At the diaconal ordination of faithful of the Prelature, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (November 25, 2006)
At the diaconal ordination of
faithful of the Prelature,
St. Eugene’s Basilica, Rome
Dear Brothers and Sisters. Most dear children.
1. We are celebrating the diaconate ordination of 38 faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei on the solemnity of Christ the King. This is a very significant coincidence. As you all know, the word “diaconia” means service. Deacons accede to this first degree of the sacrament of Holy Orders in order to assist the bishop and the priests in the fulfillment of their priestly ministry. Deacons are ordained to this task by the imposition of hands and the bishop's consecratory prayer, which equates them with Christ precisely as the servant of all.
During his life on Earth, Christ’s kingdom was revealed in his serving all men and women, as he himself said: the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). Benedict XVI comments: ´The mystery of the cross is at the center of Christ's service as pastor: this is the great service, which he bestows on us. He gives himself, and not only in the distant past. He does this everyday in the Holy Eucharist.”
The nature of Christ’s kingdom appears clearly also in the dialogue with Pilate, which we have just read in the Gospel. To the Roman procurator's question, “are you the king of the Jews?” the Lord replies: my kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36). His dominion is not like the dominion of the Earth’s powerful. The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they that have the power over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. (Lk 22:25-26).
Already in these first moments of our reflection we can draw a lesson valid for all of us: if we want to be true disciples of Christ we ought to be, as he is, servants of all without exceptions, without claiming presumed “rights” due to age, social or economic status, success, etc. Christ’s teaching is very clear: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger: and he that is the leader, as he that serves (Lk 22:26).
What is our attitude—not only in theory but in practice—on this point? Unfortunately, we live in a highly competitive society in which—for many—the only thing that really matters seems to be personal success at any cost, disregarding even their most elementary responsibilities. In their quest for success at any cost, they neglect their spouse, parents and children; they neglect the loyal relationships with friends and colleagues; and they even reach the point of trampling underfoot the most strict duties of justice and charity towards others.
The path to follow in Christ’s footsteps is radically different. Certainly, Christians who try to be holy in the middle of the world must endeavor each day to attain the most prestige they are capable of in their profession; they must make good use of the gifts God has given them, gifts of which one day the Lord will ask for an account. But they ought to do this moved not by an egotistical self-affirmation but rather to serve their brothers and sisters more effectively. Using words borrowed from Opus Dei’s Founder, I say to you that “we need to forget about ourselves and aspire to no other honor than that of serving others, in the same way as Jesus Christ . . . This requires the integrity of being able to submit our own wills to that of our divine model, working for all men, and fighting for their eternal happiness and well-being. I know of no better way to be just.” concludes St. Josemaría, “than that of a life of self-surrender and service.”
2. Let us look at today’s first reading. A mysterious person described as the ‘son of man’ approaches the throne of the Almighty and receives from him the power, the glory, and the kingdom: and all the peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14).
Who is this “son of man” if not Jesus Christ? He himself, during his life, loved to call himself by this title, most likely to avoid facile enthusiasms coming from an erroneous messianic notion so widespread in his time. The Book of Daniel presents him clothed in that majesty that will be his sign when he comes a second time in the flesh to judge the living and the dead and to take possession of his kingdom. This is the truth that the Church reminds us of during the approaching first weeks of Advent.
And while we await this moment, the life of man continues its course. Let us not forget, however, the relation between the present time and eternity: the kingdom of God is built in history. It is not built in a spectacular way but rather-especially-in the intimacy of the heart. God’s kingdom does not show itself with fireworks but in the humility of fulfilling our daily duties and our everyday service.
When a father and mother care for their home with love and for their children’s education they are indeed building the kingdom of God. When professionals, laborers or students, do their work well, working out of love for God and neighbor, they are building the kingdom of God. When businessmen or politicians use legitimate means to increase their influence in society, trying to contribute to the common good by their personal sacrifice, renouncing the use of means judged illegitimate by a Christian conscience, they are building the kingdom of God. When those who are sick offer to God their pain and their physical limitations, united to Christ on the Cross, they are indeed building-and in most effective way-the kingdom of God.
