+ Bishop Olson
Homily for the Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate
Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church
March 7, 2015
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Church faces a problem of the Greek-speaking widows who are complaining of injustice. This problem becomes an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter once again in a new way into the life of the Church. The problem soon gives way, not a systematic solution, but to a deeper revelation of Christ disguised in the mystery of the human person, especially the human person who is in need; the human person who is not a universal abstraction, but a real person with a name.
The Church needs your diaconal ministry just as it required that of St. Stephen and the other deacons in the early days of the Church, as read in the Acts of the Apostles. The diaconal ministry of Stephen helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and children, an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of differences in culture and language in society, and it was affecting the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity of its human membership. The Greek speaking widows spoken of in today’s reading had begun to be treated more as a “corporate problem” than as particular persons with problems who have been incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church.
Today, we are faced with the same challenges and the same need for diaconal ministry where the busy-ness of our society often propels us towards basic insensitivity and unawareness. This too often leads to our own adoption of a passive attitude whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms. The grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests, and those diaconal aspects of the ministry of the baptized laity, prevents us from facing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve on our own terms. Nghia, your diaconal vocation must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such complacency. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:
“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.”
While today you are ordained a deacon so that you might make the transition towards priesthood, the diaconal quality of your ministry (care for the poor, care for those persons in the margins, care for those persons overlooked, care for those who suffer violence, concern for those without a clear voice, care for those persons threatened by isolation and exclusion from the common good because of existing differences in language and culture) is not transitional in the sense that it ever goes away.
Despite its transitional character, your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry. This diaconal ordination will strengthen you in the command of our Lord “to serve and not to be served” that must imbue your personal character, your human formation, and your priestly identity so that Christ’s Grace more clearly might be seen in the administration of the sacraments and not obscured by the seduction of entitlement.
This sense of entitlement is subtle and often gradual. The promises that you make today of celibate chastity and obedience to me and to my successors are most truly directed to Christ; these are graces given to you by Christ to save you from this subtle and deadly enemy. The subtlety of entitlement involves a gradual shift in priorities when the mission of the Gospel becomes secondary to the human dimensions of the institution of the Church. This can frequently affect parish ministry in that our policies can soon take on a custodianship of the status quo of the parish administration instead of facilitating the authentic sacramental life of our people. The ministry of the sacramental life must establish the priorities articulated in our policies and not vice versa. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry as one who is “to serve and not to be served” will help to guard you against this subtle foe of entitlement throughout your priestly life. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry will prevent your priestly ministry from becoming simply cultic or ceremonial.
As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord Himself became our deacon. Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the Teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow Him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to be of paramount importance.”
The justice that your diaconal ministry proclaims must always be subordinate to charity and love. Justice most strictly delineates the obligations that we possess in accordance with charity–love–the very life of God shared unconditionally with us by Christ.
This love is the same love that Christ offered you in giving you a vocation. Never doubt that it is Christ who has called you; it is He who has chosen you, not you who have first chosen Him. This love you know intimately, He offers to you on a daily basis through the grace of your ordination. Trust this Grace. Trust Him at times of fear and oppression and loneliness, and He will be your joy.