Delivered by His Em. Card. Darío Castrillón Hoyos, Prefect
Patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Friday 18 February 2000
1. Dearest Deacons gathered here from every part of the world, welcome to the house of our Holy Mother! Welcome to this image of the Celestial Jerusalem, this blessed place that with benefits of Divine Maternity safeguards the greatest relics of the holy crib of the God-with-us.
How to better start the Jubilee days that with the Blessed Virgin? Love for Christ and the Church is profoundly linked to the Blessed Virgin, humble servant of the Lord who, with the unique and admirable title of mother, was the generous partner of the deaconship of her Divine Son (cf. Jn 19:25-27). The Lord’s love for His mother, founded upon faith and expressed in the prayer of the Holy Rosary which we will recite soon, in the imitation of her virtues and trusting in her, gives meaning to our affectionate expression of true filial devotion.
2. We are here in the spirit of the Jubilee; by its very nature it is a call to conversion. This is the first word of Jesus’ preaching, which is significantly combined with the willingness to believe: "Be converted and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). The conversion God asks of us is thus inextricably linked to the truth; more then the acquisition of something absolutely new, it is above all a matter of recovering the original status, clean and immaculate, that was conferred upon you by the Baptismal event and ordination as deacons.
3. In this context, it is appropriate to turn our thought to the theological essence of deaconship, in order to reflect upon the consequences on the existential level. For the Catholic faith, the deaconship "is in the Church a specific sacramental sign of Christ the servant" (Congregation for the Clergy, Direction for the ministry and the life of permanent deacons, 22.2.1998, n. 5) in which you have been incorporated with the conferring of holy orders. You therefore have a special status, different from the ordinary Christian condition, with Christ in the service of the Church, and you deacons therefore have the task of being "interpreters of the needs and desires of the Christian community" and "animators of service, in other words of the deaconship" (Paul VI, Ap. Let. Ad pascendum, Introduction). The spirit of service, key of the deacons’ spirituality, is thus conceived of not as a mere exhortation, but rather as something that necessarily follows from theological identity. Thus is related to the importance of the warning of St. Polycarp: that deacons "be merciful, active and walk in the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all" (St. Polycarp, Ad Phil., 5, 2, in Funk 1, 300, quoted in LG 29).
4. Your identity is likewise marked by the permanent aspect of your ministry. In this context, for a permanent deacon, conversion also involves reflecting on the meaning of the permanent character of the deaconship. While this obviously means a stable status, not received as a stage on the way to the priesthood, there must be an awareness of the fact that you are always deacons: this is not a negative sign of stability in a lower level. It is a specific vocation to always represent the most noble figure of Christ the Servant. It means permanent union with His kenosis for being its permanent memory; what an honour! What a Joy!
The character of the deaconship remains lively, permeating all the aspects of your life, both in the specific exercising of the ministry as deacons and in professional, family, social life etc.
The vocation to the deaconship has an all-inclusive character: it is not a matter of exercising it "part-time", but rather a specific mode of your entire existence, lived in favour of the mission of the Church. Your entire life acquires value in the deaconship, and somehow this must also be reflected in your way of praying, your social relationships and friendships, family life, working life, way of behaviour etc.
With the words of the Holy Father, for the deacons the vocation to holiness means the "sequela of Jesus in this attitude of humble service, which is not only expressed in works of charity, but affects and models the entire way of thinking and acting (John Paul II, General Audience of 20.10.1993, n. 2, in Insegnamenti 16/2, 1993, p.1054).
5. One of the signs of the mercy of God that the Holy Father has indicated for the Jubilee year is charity: it opens our eyes to the needs of those who live in poverty and marginalisation. In this sense, the function of deacon takes on a front line role, since it is a service of charity and has the purpose of helping and promoting all the members of the particular church, so that they may participate, in a spirit of communion and according to their charisms, in the life and mission of the Church.
For the fruitful ministry of charity, there must be a close link with the pastoral authority. Your ministry is an aspect of the authority with which you are endowed by sacrament of ordination; therefore, as required by the unity of consecration and mission, it must be exercised in hierarchical communion with the bishop and the priests. Charity, which we try to practice through the ministry, is also a condition within the ministry, as communion with the Pastors.
Thus, the service of the charity provided to the faithful is anchored in the requirement of charity between the ministers of the Church. If this spirit is lacking, your life of service would fail, and be reduced to a functional task that might fulfil your duties externally, but would not increase your perfection towards holiness or the true ecclesial communion.
Dearest brother Deacons, although you are not joined in any organisation comparable to that of the priesthood, do not act in isolation, but rather joined in the "ministerium" of the Church. Therefore the function of deacon must never be considered as a private, freely planned activity.
6. Never as in this moment have we felt the duty to sing the praise and thankfulness of the Apostle: "Blessed be God, Father of the Lord our Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ" (Eph 1:3).
Together with conversion and thanksgiving for the benefits received from God there is also the importance of the Jubilee year. The commemoration of the event of the Incarnation places us before Christ the Servant who, "though being of divine nature, did not consider a jealous treasure his equality with God, but divested himself, taking on the condition of servant and becoming like men" (Phil 2:6-7). Our thanksgiving thus includes the fact that the redemption has been offered to God as a gift to men come in Christ, who "has not come to be served but to serve and give his life for the redemption of many" (Mt 20:28).
This is also the context of thanksgiving for the gift of your vocation in the service of deaconship; thanksgiving that, in order to be sincere, presupposes acceptance as an undeserved gift, not derived either from personal qualities or from the mere desire – however commendable – to better serve the Church, but from the providential plan of God, who wished to take you on as privileged instruments to establish the service of Christ among men. The awareness of the vocation to the deaconship understood not as an earned gift but as one received gratuitously, requires you to undertake your task in faithfulness to the charism of deaconship. In other words your are not the masters of your ministry, but instrument of a patrimony that does not belong to you.
Pray God that these days we will pass together, these days of the Jubilee, may become a stimulus for transforming our thankfulness into a desire to be faithful to our vocation.
7. The recent entry into the new millennium encourages the Christian community, stimulated not only by the teaching but also by the moving deeds of the Holy Father, to extend its scope of faith to new horizons in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In this commitment by the whole the Church, you deacons have a specific function since, as in the case of the deacon Philip (Ac 8: 26-40) you are trying to extend the ecclesial communion beyond its present borders.
La dimension of service is linked to the missionary dimension of the Church; in other words, your missionary effort as deacons includes the service of the Word, of the liturgy and of charity, which is in turn extended to everyday life.
The Holy Spirit has induced the Church since the early centuries to serve the "Mysterium", the Sacrament of the Eucharistic and wisdom liturgy, missionary activity etc..
8. But the joy of the Jubilee would not be complete without turning to her who fully obeying the Father, generated in the flesh the Son of God for us. You will also find in the Holy Virgin, who proclaimed herself "the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 2:38), and who with her silent service supported the work of her Son, a shining example to follow in you path as deacons. You have the joy of being reflected in her.
We will soon recite the Holy Rosary together. We submit to Mary out common desire to take advantage of these days of the Jubilee for a profound, vital interior renewal to stimulate in us the missionary force that Holy Mother Church expects from us, pressing us on to personal conversion in order to welcome is in the grace of forgiveness and Jubilee indulgence.
May God bless you and the Virgin protect you!