My dear brothers and sisters, let us keep this reality in mind at all times and in all circumstances, especially when the spreading of evil may produce in us displeasure or discouragement. At times, it is true, doubts regarding the fulfillment of God’s promises may arise in our minds. We may experience the temptation of thinking: Lord, you assure us that you have overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33), but so many times it seems that sin prevails. You have said through St. Paul the Apostle that you have reconciled everyone with the Father by the shedding of your blood (cf. Eph 2:13-18), and we see that in so many places, unfortunately, there is violence, abuses, war, and injustices of all types How will your promises be fulfilled?
I would like to propose once again Pope Benedict’s answer to these same questions. Observing the apparent opposition between Christ's promises and the reality surrounding us, the Holy Father invites us to look at history with the eyes of faith. ´The Lord has conquered on the cross. He has conquered not with a new empire or with a force more powerful than other forces, capable of destroying them. He has not conquered in a human way, as we so imagine, with dominion more powerful than the others. Christ has conquered with a love capable of reaching to the point of death. This is God’s new way of achieving victory: he does not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He opposes violence precisely with the opposite: love to the end, his cross. This is God's humble way of conquering: with his love-only like this is it possible-he sets a limit to violence. This way of achieving victory seems very slow, but it is the true way of conquering evil, of overcoming violence, and we ought to trust this divine way of conquering.
Let us implore God, then, to purify our faith, to strengthen our hope, to increase our love. We must commit ourselves to carry on with Christ’s mission, bringing people to the sacrament of confession and to the Eucharist, being apostles wherever we are. I assure you that in these encounters with Jesus Christ one finds true peace and authentic joy: whenever possible do not fail to speak about these themes. San Josemaría used to explain that this is the way to “make this kingdom of Christ a reality, to eliminate hatred and cruelty, to spread throughout the earth the strong and soothing balm of love. Let us ask our king today to make us collaborate, humbly and fervently, in the divine task of mending what is broken, of saving what is lost, of fixing what man has put out of order, of bringing to his destination whoever has gone off the right road, of reconstructing the harmony of all created things.”
3. In one of the opening prayers offered for today’s Mass, the Church addresses herself to God the Father, only King and Pastor of all men and women, with the following words: Enlighten our spirit so that we may understand that to serve is to reign and, giving our lives for our brothers and sisters, we profess our fidelity to Christ, firstborn among the dead and master of all the powerful of the earth.
This text offers reflections valid for all Christians, which are especially appropriate for ordained ministers, and thus, for you, my sons, who are about to receive the diaconate. Your Christian vocation of service will be reinforced today with the grace and character specific to this sacrament. When you carry out your ministry, whether in the liturgy, in the teaching of the faith, or in the works of charity, it will be Christ himself serving through you. Strive to be available, as our beloved Founder taught us. Always remember his words: “When I preach that we have to make ourselves a carpet so that the others may tread softly, I am not simply being poetic: it has to be a reality! It’s hard, as sanctity is hard; but it’s also easy, because, I insist, sanctity is within everyone’s reach.”
The carpet is not a tapestry, which is hung on the wall for decoration. The carpet is made so that people can walk over it. As such, one must not be surprised if at times the carpet is stepped on, or if it must be cleaned often... But what great joy springs from the act of truly serving the others! So let us serve cheerfully, because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor9:7). Servite Domino in laetitia (Ps 99:1). May we always serve the Lord joyfully.
I wish to unite myself and congratulate with all my heart the parents, brothers, and sisters, and friends of these men about to be ordained. To all I say that the Lord is once again passing close to you.
Before concluding, I invite you to pray for the Roman Pontiff, for the bishops, for priests and deacons throughout the world. Let us beseech God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that he send many vocations to the Church: deacons and priests committed to seeking sanctity in the exercise of their ministry, serving all souls with generosity. Amen.