On Saturday, 14th January 2012, seven men from the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin were formally received as candidates for the Permanent Diaconate.
The ceremony took place in Carlow cathedral during the 6.15pm Mass. The seven men were Patrick Roche, David O’Flaherty, Joe O’Rourke, Fergal O’Neill, Gary Moore, John Dunleavy and Jim Stowe.
The following is the homily which was delivered by Fr. Ruairi O’Domhnaill on the occasion.
When I was a boy every childhood book I read cautioned me on the danger of giants. Giants were to be feared and avoided at all costs. And if you ever encountered a sleeping giant you must thread wearily, carefully and quietly. I’ll come back to sleeping giants in a moment.
This evening here in this cathedral we accept seven men formally as candidates for the permanent diaconate. We are making history this evening because never before in the long story of this place of worship has such an event occurred. Indeed in the story of our diocese it is over one thousand years since such an event occurred.
Permanent deacons were very much a feature of the first millennium of the Christian community but, because of various factors in our history, the ministry fell out of use before the dawning of the year 1000ad, and diaconate simply became a stage on the road to ordination for priesthood.
It fell to Pope Paul VI, on the advice of the bishops of the world, to restore the ministry of permanent deacons in 1967.
The diaconate is a ministry which is rooted in scripture. We see in Acts chapter six of the New Testament how the apostles appointed seven men to see to the needs of the community members who were being overlooked.
And that is the essence of the ministry: to serve those in our community who are poor and overlooked, whatever form their poverty may take.
The diaconate ministry has three elements:
Firstly, the deacon witnesses to Christ through the integrity of his own life; by the way he acts as a family man. In his daily work and ordinary human interaction the deacon witnesses to the values of the Gospel.
Secondly, the deacon serves the Church through the liturgy. He baptises new members; he presides at non-liturgical marriage and funeral rites; and, by his silent presence at the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist, he reminds the People of God that there is a deep and fundamental relationship between our worship of God and the conduct of our daily lives; and that our worship of God here at the altar is deficient if we are indifferent to the needs of the poor in the conduct of our daily lives.
Thirdly, the deacon is called to serve through practical acts of charity among the poor and overlooked which hopefully awaken in us our responsibility to practical service.
Back to sleeping giants.
There is a particular poverty among the people of God when they do not realise their vocation as baptised Christians. There is a particular poverty among the people of God when they believe that only the priest and a handful of others are called to ministry. There is a particular poverty among the people of God when they do not understand, in the words of Benedict XVI, that they are co-responsible for the Church’s being and action.
Cardinal O’Fiach referred to the Irish laity, back in the nineteen eighties, as the great sleeping giant. Sometimes I think that we as ordained men carried our boyhood fear of sleeping giants into our adult lives in the Church, and have been afraid to awaken the giant for fear he will run amok in the Church and we will lose control of what he may do.
When Paul VI established the norms for permanent deacons in the Church he specifically set among them the task of promoting and sustaining the activity of the laity. In other words a specific task of permanent deacons is to awaken the sleeping giant of the laity.
When a permanent deacon measures his success he doesn’t look to the amount of time he spends working, but to the extent to which he has encouraged, empowered and facilitated others to take their place within the Church’s mission.
David, Pat, Gary, Fergal, Joe, John, and Jim, you, like Samuel, have heard that voice calling your name, and the Church like Eli has confirmed that it is the call to God.
Now you are called, like the two disciples in the Gospel, to come and see where the Lord lives, to spend the day with Him, to deepen your knowledge of Him and your friendship with Him. This relationship with Him will be the powerhouse of your ministry and the source of your energy.
By inviting you to candidacy this evening the Church not only confirms the divine nature of the voice which each of you have heard calling your name, but also acknowledges the generosity which each of you has shown through the substantial time commitment which you make to lectures and pastoral work. This sacrifice of yours is only possible because of the willingness of your spouses and families to bear a share of the sacrifice also.
I look forward to your ordinations in the future.
I hope you remain faithful to your vocation to awaken the giant of the laity, .and I look forward with excitement to watching the giant run amok in the Church.