“I am particularly happy to celebrate the Ordination to the Diaconate of two Dominican Friars – Br Patrick Desmond and Bro Kevin O’Reilly – on this Feast of the Epiphany, also because on this day seventeen years ago, the Feast of the Epiphany 1999, I was ordained a Bishop by Saint Pope John Paul II.
It was a custom of Pope John Paul to ordain bishops on the Feast of the Epiphany. In his homily that morning, he recalled that the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates “the appearance in the world of the divine Light in which God reaches out to humankind”. The Feast of the Epiphany therefore celebrates the reason for Christ’s coming into the world. He came to “make the Father known”, to explain to people who God is, to reveal God’s face, and God’s name. The Church is called to continue, generation after generation, that mission of making the Father’s face known to all people.
Speaking to the twelve Bishops who were ordained that day, Pope John Paul reminded us that we were called to become “ministers of God’s epiphany among men”. Dear Patrick and dear Kevin that too will be your mission as Deacons: to become “ministers of God’s epiphany among men”.
Epiphany is the Feast of mission, the revelation of Christ to all nations and peoples, represented by the three Magi. Ministry and mission belong together inseparably. The purpose of ministry in the Church is to serve the mission of witnessing to the Epiphany of God in every successive generation.
How is the deacon called to such mission? Firstly the deacon is called to a ministry of service. The deacon is not called simply to carry out services. He is called to witness to a fundamental characteristic of the very nature of the Church. Christ came to serve. The Church is called to witness to the Christ who serves and the deacon must be an icon of that dimension of the life of the Church.
To be called to special ministry in the Church is surely a personal privilege, but not a privilege given for our own satisfaction and gratification. If we begin to think of ministry purely in what Pope Francis calls an “auto-referential” way, then we begin to betray what ministry means. Ministry and mission belong together inseparably.
One service to which you are called in a particular way is that of serving the word of God. The Words the Liturgy when you are handed the book of the Gospels are quite clear.
Receive the Gospel of Christ whose heralds you know are: Believe what you read; teach what you believe; and practice what you teach.
Dear Patrick and Kevin, the deacon’s service is not just to proclaim the word of God but to interiorise the word and make it part of your very being. You are not called to be exegetes of texts or social commentators about derived Gospel values. You are called to be men who have the ability to serve the word and to be able through your own life to help others to interiorise the word.
The words we heard in our first reading apply still to our world today: “Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples”. You are called, through your lives, to make the word understandable in the complex world of today where there are so many forms of darkness.
You are not called simply to confirm darkness: you are called to be men whose lives witness to God and who wish to bring the light of Christ to others so that they can experience that light as a light and joy in the concrete situation of their own calling. We need to foster the gifts of the prophets of yesteryear and of our own time who could draw out from the Word of God a critical dialogue with the language and culture of their time and which could touch the hearts and minds even of those who do not believe.
Ministry and Mission belong together. What does it mean it be a missionary in Ireland today? Is the Church in Ireland missionary and is it successful in its missionary activity? Patrick and Kevin you must constantly ask yourselves: what are the obstacles which can appear in my ministry to me being missionary?
The first obstacle is for the Church to become auto-referential, to become a comfort zone for the like-minded. It is possible to create safe spaces for those who think alike and who may come to feel that because they are like-minded they have discovered to right way. The missionary knows that the path of mission never ends and cannot be kept within the four walls of our buildings, much less within the walls of our narrow minds.
The light of Christ is a light which discerns and helps us to discern, but it also a light which open our eyes to the newness of the Gospel message and makes us passionate in sharing that light, not just with those who think like us, but who are in darkness or who are searching. Your life should be such that you become, as it were, a sacrament of the attractiveness of what knowing Jesus Christ can mean in life.
The deacon is called to a ministry of service and ministry of witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is also called to ministry at the altar, not as someone who feels a privileged service, but as one whose own understanding of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist becomes also a missionary service. Your ministry at the altar is aimed at helping those who are distant from the Lord to understand that the Eucharist is the great sign of how Jesus wishes to be close to us through his own self-giving. Ministry at the altar is always ministry of self-giving and never a self-serving ministry. It is Jesus Christ and not me who is at the centre of my service at the altar.
Patrick and Kevin, you are called to be ministers of the word of God and his mercy in the complex world of today with so many unknowns and uncertainties. The three Magi followed the light of Christ and that light led their path through the unknown. The light was their sure guide.
At times they found themselves in the wrong place, even though human wisdom might have indicated in that direction. They soon discover that Jesus was not to be found in the luxury palaces of Herod and his cronies.
We heard in the Psalm that God is the one “who shall save the poor when they cry, and the needy who are helpless, and have pity on the weak and save the lives of the poor”. When Pope Francis speaks about ministry at “the periphery”, he is not simply telling us to do things for the poor, but more deeply he is telling us that it is only when we identify with the poor and the needy, the helpless and the weak, that we encounter and begin to understand the loving care of God.
You must always avoid any temptation to be trapped in power: either through being a slave to the ideas of the moment or a slave to considering ministry as a way to personal prerogative. Jesus is not to be found there.
The Magi leave Herod and follow the light once again. The light brings them to Jesus, the saviour born where human wisdom would not expect us to find him. They return full of the joy of having encountered Jesus, but they return to the realities of the world by a different way, uncontaminated by the darkness and empty power, with a new courage to go even into the unknown as “ministers of God’s epiphany among men”.”