The Permanent Diaconate is a ministry in the Church that was restored by the Second Vatican Council to serve God's people. Those called and ordained to the ministry of "Word, Altar and Charity" have greatly enriched our Church (as I learned from my time at bishop working with deacons in Toronto, Halifax, Yarmouth and now Ottawa).
Most of our deacons are married men with families. The support from the wives of the deacons and their children is important. In the ceremony of diaconal ordination, the wives come forward with their husbands and indicate their willingness to accept the impact this commitment will have on their married and family life.
Ottawa's three new deacons in the English-speaking sector (the two new French-speaking deacons were ordained in December 2008 [Yvon Lavoie] and January 2009 [Michel Miner]) are presented in the following thumb-nail sketches:
Rev. Mr. James Kubina, 53 years old, is an Engineering Manager at General Dynamics Canada. He and Irena have been married for 11 years and are happily raising a son and daughter. James is very much aware of the spiritual needs of God’s people who are yearning for hope and consolation. James will be embracing the ministry at the Shepherds of Good Hope and will also be serving at St. Joseph’s Parish (Ottawa).
Rev. Mr. William Read, 53 years old, is a scientist for the Department of National Defence. He and his wife Lynn have been married for 25 years and are the proud parents of a son and daughter. William who was baptised into the United Church, came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1998. Both William and Lynn have a strong call to pastoral care ministry and will be ministering together at Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital. William will also serve at Annunciation of the Lord Parish (Gloucester).
Rev. Mr. Louis Seward is 65 years old and currently works part-time at the Home Depot after a career in mining. Originally from Newfoundland, he has been married to his wife Janet for 42 years. They are parents and proud grandparents. Louis is active in the apostolate of the Divine Mercy Centre. Louis plans to continue ministering to the residents at retirement and nursing homes. Louis will also serve at St. Philip’s Parish (Richmond) where he and Janet have recently moved to be closer to family.
Today's homily and instruction to the candidates (readings: Tobit 12:1-20; [Psalm: Tobit 13 “Blessed be God who lives forever”]; Acts 6:1-6; Mark 12:38-44
Last Sunday was Pentecost and in some places there is a tradition of pouring rose petals from the ceiling of a church to symbolize the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the world and particularly on believers in Christ.
Today we will witness the outpouring of the Spirit of Jesus on three of our brothers—James, Louis and William—and, through them, on their families so that they may become devoted ministers of the Word, the Altar and of Charity.
To the readings of this day—from the Book of Tobit and the closing chapters of the Gospel of St. Mark—we have added the call of the Seven Deacons. The early Church was inspired by the Holy Spirit to establish this ministry so that the apostles might ensure that widows, orphans and the foreigner without means of support might be effectively cared for.
In that way, the Apostles could devote themselves more earnestly to the mission of prayer and preaching, celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments of God’s mercy and love. Interestingly, the evangelist Luke uses the same word “diakonia”—service—to describe both the ministry of the Seven and that of the Apostles
Two of the new deacons stood out, Stephen—“full of faith and the Holy Spirit”—for his bold preaching and martyrdom, and Philip for the charismatic instruction and baptism he gave the Ethiopian eunuch. Except for them, Scripture tells us nothing of the other five men, but we can imagine that their memory was treasured where they served the Lord and his people.
However, the readings of the day are not inappropriate for this special occasion. The conclusion to the Book of Tobit, which has been our spiritual reading at Mass this week, summarizes how God’s providence guides human affairs, with the hidden presence of angels as God’s ministers, but not without our human cooperation in God’s plan that we come home safely to Him in the end.
In the closing chapter of the Book of Tobit there are a few loose ends to tie up: the reader knows that Raphael is an angel, but the characters do not. Tobit’s offer of wages far exceeding the promise made earlier, leads to Raphael’s refusal of payment and the revelation of his identity.
In Tobit, Raphael stands as a symbol of the providence of God in three ways: He has prepared Tobias for the two healings; he has guided Tobias on the way; and he continues to encourage the spirit of prayer—in one’s personal circumstances, in one’s family life and in the assembly of the faithful. But because God heals (the meaning of Raphael’s name) and because the providence of God leaves room for human freedom, Raphael leaves the main action to human characters throughout the book.
Thus, this scriptural writing invites us to see that God accompanies us in all the vicissitudes of our lives: the loss of a loved one, of employment or of one’s health; the misunderstandings, setbacks or accidents that come our way. In all of these, God is there to guide, to heal and to help. And so, like the characters in the Book of Tobit we are called to live responsible lives and proclaim thanksgiving and praise to God.
The passage from the gospel of Mark finds us sitting with the Apostles at the feet of Jesus as he comments on the passing scene, noting how some religious people can become puffed up with pride and end up the opposite of what they hope or think—that is, not at all pleasing in God’s eyes.
And in the incident of the poor widow, Jesus teaches us that God looks not at the external reality, the gift of the smallest coin one could put in the collection, but at the poor widow’s spirit of self-offering behind it. This smallest of coins was all that the poor widow had; it represented her whole life and so became the total offering of herself. As Jesus said, she put in the temple treasury as a gift to God more than all the others.
Here is the lesson that deacons and all who minister to the poor must always be open to learning: that often we receive from God’s friends the poor more than we give.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these men, your relatives and friends, are now to be raised to the order of deacons. Consider carefully the ministry to which they are promoted.
They will draw new strength from the gift of the Holy Spirit. They will help the bishop and his body of priests as a minister of the word, of the altar, and of charity. They will make themselves a servant to all. 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.
It will also be their duty, at the bishop's discretion, to bring God's word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptize, to assist at marriages and bless them, to give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial.
Once they are consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes to us from the apostles and are bound more closely to the altar, they will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or the pastor. From the way they go about these duties, may you recognize them as disciples of Jesus who came to serve, not to be served.
My sons, James, Louis and William, you are being raised to the order of deacons. The Lord has set an example for you to follow.
As deacons you will serve the Lord Jesus Christ, who was known among his disciples as the one who served others. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and mankind in love and joy.
Look upon all unchastity and avarice as worship of false gods; for no man can serve two masters.
Like the men the apostles chose for works of charity, you should be men of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Show before God and mankind that you are above every suspicion of blame, true ministers of Christ and of God's mysteries, men firmly rooted in faith. Never turn away from the hope which the Gospel offers; now you must not only listen to God's word but also preach it.
Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear him say "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."