He dwells among us: As one who serves

What is your motto, your message to the world?

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

Will there be a deacon at Mass?” It’s a question that makes me smile. “Yes,” I reply, “I am one.” Many people don’t realize that once ordained a deacon, you always are a deacon, even if you later become a priest, a bishop, or even the pope.

The diaconate is a special gift to a community just as it was in the very beginning when the first seven deacons were chosen and prayed over by the apostles (Acts 6:1-6). They are appointed to serve the needs of the Church, with solicitude for the poor and widowed, so that priests and bishops can better devote themselves to the ministry of the Word.  Like Jesus, who made himself the “deacon” or “servant of all,” a deacon is among us as one who serves.

During this Year of Mercy, we are particularly blessed by a number of ordinations. On May 14, I ordained Deacon Christopher Floersh to the transitional diaconate, and next year, God willing, I will ordain him to the priesthood. Deacon Adam Royal, who I ordained to the transitional diaconate last year, will be ordained on June 4 to the priesthood. And on June 11, I will ordain 24 men to the permanent diaconate!

Recently, I had the great pleasure of leading the candidates for the permanent diaconate on a retreat at St. Bernard Abbey in Alabama in preparation for their ordination. They are a wonderful and faith-filled group with diverse backgrounds and talents, many of them Knights of Columbus.

As ordained deacons they will be able to proclaim the Gospel at Mass and assist me and my brother priests in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. They can preside at baptisms and funerals, and witness and bless marriages, just to name a few examples of their consecrated service. Their three-fold ministry begins with the ministry of the Word, which leads to the altar, and then as an expression of charity at the table of the poor—“the deacon brings the poor to the Church and the Church to the poor.”

After five long years of preparation—of prayerful discernment, study and practical experience—these 24 men will soon, through my anointed hands as their bishop, be marked with an indelible character configuring them to Christ. Through the sacrament of holy orders, the gift of the Holy Spirit will be conferred upon them, giving them the graces they need to carry out their ministry of the Word, altar and charity.

In recognition of this sacred sacrament, I ask the Catholic faithful to no longer address them by their first name alone, but to recognize the sacramental sign of Christ the servant in each of them by prefacing their name with “Deacon.”

What can we learn from the witness of these men who have answered God’s calling and given themselves so generously to the service of the Church?” One lesson is the importance of knowing how to wait as Jesus counseled the apostles to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4)—to wait for the Lord, for His good and perfect timing; to wait for the inspiration and gifts of the Holy Spirit in family, work, and vocational decisions; to wait in patience for the conversion and spiritual healing of a loved one; to wait with hope and trust in times of personal suffering and illness; and to faithfully wait for the marital embrace until the sacrament of marriage is received. There are so many beautiful blessings God will give us when we learn to wait according to His will.

Waiting is not easy, especially when it is in anticipation of the completion of our new cathedral. But waiting, in a beautiful way, builds up the longing of the heart. Because our Lord knows we need to grow in the virtues of patience and trust, He gives us many opportunities each day to strengthen us in these areas. This is one of the reasons why I chose as my episcopal motto the Latin words meaning, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

When I recently ordained Deacon Christopher Floersh, I asked him if he had chosen a motto to guide him in trusting our Lord more and more in his vocation. It’s a question I ask each one of you to consider.

Though this tradition is most associated with a bishop’s episcopacy, I truly believe everyone should have a Christian motto. We should prayerfully discern the motto we choose as an expression of our heart’s longing to see Christ, and to better see Him and serve Him in our neighbor. Whether it is a verse from one of the Psalms or from elsewhere in Scripture, or from the writings of a saint of the Church, may it be what best opens your heart to God, following St. Paul’s counsel to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Let us together, then, thank our Lord Jesus for the great gifts of our newly ordained clergy, lifting them up in prayer, and all our clergy. Regina Cleri—Queen of the Clergy—pray for us! ■

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