DIACONATE ORDINATION AT ST. DOMINIC CATHOLIC CHURCH TAIFA, ACCRA, ON 19TH JANUARY, 2023
THEME: ORDAINED TO SERVE
READINGS: Numbers 3:5-9/Acts 6:1-7/John 13:1-15
Today, 19th January, 2023, fifteen (15) ordinandi (candidates for ordination) were ordained as deacons at St. Dominic Catholic Church, Taifa, by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, CSSp. Eleven (11) of the newly ordained deacons belong to the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra, two (2) are from Benin and two (2) others from The Gambia.
Below is the homily delivered by the Vicar General, Rev. Fr. John Kobina Louis.
Dear ordinandi, we thank God for calling you. We also congratulate you for persevering in responding to God’s call.
At the last supper, Jesus did not only institute the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, but He also washed the feet of the apostles. We could, therefore, say that He “ordained” them for service. Hence, the theme of this homily: “Ordained to Serve”. Under this theme, we shall reflect on the following 5 points:
- What kind of service?
- Service with love
- Service with humility
- Service is team work
- Qualities of deacons
- WHAT KIND OF SERVICE?
There are various kinds of services, e.g., banking, financial, transport, health and other services. So, what kind of service is one ordained for? Primarily, the deacon, priest or bishop is ordained to offer the pastoral service which is aimed at the salvation of souls.
Pastoral service has different aspects. Today’s readings, though, remind us of its two fundamental aspects, namely, the spiritual and temporal aspects.
In the first reading, we hear that in the Old Testament, the priests and their assistants, the Levites, worked in the Tent of Meeting, i.e., the sanctuary (cf. Num. 3:5-9). In other words, the priests with the assistance of the Levites, undertook the spiritual role of mediating between God and His people.
Then, in the second reading, the apostles declared that spiritual activities of prayers and preaching God’s word take precedence over temporal activity of sharing food (cf. Acts 6:1-7). So, dear ordinandi always remember that the spiritual aspect of pastoral service is preeminent.
The preeminence of the spiritual aspect notwithstanding, the needs of the human body have to be taken care of. Hence, the apostles had seven deacons chosen whom they mandated to offer the corporal works of mercy to the widows.
Hence, dear ordinandi, as pastoral service providers we cater for both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy for God’s people.
- SERVICE WITH LOVE
Pastoral service is characterized by certain virtues and attitudes, the first of which is love. Thus, according to the gospel reading, “Jesus …, having loved those who were His own in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1). So, dear ordinandi, like Jesus, serve God’s people with love. Love them because Christ loves them. Serve them as Christ has served them.
True love is selfless or unconditional. The selfless love of Jesus is seen in the fact that He loved the apostles to the end even though He was very much aware that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him and the rest would desert Him. Remember that Jesus did not only call the betrayer, the denier and the deserters as “friends” but He willingly died for them out of great love (cf. John 15:13). Similarly, we should love whether we are disliked or liked, unrewarded or rewarded, etc. In other words, our love for those whom we serve should be like that of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (cf. Mark 10:25).
Love entails passion. He who loves football, for instance, is passionate about it. So, dear ordinandi serve with passion. On the contrary, don’t offer your pastoral service as if you are compelled to do so.
- SERVICE WITH HUMILITY
The second virtue which characterizes pastoral service is humility. In the gospel reading, Jesus demonstrated service with humility in several ways.
Firstly, from the position of being served at table, Jesus got up from the table to serve the disciples at table (cf. John 13:4). Dear ordinandi and priests, let us likewise serve the people by occasionally taking up their roles of service – e.g., helping in a communal labour exercise.
Secondly, Jesus took off the master’s garment and wrapped Himself with the servant’s towel. I see a symbolism here. That is, it was as if Jesus took off the garment of equality with God and wrapped Himself with the towel of the lower dignity of humans (cf. Phil 2:6-11). Therefore, to serve God’s people with humility like Jesus is to “put aside” our status as deacons or priests. In other words, instead of being conceited by our clerical status, let us humbly serve God’s people with respect and politeness – after all many of them were Catholics for decades before our births.
