The Most Reverend Glen John Provost, D.D.
Bishop of Lake Charles
Diaconate Ordination 2007
Deacons Ruben Buller and Nathan Long
Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church
August 25, 2007

"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27

I would wish to reflect with you on the word of the moment, "deacon." Deacon derives from the Greek word "diakonos", meaning "servant." When His disciples debated about who was the greatest, Jesus said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). You are here to be ordained deacons, that is ordained servants.

Being an ordained servant for Christ is both ideal and reality. I can only relate to this at a personal level, before I start applying it generally. Why does someone enter the seminary? There are as many reasons as there are those who think they have a vocation. Some enter because of high ideals. One wants to save others for Christ. One wants to preach the Gospel. One had a religious experience, and it changed his life. Now he wants others to experience the same. Some have tasted the fruits of prayer and think the priesthood will bring an even richer harvest of spiritual benefits. All of these motives I would call idealistic and good. Then, however, you enter the seminary.

The seminary brings home the reality. Now, there are studies. Sometimes you wonder what these studies have to do with anything you will do as a priest. That is presumptuous on the part of the seminarian? There are classes to attend, languages to learn, sources to research, and pastoral work to do. Then, ordination comes, and you think you really know something. You enter a parish, and you spend more and more time relearning and reassessing what you thought you knew. Basic questions arise. What does my academic preparation have to do with the nitty-gritty? Disappointments and joys come. What you thought you would do, you don't. What you never thought you would, you in fact do. Reality has set in. Does it remove the ideal? Does it tarnish the brilliance of the initial zeal?

The dynamic I have just described is repeated in the lives of each and every ordained cleric. We cannot forget that both the ideal and the reality are part of discipleship. Ideals without reality become merely enthusiasm. Reality without idealism leads to cynicism. But how are ideals and reality reconciled?

Jesus, I think, knew that His message would have great idealistic appeal. Consider the rich young man in the Gospel of St. Matthew. He asks Jesus, "What good must I do to gain eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16ff.). You can feel the idealism. Jesus reminds him of the commandments, which the rich young man protests he has always followed. That is remarkable in itself, but what happens next is "cold water in the face." Jesus says, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." That is what I call a reality-check. How often as a pastor has a parishioner asked me, "Father, do you need anything? I really think God is calling me to help in the Church. What do you need done?" Then, I suggest something. Well, I say, we really need catechism teachers or we need someone to bring communion to the homebound or volunteers are needed to build a house. The response is almost always the same, "I'll have to pray about it." That, translated from the language of religious enthusiasm into English, means "no." The rich young man was at least honest and "went away sad, for he had many possessions." He didn't need to pray about it. He knew his idealism had met a reality he could not embrace. I would suggest that a good understanding of "diakonos" can help bridge the idealism and reality.

Let us consider the state of the word "diakonos", servant, in today's world. Can you imagine anyone calling another person a "servant"? Can you imagine yourself being called a "servant"? My servant will prepare the meal. The servant will wash the clothes. The servant will write the homily. We must admit that modern society thinks of "servant" as a forbidden word. I recall once in a parish, an employee was having difficulties understanding what her duties were. I tried to explain and finally said, "You must remember that we are all servants", to which she answered, "I will never be a servant." Indeed, I thought, then you will never work for the Church, because we are all servants. Servant is the paradigm. Servant is the call, and Jesus says so.

Let us listen to what Jesus has to say about being a servant. When His disciples debated about who was the greatest, Jesus said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). Jesus was not asking them to do anything that He Himself had not already embraced totally. The Gospel of St. Matthew tells us that when Jesus did not want His disciples to make Him known, it was because Jesus' life was fulfilling a prophecy of Isaiah (42:1-4). "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight." The Servant "will not contend or cry out" nor will he be heard "in the streets" because a good servant just does his work. A servant listens to the master. A servant is dedicated to the task. A servant would rather die than disappoint his lord.

The idea of servant actually appears first with Mary in the Gospels. When asked to do the impossible, she says, "I am the servant of the Lord" (Luke 1:38). The word she actually uses in Greek, "doule", is even more specific, meaning female slave or servant. When Jesus works His first miracle, Mary's last words to the servant are, "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). Mary is not asking him to do anything less than she has already done. Mary's words usher in what will be the constant refrain of Jesus is His teaching, "diakonos."

Jesus' call to be servant is non-negotiable. The grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die. You must lose your life to find it. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be" (John 12:26). The good servant will only be happy when the master finds him working (Matthew 24:46). The industrious servant takes his talents and increases them (Matthew 25:23). The examples of "diakonos" permeate the Gospels. Servant was what Jesus taught, servant was what He did, servant is what He asks of us, and "diakonos" ultimately defines the ordained minister in the Gospel.

In an effort to serve the Lord as his ordained, if we do not live as servants, then we will never bridge the gap between idealism and reality. The denial of "servant" will lead only to frustration. Being a servant is what marries passion to commitment and allows them to be transformed into discipleship. We can have all the passion in the world and commit ourselves to tasks that flatter us in the eyes of many, but if we do not understand that being a disciple means being a servant, then our passion and commitment will remain a pretense. Only in service can idealism and reality meet and transform us into what God wants us to be.

May that "diakonia" into which you are ordained today, with God's grace, bring all of your idealism to maturity. At the end of the day, call to mind the words of Our Lord. "When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, 'We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty'" (Luke 17:10).