JUBILEE DAYS OF THE PERMANENT DEACONS
CONVERSION AND STRENGTHENING OF THE SERVICE OF DEACONS
by H.E. Most Rev. Zenon Grocholewski
19 February 2000, Paolo VI Hall
1.Conversion and strengthening
These days have been chosen for you, permanent deacons, as a major moment in the celebration of the Great Jubilee. In these days you are called upon to intensify your efforts to achieve the purpose of the Great Jubilee: the profound conversion of your hearts and the strengthening of your Christian life and your apostolate.
The readings in today’s Mass – taken from the feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon (August 10th) – highlight these two aspects.
In the Gospel (Jn 12: 24-26) we have heard the words of Jesus: "Truly, truly I say to you: unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit". These words express the realty of Jesus, who died for our sins, to produce the great fruit of eternal life for all. But these words also express our own reality; we too are grains of wheat, and must participate in the death of Christ, in other words we must die to sin with Christ, in order to participate in His triumph (cf. Rm 6: 1-23). This is a powerful invitation to serious conversion, to eliminate evil from our hearts: egoism, pride, envy, impurity, sloth etc.
Evidently, the examination of the conscience, repentance and conversion must contain what directly concerns your specific vocation as deacons.
The first reading (2 Cor 9, 6-10), instead, exhorts generosity in your commitment as Christians and deacons (even though it refers directly to the for the material needs of the Church of Jerusalem): "He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully". As a matter of fact, "God loves him who gives with joy". In this reading, St. Paul also assures us that God comes to our aid so that we can "generously undertake all the good works". Comparing our works to the seed and the sower, the Apostle notes that it is the Lord who gives us this seed, multiplies it and makes it bear fruit: "He who provides the sower with seed [...], will multiply your seed and will increase the growth of the fruits of your justice ". He who generously and widely sows good works will reap the fruit of his own and others’ holiness.
Dearly beloved, you are called upon to intensify the generosity and zeal of your service as deacons.
a. With regard to the profound conversion and strengthening of the your service as deacons we could talk about many things; we could talk about the role of the sacrament of Reconciliation, today unfortunately often devalued in practice with considerable damage for the Christian life; about the Eucharist, source and culmination of all Christian life; about the Holy Spirit, prayer, etc. However, I would like to speak about faith.
Today we are witnessing the crisis of faith, a serious problem. This crisis also has a negative effect on true conversion and true Christian commitment. On the other hand, the stronger faith is, the deeper repentance and the conversion of the heart will be, and the more capable we will be of intensifying our Christian commitment, with the fulfilment of the specific vocation of each one of us. Indeed, the stronger the faith, the more we will turn to the sacraments, the more we will be open to the action of the Holy Spirit, the more effective our prayer will be, etc. Actually, our Christian life and commitment depend on faith.
b. Faith is like a night, a dark star-spangled night. In fact, St. John of the Cross – that great mystic of Christianity – talked about the dark night of faith in spiritual life. But is it not true that during the night we don’t see less, but much more? Yes, during the day we see more clearly, more exactly (we can even tough things and measure), but we see little, only that which surrounds us, our field of vision is very limited. It is true that during the night we see less clearly, less exactly, but we see more fully, we see much further, se see the stars thousands of light-years away, we see our small life in the context of the immense universe, in the context of the totality of creation.
I was always fascinated by the starry night. In the period of my high school studies, I often went out late at night with a teacher and some friends to look at the stars. Looking at the stars I felt big, and then it seemed to me to truly see, to see the truth about my existence, in other words to see that my life is not limited to this town, this nation or this earth, but is inserted in an enormous, fascinating, stupendous, enchanting and immense universe.
Faith is like the star-spangled night. In faith we see less clearly, less precisely (there are so many mysteries, so many things we are unable to understand), but we see further and much more fully, we see our small life in the prospect of eternity, of the totality of our existence.
c. Having before us this great prospect of eternity and the totality of our existence, something necessarily changes in our life:
- Our judgement becomes more mature, fuller and, would say, more realistic, since we take into consideration not only the minor circumstances of our life, but also the totality of our existence.
- The scale of values changes within us; many things people are so fond of (for example wealth, power, prestige) lose their value in the light of eternity. Instead, other apparently small things (like forgiveness, prayer, sacrifice, an act of charity etc.) take on great importance, because there will determine our life in the eternal prospect. Jesus constantly introduced this new scale or logic of values to the disciples, saying: "he who wishes to be great among you, will become your servant, like the Son of man, who did not come to be serve but to serve and to give his life to save many" (Mt 20: 26-28; cf. Mk 10: 43-45; Lk 22: 26-27). By the same logic of values we have heard in today’s Gospel the words of Jesus: "He who loves his life, and loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting" (Jn 12: 25).
- We will become freer, since we will not allow ourselves to be conditioned by the small things of earthly life.
- Thus faith also becomes a source of strength, making us cable of: a) renouncing many things of earthly life, knowing that their value is very relative; b) facing with serenity and tranquillity suffering, obstacles and even death, realising that our life is indestructible; c) making efforts to gain eternal, lasting, indestructible values, those we cannot lose, and not being concerned only with values that sooner or later are lost.
3. Strengthening faith
Faith, if someone truly has it and lives it, is a great thing, a great treasure. In itself it is a force of spiritual life, due to the fact that it opens before us this immense prospect of life. It therefore transforms us; necessarily changing our way of seeing things, of judging and of acting.
If we are so weak in our spiritual life, so little transformed by faith, it is also because in our way of seeing things and judging we are only limited to this earthly life, losing sight of the total dimension of our life indicated by faith.
I have the impression that we Christians often behave like pagans, outwardly supporting the faith, speaking in favour of it and even defending it, but lacking the courage to throw ourselves into the stream of faith, to think and act according to the categories of faith. But the true adventure of faith begins there, when we throw ourselves into the current of faith, when we start to think and act courageously according to the logic of faith.
This was the adventure of faith of St. Lawrence Deacon and Martyr, in whose honour we have celebrated the Holy Mass, of St. Stephen Deacon and first Martyr, and of so many other great deacons.
Dearly beloved! By assiduously listening to the Word of God, with study, with prayer, with participation in the sacraments, with a truly Christian life, try to strengthen and deepen your faith in order to achieve a mature faith; in other words, to have the courage of thinking, judging and acting according to the categories of faith. Then this faith will be a source of light, strength and true joy for you. Then this faith will lead you to continuous renewal and will be a great support to your apostolate, making it fruitful.
In fact, as St. John the Apostle writes, "This is the victory that has defeated the world: our faith" (1 Jn 5: 4).
+ Zenon Grocholewski