Today is the feast of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and, dear Dominic, your diaconal ordination. It’s a good combination. And the Gospel says: “The Son of man must be lifted up.”
According to St Paul in the 2nd reading, he was lifted up by the Father through his Resurrection and Ascension. According to St John in the Gospel, he was lifted up by the Father already on the Cross. But in both cases the essential movement is the same: down and up. Coming down to share our lot, going up so that we will be healed and saved and have eternal life. This is the pattern.
Dominic, what a long road it has been for you! How many downs and ups! It’s 17 years since you first entered a religious order. I can count seven different communities of life and formation, some of them happy, some difficult. Four countries, in each a blend of experiences; Providence has been your real formator. And now we’re here. And in the Liturgy of Ordination, this down and up is reenacted. During the promises, you will stand. For the promise of obedience, you will kneel. During the Litany of the Saints you will prostrate, down to ground level. During the Prayer of Ordination, you will kneel. And then, having received the Book of the Gospels, you will stand again. Coming down and going up. ‘Let us kneel! Let us stand!’ deacons cry at some points of the liturgy. Dominic you already know about this, from the inside. And entering the ordained ministry, you will learn it afresh. Don’t be afraid!
The lives of us all, as baptized believers, are, as it were, woven into this pattern. We are no longer our own, St Paul says. We belong to Another: to the One who went down and was lifted up. And, as we grow in his Body, we receive our different gifts and callings and ways of life. We live our faith in specific forms. And there again, in a new way, married or single, doing this, doing that, we enter the movement and experience it, perhaps more sharply. And so it is with the calling and grace of ordained ministry at the heart of the People of God. So it is, with a special symbolic power, in this first ministry of diaconate. ‘I am among as you as one who serves’, says Jesus. I’m the one who goes down to wash feet, goes down to the Cross to lift us up, goes down daily to the forms of bread and wine. This is for all of us. Dominic, you’ve long been inspired by the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, our Pope Emeritus Benedict. At a diaconal ordination in 1978, he said: “It is not just an old custom that diaconal ordination is situated on the way to priestly ordination. A priest who stopped being a deacon would no longer perform his priestly ministry correctly, either. And a bishop who did not remain a deacon would no longer be a real bishop. And a pope who was not a deacon would no longer be a true pope. The diaconate is and remains a dimension of every clerical ministry, because the Lord who sustains all these ministries himself became a deacon and remains as such in the Holy Eucharist until the end of all days.”
Dominic, it’s this mystery and experience of down and up you’re entering tonight. Thank you! You’re sharing it with the whole Church and her wounded members. In a fresh and specific way, you are ceasing to be your own. You are being entrusted to Christ who will give you to others. You will not simply serve; you will be taken into service. It’s a vital nuance. Your serving asks your whole heart and mind and strength, 24/7, but it isn’t yours. This is perhaps the deepest ‘down’ that is asked of us: to serve in his way, not ours; to do good his way, not ours. ‘Someone else will put a cord around you and take you where you would rather not go.’ It’s not my diaconate or priesthood or episcopacy, just as it’s not my Christianity or my Church. ‘The Son of man must be lifted up.’ It is all his. And we go down with him to be lifted up for the healing and salvation of ourselves and others. According to St Luke, Jesus’ last words on the Cross were: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. We echo them at Night Prayer. Father, into your hands, we can all say, I commend my spirit, my faith, my hope. Dominic, you can say, ‘Father, into your hands, I commend my ministry.’ We are not our own. And this is the beautiful discovery of going down, becoming less: the hands of the Father. Jesus, can we say, went into those hands on Good Friday evening and discovered their power on Easter morning. This is the discovery the Church, with her current wounds, will make again, and, please God, those we have wounded: the hands of the Father. We are loved. We are wanted. We are held. We are carried and sustained. We are enclosed. Together in Christ, even as we fall, we are lifted up and lift each other up. ‘His right hand raised me up. The Lord’s right hand has triumphed; I shall not die, I shall live and recount his deeds’ (Ps 117). This is where we all are simply as Christians. It’s what we experience again in our diversity of vocations, in the one Body of the crucified and risen Christ. And it’s what, dear Dominic, you are entering into tonight, in a freshly focused way, through the laying on of hands and the prayer. And it’s good. It’s very good. It’s the triumph of the Cross for the healing of the nations.
‘The Son of man must be lifted up.’
May I end with a recent story? There’s a building vacated a few years ago by the religious community that had lived there previously. Inevitably, some items were left behind. Among them, a crucifix – a fine one, with the Latin word for ‘I thirst’ engraved on it. The new owners took it down and left it on the floor, pending re-location. But several people then heard a voice: ‘Lift me up.’ The Cross spoke. So, it was placed with a set of Stations of the Cross, and the voice ceased. Well, we can buy the story or not. But I think, that tonight, we might all heed that voice from that Cross: ‘Lift me up.’ It echoes St Paul: ‘But God raised him high.’ It echoes St John: ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up.’ It’s asking us to do what God the Father does. Dominic, this ‘lift me up’ is addressed to you tonight. To you, a bright new deacon. At the Easter vigil, it’s the deacon who lifts up the Paschal Candle in the dark and sings, ‘Lumen Christi.’ At Mass, it’s the deacon who proclaims the Gospel. At the great doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, it’s the deacon who lifts up the Chalice. ‘Lift me up,’ says the Cross. Lift me up in your prayer, in your humility, in your readiness to serve. Don’t lift yourself up; lift me up. Lift me up, as in Salvador Dali’s painting, over the whole world. Lift me up so that people can be healed of the bites of the serpent, so that no one may be lost, so that every knee can bow and every tongue proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
St Mary’s Inverness, 14th September 2018