The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 26, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

A ministry since our earliest days

A deacon's task is to care for the poor, preach the Gospel, grow the Church

By Bishop Robert Banks

(The following is the homily prepared for the Diaconate Ordination on May 20.)

The Church has had deacons since its earliest days, but for over 1,000 years the Church only ordained deacons who were on their way to priesthood. It is only for the last 50 years that we again ordain deacons who will remain deacons for life, as in the beginning.

After this 1,000-year interlude, there naturally is some confusion about what ministry the deacons should carry on in the Church.

However, I think it has become clear, first of all, that deacons are ordained to be assistants to the bishop and for service to the diocese. Usually, the bishop assigns them to help his principal co-workers, the priests.

Rather than go through all the specific things that deacons can do in a parish or other ministry, let's go back to the Scriptures and see what they say about the first seven men whom the apostles chose to assist them. They are the ones whom the Church has traditionally looked to as models for our deacons.

First, the Scriptures say that those first seven men, as we heard in the first reading, were chosen to help in feeding the poor. Taking care of the poor was and is one of the first and main concerns of the Church. So our deacons today are delegated to help take care of the materially poor. They are to see in each person they serve -- no matter how poor, how uneducated, how disreputable, how sinful -- they are to see Jesus Christ. That respect, that love for every individual whom the Church serves is the hallmark of Christian service.

Second, the Scriptures tell us that the seven men who were delegated to distribute food to the poor were soon preaching the Gospel. So that is a particularly important task for the deacon.

And let me pass on to the new deacons some advice. A good preacher - bishop, priest or deacon -- knows when to sit down. I am not talking about sitting down at the end of the homily, though that is very important. I am talking about sitting down before you preach, so that you prepare what you are going to say. Sit down also to study the Scriptures, to pray over the Scriptures, to learn more about the faith.

The third task of the deacon is to grow the Church, to grow it in numbers and in holiness. Deacons are not ordained for maintaining the Church the way it is. You are ordained to grow it and to make it more holy.

Look at those men whom the apostles chose. First, there was Stephen. He was martyred because he would not stop preaching in public, trying to convince his Jewish listeners that they should believe in Jesus. And then there was Philip. The Bible says God told Philip to run alongside the carriage of an Ethiopian official and to explain to him the Scriptures. The result was that the Ethiopian was baptized on the spot. Growing the Church has to be on the mind of every deacon.

To care for the poor, to preach the Gospel, to grow the Church, I see these as the essential dimensions of the deacon's life and ministry. In this ordination, we ask God to bestow upon you the graces that you will need to carry out your ministry. Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, you can do nothing. No deacon, no priest, no bishop can touch a person's soul so that the person comes to believe in Christ, or repents, or is filled with the joy of knowing the love of Jesus. Only God can do that.

Now let me say a word to the wives of our deacons. Each one of you some time ago stood before the altar with your husband and you pledged to one another that you would love one another for life, just as Jesus pledged his love to the Church. This ordination to diaconate does not diminish in any way that pledge of love, any more than having a child diminished your love for one another. The Church would not have accepted your husband for the diaconate if you did not give your own assent and promise your support.

The quality of your marriage will affect the quality of his ministry, and, please God, the quality of his ministry and of your support will strengthen your marriage. This ordination does not mean that now you and your husband will follow the Lord in single file, one behind the other. You continue to follow the Lord together, side by side, hand in hand. So we pray for you also as you undertake to support and to be alongside your husband in this new work for the Lord.

(The homily concluded with a summary of the above remarks given in Spanish.)

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