November 10, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Simplicity and trust are at heart of ordained ministry

Last week, I ordained a fine group of priesthood candidates to the transitional diaconate at Saint Meinrad.

Two of the new deacons, Rick Nagel and Randy Summers, are from our archdiocese. That same day, Tom Kovatch was ordained a deacon for our archdiocese at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.

These fellows have spent a lot of time in preparation for ordained ministry.

Proclaiming God’s Word and the ministry of charity will be the heart and focus of their ministry as deacons.

As ministers of the altar, they will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice and give the Lord’s body and blood to the community of believers. They will baptize; they may assist at marriages and bless them; they may give viaticum to the dying and lead the rites of burial. They will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop and the local pastor. Next June, God willing, our deacons will be ordained priests.

“Start off now,” Jesus said, as he sent the disciples out two by two, “but remember I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals… . Whatever house you go into, let your first words be Peace to this house” (cf. Lk 10).

I have always been intrigued by the specific instructions Jesus gave to the disciples as he sent them out. I think the specific details can be boiled down to two words: simplicity and trust.

Simplicity for a deacon or priest or bishop is much more than material simplicity. It means a pastoral mind and heart open to and obedient to the Holy Spirit. It means obedience to those through whom the Spirit speaks. It means a deacon, priest or bishop is willing to move heart and soul to wherever the people are.

Pope John Paul II once remarked, “Where the people are, there is the sanctuary of Jesus.” That’s where a deacon, priest or bishop belongs. In a word, simplicity means detachment for the sake of the people of God.

Trust is the other part of the traveling gear of ordained ministry. As deacons, priests and bishops, we are called to trust in the Holy Spirit who leads us. Jesus was led by the Spirit to public ministry—by way of the desert. The Spirit led Jesus to victory over sin and death by way of the Cross. Deacons, priests and bishops too can be led by way of the desert and the cross to fruitful ministry.

We also trust in the goodness of the people of God. The Holy Spirit speaks through the people we serve. And Jesus would have us know, yes, some will disappoint us, but, in so many words, he told the disciples, keep on going.

The deacon’s promise of obedience to his bishop and his successors is an expression of trust in God. To some, this promise could be seen as a restriction on the deacon’s freedom. Actually, we can see obedience as a freeing up from ambition and self-seeking. It purifies motives. In faith, deacons, priests and bishops realize that the promise of obedience makes us free in the hands of God, available to him and to those we serve.

The new deacons promised to live their lives in apostolic love, in celibate chastity. From a human perspective, the heart of our effectiveness in ministry is the degree to which we can love those we serve.

Deacons, priests and bishops say “no” to self in order to say “yes” to other people. To be sure, at the heart of celibacy there is sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that makes ministry powerful. We offer a sacrificial love as a sign of our interior dedication to Christ and our special availability to serve God and our human family.

Why? We need look no farther than the person of Christ, who was celibate. The charism of celibacy is the mystery of God’s love at work as it was in Christ—it is part of that divine paradox that we must die in order to live.

Our deacons promised to pray for, in the name of and with the Church. They promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Prayer with and for the Church is ministry, and it is pastoral in the deepest sense. Jesus prayed those very psalms. We love as Jesus did, and we pray as Jesus did.

Pope Paul VI, in the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” (On Evangelization in the Modern World), wrote: “The world is crying out for evangelizers to speak to it of a God whom the evangelizers should know and be familiar with as if they could see the invisible” (n. 76).

That capability to see the invisible happens in prayer. Fidelity in prayer with Jesus is the golden thread of life in ordained ministry. †

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