Diaconal Ordination, Arlington, 2016
Saint Thomas More Cathedral
A. It is a joy and a privilege for me as the Metropolitan Archbishop to ordain to the diaconate, Stephen Vaccaro and Jordan Willard. I greet you both, Stephen and Jordan, as well as brother priests and deacons, your family members, your classmates, parishioners, and friends… on this day of joy and grace for yourselves and for the Church.
B. And I ordain you, dear brothers, in closest spiritual union with Bishop Loverde. As he recovers from surgery, he sends not only his greetings but his prayers. In turn, I will assure Bishop Loverde of our heartfelt prayers. May he quickly be restored to health and to his ministry as your Bishop!
C. Today, Stephen and Jordan, you take a decisive step toward the priesthood as you are ordained deacons of the Holy Catholic Church. What thoughts should fill your minds on this great day? What prayers should arise from your hearts? What prayers should all of us be offering for you? To answer these questions let us turn to the Scripture readings just proclaimed, beginning with the first reading from the Book of Numbers.
II. Numbers 3:5-9; Acts 6:1-7b
A. In that reading we find God’s Chosen People at Mount Sinai. They had escaped from the slavery of Egypt and were about to begin a journey of forty years that would bring them to Canaan, the land God had promised to their ancestors. What happened at Mount Sinai was important for the Jewish people and for us. It was there that Moses received the Ten Commandments and there that God entered into a solemn covenant with his people.
B. It was also at Mount Sinai that God chose the sons of Levi to present themselves to Aaron the priest to assist in that worship which God had commanded the Israelites to offer him. Stephen and Jordan, the sons of Levi are your spiritual ancestors, for you are also called to assist bishops and priests in leading the worship of the New Covenant, viz., the Mass and the Sacraments. Today’s reading from the Book of Numbers shows how deeply the office you are about to undertake is etched in salvation history.
C. The form of your diaconal ministry becomes even clearer in the New Testament, where we read how the Apostles chose “seven men of good repute to assist them in their daily ministry, so that the Apostles might devote themselves to prayer and preaching. These seven men were the first deacons of the Church, set apart to carry forward the Church’s ministry of charity. These first deacons were ordained as you will be ordained, by the prayer of the Church and by the laying on of my hands. May you follow in the footsteps of the Church’s holiest deacons – including the martyrs Stephen and Lawrence, as also Ephrem, who sang God’s praises.
III. Matthew 20:25b-28
A. If the Book of Numbers and the Acts of the Apostles help us see the deep historical roots of the Order of the Diaconate, today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew takes us to its very heart. And the heart of the diaconate is Jesus Christ, its source and model, the Son of Man, who came “not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many.”
B. Moments before Jesus spoke of himself as one who serves, the Apostles, James and John, had tried to pull rank on their fellow Apostles by asking to sit one at Jesus’ right hand, and the other at his left, in his Kingdom. James and John did not know what they were asking because they did not yet understand the true nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus came to reveal and establish the Kingdom of the Beatitudes in which we are formed to love and serve others as the Lord has first loved us, even to the point of ransoming us from our sins by his death on the Cross. So what we see in today’s Gospel passage is priestly formation in progress. Jesus is instructing his Apostles not to flaunt their authority but instead to find their true dignity and greatness in serving others. Jesus is inviting his Apostles to follow him, to become like to him, to model their lives on the Beatitudes he preached on the Mountain and the Plain.
C. Dear brothers, Stephen and Jordan: let the words of our Savior penetrate the recesses of your heart, today and always. By the prayer of the Church and the laying on of my hands, the Holy Spirit will fashion in the depth of your hearts the image of Christ the Deacon, the Incarnate Son of God who poured forth his life for us and for our salvation. The servant of all, his Name is exalted above every other name. It is to Christ the Servant that you are about to be sacramentally conformed. Let this Sacrament of Holy Orders engage your entire being – your words and actions, your body and soul, indeed your very life, for it is the result of the intervention of a power greater than any human power. The Church bestows this Sacrament so that you may assist the Bishop and his priests in carrying out the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity in such a way that you will give credible testimony to Christ in the Church and before the world.
IV. Romans 12:4-8
A. In your daily prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours (which you commit to pray), seek to grow in the conviction that Christ lives in you in a new and wonderful way, such that you can give yourselves to others in loving service. If you open your heart in prayer and continue to seek God’s mercy, you will teach, exhort, serve, and do the works of mercy with the heart of Christ. You will exercise all the gifts of nature and grace God has bestowed on you, not for your own sake but rather to build up the Body of Christ, as you touch the lives of many with the truth & the love the Christ who is within you.
B. This extends even to the point of your embracing, for the rest of your life, the self-giving love of chaste celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. In this way you are to serve the Church with an undivided heart and to give yourselves in pastoral charity, especially to the poor and needy. So too, through me you promise your bishop respect and obedience, not only for the good order of the Church but indeed to conform yourselves to Christ in his complete obedience to the saving will of His Heavenly Father.
C. So as you proclaim the Gospel, preach and instruct in fidelity to the Church’s teaching, assist at the altar, baptize, preside at weddings and funerals, and extend yourselves in love to the poor and vulnerable— do all of this with the gentle love and unassuming authority that spring from the heart of Christ. All of us earnestly pray that your ministry as deacons may be fruitful and that it will shape your ongoing formation for the Priesthood, so that you will be not only Christ’s ministers but also his witnesses.
D. Finally, all of us here today unite in entrusting you to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her heart was joined in closest union to the heart of Christ. Hers was the heart that pondered the great mysteries of salvation, hers the heart most beautifully shaped by the Beatitudes. Through the prayers of Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, may you fulfill your ministry as deacons in closest union with the Christ who came among us as one who serves.
And may the Lord bless us all and keep us always in his love!