which the world is in desperate need. May your life be proof that such self-giving is not only possible but healthy and useful for the Church and the world. Always be joyful in that gift, never giving into the temptations to become cynical, humanly and emotionally cold, moody and lifeless. These attitudes will tarnish the gift you are giving today. Pray rather for deeper passion, a more intense desire to give of yourself to God and to others, knowing that God will surely hear your prayers since what you ask for will be for others and not for yourself.
From these promises, not easily lived, and challenged daily, you will find a deep joy and a life-changing freedom that will unfold for you as your ministry progresses. Your “yes” to God given in your freedom, your total gift of self, will be the foundation of God being able to do more with you and through you than you will ever think possible.
We will all pray for you as you give the entirety of who you are to God and to us, for as Jesus teaches: there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
As your Bishop, you know already that I have great pride in you and trust in the ministry of service you will provide in this local Church. In fatherly affection, I entrust you and your ministry to Our Immaculate Mother Mary. May She who schooled our Blessed Lord in the ways of service and obedience, continue to form you in the image of Her Divine Son. With Her guidance, may you assist others to know, love, and serve Her Son in His Church. Joyfully announce the Kingdom—to which may God lead us all!