Deacons (from left) John P. Shaughnessy, Peter M. Rebholz, Kurt A. Peot and Robert L. Mitchell were ordained to the permanent diaconate on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. (Photo by David Bernacchi)

It is the simplest commandment there is, to love one another, and yet contains within itself the whole of Christian teaching.

“It’s at the heart of service that all things that we do, we do in the name of our Lord for the love of our brothers and sisters — and we do so within His Church,” said Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in his homily on Saturday, Sept. 12, when he ordained four men to be permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

The four men — Kurt Peot of St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield, Peter Rebholz of Christ King and St. Bernard Parish in Wauwatosa, John Shaughnessy of Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon and Robert Mitchell of St. Charles Parish in Hartland — will now take on the task of loving others through the ministry of the permanent diaconate.

As has become standard for ordinations this year, attendees were seated in clusters of household members, distanced from other groups to prevent the possible spread of disease. The Mass was not open to the public, but was livestreamed on the Cathedral’s YouTube page.

In his homily, Archbishop Listecki echoed the words of the Gospel of John, reminding the men that, though they have chosen to follow their vocation, it was Christ who chose them first.

“As the Gospel proclaims, Christ calls you friend,” he said. “You’re not a slave who is the object of ownership by another, but a friend — a relationship that is chosen and cherished. Two lives shared. It’s a friendship that allows you to be who you are and to shape you as an instrument of God’s will.”

He urged the men not to be intimidated by the knowledge that they are, of course, imperfect instruments.

“As you exercise ordained ministry, you will understand more and more that you are a sinner in need of the Redeemer … and as a sinner, you might feel inadequate to the task before you,” he said. “But as Jeremiah the prophet states, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you.’”

“I’m not naive — I know that there is sin, and sin has caused tremendous damage to our Church by those who have failed to follow Christ’s command,” the archbishop continued. “But I also know the love of Christ has conquered sin and death. And it is this love, presented by his faithful followers, that will bring us healing.”

As he often does in his homilies, Archbishop Listecki reflected on his own deep sense of devotion to the Church — a devotion that is nourished and sustained by the faith of others, like the men he was preparing to ordain.

“I have been privileged to witness so many brothers and sisters whose lives reflect his love, and experience their commitments and struggles and sacrifice. They were literally other Christs for me,” he said.

The example of faithful disciples willing to commit their lives to the Church is badly needed today, he added.

“This Church — Christ’s bride — needs her children to step forward and declare our confidence in the truth, that we are the Church established by Jesus Christ, which leads us to holiness and to salvation.”

Newly ordained Dcn. Kurt Peot said the archbishop’s message was the perfect reflection of what the four men were learning in formation all along — “the power,” he said, “of just loving one another.”

“Our faith is so very simple — it is all about love, love for God and love for neighbor,” he said. “In our world today and particularly in our country, that love seems to be struggling with the power of conflict and uprightness drowning it out. Imagine the world and country we would have if we just stepped back and loved one another. I trust with the power of the Holy Spirit, my diaconal and priestly brothers can help all of us to return to love instead of division and despair.”

Newly ordained Dcn. John Shaughnessy called the ordination Mass the pinnacle of the men’s years of studies. He said he felt inspired by Archbishop Listecki’s message of loving leadership — even when both love and leadership demands sacrifice.

“It has been during these very challenging times that I have watched our leader of the flock of Milwaukee always keep our health and safety in mind and to protect his sheep,” he said. “Archbishop Listecki is a leader who is prayerful and has shown the face of Christ in both word and deed. His message really asked us to do the same and do it with the love that Christ brings to all of us. Was there a better lead into the commitments the four of us would make to Christ and His Church for a lifetime?”