THEME: THE PASSION AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST SHOULD BE CENTRAL TO EVERY PREACHER’S WORD
My brothers and sisters, we once again welcome everybody to this celebration of the ordination of six of our young men to the Order of the Diaconate. Five from our Diocese of Uromi and one, Bro. Isidore Udoh belonging to the Society of the Mother of Peace also present in the diocese. We pray that he is added to those to preach in our Diocese so we have six extra hands to preach the Word for us.
It is a day of thanksgiving to God for all the families from where they have come. We thank you and thank God for the faith that he gave you, the faith that nurtured them to embrace God’s word. We also thank God for the parishes from where they have come, the priests who preached God’s Word to them, who baptized them, gave them the sacraments and who helped them in making the decision to become priests. It is a day too we thank God for those who have formed them to this stage and will see them to the end until the next stage. These our six young men, have joyfully accepted to become Deacons, they have gone through seminary formation, but one thing is to be taught, and other thing is to become. To become means to begin to put into action all that has been learnt.
THE EARLY CHURCH AND THE EASTER JOY
Apart from serving at the altar, their first task is to preach, to preach the Word. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the experience of the very first preachers after the resurrection and it’s a good thing we are having this celebration during this Octave when the Resurrection experience is still exciting for it is within this experience of the Resurrection that the first preachers gave witness. They gave witness to the Risen Christ, the Resurrection or Easter as we which is central to the Christian faith. If Jesus did not die and rise, we would not be celebrating what we are celebrating. His Death and Resurrection gave special confidence to the apostles. Obviously they did not understand everything about Jesus culminating in His Passion and resurrection. It is no gainsaying that every person that Jesus called had his own ambition, his own desire, what he wanted to be in life and when Jesus called them, they did not throw away entirely that desire. Their immediate interest no doubt was to pursue importance within the society even while now living as followers of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth offered them an entirely new way that was becoming popular and they saw it as a way to attain their individual pursuit of importance. We know this from the account of the brothers, the Sons of Zebedee, ‘let us sit one at your right hand, the other at your left’ (Mk. 10:37). Jesus had to reeducate them. But even this process was not so easy, the apostles grew gradually in their knowledge of Jesus, it was not automatic, they had many questions in their hearts. And after the Resurrection, we see in our gospel, after the Emmaus experience the two disciples who recognize Jesus only after He had taught them and at the breaking of bread. It shows that even these two still did not understand, they were running away, running away from the reality, Emmaus is like an escape, a fleeing from the reality, this has happened. What does all this Resurrection thing mean? That is the first question, the second question is, what do we do next? He has taught us to
leave everything behind and we did. Some were probably wonderi, where to start from? Or, what next! They did not want to face the reality of the Passion and now shocking still, the story of the Resurrection. Jesus accosts them, He comes to them and says, ‘what are you taking about?’ (Lk. 24:17) They kept quiet, afraid, uncertain, is this one of those who are looking for us to kill? And they summoned courage and asked if He was the only person in Jerusalem unaware of the recent happenings. Then they gave a summary of their expectations, ‘all of us thought He was going to be so and so’, that is exactly why they followed Him, they followed Him out of personal interest, what they could become or what He could help them become. This background is beautiful when we look at our gospel, the gospel begins with the disciples coming to boast, ‘we have seen the Lord’ and here Jesus appears in their midst but a fresh confusion sets in, is this a ghost? Jesus greets them and their eyes were open to recognize Him. This action is important when we preach. We only create a meeting between the people and Jesus. He does the opening of the eyes. Their doubts is human but Jesus commissions them.
THE PREACHER IS CALLED TO BE A WITNESS FOR JESUS CHRIST
This is a special title that Jesus gives, witnesses to the Passion and Resurrection, and you are going to make disciples based on your witnessing, what you teach, what you preach. Peter and John gave witness to this in public, they were no more afraid, granted the Pentecost had taken place at this point, they said to the people, ‘look at us’. It is a brave statement, for they tell the people that what happened to the lame man that has been healed did not just happen through them but by God.
