Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. Today you will be witnessing the ordination of our fifteen brother Jesuits into the first rank of the ordained ministries of the Church: the Order of Deacons. Aside from the diaconate, there are two other ranks in the ordained ministries of the Church: the Order of Presbyters and the Order of Bishops. These are the three ranks of the ordained ministries: the diaconate (first rank), the presbyterate (second rank) and the episcopate (third rank). Today I invite you to think of them, not as ranks, but as building blocks of the ordained ministry. They build on each other. Or even better, you may think of them as layers of concentric circles, with the diaconate at the very core.
If you look at these orders as ranks,you might end up behaving as the Gentile rulers do (as described by Jesus in the Gospel), aspiring for higher ranks in the spirit of careerism. This is the serious disease that is currently afflicting the Church. I consider it more serious than the sex abuse cases, which, of course are very serious as well. I invite you therefore, dear brother candidates to the first rank of the Holy Orders, to look at the diaconate as the VERY CORE in layers of concentric circles that make up the ordained ministries of the Church. The diaconate is not a lower rank but the core, without which both the offices of presbyters and bishops collapse. It is the foundation on which we build leadership in the Church. Some people translate the Greek word “diakonia” simply as SERVICE. I prefer to translate it as SERVANTHOOD. And we qualify all other forms of leadership in the Church with it: SERVANT LEADERSHIP.
In the eyes of this world, “servant leadership” is a contradiction in terms. Why? Because in this world, servants do not lead and leaders do not serve. Not so in the world of Jesus, which he calls God’s kingdom.
The context of the Gospel that was proclaimed today was a request from the young and ambitious brothers: James and John, for positions of power in their company. Jesus says, that’s how it goes among the rulers of this world. Or better yet—that’s how it goes with the standard of Satan (to use the language of your founder, St. Ignatius). The motto of Satan is: NON SERVIAM. “I WILL NOT SERVE.” And those who are under Satan’s spell will tend to LORD IT OVER and MAKE THEIR IMPORTANCE FELT. They presuppose some entitlements. They take offense when they are addressed by the wrong titles: Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend, your Excellency, your Eminence, your Grace.
We are ordained, not really to lead the Church. Remember, wherever you have the Church, you have no other leader except Christ himself. He is the only head of his body, the Church. Like now, right at this very moment, I am only presiding on behalf of the true presider. He is the one that matters, not me. I only act in his person as a sacrament, a sign and instrument of our one and only Priest, Prophet, and Shepherd. To be true to this ministry of representation, I must constantly say to myself, HE MUST INCREASE, I MUST DECREASE. I can only effectively act in his person if I learn the kenosis of servanthood, if I am disposed to empty myself of my own ego, so that through me, he can lead his people.
So, what is expected of you now, dear brothers, as you enter into the ranks of the ordained servant leaders of the Church? Mainly this: to feel for those in the Church and in the world, who are treated as NOBODIES. In the early Christian community they were the widows among their Greek-speaking members. They tended to be neglected because the leaders, who were mostly Hebrew-speaking Jewish converts, tended to serve only their own kind. You are expected to be particularly mindful of those who are not only in the margins of society but also in the margins of the Church. Your role as deacons is to act in such a way that the Church becomes true to her “preferential option for the poor”. You are there to make sure that the Church constantly lives out its character as CATHOLIC, that it will never degenerate into an exclusive club for a privileged elite, that it will never turn into pharisaical hub that welcomes only the righteous, clean and pure, that her heart will beat with the same mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ.
In the diocese which I serve as bishop, we have realized how our parishes tend to become very “parochial”, self-referential, and inward-looking. How easily the so-called “unchurched” Catholics can be excluded or alienated. We have therefore resolved to consciously redirect our pastoral action towards them, towards those in the margins and peripheries. We have been particularly mindful of those who have been condemned as NONHUMANS by the present government. We have constantly pleaded with those in authority on their behalf. We say to them with all due respect, “No, sir, they are not evil people. They are human beings like you and me. They are sick; they are victims. They are driven into desperation by poverty and hopelessness.”
Wherever you have a war, you will have casualties. People usually speak of the primary casualties as victims and of the rest as collateral damage. We often forget about their families: about the wives who are widowed and the children who are orphaned, and who end up like stray dogs and cats roaming our streets.
In society, the poor are invisible. You are therefore expected to be the eyes and ears of the Church, to make sure that she is kept faithful to the Son of Man, who came, not to be served but to serve and to give her life as a ransom for the many.