Many of you have heard the story that when I was twelve years old a doctor in my parish was ordained a permanent deacon. Ever since that day, the permanent diaconate has been in my heart. Many of you also know that four years ago, I was accepted into the Permanent Diaconate formation program for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
I truly believe that the Permanent Diaconate is the Church’s best kept secret. Most people have never heard of it. And there are many men out there (you could be one of them) who would make great deacons. Not only does the deacon get to assist with the liturgy and sometimes proclaim the Gospel and preach, they get to perform baptism and burials and can perform marriages, but they get to minister to the neediest in the community. Deacons are occasionally found ministering in hospitals, senior homes and prisons. But they are not just chaplains, counselors or pastoral care workers – they are ordained ministers of the Church. That means they’ve received the Sacrament of the Holy Orders.
In preparing for my ordination I spent some quiet time reflecting on how I got to this point. There are so many factors, beginning with that doctor in my parish 30 years ago. Perhaps the most significant factor was the two years that I spent working for the World Youth Day 2002 National Committee. World Youth taught me what Church really is. WYD taught me that we are all called to be saints. WYD taught me that Christ calls us to follow him as disciples, but at some point He needs you to be an apostle: He sends us out to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. WYD also taught me that if God has a plan for you, there’s no point in resisting. Sooner or later, God will have his way.
I didn’t know what to expect for my ordination. I cannot remember how I felt before my baptism, first communion or confirmation. I can imagine how I felt before our wedding, but I don’t quite remember. However, on Saturday, May 26, 2012, I felt how I feel every time I go on a trip. I felt that I was forgetting something, my passport, maybe. I felt that little tinge of nervous energy in my belly that I always feel before going to the airport. And, I guess, in a way, that’s exactly what was happening. I was setting out on a journey: The journey of serving Christ and His body, the Church.
During the ceremony, I was struck by how everything about the diaconate can be traced right back to the time of the 12 Apostles. The first reading from the Book of Acts tells the story about the first seven deacons that the Apostles “ordained” to help them serve the most marginalised people of the time, the Greek-speaking Jewish widows and orphans. The best-known first deacons of that group were St. Stephen and St. Philip. In the second reading, St. Paul writes to Timothy and tells him what type of man would make a good deacon: they must be “serious, not double tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money...” The diaconate goes way back to when it all started!
I'd like to share with you the beautiful Prayer of Consecration, prayed during the Ordination Rite by the Ordaining Bishop, the Most Rev. Vincent Nguyen, Vicar of Deacons for the Archdiocese. It's a prayer that applies to deacons, but in a way, it applies to all who wish to say yes to our universal call to holiness:
“Almighty God, be present with us by your power. You are the source of all honour, you assign to each his rank, you give to each his ministry.
You remain unchanged, but you watch over all creation and make it new through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord: He is your Word, your power, and your wisdom. You foresee all things in your eternal providence and make due provision for every age. You make the Church, Christ’s body, grow to its full stature as a new and greater temple. You enrich it with every kind of grace and perfect it with a diversity of members to serve the whole body in a wonderful pattern of unity.
You establish a threefold ministry of worship and service for the glory of your name. As ministers of your tabernacle you chose the sons of Levi and gave them your blessing as their everlasting inheritance. In the first days of your Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of good repute to assist them in the daily ministry, so that they themselves might be more free for prayer and preaching. By prayer and the laying on of hands the apostles entrusted to those chosen men the ministry of serving at tables.
Lord, look with favour on these servants of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.
Lord, send forth upon them the Holy Spirit, that they may be strengthened by the gifts of your seven-fold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.
May they excel in every virtue: in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline and in holiness of life. May their conduct exemplify your commandments and lead your people to imitate their purity of life. May they remain strong and steadfast in Christ, giving to the world the witness of a pure conscience. May they, in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served but to serve, and one day reign with him in heaven.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”
I pray that the thirteen men who were ordained with me excel in every virtue and that we may imitate Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. I also pray this for the six men from our class from the diocese of Hamiton, who will be ordained on June 2. I pray this for all who will be ordained permanent deacons this year and ever.
I also want to thank each one of you for the years of support and prayers. This journey would not have been possible without all the prayers. And I would have to write a book to tell of all the little stories and messages of support and encouragement that I received during my formation.
May God, the God of service and charity, the God of life and love, the Father of light, guide each and every one of your paths, to bring you to the place He is preparing for you.
May everything you do begin with His inspiration,
continue with His help
and reach perfection under loving guidance.
May each one of you say "yes" to the One who calls you to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth.
May you serve well.
Photo Credit: Emanuel Pires