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Servant leaders in the footsteps of Christ

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

Oct. 16, 2013

Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for Ordination of Permanent Deacons Oct. 5 at St. Mary’s Cathedral

As they go about the sacred duties entrusted to them, will we recognize these men about to be ordained deacons as disciples of Him “who came not to be served, but to serve?” 

In the Ordination Prayer that I will soon pray, I will ask God to draw near and gift each man to be ordained deacon with “every Gospel virtue:  unfeigned love, concern for the sick and poor, unassuming authority, the purity of innocence, and the observance of spiritual discipline.”

With the help of God and the nurturing of these Gospel virtues, clearly these men will be servant leaders in the footsteps of Christ.

Unfeigned love…not love as defined today, not love on our terms, but a love without pretensions, a love that is defined by the unconditional love received from Jesus.  There is nothing false, showy or superficial about divine love.  If we ever doubt that, gaze upon the Cross.  When all is said and done, that’s the measure of the love we give witness to, the raw, unfeigned love that motivates our discipleship. 

Concern for the sick and the poor… The Gospel virtue of concern for the sick and the poor is not exercised from a safe distance from them.   In his teaching and witness, Pope Francis has challenged us all in this regard.  The ancient tradition appears to indicate that because the deacon was the servant at the table of the poor, he had his distinctive liturgical roles at the Table of the Lord.  Similarly, there is a reciprocal correspondence between his role as herald of the Gospel and his role as the one who expresses the needs of the Church in the General Intercessions.  In his formal liturgical roles, the deacon brings the poor to the Church and the Church to the poor.  He makes the connection between the worship of God in the liturgy and the worship of God in everyday life where Jesus Christ is encountered in the needy.

Unassuming authority… again, isn’t Pope Francis giving us a powerful lesson in this Gospel virtue?  Servant leadership means it is the power of the Gospel that leads us in the decisions that we make that affects the lives of those who look to us for guidance and direction.  Any other authority is deficient. 

Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel today:  “Anyone who aspires to greatness must serve the rest and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” – that’s unassuming authority, that’s servant leadership.

Purity of innocence…This Gospel virtue can be realized when I begin to comprehend, to grasp the depth of love that Jesus has for me.  Having been touched by such love, I naturally desire to return that same untainted love to my Beloved.  No hint of anything less pleases us, so we seek to return, to give of ourselves, as much as humanly possible, the purity of the gift we have received.

The observance of spiritual discipline…Perhaps the words are easy to understand, but not always to live.  The cleric must never take lightly the responsibility of daily prayer—Liturgy of the Hours-steeped in God’s Word, Holy Eucharist, Adoration, daily examination of conscience, Penance, annual retreats—all essential means to deepen our personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.  In this Gospel virtue, we see Jesus’ own prayer life as the model.  It is a discipline, one that the deacon must not avoid or minimize. 

Unfeigned love, concern for the sick and poor, unassuming authority, purity of innocence and observance of spiritual discipline—all virtues that require a lifetime endeavor of conversion of heart. 

My brothers, your presence here today, gives evidence of the seriousness with which you, with the help of the grace of God, will seek to live these Gospel virtues that will be critical to your ministry as deacon of the Church.
Deacons, in formal and informal ways, are evangelizers and teachers of the Word.    Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote that:  “The deacon’s ministry is the Church service sacramentalized.  Therefore, the deacon’s service in the Church’s ministry of the word and liturgy would be severely deficient if his exemplary witness and assistance in the Church’s ministry of charity and justice did not accompany it.”

Deacons are hearers and doers of the Word. Deacons will preside over public prayer, administer Baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring Holy Communion to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.  More and more, deacons, in collaboration with our pastors, will be called upon to assist our lay sisters and brothers in our ongoing evangelization efforts and in fulfilling leadership roles in our parishes.

Dear brothers, as ministers of Jesus Christ, who came among His disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart: serve people in love and joy as you would the very Lord Himself.  There is absolutely nothing Christ-like about a joy-less, dour, whiny disciple.  No, our ministry should be inspired by resurrection hope and joy.  Never allow yourself to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. 

My brothers in Christ, in your diaconal ministry, your wives and the responsibilities that arise from the sacrament of Holy Matrimony do not play second fiddle.  You are to be raised to the order of the Diaconate.  The Lord has set an example that just as He Himself has done, you also should do.

The Church expresses immense gratitude to the wives for the gift of her husband to the Church’s sacred orders. 
The sacred bond that your wife and you established on your wedding day is to be strengthened, not neglected as you fulfill your diaconal responsibilities. 

An important dimension of the deacon’s responsibility to the bishop is his presence and participation in diocesan events—those occasions when we gather with our sisters and brothers from throughout the diocese at liturgies and other diocesan functions.  Establish and maintain a strong fraternity with your brother deacons and wives, as a means of mutual support and friendship.

Finally, my brothers, do the will of God from your heart.  You are to be raised to the order of the Diaconate.  The Lord has set an example that just as He Himself has done, you also should do.  With great pride and gratitude, I join the Church of Ogdensburg confidently believing that your ministry of Word and Charity will bear much fruit for God’s holy people. 

May it be said here as it was in the early Church:  “The Word of God continued to spread, while at the same time the number of the disciples…increased enormously.”  May God be praised…forever may God be praised!!

photo by Betty Steele
Bishop LaValley lays hands on Deacon Guy Javarone of St. Anthony's Parish in Watertown. At left is Deacon Mark Bennett of Plattsburgh.

The new deacons are, front from left Deacon Lawrence R. Ambeau, Adams; Deacon Patrick J. Donohue, Evans Mills; Bishop LaValley , Deacon Guy Javarone, Watertown; and Deacon Paul M. White, Westport; back, Deacon Brian D. Neureuther,  West Chazy; Deacon John White, assistant director of the deacon formation program; Deacon Daniel B. McGrath,  Madrid; Deacon Henry J. Leader, Gouverneur; Msgr. Robert H. Aucoin, director of the deacon formation program; Deacon David P. Wells, Heuvelton; Deacon John Drollette, Plattsburgh; Deacon Anthony Pastizzo, Ogdensburg; Deacon John Lucero, Keeseville; and Deacon Joel Walentuk, Alexandria Bay.

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