On Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, Bishop McGrattan ordained twelve men into the Permanent Diaconate at St. Mary's Cathedral. The Bishop's homily, focusing on the permanent deacon's call to serve as a Servant of Christ and the Church, is a reminder of our own call as the baptized. It is the responsibility of every Christian to immerse themselves in a life of service in our own vocation. Below is the text of the Bishop's homily from the Ordination Mass for your reflection:
Nov. 18, 2023
We are gathered today at St. Mary’s Cathedral to celebrate as a local Church the ordination of these twelve men to the permanent diaconate. For some who are present you may be aware that I have also just returned to the diocese after having participated this past month in the first phase of the Synod. It is a Synod on Synodality which Pope Francis has described as the experience of the Church as the People of God called to walk together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And among the many issues, and I can say that there were many issues discussed, there were two that struck me as being fundamental at this time in our history.
The first was the inclusion of the poor in society. It was discussed, we listened to many parts of the Church to which the poor, in various ways, seek to be included not only in society but the church. And the second issue that was debated was the need to promote greater peace and social dialogue. It was somewhat ironic that as the Synod unfolded, we once again were seeing the lack of peace, the recent acts of aggression, and war in the Middle East, in the Holy Land. Yet the Church from its very origins and from the mission entrusted to it from Christ was to have the poor at the heart of the Christian community. The poor in terms of material goods; the poor in terms of social status or spiritually poor. It is the poverty that we also experience with a declining health or sickness of advancing age. But what we also discussed at the Synod was the “new face” of the poor, the growing reality of migrants, people who are displaced because of war, social, political and economic conditions. And this was shared in various ways from many of the delegates, who represented these migrants, that this reality touches their families, touches their parish communities, and the society that they live in.
The Church, in its social teaching, has stated that the preferential option for the poor must be at the heart of the Church and society. Have we been authentic as a Church in this witness? In lives of the saints we can see how the Church has lived this out. In the life of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Elizabeth of Hungry, or more recently St. Theresa of Calcutta. It was the Word of God that these saints often heard, which called forth in the witness of their lives this preferential option for the poor. And even today we know that when we hear the word of God proclaimed each week, there is oftentimes this same echo that goes through the readings. That God shows His love first to the poor, that His mercy is upon those who have nothing.
Pope Francis, in Evangelium Gaudium said, “inspired by this same call, the Church understands that the option for the poor has a special form of primacy in the exercise of our Christian charity. The whole tradition of the church bears witness to this.” Today, in the ordination of these men to the Diaconate, we are part of that tradition. Pope Francis went on to say, and he states this often, “This is why I want a Church which is poor, and for the poor, they have much to teach us.”
During the Synod he also witnessed to this option by inviting some of the homeless and poor that are a growing community around St. Peter's Basilica to join him for lunch with some of the cardinals, the princes of the Church. He made it very clear that ones that had priority in the Church were the poor who were invited to that table.
This Sunday we celebrate what has come to be designated as World Day of the Poor by Pope Francis. It is a celebration that is intended to be a witness of our preferential option for the poor. And to these candidates, it's providential that your ordination takes place on the eve of this Sunday celebration. In fact, it is most fitting and appropriate that those called to the permanent diaconate are ordained in anticipation of this day that is dedicated to the poor.
The history of the diaconate as a ministry in the Church is both ancient and also new since its restoration following the Second Vatican Council. It was also discussed on the Synod floor. The following question was raised and discussed - has the diaconate truly been received and implemented into the life of the Church as witnessed by the early Church, and does this ministry need to evolve to serve the needs of the People of God and the poor today. However, to understand the diaconate, its identity, mission and purpose, is to approach it from two perspectives. To understand it from the perspective of the Church, its ecclesial origins. And then, secondly, with every ministry within the Church, from the baptized, to the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopacy, that we are all configured to Christ in a special way through the sacraments.
The readings today, especially the first reading and the second, help us to understand how the early churches—both the Israelites or chosen People of God and the early Christian Church of the Acts— called some within the community to ministry or service. In Acts we see the calling of the seven, who later came to be designated as the first deacons and in the Book of Numbers the calling of the sons of Levi to service. In both instances there is a recognition within both communities that there were many growing practical needs, both spiritual and material. In the early church, especially the material needs of the poorest, the widows. In the Book of Numbers, the sons of Aaron designated as priests needed the assistance, not only in the temple services of worship but, more importantly, in the community. And so even today there originates many ministries in our parishes through the growing needs that evolve because of changing social and historical conditions.
