“No one said it was going to be easy”. Those immortal words were included in the promo for the Electric Ireland GAA Championships a few years ago. Sometimes I get more delight out of the advertisements than I do out of the programming schedule on a particular evening’s television. You know that Vodaphone ad with the pig called ‘Sue’; I particularly love the moment when the guy drives up to the farm thinking it was a place that would care for Sue, reading the sign “Fresh Pork for Sale”! Returning briefly to the Electric Ireland ad, there is a classic moment where the young lad training returns home to eat his supper, where the plate is covered in cling-film. Sacrifices for the game! Sacrifices for the Diaconate.
There is no advertisement for the Permanent Diaconate, we are still very much in the early stages of rolling out a programme of ministry that I think has the capacity and capability of changing the face of the Irish Church. Today there are over sixty deacons working in several of our dioceses, there will be one hundred within the next three years. Today most minister along the East coast; only one ordained the far side of the Shannon. It still is very early days in the ministry and indeed the understanding of the diaconate.
St. Luke reminds us “you cannot be the slave both of God and of money” . St. Paul to the Ephesians reminds us he knows how to be poor and to be rich too. None of you enter the diaconate for money, if you do, you’ll soon realise this isn’t for you. Diaconate is about service and a willingness to go beyond our comfort zones. During the summer I had the wonderful opportunity of leading the second largest Diocesan Pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow. We slept in sleeping bags before our All Night Vigil; we walked many kilometers on route to the Campus Misericordiae, to Bus Parks and to Blonia Park. At the Vigil of Prayer Pope Francis spoke about a paralysis that can affect young people – the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words to think in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm and safe; the ones with built in massage units! He said “the times we live in do not call for young people to be ‘couch potatoes’, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the fence”.
I suggest the diaconal calling invites us similarly to have our boots laced in the middle of the fray witnessing to the gospel of mercy and compassion. A deacon who is more present in the sacristy and sanctuary and not lingering on the edges with the broken and the bruised missing something that is fundamental in his calling. I thank you for your witness; I thank for your patience as all of us as Church become accustomed to having deacons in our midst. As your Bishop, the train had well left the station by the time I was ordained; in fact for most of you your understandable concern was when might your own Ordination date be set? Might your process of training and formation be done differently if I had been with you as you set out, who knows? I am so delighted to have you as deacons in our Diocese; I am so delighted that six more are setting out on a year’s exploration of this diaconal calling. The fact that the six: Les, Vincent, Eugene, Eugene, Damien and Liam are setting out is an entire compliment to the ministry of Paul, Jim, Pat, Fergal, Gary, David, Joe and John. When you originally began your journey there was no history, no back story, no reference point – today you form that history, you are that reference point.
I want to say a particular word to your wives, your best friends, your companions on the journey. I return to another verse of Richard Gillard’s ‘Servant Song’:
“We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other,
walk the mile and bear the load.”
The ones who have walked that journey, borne bravely that load alongside you are your wives. This morning I thank Carmel, Mairead, Mary, Dolores, Maria, Phyl and Rosemary. And whatever about the history of deacons, the history of the inclusion of lay women in our church has been equally thin and sparse, we are still in the early stages of understanding the gifts and the uniqueness that the woman’s voice brings to church matters. Deacons wives occupy an unequalled position in our Catholic Church structure. They are married to ordained clergy and they are expected to be part of the formation process. At the end of that training and formation, the deacon is ordained; the wife is not.
Only two weeks ago at this very time I was in DCU St. Pat’s, Drumcondra for the launch of the World Meeting of Families 2018, I have absolutely no doubt all of you as deacons and discerning deacons with your wives and families have a huge contribution to make to the preparation for this momentous catechetical moment in the Irish Church. The World Meeting of Families is the gift of Pope Francis to the Irish Church, let’s not waste this gift or spur his generosity. I’m often asked by priests in Dioceses where the Diaconate has not yet being introduced, and sometimes even by a Bishop: “But, what can a deacon do?” In Kildare and Leighlin, thanks to you people, it is no longer a question of what the permanent deacon can do, but what the permanent deacons together with me as Bishop, the priests and lay ministers can do.
There was an in-house joke at home regarding my two sisters who were introduced at some social event they were attending, shortly after my appointment as Bishop in Kildare & Leighlin as ‘the Bishops’ sisters’! Well what is it like being a deacons wife? Perhaps that in itself is an informal ministry that makes space for the words of the Servant Song to unfold:
“We are here to help each other,
walk the mile and bear the load.”
I thank you for helping each other to walk that mile and bear that load. Amen.