Specifically, I wanted to talk a bit about this:
|l-r: Dina Lingard, myself, Deacon Mike Weitl, Joanne Dionne, Fr. Murray Kuemper|
But I do want to talk about this reality of 'diaconate', specifically of the so-called transitional diaconate that men preparing for the ordained priesthood receive. Strictly speaking, there is nothing 'transitional' about it, as every sacrament of Holy Orders leaves a permanent character on the soul of the recipient. Every priest is also a deacon, and every bishop remains both priest and deacon.
I think there is great theological meaning in the Church's bestowing the sacrament of Orders in the way it does. 'Deacon', of course, means 'servant' in Greek--diakonos. The sacrament of Holy Orders is all about the man, who is just an ordinary guy with the same mixture of virtue and sin, strength and weakness as any other guy, receiving a certain configuration to Christ for the sake of His Body the Church.
The fullness of this ordained configuration is the bishop, deputed to govern, sanctify and teach the Christian people in truth and in love, a mission impossible for man unless Christ permanently configures him to do this by a special unique grace. The priest is ordained to assist the bishop in this mission, particularly in the day to day administration of the sacraments to God's people and the preaching of the word.
But all this ministry rests upon the call to diakonia, to service, to being a servant as Christ was a servant. And I think this is where there is great wisdom and theological meaning in the 'transitional' diaconate. Before the 'sacred powers' are given to the man, the power-in-Christ to confect the Eucharist or forgive sins, he is configured to Christ the servant. Before he is given a measure of authority or governance in the Church, he is given the mandate to serve, to wash the feet of his brothers and sisters, to use whatever power or position he has been given as a ministry, a service and not abuse it for his own dominance and advantage.
The tri-partite structure of the sacrament of Holy Orders calls the ordained bishop and priest to a constant reflection on the nature of the 'gift and mystery' we have been given. We are called to be servants of all and to exercise our ministry as a constant act of love and humility for the good of others.
Oh, I know, we all know, that this does not always work out so well in practice. Just like every person who is baptized and confirmed does not go on to become a great saint, just like every married couple does not go on to manifest the faithful fruitful love of Christ for His Church to the world, just like we can receive Eucharist and Reconciliation and still struggle on in mediocrity and compromise, so the ordained man is not guaranteed by his ordination to pour out his life in service to the Church. The sacraments are not magic tricks that rob us of free will, but are the assured presence and action of God in His Church to make possible what is humanly impossible.
As I sat in St. Peter's Basilica during the magnificent rite of ordination, my eyes continually went to a statue in my line of vision, this one, in fact:
Yes, back to St. Francis of Assisi, the poor man of Christ, the deacon who chose to remain a deacon. I found myself simply lifting up Michael and his 40 classmates to the prayers and care of St. Francis, asking him to help them and help us all to take hold of the heart of the Gospel, which is a heart of service, of humility, and of love. It is this and this alone which will allow us to find God's path through this difficult and complex time in our world, this and this alone which will open us to the grace we need to love one another as Christ loved us and show forth that love to a world that so badly needs it.