Today’s homily is supposed to be “brief and to the point”.
So, who are these like stars appearing? “Chosen men”, the Litany of the Saints will call them.
Here, briefly, is Malachy Eze, born in Igboland, who, after working as an interior decorator in Lagos and earning the wonderful nickname of “Parousia” from the youngsters he catechised, came to the UK, did some business studies, became a seminarian for the diocese of Aberdeen and appears before us today.
Here, briefly, is Christopher Doig, from Perth and Blairgowrie, who after some intense berry-picking and much speaking of Spanish, found himself at a World Youth Day in Brazil and decided to apply for priesthood in the diocese of Aberdeen. Obvious, if you think about it.
Seriously, welcome brothers. What good names you have! Malachy, not just after an Old Testament prophet, but after St Malachy of Armagh, a 12th c. Irish archbishop and given in tribute to the Irish evangelising of Nigeria. The name means “my messenger”. Christopher, as we know, Christ-bearer. There are many causes of you being here. You are here, in different ways, thanks to the Holy Spirit; thanks to your respective seminaries, St Mary’s, Oscott and the Pontifical Scots College, Rome; thanks to members of your families, really or virtually or heavenly present. You are here because of lay people and religious and clergy who have inspired you, guided and formed you, “rooted” and prayed for you, several of them here. You’re here by the prayer of saints who have been lights for you. I know, Christopher, I must mention Our Lady of Mt Carmel whose memorial it is today, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystical teachers, and, Malachy, you have spoken of the impact of St Francis.
So, it’s not for nothing that we just heard that “Holy Mother Church asks you [the bishop] to ordain these men…” You are here as sons of mother Church – strong, healthy sons, arrows in her quiver, fruit of her womb – ready to devote yourselves to the good of your brothers and sisters in the family of God. I hope you feel the love surrounding you. So, when the bishop lays his hands on your head – briefly! – you must feel that his two hands are really multiple hands, the hands of all who are blessing you, on earth and from heaven, and above them all, the hands of the Lord.
“Present”, you said. You are here, not least, because you want to be here. You’ve made a choice. You’re responding to a call and a movement of the heart. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”, the Lord tells Jeremiah; your vocation makes sense of your whole life, past and future. You have let the Good Shepherd know you, and lead you. Thank you for that. Thank you, too, for putting up patiently with the uncertainty and delays. Christopher, you were meant to be ordained a deacon in Rome on 2 May, and you Malachy in Oscott on 27 June. A deacon in lockdown: you’ll have a story for the rest of your life. But I’m glad, we’re glad, it’s happening here, the place of your future ministry. And I’m glad I am ordaining you, and not another bishop, however admirable!
Well, the sermon must be brief and to the point.
So, briefly, what is happening to you today? And to us as well?
Certainly, you are getting a new uniform. You are receiving a new role. But there is something more. You are receiving a Sacrament, the Sacrament of Orders, at its first diaconal level. Every Sacrament puts us in relationship with Christ, connects us, links us to him. Baptism binds us to his sonship, Confirmation to his anointing by the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist to his self-giving. By Ordination as a deacon, you are being secured and connected (as a computer would say) to Christ the Deacon: the One who said he came, not to be served, but to serve, the One who has upturned our ideas of dignity and power. It is he you are to echo and repeat, reverberate and radiate. This is hard work. Being a deacon can mean a lot of busy-ness. Bishop Peter Moran, with his great knowledge of the classics, pointed out once that the Greek word for deacon literally means “someone who is dusty with running”. You should not be idle. You are given by the Church a three-fold diakonia: of the Word, of the liturgy, of charity. That and continuing studies are enough to keep you occupied. But Bishop Peter also pointed out that the word contains the preposition “through” / dia. It’s not just running about usefully. It’s about letting something else be seen and felt through you: something else and other and more. Something is to shine through you. Someone wants to live-stream through you.
The Bible and Tradition offer many diaconal patterns:
- the Levites who ministered in the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Prayer of Ordination);
- the prophets who served future generations by their words (cf. 1 Pet 1:14);
- Martha in the Gospels (cf. Lk 10:38ff);
- the apostles who speak of their ministry as a deaconing – St Paul repeatedly (e.g. 2 Cor 3:6; Col 1:23; Col 1:25);
- the seven men of good standing appointed in Acts to ensure a just daily distribution of charitable aid, two of whom we find preaching as well (cf. Acts 6 – 8);
- the angels even who are described as deaconing in the New Testament (cf. Mk 1:13; Heb 1:14) and are often dressed in dalmatics in iconography.
- saints such as St Stephen, St Laurence, St Ephrem the Syrian, St Francis of Assisi, all of them deacons. Yes, plenty of patterns, and most of all, Jesus himself: so intent on deaconing that he promises to dress himself and serve his disciples at the table in the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 12:37).
“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become”, the Bishop will say to you once you are ordained and vested. You’re not handed, say, a wad of food vouchers or blank cheques for the needy to distribute at the back of the church; you’re not handed a chalice even; you are handed the Book of the Gospels. And the book of the Gospels is a symbol of Christ: herald him!
The homily must be “brief and to the point”.
So, what is the point? A Christian is not a Christian for herself; he or she represents Another and serves others. And a deacon is not a deacon for himself. What this ordination and your generosity give us, Malachy and Christopher, is something more than just your, and something for all of us. It’s a Presence. It is an assurance that the Lord, here and now, in Aberdeen in 2020, has not forgotten us. He’s at work among us. He still holds us in his care and is bothered about us and his Church in this place. He is still calling and sending and inspiring, and pouring out his Holy Spirit to equip his disciples for service. He is our Shepherd and he is with us. “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17). You are messengers, bearers, deacons of that – for the good of us all!
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 16 July 2020)