Six new transitional deacons were ordained Saturday, April 24, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Pictured are (from left) Dcn. Matthew Kirk, Dcn. Kevin Harmon, Fr. Luke Strand, Dcn. Ariel Orozco, Bishop Schuerman, Dcn. Tonny Kizza, Fr. John Hemsing, Dcn. Matthew Ferch and Dcn. Pedro Ruiz. (Photo courtesy of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary)
Since its inception, the diaconate has been a beautiful blend of the practical and the spiritual. Instituted in part as the solution to a pastoral problem, it is a ministry that serves as a force for the promotion of Christian unity and the proclamation of the Gospel through word and deed.
As a deacon in the Catholic Church, a man is tasked with the ministry of service through supporting the worship of a community and by engaging in acts of charity. The transitional diaconate is unique in that it is a temporary state for men who intend to pursue ordination to the priesthood.
On Saturday, April 24, six men — Matthew Ferch, Kevin Harmon, Matthew Kirk, Tonny Kizza, Ariel Orozco, and Pedro Ruiz — were ordained by Bishop James T. Schuerman to the order of transitional deacon at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Milwaukee. “Now you are not only hearers of the Gospel, but also its ministers,” he told them. “As deacons, you will be ministers of charity, servants of all, and you will be sent into the world to proclaim the Gospel.”
In his homily, delivered both in English and Spanish, Bishop Schuerman implored the men to “do the will of God from the heart, serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord … as ministers of Jesus Christ who came among his disciples as one who served.”
Referring to the second reading of the Liturgy of the Word, a selection from the Acts of the Apostles that described the origin of the order of deacons, Bishop Schuerman discussed the tension that existed in the early Church between the Hebrew Christians and the Hellenist Christians.
“Today’s reading begins with a complaint on the part of Hellenists — there seemed to be a movement to demand that Hellenists conform to Jewish traditions,” said Bishop Schuerman. “The unequal distribution of food to Hellenist widows may have been a way to force the issue of conformity.”
When the complaint is brought before the Apostles, they arrive at their solution “thoughtfully and delicately,” said the bishop.
“Even though they themselves are Hebrews, they do not demand that the Hellenists conform to their traditions. Nor do they desire to take over the administration of common goods, particularly that of ‘waiting on tables’ to make sure the food is distributed fairly. They see their role as primarily attending the word of God,” he said.
Thus was introduced the role of the deacon, who would ensure that “the distribution of goods happens fairly, and in this way too the Hellenists can remain a vital part of the whole Christian community.”
Those first deacons, said Bishop Schuerman, were “signs of Christian unity, working to ensure that the community of believers would remain as one amidst the diversity of its members.” Addressing the candidates before him, he said, “as deacons, you will function as signs of unity as well. In your service you will uphold the dignity of all people, no matter their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.”
At their ordination, the men also made vows of celibacy. “Know that celibacy is both a sign of pastoral charity and an inspiration to it, as well as a source of spiritual fruitfulness in this world,” said Bishop Schuerman. “Compelled by sincere love of Christ the lord and living in this state, with total dedication, you will cling to Christ more easily with an individual heart.”
He also reminded them to “never allow yourselves to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel.”
“Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express by your actions the word of God, which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God,” he said. “Then, on that last day when you go to meet the Lord, he will be able to say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.’”