What we also see in these readings is that those who are called to these ministries are called from within a community. A community of a parish, a community of a diocese. They're chosen; they're set apart, but they are to be men who are distinguished in their character. Men of good standing, filled with wisdom in the Holy Spirit, men of faith. These characteristics have been both called forth and tested during in these men during this period of formation. For the sake of you, the People of God, it is important that those who present themselves for ministry have in fact received the proper discernment and formation. Their vocation has been called forth from the community, from within the Church to serve the Church. But this calling and this spiritual leadership to which we see the seven and the sons of Levi reminds us that it is God who calls first, and it is God who commissions or ordains. And this is where every ministry in the church begins, in being called forth by God and ordained by God through the Church.
The final point is that in these readings we see that those appointed are given to tasks of service. Yes, to build up the community, but from the community to go out to the peripheries and to preach the word of God. And we preach the word of God most effectively not necessarily from the pulpit but from the very witness and the service that each of us does in witnessing to Christ.
This is one of the three priorities of our Renewal, that we need to become more of a Church of encounter and witness. To welcome people into the Church but also for the Church to go out and to be of witness and service to our brothers and sisters. These are the essential characteristics and origins of diaconal ministry that are found even today. That they are called from the community, that they are ordained for needs of the community, but they are chosen by God, commissioned by God, and that their work and service is truly to build up the church in outreach to the poor.
The other aspect of the diaconate is that its origins is found, as every ministry, in relationship to Christ. In today's Gospel, we hear of the disciples coming to the Lord once again, encountering him, and wanting to know how they can follow him more faithfully. And in John's Gospel, Jesus responds, not so much through conversation, but he gives them a parable, a very simple parable. He says to them, and He probably says to each of us, that when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it bears much fruit. And this is the paradox of the Christian life of service: that we must emulate Christ in His self-emptying, His love which is sacrificial, His emptying of His life for the sake of others. This must be the attitude and the witness of those called to the diaconate for they represent symbolically the image of Christ the Servant. They have the pre-eminent responsibility to be in our midst and witness to Christ who serves.
Today, we see this sacramental reality unfold in the ordination rite. These ancient liturgical practices are ever old and ever new, and they show that it is truly God's action working through the Church and the ministry of the Church. These men have been called and they have responded by saying “I am present,” and they are acknowledged by all the People of God who are present today. They will be questioned as to their motivations and then they will come forward in a simple act of promising obedience, yes, to me the Bishop, but obedience to the Church, to the People of God that they will serve. And then, as an outward sign of this kenosis, this self-emptying, in every ordination rite they prostrate themselves on the floor and we surround them with the Church's prayer and the singing of the Litany of Saints, reminding them that it is truly the grace of God that sustains all of us in the call to ministry. And then I will go down as the Bishop of the Diocese and lay hands on these men in silence; a scriptural sign of being set apart, of being dedicated to the Lord and for service of the People of God. This new reality of becoming a deacon is then given an outward sign in the taking on of their stole and dalmatic a sign of service. Then they will come forward and receive the Book of the Gospels and asked to teach, to preach and to witness to what they believe. They will be asked to proclaim the Gospel not only in ministry of teaching and preaching, but in the witness of their service. This is the ultimate sign of being Christ the Servant.
In this ordination these men have the unique privilege of receiving the two sacraments of service, that of marriage and the diaconate. I wish to acknowledge and thank their wives who are present and to say that the deacons need to be committed first to their wives and families in service, and then today in terms of holy orders to be available to serve a broader community, the People of God. They must always unite both in being Christ the Servant.
The diaconate has always been identified to the scriptural image of Christ, who kneels to wash the feet of His disciples. May you experience their ministry in this way. That they may have the humility to kneel, to wash, and to seek out the poor, those most in need of Christ's mercy and Christ's presence. And finally, that they will, with the priests and myself, become at witness to what Pope Francis wants the Church to become: a church of synodality, a church that walks with the poor, a church that is poor, and that serves the poor.
May their ministry bring this renewal to our Diocese as we celebrate their ordination today.
+William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers