This last week I saw into my future.
Or at least I like to think so.
We just had our Diaconate Ordinations this last Saturday, and that is definitely one of my favorite Masses of the year. We had four men ordained from our seminary, which is a huge thing for our community every year. For those of you who don’t know (don’t worry, I didn’t either until I entered the seminary), a man is first ordained as a “transitional” Deacon before he is ordained as a priest. This seems to be a pretty practical way of doing things: to let a man begin his life as an ordained minister as somewhat of an assistant. That’s not to take anything away from deacons. As a matter of fact, their ministry is so vitally important to the Church because their focus is on service: from serving the community to serving at the liturgy by reading the Gospel and preparing the altar for the Eucharist. But Bishop Clark, who presider and ordaining bishop at the ordination, made it clear to us that to be ordained as a deacon is not just a practicality on the way to Priesthood. As a matter of fact, once ordained a deacon, a man is always and everywhere called to that ministry of service to the People, to the Word, and to the Altar. Put simply: once a deacon, always a deacon, even when a priest!
One of the most moving expressions of this seal that is made on the very being of the men who were just ordained is that they made three promises to the Bishop in front of the community, the whole Church. First, this is when they made their promise to live a life of celibacy. Yup, that’s right. They won’t be making that promise at their priestly ordination. Now is the time. Those men made their promise to Christ and to the Church to live as celibate lovers for their entire lives.
Secondly, they promised to live lives of prayer “for and with the people of God.” This means they’ve promised to pray with us and for us, especially by a commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours. This is the daily prayer of the Church, which prays the very Psalms that Jesus himself prayed, in order to consecrate each part of the day. All people in the Church are called to pray these special prayers, but only the ordained make promises to keep faithful to it, not for their own good alone, but for the whole Church. They’ve promised to live for us and to pray for us!
Finally they’ve promised obedience to their Bishop. And not only the Bishop they made the promise to, but to the one that follows him, and the one that follows him, and so on. This is a real act of faith, trust, and obedience, not knowing what kind of man one will have to work with in the future. Again, they’ve promised to give their lives to the Church, faithfully believing that the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood running through the Church, guiding her leaders faithfully.
All these promises can seem daunting. The life of celibacy is an ultimate commitment. It’s not that it is meant to separate us from others, or show we’re more special or have made a tougher decision. But if we’re honest, celibacy can be a scary concept, until you live the life and find the love that flows out of it.
The commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours is almost just as frightening, or it can be without a love for the prayer of the Church. Yes, it can get repetitive, and no, it’s not the most conducive to more charismatic expression of prayer. But if we fall in love with the Psalms and welcome each part of the day, fall in love with each part of the day, it can become like spiritual meals that we feel it when we miss it. If doing the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully and honestly, missing it during the day can lead to a spiritual hunger. Somehow, by the grace of God I open that book five times a day to be fed (and I have a list of some your names on it in there, so I’m praying for and with you all everyday!).
Finally, that promise to obedience is tough in our culture which prizes individuality and ambition. But one of the things that I remember most from Bishop Clark’s message at this ordination was that we must put aside all personal ambition in our ministry. Very strongly he said that if we let our ministry be led by personal ambition, we are not being obedient, we are worshipping a false god. That shocked me, because I like to challenge myself and to succeed. But if I am honest and faithful in my ministry, it is not about me, but about Christ and about you.
All this talk of promises has had me thinking about what it means to make a promise. I know the importance of keeping one’s word. I think that has been one of my weaknesses for a long time. I mess up sometimes, trying to flake my way out of things I said I would help out with at times (I’m getting better at not doing that, I hope!). And I’ve always looked up to my dad for the way I know that if he says he will do something, he does it. He has been the strongest example in my life of a person who honestly does all he can to keep his word. But my dad teaches me another thing about making and keeping promises: keeping one’s word can’t be all there is to keeping a promise. I believe that for one to faithfully and honestly keep a promise, it must flow not just out of what they say, but out of the way they live honestly. I don’t know if promises are best kept if we fulfill them reluctantly. It’s as if we’ve made a promise to do something, but our hearts are breaking that promise, even if we’ve “kept our word.” Our hearts need to be in our promises! That way, what we do is what we believe, and what we believe is what we do.
That is the way Jesus Himself lived, always, always in accord with what He believed, with His mission, and out of love. Our promises need to take this same character. For these men just ordained, we need to pray that the promises they’ve made were made out of joy because that is the way they already love to live: that they are celibate lovers, that they pray for and with us faithfully, and that they trust the Holy Spirit’s movement in the Church with obedience. And then please, please pray for me and for my brother seminarians and all priests, that the promises I hope to be making in a few years time at my own Diaconate Ordination will grow not out of reluctance, but out of the way I honestly, faithfully, and truthfully live my life and my vocation. And finally let us pray that our own promises can be as fruitful. Let us fall in love with the way we live out our promises. Then we won’t have reluctant hearts, but hearts so conformed to Christ that we are living His life, and He is living in ours.
And with confident risk in getting way ahead of myself, I hope to see you there when I’m making those promises myself in four years time, God willing!
Pray for our new Transitional Deacons as they move closer to their Ordination to the Priesthood this coming summer:
Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Archdiocese of Kampala
Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians)
Toshio Sato, C.M.
Toshio prostrated during the Litany of Saints, moments before he is ordained as a transitional deacon.
Deacons Alex and Ismael serving at the Altar for the first time as Ordained ministers of the Church.