The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Ordination Mass of new deacons on May 21, 2011, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Today is a day of joy for me, our priests and deacons, and for all the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as we celebrate the ordination of the first class of permanent deacons in our diocese since 1983. It is a day of joy for the devoted wives of our candidates and for their families. And it is a day of joy for our beloved Bishop Emeritus. Bishop D’Arcy instituted the formation program for the eleven men who today will be ordained as deacons of the Church. I wish to thank Bishop D’Arcy as well as the director of the program, Mary Szymczak, and all who assisted in the formation of these men for diaconal ministry.
We give thanks to the Lord for the gift that he entrusts to these 11 men through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The call they have received is indeed a treasured gift, a gift for the Church in our diocese, a gift that will bear fruit for the exciting mission of the new evangelization here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Our candidates have worked hard to prepare themselves theologically, spiritually, and pastorally in order to be ready for this day. They realize, however, that this does not mean that ordination is something that one merits. It is a grace freely bestowed by our Risen Lord. They accept that gift today with humility, seeing it as a privileged opportunity to share in our Lord’s Paschal Mystery and in the apostolic mission of the Church. This beautiful ordination liturgy teaches us an important lesson when our candidates, before they are ordained, lie prostrate on the floor of this cathedral. This humble posture of prayer manifests that they receive Holy Orders not as something they merit, but as a gift — they lie prostrate in a state of prayer before they are ordained, while together we offer supplication to the Lord and invoke his blessing as well as the prayers of all the angels and saints.
My brothers about to be ordained deacons, through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, you will be strengthened by the gift of the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit for the faithful carrying out of the work of the diaconal ministry. Through this sacramental encounter, you will receive a unique share in the Church’s ministry. You have looked forward to this day with enthusiasm and expectation. I know you are ready to give of yourselves in service and in prayer for your brothers and sisters, for the whole Church. I thank you for your generous response to the Lord’s call! The Lord has chosen you to cooperate with him in the work of salvation, the work of the new evangelization.
After you are ordained, I will present to you the Book of the Gospels and I will say to each one of you the following words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” This will be your mission: to embrace and to share Christ’s Gospel! It will be important for you to reflect on the message of the Gospel frequently and prayerfully. To proclaim the Gospel worthily in the Church’s liturgy, you must first hear that Word in your own heart and bear witness to it in your daily lives, in word and in deed. To preach to God’s people is not only an honor, it is a real commitment to holiness of life. As Saint Paul wrote to Timothy in our second reading today, deacons are to “hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” You are called to be servants of the liberating truth of the Gospel, leading God’s people to encounter Jesus Christ and to welcome him into their lives.
Your proclamation of the Gospel is backed up by your practical witness of charity. As you know, from the very beginnings of the Church, the practice of charity has been part of the diaconal ministry. The seven men of which the Acts of the Apostles speak were chosen “to serve at tables.” Often, in the early Church, the deacons assisted the poor. We think, for example, of the holy deacons in Rome, like the martyr, Saint Lawrence. As deacons, you are called to have a special love and concern for the poor and needy. Your ministry of charity is not just an “added extra” in your ministry — it is an essential part of your diaconal identity. Pope Benedict, in his first encyclical, reminded the whole Church that the exercise of charity is part of the Church’s very nature, “an indispensable expression of the Church’s very being.” In your service as deacons, may you be ever conscious of your mission to practice charity, to serve the poor. There are so many in our world and in our diocese who are oppressed by poverty. There are many who are afflicted by material poverty. There are also the spiritually poor and the culturally poor: those who suffer from addictions, those who have no faith in God, those who are tempted to despair, those who have known suffering in their marriages, and those who suffer from loneliness. All around us are brothers and sisters in need of Christ’s healing love. May you be signs and instruments of his love, true servants of charity!
My brothers in Christ, your service of the word and of charity is intimately linked to your service at the altar. The Levites in the Old Testament assisted the priests in their rites of worship. In the new covenant, deacons assist the bishop and priests at the altar of the Lord. You are called to serve at the liturgy with reverence and devotion. It is an honor and a profound joy to be servants of the liturgy. The Body and Blood of our Lord is entrusted to you to be given to the faithful. Your devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, your love for the most Holy Eucharist, can be a powerful witness to those whom you serve. And, of course, it is the Eucharist that will sustain and nourish you in your diaconal ministry. May you be deacons whose lives are deeply rooted in the Eucharist, the sacrament that contains the whole spiritual good of the Church!
I wish to say a special word of thanks to the wives of our deacon candidates. What joy must be in your hearts today! You have given your consent to your husbands’ request for ordination. The Church thanks you for your love and support of your husbands’ diaconal vocation. The diaconal vocation of your husbands will be a special grace for your marriage and family life. You and your husbands are called to grow in mutual and sacrificial love, witnessing to the sanctity of marriage and the family, a witness so very much needed in our culture today. Your example can be a great encouragement to other married couples. May you continue to help one another to grow in holiness!
Finally, my brothers about to be ordained, I entrust you in a special way to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother will be with you in your diaconal life and ministry. She was with the disciples in prayer in the upper room awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She is with us today as we await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you in the sacrament of Holy Orders. May Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord, intercede for you always!