Archbishop Peter A Comensoli delivered the following homily at the ordination of Deacons Stephen Fernandes and Hoa Tran to the permanent diaconate on Saturday 11 March at St Patrick's Cathedral.
In the Prayer of Ordination, which I will pray over Hoa and Stephen today, you will hear these words: ‘As once you chose the sons of Levi to minister in the former tabernacle, so now you establish three ranks of ministers in their sacred offices to serve in your name.’
We have just heard, in our first reading today, the biblical reference to these words of prayer. As far back as the calling of the Israelites, God had called out from among his chosen people individuals who would offer themselves to God, and dedicate themselves to his service. An unusual word was used in the reading to name these individuals: they were called ‘oblates’.
An oblate, in this ancient context, meant someone who had been offered for the service of God and the people. They came from among the people; they were given to God by the people, so that they might serve the people in God’s name.
We also heard in the reading from the Book of Numbers, and in the prayer, that these oblates had a particular service to the ‘tabernacle’, which was the portable dwelling place of God on his pilgrimage with his people to the Promised Land. That tabernacle became the Body of Christ, God’s holy presence in the crucified and risen flesh of Jesus, who walks with us now.
Today, as we come to ordain Hoa and Stephen as deacons in the Church, these two oblates take on the same service to the tabernacle of God once assigned to the sons of Levi. We call them ordained ministers—because they are commissioned from among God’s pilgrim people to serve God’s people, who are the Body of Christ. St Paul referred to this setting apart, this ordination, as a personal sharing in the Lord’s grace, allotted to each individually, ‘so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.’
Ordination is not an individual spiritual attainment, then; it is a gift shared for the sake of others. The diaconate—by the very meaning of the word—is a serving responsibility. (May I turn briefly aside to address us priests here today. Do not forget that we did not set aside our diaconal responsibilities when we were ordained to the priesthood. We are to continue to pour out our lives as an oblation—as oblates, deacons—to serve the Lord and his people.)
Hoa and Stephen, in the words of Jesus, who sent out before him those he had set aside for service: be ambassadors of peace; humbly accept what it set before you; heal, always heal; and let people know that God is near to them. These are fine characteristics for any deacon of the Lord; may they be yours.