Published February 3, 2005
My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
It warms my heart, to be in prayer with the Diaconate Community of the Archdiocese, and to have the opportunity to tell you first hand what a force for good for the Church and for me personally God has provided through your generous and faithful service and to commit myself to the challenges of our pastoral works of Charity together.
I now have had the privilege of working with the Diaconal Communities in three local Churches—Chicago, Belleville and now Atlanta. The deacons were a vital part of Church life at every level, and I know the same is true here in Atlanta and North Georgia. I promise you that when I say the fullness of Holy Orders belongs to the Bishop, I accept that teaching to mean that the fullness is only alive and well, when it is fully and properly shared with those who have been called, by the Holy Spirit, to the fulfillment of their own special vocations.
My personal involvement with the Permanent Diaconate dates by more than 35 years and includes being on the formation staff for the first group of Permanent Deacons who were ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1972. Literally, I have worked with deacons even before I myself was a deacon—while still a seminary theology student. I consider some of the deacons that I have known to be personal friends and I look forward to that same type of relationship with deacons here.
Your diaconal service is to assist me, and to help the priests of the Archdiocese to live and work for the People of God—to make them holy through the Sacramental Rites that have been placed in our care—to teach them the truth, by being the heralds of the Gospel that you are and through that proclamation to encourage and lead the People of God in the works of charity, so that the love of Jesus Christ, in whose blood the Church was born, may be received by all. This is the broad agenda of my vision of our work together—and it is a work full of those powers which make the Christian life possible—faith, hope, and love. I am happy to be here, and to join you as we strive to be, for the People of God, pillars of faith, beacons of hope, and virtuous and selfless vessels, through whom the love of God may pour out on those He loves. So anxious was I to have an opportunity to gather with the diaconal community, that this date was chosen without the type of consultation that I ordinarily will seek to pursue. I know that some deacons and their wives were not able to be in attendance. I look forward to other gatherings with the deacons so that you will know of the love, respect, and commitment that I seek with you as ministers of the Church in Atlanta.
The writer of Hebrews gives us two very fine directions by which to enhance our basic work, and incidentally, an example of how so often, the readings for the day dovetail perfectly into our purpose for the day. The first is: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.” And the second: “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Moving one another to love and good works is an action of the Church that is especially enhanced by what the deacon brings to his visible ministry—for the permanent deacon, in usual circumstances, offers to the Church a paradigm and model of married family life. I don’t think I need to tell you, dear brothers, that the greatest gifts by which God enhances most of your ministry, are the wives you love with all your hearts, and the children you cherish as life itself. They are an integral part of your vocation—they are a part of you—but even more important, they are the ones who love you first, who support you in the weight of your work, who rejoice with you when your work is successful, and who stand by you firmly, when the challenges seem greater than your ability to overcome. What a gift for you—these help-mates of your own home. But what a gift for the Church, especially our young people, who wish to marry and plant their lives in the love of Jesus Christ and His Church—that they can look up to the altar, look up to those who minister for the sake of Jesus Christ, and see there, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers who love their wives and children, with a love so close to what they desire for their own future. God bless you and your families for being there, as teachers and models of married life.
The second direction of Hebrews is that we should not be distant, but gather in the assembly for mutual support, since, as the inspired writer of this profound book somewhat ominously suggests, “… the day draws near.”
In my first days as Archbishop of Atlanta, I have been so gratified to learn of the strength and vitality of the Deacon Assembly, and the sound teaching and formation which underlies the Deacon Formation program. All ministers of the Church know that disposing ourselves to receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is an ongoing work—something that begins before Ordination, and continues until the day we die. By being close, by developing and maintaining friendship with other deacons and their families, you cooperate to help one another be open to the Spirit—and you help one another to remain faithful to that exact and demanding work to which you have been called: the able and careful assistance of the priest at the altar—the sound and certain teaching of Scripture and the Church—and the visible operation of our many works of charity. May your assembly continue to thrive, so that your work may thrive, and the Church with it. Know that I will do everything in my power to support and assist your work—and I promise to guide you according to the wisdom of our Church, and with the gentle hand of the Good Shepherd.
We have greeted one another, brothers, and drawn into the warmth of our mutual love, your own families, and by extension, the whole family of Christ’s Church on earth. And from this initial gathering, I think we can all look forward to continued cooperation and further blessings for the People of God, from the ministry of the permanent deacon.
But let us close by taking a final look at what our Lord says in the Gospel—let us stand in the simple light of His word, and admit our weakness—because no matter how good we may think we are as ministers, we are still human, still imperfect, still sinners—and with all humanity, we will one day face the judgment of God—a day which Hebrews reminds us, is drawing ever near.
When our Lord says that “to the one who has, more will be given,” and that “from the one who has not, even that will be taken away,” He is not speaking of anything material—He is not speaking of wealth or talents or power. What He is talking about is the light that can shine from us—the lamps that must not be hidden, but set on a stand—the city of our Holy Church, which is seen on the mountain. The one who receives this light and shuts it within himself, will lose it. But the one who receives this light, and opens his heart, so that it may shine upon others, lighting their way, melting their uncertainty—then he will receive even more of the light. This is true for all the children of God, but for those in Holy Orders, it is a special duty—a special obligation—but a duty and obligation that give life, and bring to the giver, a greater reward than he could have ever expected or gained on his own.
As Deacons of the Church, as special bearers of the Light that is Christ Himself, join with me now for our future work—join with me and the Priests of the Archdiocese—feel the light which the Holy Spirit has set aflame in our hearts—the light of Jesus Christ’s own love—and together, let us make this light, this warmth, this fire which renews and is never exhausted, felt by God’s people, the ones we have been called to care for. For brothers, the day draws near, and what better gift to bring God on the day we shall see Him, than the memory of how we have given His truth, His life, His love, to the People He calls His own?