Thirdly, the most sacred and precious hands ever which had just handled the most holy body and blood would wash the dirty feet of the callous man, Judas, as well as the dirty feet of the timid eleven apostles. This is a demonstration of sublime humility combined with mercy. This should inspire us to always serve with humility accompanied by mercy.
- SERVICE IS TEAM WORK
In the second reading, the apostles mandated not just one man, by seven men as deacons. This is an indication of team work. So, dear ordinandi, despite your individual temperaments, gifts and competences, always keep in mind that pastoral service is a team work.
Each of you should see himself as a team player who works with other deacons, priests and bishops to facilitate the salvation of souls.
In the ministry, especially in the Catholic Church, there is no lone ranger. There is no Messiah, except Christ. There is no Saviour, except Jesus.
So, please ordinandi come not with a Messiah complex or a private agenda. Rather, come and work together with us, so that we can have a strong team to advance the course of Jesus Christ.
- QUALITIES OF DEACONS
What are the qualities which deacons need as providers of pastoral service?
The qualities are many but may it suffice to focus on the 3 qualities mentioned in the selection of the seven deacons (cf. Acts 6:3):
- Good reputation
- Filled with the Holy Spirit
- Filled with wisdom
a. Good Reputation
Firstly, whereas a bad reputation is like driving in the night without headlights, a good reputation is like the headlights of car which go ahead of it to clear the way. That is, one’s good reputation goes ahead of him to facilitate his meeting with whatever community he is assigned to. So, dear ordinandi begin to build a good reputation.
Secondly, whereas a bad reputation is like an offensive smell which drives people away, good reputation is like the sweet-smelling perfume which lingers on even after the user has passed by. That is, one with a good reputation is fondly remembered long after he has exited the community. So, dear ordinandi begin to cultivate a good reputation.
Thirdly, a good reputation is like a scoop of honey which attracts hundreds of ants. So, dear ordinandi, may the sweetness of your reputation attract many souls to Christ, as well as to the priesthood and religious life.
b. Filled with the Holy Spirit
The first seven deacons were described as filled with the Holy Spirit even before the apostles laid hands on them (cf. Acts 6:3).
Dear ordinandi, whereas we are agents of pastoral service, the Holy Spirit, is the divine inspirer of our vocations, the divine animator of our pastoral service, the divine fuel of our activities, the divine supplier of our gifts and talents, etc. In short without the Holy Spirit, we are nothing and we can do nothing.
So ordinandi, we pray that the Holy Spirit whom you received at baptism and who strengthened you at confirmation, will fall afresh on you as the Archbishop lays hands on you and prays for you.
Subsequently, foster the Spirit’s relationship with you through prayer, meditation, the sacraments, charity and faithfulness to God’s will.
c. Filled with Wisdom
The first deacons are described as “filled with wisdom” (Acts 6:3). In this biblical text, however, the meaning of wisdom is not provided. Moreover, wisdom has a range of meanings in Scriptures.
Fortunately, the Letter of James provides us with an understanding of wisdom appropriate for the selection of the deacons. St. James makes a distinction between earthly wisdom and wisdom from above. On the one hand, earthly wisdom leads to bitter envy and selfish ambition (cf. James 3:14-15). If the deacons chosen had this kind of wisdom, they would have worsened the tension and division emerging in the early Christian community. So, dear ordinandi, let us flee from this kind of wisdom.
On the other hand, the wisdom from above is “pure, peaceable, gently willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without any trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). This was the kind of wisdom the first deacons possessed and which would enable them bring satisfaction to the aggrieved and unity in the community. So, beloved this is the kind of wisdom which we should seek, if we don’t already have it. And St. James urges us to seek it: “Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given. But the prayer must be made with faith and no trace of doubt …” (James 1:5-6)
Beloved, we are ordained to serve. Our five keywords are: service, love, humility, team and qualities.
Service: We are ordained for pastoral service and not financial service or any other kind of service.
Love: We are ordained to serve with love like Christ.
Humility: We are ordained to serve with humility like Christ.
Team: We are ordained to serve as a team.
Qualities: Good reputation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and wisdom are our non-negotiable qualities.
Finally, when we persist in serving with these virtues and qualities, the Lord will count us among the good and faithful servants. Amen!
By Fr. John K. Louis