Sermon: My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I deliberately selected the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7, in which St. Luke the Evangelist gives us a very graphic account of how the Order of Deacons began in the early Christian Community.  The Gospel for today is that of Wednesday after Epiphany. Now from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that in order to solve a problem of welfare for the widows in the Church, “the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the Word of God so as to give out food; you…must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the Word’.  The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen…  They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them”.

My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, this is how the Order of Deacons began in the early Church.  This exactly is what we are gathered here to do this evening, namely after you the People of God, with the help of their parents and families, and through training by the Seminary Formators and Priests, have approved the choice of these your six sons, they have been presented to God for ordination to the Order of Deacons; and I, as bishop and successor of the Apostles, will be authorized by Holy Mother Church and by the Holy Father, Vicar of Christ on earth, to ordain them by the laying on of hands and the prayers of consecration.

In and through the Litany of the Saints, the whole Church in heaven and on earth will soon be joined together in one act of worship to ask the Holy Triune God to grant these sons of yours the grace of the Diaconate and for their ministry, the sevenfold graces of the Holy Spirit (see Prayer of consecration).

1.1:  According the Acts of the Apostles, the first seven deacons of the Church were chosen literally to distribute food and see to the welfare of the widows.  But with time and tradition, the ministry of the Deacon has evolved greatly into a ministry of service.  From the homily in the Rites of Ordination, this is what Holy Mother Church teaches as the duties of the deacon:

“he will help the bishop and his body of priests as

  • a minister of the word,
  • of the altar, and
  • of charity.
  • He will make himself a servant to all.”

Explaining that further in the Rites of Ordination, “…as a minister of the altar he (the deacon) will

  • proclaim the Gospel,
  • prepare the sacrifice, and
  • give the Lord’s body and blood to the community of believers.”

Furthermore, it will be his duty

  • “…to baptize,
  • to assist at marriages and bless them,
  • to give viaticum to the dying, and
  • to lead the rites of burial…”

In fact, “…he will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or the pastor…” (see Homily in the Rites of Ordination).

1.2: The Holy Rites of Ordination makes it clear that the deacon “…from the way he goes about these duties (mentioned above), may people recognize him as a disciple of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served”.  In short, he is expected to make himself the servant of all!

1.3:  My dear sons, you are today going to be called to become Christ-like in the way you go about the duties or the ministry of diaconate.  And so, just as Christ Jesus did not marry, but gave up marriage in sacrifice to God his heavenly Father, soon you will be expected to embrace freely and willingly a life of celibacy and therein the virtue of celibate chastity.

The Rites emphasize that “the state of celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world”.  This statement is of very deep spiritual significance:

  • celibacy is … a sign; in simple terms, it is to be a visible witness, a sacrament of some sort of the presence of something divine, some attribute that points to God in our midst;
  • celibacy is … a motive of pastoral charity, because it is a visible witness of one’s availability to all persons like Christ was; to men and women, to children and the youth, to the poor and the rich, to the sick and the needy, to the marginalized etc. Pastoral charity means to be Christ-like “…with total dedication and moved by a sincere love for Christ the Lord…” only;
  • celibacy is also a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. This spiritual fruitfulness is easily acknowledged in the title “Father” that is often given to the priest, because all see in the sign of God the Father of all humanity.

The Rites of Ordination sum it up thus: in celibacy, “you will give witness to your brothers and sisters in faith that God must be loved above all else, and that it is he whom you serve in others”.

In simple terms, as deacon (and of course later on as Priest and even as Bishop, God willing it), you are called to become the very presence of Jesus Christ the servant of all, and to exemplify his life of sacrifice for humanity.

In addition to the virtue of celibate chastity, the Church requires of you, my dear sons, to promise Obedience and Respect to Holy Mother Church in the hands of your bishop, to me today and to my successors.

1.4:  It is in order to be able to live such Christ-like life as deacons and beyond that I invite you to look at today’s Gospel of St. Mark and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who was as a man of unceasing prayer and permanent communion with God his Father.   We are told that after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus “went up to the mountain to pray.”  He must have prayed from evening through the night up to early morning, when he came by “walking on the sea”.

My dear People of God, my dear brother Priests and Religious, our dear deacons to-be, unceasing prayer and constant communion with God is the key to being Christ-like in life, the key to being obedient and respectful to the Church, the key to cultivating perfect love for God and for his children through an effective witness in purity and simplicity of life.

Just as Jesus Christ, after spending the whole night in prayer to God the Father, was able to walk on the water and calm the boisterous sea (literally doing the impossible and overcoming the forces of evil as represented by the raging sea), by praying unceasingly and communing with God the Father, you will also be able to overcome whatever will come your way in your ministry as deacons, and later on as priests.  Cultivate intensely and without fail a Christ-like life of Obedience, Poverty and Celibate Chastity!

That is why our Holy Mother Church expects of you, my dear deacons to-be, that you resolve “to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love… (and) assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ”.  And that you resolve “to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer…(and) to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world”.  And again, that you resolve “to shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ…”

  1. My dear People of God, I would like to bring my sermon to a close by returning to the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the kairos, a time of grace that we are living at this moment.

It is the wish of Pope Francis that we all “taste and see the mercy and goodness of the Lord our God” in the Extraordinary Holy Year.  We are to allow the mercy of God to convert us from our sinful ways and to reconcile us to God the Father, and that having ourselves “been steeped deeply in the Mercy of God,” and benefitted from God’s unceasing goodness and steadfast love, we are to become God’s ambassadors of reconciliation and missionaries of his infinite Mercy.

Again, taking cue from the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus, just as Jesus Christ became the face of God’s Mercy in the Incarnation, so by the grace of the Holy Spirit and through this Ordination, may you our sons become truly the face of Jesus Christ the Servant of all!.

We ask this through the intercession of Mary the Mother of Christ and Mother of Mercy, and that of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, Patrons of this Church!  Amen.

Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,

Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra,

At St. John Fisher Catholic Church,

Achimota, Accra,

On Wednesday, January 06, 2016.