Permanent Diaconate Ordination
Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
August 16, 2014
Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church
Lake Charles, Louisiana  

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  John 12:25

Reports of unrest, war, and persecution throughout the world fill the daily news.  In Iraq we learn of genocide against Christians and other minorities by Islamic radicals.  Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ daily live with the risk of imprisonment and death for their profession of faith not only in Iraq but also in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and China. 

Here in our own country we find disregard for religious liberties we had thought assured us by the Bill of Rights.  While no one at the moment will drag us from bed in the middle of the night, we do face intimidation from a growing secularist culture and government.  When bishops speak the truth in a pastoral letter that offends the politically correct, they risk scrutiny by government agencies.  This intimidation of those who profess Christianity, much less Catholicism, affects us daily in subtle ways.  When is the last time you hesitated making the sign of the cross in public or correcting sinful behavior because you didn’t want to offend someone or be observed?   If history proves prophetic, then we will soon pay the price for our reluctance to witness to the faith and to Catholic identity.   This comment brings me to a feast day that occurred recently and the reason for my bringing up this topic at the ordination Mass for our permanent deacons.

On August 7 we recalled the martyrdoms of Pope Saint Sixtus II and four deacons of the Diocese of Rome in 258.  On the orders of Emperor Valerian, Roman soldiers put Sixtus and the deacons to death while they were celebrating Mass in the catacomb of Saint Callistus.   The blood of martyrs was shed while they offered the blood of Christ. 

The documentation for this persecution comes from a letter written by the Bishop of Carthage named Cyprian, a contemporary of Sixtus and the deacons.  He was writing to a fellow bishop who had asked him for a confirmation of a rumored persecution in Rome.  In a letter of late August 258, Cyprian first apologizes for his delayed response but he has just received word from Rome of imperial decrees with dire consequences for Christians.  This is what Cyprian writes: 

    Valerian has sent a rescript to the Senate, directing that bishops,
    presbyters, and deacons are to be put to death at once, but that
    senators, high-ranking officials, and Roman knights are to lose
    their status as well as forfeit their property, and that if, after being
    so dispossessed, they should persist in remaining Christians, they
    are then to suffer capital punishment as well.  Furthermore, that
    matrons are to be dispossessed of their property and dispatched
    into exile and that any members of Caesar’s household who had
    either confessed earlier or should have done so now, are to have
    their possessions confiscated and are to be sent in chains, assigned
    to the imperial estates (St. Cyprian, Letter 80, 1.2).

Bishop Cyprian then continues with an account of the martyrdom of Sixtus and the deacons and concludes with these words which are equally appropriate for us today:

    … [May those who will suffer persecution] think not of death but rather
    of deathless eternity and, being devoted to the service of the Lord with full faith
    and complete courage, they should not be fearful but rather joyful at this, the
    hour of their confession, for they know that during it soldiers of God and of
    Christ are not slain but crowned (St. Cyprian, Letter 80, 2).

There is little doubt in my mind that the words of our Lord echoed in the minds and hearts of these early martyrs.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

To be ordained a deacon is by definition to live a life of service.  This service is not always a neat little package of daily routines for which the grateful recipients will offer appropriate thanks.  Those who know history know better.  The martyrs teach another lesson.  Those who make of their lives a total gift accept also the reversals that will come.  They focus on another world.  They are the seed planted to die.  They think of “deathless eternity.”  They give thanks to God for His benefits and accept His will even when it requires everything from them.   “The Father will honor whoever serves” Jesus Christ (John 12:26).

To the deacons being ordained today I say:  love Jesus, pray always, be courageous, look for an eternal goal, and follow the witness of the saints.