Good afternoon everyone! Welcome to all of you on this great Solemnity of the Sacred heart of Jesus – to my brother priests and deacons, to the visiting priests and deacons, welcome. To the religious of our diocese present, to the family and friends of these two men to be ordained, a special welcome to you. My dear friends in Christ, welcome to all.
As we all know, this is an important day for our diocese. Obviously, for all of us, the pandemic has changed the best laid plans. Kevin, I am sure this is not what you had envisioned back in early March. It wasn’t what any of us envisioned. But we are grateful that we can be here today. Friends, aren’t we also grateful for this young man who will be conformed to Christ and asked to place all his gifts at the service of Christ and His Church. It is a great day to rejoice in God’s love for his Church in the Diocese of Saginaw.
Before I go on, I want to take a moment to thank all of those who have been responsible for the formation of this young man – those directly involved in Kevin’s formation – Msgr. Todd Laginess, Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary. Thanks to you and your faculty and staff for your part in the formation of this young man. Thank you, Mike and Anna for your generous gift to the Church in giving us Kevin. We also thank family members and friends who have given Kevin so much support and encouragement over these years of preparation.
Kevin, I would suspect that this has been a long time coming for you. Many hours in preparation have taken place for this moment, and it is very important for you to remember that it is Christ who has called you. Through your careful discernment and prayer, you have discovered that God has called you to this vocation, and now you are responding with your whole heart.
The first reading for today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as Moses speaks to the people of Israel, he speaks to you – he speaks to each one of you. “You are (sacred); you are a people sacred to the LORD; he has chosen you to be a people peculiarly his own. The LORD set his heart on you and chose you. It was because the LORD loved you and because of his fidelity. And this is true for all of us.
That in spite of our ingratitude, in spite of the way we reject him and his love, “with infinite mercy he sent his only-begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the fate of a shattered love, so that by defeating the power of evil and death he could restore to us enslaved by sin our dignity as sons and daughters, “that we might have life through him.” But this took place at great cost—the only-begotten Son of the Father was sacrificed on the Cross for each one of us – so much did he love us. “He brought us out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed us…he ransomed us from sin, and death,” Moses tells us.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus reveals this love. His heart bleeds for us. Jesus truly cares. He cares more deeply than we can imagine. And Kevin, he is inviting you into this love in a deeper way. Your entrance into the clerical state today through the imposition of hands, conferring a sacramental grace, reveals the Lord’s confidence in you as he entrusts to you his sacred threefold ministry of diakonia or service: service of the Word, service of the Eucharist, and service of the poor or charity, given to the Church since Apostolic times.
In being ordained a deacon, you belong to the life of the Church that goes back to saintly deacons, like Lawrence, and before him to Stephen and his companions, describing in the Acts of the Apostles the qualities necessary – “reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom.” [Act. 6:3] Allow these holy deacons to be your example, men who followed Jesus, “who came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”
Today, you are being radically conformed to Christ the Servant, and as such are called to be the sacramental sign that offers to others the grace of Christ’s presence and his love. At the very heart of the diaconate is being a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters. These two dimensions of servanthood are at the very heart of the ministry which you will soon undertake through ordination.
St. John Paul II wrote: “By the standards of this world, servanthood is despised, but in the wisdom and providence of God, it is the mystery through which Christ redeems the world.” Kevin, you will be a minister of this mystery. Your diakonia as I said earlier is threefold: service of the Word, the Eucharist, and the poor or charity.
In a few moments, I will entrust you with the Book of the Gospels with these words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” It is His Gospel that you proclaim and preach, not yours; it is the Word of God, not our own! It must be preached without compromise, without accommodation, fear or hesitation, in a culture which rejects it. But when preached through the heart of Jesus with deep love, it can cut through every ambiguity and knows how to touch even the hardest hearts. “For the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” [Heb 4:12]
By your faithful service to the Gospel in its integrity, you will help the world to discover the Truth that has a human face – that Truth is a person: Jesus Christ.
As deacon, you are also the first co-worker of the priest in the celebration of the Eucharist. Your service at the altar helps to call attention to the “sacredness” of this sacramental encounter with the Living Christ – for in this Holy Sacrifice we meet Jesus Himself, our Lord and Redeemer, personally and intimately. Come to know the honor and profound joy of being server of this great mystery! Always treat these holy mysteries with an interior adoration of mind and affection, with a humble devotion of spirit, which express your own deep love and intimacy with Christ.
But you are called primarily to that other “service of the table” referred to in the Acts of the Apostles: the care of the orphans and widows, the poor and needy, the sick and suffering. To these the deacon is to speak about Christ and to offer them the Church’s assistance.
As co-workers with the Bishop and his priests, you must be the living and working expression of the charity of the Church that is at the same time bread for the hungry, light and support for social growth in the world, and a voice and action for justice and peace. The deacon is the privileged vehicle for the social teaching of the Church. Therefore your primary ministry is not at the altar, but it is in the world, sanctifying it by your lives and ministry.
While the threefold ministry appears to be, at least on the surface, things in which a deacon does, don’t let that fool you. What a deacon does is far from mere work or actions.
It represents a way of life that must be grounded in a deep relationship with Jesus Christ; a way of life “born out of an encounter”, as Pope Francis speaks of so often.
You will not be that “grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, bearing much fruit” (John 12:24) unless your life remains immersed in prayer, both contemplative prayer and faithfulness to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. Keep alive intense and affectionate dialogue with the Father, praying for yourself, for the Church, and for the whole world.
Prayer helps you to ascend above, to go beyond the noise of the world and the worries of the day in order to purify your vision and your heart – a vision to see the world with the eyes of God and a heart to love your brothers and sisters with the heart of Jesus. “If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”
A man whose heart is deeply rooted in the Sacred Heart of Jesus will give his life away as a servant. A man whose heart not deeply rooted there will seek to be served. One must choose!
And finally, always be grateful! Gratitude must be the foundation of your diaconal ministry. Always remember that it is God who has chosen you. It will be God who brings your good work to completion.