The Diaconate: A Living Sacrifice to God

Author: Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades

Bishop Kevin C Rhoades

Thanks to the generosity of the Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who presided at Rev. Mr. Matt Kuczora, C.S.C., Ordination to the Diaconate this past Sunday, we are able to share with you all on Spes Unica the amazing homily that Bishop Rhoades gave at the Mass. It is a powerful reflection on the ministry and service of a deacon. A huge thanks to Bishop Rhoades for sharing it us so we could share it with you.

We gather in joy today to celebrate the ordination of Matthew Kuczora to the diaconate.  We gather in thanksgiving for Matthew’s vocation and for the gift of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  We are ever-conscious that ordination is not something that one merits, though one works long and hard in preparation for ordination.  We know that ordination is a grace freely bestowed by our Risen Lord, a gift and a mystery.

Today’s Gospel seemed particularly fitting for an ordination Mass, especially for the ordination of a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Jesus talks to his disciples about the cross, not only in his prediction about his own death which upset Peter so much, but about the necessity of his followers taking up the cross.  Blessed Basil Moreau’s spirituality centered on these words of Jesus.

Father Moreau wrote: “In order to follow Jesus, it is necessary to deny oneself and carry one’s cross.  If we follow Jesus and carry our cross, we will have life.  Life is to be found in the cross and nowhere else.  It is not only necessary to take up the cross, but also to carry it with courage.  If we drag it along or if we leave it after we have once taken it up, and even more if we trample it underfoot, the cross will not save us.  Let us follow the route that Jesus set before us.”

Ordination to the Diaconate

Matthew, you have answered the Lord’s call to follow Him in the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Today you also answer His call to serve Him and His Church as a deacon.  As you do so, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are especially poignant:  “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  So are the words we heard from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans:  “I urge you. . . to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”

Through ordination, a man quite literally and radically offers himself as a living sacrifice to God.  Matthew is, in a sense, losing his life.  And in doing so, he is finding the abundant life Jesus came to bring to the world.  Through his ordained ministry, he will bring that life to others.  He will bring to them Jesus Christ through his service of the word, of the liturgy, and of charity.

Matthew, through ordination today, you become a herald of the Gospel of Christ.  You receive a unique share in the Church’s ministry of the word.  To proclaim the Gospel worthily in the Church’s liturgy, you must first hear that word in your own heart and strive to live it in your own life.  To preach to God’s people is not only an honor, it is a real commitment to the pursuit of holiness in your life and vocation.  And it is a commitment to fidelity, to handing on faithfully the Word of God that has been entrusted to the Church.  You are to hold fast to the Truth of the Gospel, preaching not your own wisdom or ideas, but the wisdom of God.  We must not be afraid to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, in season and out of season, even when that truth is not welcomed or accepted or when we are criticized, rejected, or persecuted because of it.  It is good to think of Jeremiah at such times.  He experienced derision, reproach, and mockery for preaching the truth.  He was ready to give up and turn away from his vocation.  But he didn’t because God’s Word burned like fire in his heart.  In exercising our ministry of the word, Saint Paul’s advice in our second reading today is also helpful to remember:  “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Matthew, through ordination today, you become a minister of the altar, a servant of the Church’s liturgy.  As you help God’s people to encounter Jesus Christ through your ministry of the word, so will you also help people to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.  The Levites in the Old Testament assisted the priests in their rites of worship.  In the new covenant, deacons assist the bishops and priests at the altar of the Lord.  You are called to serve at the liturgy with reverence and devotion.  The Body and Blood of our Lord is entrusted to you to be given to the faithful.  Your love for, and devotion to, the Blessed Sacrament can be a powerful witness to those whom you serve.  And, of course, it is the Eucharist that will sustain and nourish you in your diaconal, and later priestly, ministry.  Everything we do as deacons and priests and bishops – all our ministry and work – receives its power and dynamism from the Eucharistic mystery!

Matthew, through ordination, you become in a special way a minister of charity, a servant of the Church’s charitable activity.  Your ministry of the word and your service at the altar are intimately linked to the practical witness of charity.  From the very beginnings of the Church, the practice of charity has been part of the diaconal ministry.  The holy deacons in Rome, like Saint Lawrence, were renowned for their loving assistance of the poor.  Deacons are called to have a special love and concern for the poor and needy.  This ministry of charity is not an “added extra” in the deacon’s ministry – it is an essential part of diaconal identity.  Our Holy Father, in his first encyclical, reminded the whole Church that the exercise of charity is part of the Church’s very nature, “an indispensable expression of the Church’s very being.”  There are so many in our world and even here in South Bend who are oppressed by poverty.  Yes, there are the materially poor.  But there are also the spiritually poor and the culturally poor:  those who suffer from addictions; those who have no faith in God; those who are tempted to despair; those who have known suffering in their marriages; and those who suffer from loneliness.  All around us are brothers and sisters in need of Christ’s healing love.

Bro

Deacons are called to be living icons in the Church of Christ the Servant who said:  “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Though not ordained, Saint André is a wonderful model and intercessor for deacons and priests.  In his service of the poor and the suffering, he exemplified the qualities of a holy deacon.  At his canonization, Pope Benedict spoke of Brother André’s boundless charity and of how he soothed the despair of those who confided in him.  Saint André’s intense spiritual life, his simplicity, and his charity inspire all of us in our vocations as followers of Jesus.  Matthew, may Saint André intercede for you today and throughout your life as a Holy Cross religious and as an ordained minister of the Church!

Finally, let us entrust Matthew to the prayers and maternal care of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary was with the disciples in prayer in the upper room awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  She is with us today as we await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Matthew in the sacrament of Holy Orders.  May Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord, intercede for you always!

 

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