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Address of Bishop Denis as Mass honouring the Diaconate on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary 2023

Honouring the Diaconate – Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:      17.06.23

Carlow College, St. Patrick’s, Mass @ 12.15pm

We gather on a beautiful feast, that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to honour the diaconate here in Kildare & Leighlin. Thank you for being here. The word ‘Present’ is one I often return to, we don’t need to change the world, we are simply asked to be present.

You are here today – 8 ordained deacons and 7 at the end of the first full year of formation. It’s a good time to take stock, and perhaps that’s what today is all about. I thank Msgr. John, Margaret & Deacon David who are the team I have nominated to walk and accompany the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese.

Let’s return to this beautiful feast. The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary coming the day after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The nearness of both celebrations is in itself a liturgical sign of their close connection. The heart of Jesus pulsates for everyone here today, and so often the best way to the Son is through His Mother. Her heart too is beating for each one of us. Let’s do no more now than close our eyes for a moment and appreciate this.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council addressed the Permanent Diaconate, it has become well established that deacons are called to serve. In distinguishing deacons from priests, Lumen Gentium says they are ordained “non ad sacerdotum, sed ad ministerium” (Not unto the priesthood, but into a ministry of service). Remember the gospel for this day taken from St. Luke 2:41-51 – the story of the losing and finding of the twelve year old in Jerusalem.

How many twelve year olds are lost today? How many twenty-one year olds are lost? And what are we doing about it? Diaconate is fundamentally not about doing what the priest or parish team are already doing, its discovering the missing gaps. The lost, the wounded, the broken, the bruised. Who have the Church lost today? Who have the Church forgotten today? Who have the Church missed today?

Kildare & Leighlin have ordained ten deacons – seven of those on October 13th 2013 (ten years ago this October); one on October 4th 2020, one on December 12th 2020 and one on December 13th 2020. An eleventh deacon incardinated into the diocese in 2012 was originally ordained for the Diocese of Northampton on June 24th 2007. So it is indeed timely to take stock.

Just for a moment what’s the national picture like? The Permanent Diaconate has been introduced into 15 dioceses. The most deacons currently are ordained for ministry in Dublin (32), followed by Armagh and Down & Connor (both with 16) and then Kildare & Leighlin with 11, while Cloyne have 10. There are currently 30 candidates in formation (including 6 from Kildare & Leighlin). Under consideration at a national level is structured ongoing formation and a National Audit of Deacons in Ministry.

The person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative, immensity of the freedom of good. The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others. On the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, kind and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in the life of Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we celebrate this day. Deacons must be men of prayer, otherwise you become social workers, but your ministry to the lost, the forgotten, the marginalised must be rooted in prayer.  

Maybe for too long we have concentrated on what a deacon does or might do, and forgotten more important what and who a deacon is. I invite you now to grow in understanding of your calling, your vocation, your discernment for those in formation. A calling and vocation which is rooted in service and rooted in Christ. Like Mary did those years ago in Jerusalem, may we all like Mary go back for the lost, the left behind, the forgotten.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.