These are lines that are very important as we ordain six men to the Diaconate. They are going to be saying each day ‘look at us, hear us, this Jesus who Died, Rose and now intercedes for us, we are witnesses to this’. This is a serious claim, to say you are witness to this truth. No false witnessing, Even the eight commandment tells us not to bear false witness and in the civil law it is called perjury. If there is a legislation against bearing false witness against a fellow human being, it is terrible to imagine the penalty for lying against God. Among the things God detests is a lying tongue. It is a serious business, that you go to prison when you lie (for perjuty), may God forbid that we should go to hell (eternal imprisonment) for spiritual perjury because hell is prison. We can now see the burden that Our Jesus Christ places on the shoulder of the preachers. The Lord says, you are witnesses to this and the Apostle Peter uses same title repeatedly both in the Acts of the Apostles and in his Letters. Consequently if you are a witness you cannot lie that you do not know which is another offence and you cannot see something and refuse to give testimony. There is no short cut out of it. Thus this places on our shoulders, the responsibility to pray, to listen, to discover Jesus in the Word and this discovery is what we give to the people, the discovery in prayerful listening. Prayer as the act of listening implies that the preacher must learn to listen and in listening he comes to say, ‘this is what the word of God says’. I think perjury is even worse that simulation which is to pretend as we hear every day on television and radio ‘the Lord has told me to tell you…’ May God deliver us from false witnesses and may you my dearly beloved not be responsible for why people should be false witnesses because sometimes the people make their preachers to tell them what they want to hear. When we are told the truth, we find ourselves backsliding or even blaming, but the truth is non-negotiable because Jesus is Truth.
THE PREACHER HAS THE TASK TO PREACH THE TRUTH
The special task of the Deacon above all else is the proclamation of the Word and this Word is all about charity and truth (Pope Benedict XVI – “the primacy of prayer and the Word of God,” in A School of Prayer). The people want the truth even when they pretend they don’t want to hear it, do not think that if you tell them the truth they will run away, they will go home and think about it. Most people who leave the Catholic Church in search of the truth return to the loving Mother Church on their own if their quest is really about the Truth. Find out from St Augustine and the many great minds through the centuries. Let us give them the truth, it is their right and at the end of our life on earth we should be able to tell God ‘I gave them what I received, what you Lord gave to me’. And when the priests give you the truth my dear brothers and sisters, take it that God’s eternal and unchanging Word is being given to you. The truth is good food and if you eat good food you will grow but if you eat bad fruit, you will fall sick. Only the Truth in the words of Jesus can set us free (John 8:32).
Our Deacons are receiving this responsibility today and from today after the laying on of hands, they will begin to preach in the name of the Church. My sons, as Deacons, read again the criteria for the choice of the first Deacons in the early Church in Acts chapter 6. Deacons are not merely organizers who know what ‘to do’ but must ‘act’ in the spirit of faith with God’s enlightenment, with wisdom of the heart. The prayer we shall say after the laying on of hands is not a mere question of conferring an office as it happens in public organizations, but it is an ecclesial event in which the Holy spirit appropriates you and consecrates you in the truth, that is Christ, who is the silent protagonist, present during the imposition of hands, so that you young men may be transformed by His power and sanctified in order to face the pastoral challenges ahead.
Today we pray for all preachers of God’s word, and pray in a special way too for the six of our sons who receive this Order to become the preachers of the Word and as they join the legion of the saints since the first preachers after Jesus, their preaching will win more souls and even through the other sacraments that they will celebrate, they will welcome people to God’s truth. Peter says ‘look at us’, the Deacon should be able to say ‘look at me, I practice what I preach’. As we ordain them this morning we beg the Lord who has chosen them to be their strength, protection and direction through Christ our Lord. Amen. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Risen Lord and the Queen of Apostles watch over them. Amen.