Dear friends, we set out today on a great adventure for our Church here in Regina as we begin the Formation Program for the Permanent Diaconate for our Archdiocese. I consider this to be a blessing from God and I say “thank you” to God for all of you who are candidates and for you wives who journey through this time of formation with you. You have acted positively in response to what is a call from God and I pray that the four years ahead will bear much fruit for you and for Jesus Christ and his Church.
As we enter into this time of formation, the Gospel Reading for today’s Mass can be very helpful to us. It documents an event in St. Peter’s formation as a disciple of Jesus. St. Peter’s formation was not all smooth and straight forward. Just before what happened in today’s Gospel, St. Peter had really shone. He had reached the point where he was able to profess his faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
In reply Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Peter must have beamed with satisfaction and felt really good. There are high points!
But Peter was still in formation. So Jesus went on to teach them that he, the messiah, would go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Now, Peter would have in his mind the common understanding that the Messiah was to be a political and military figure who would save the country from the Romans who occupied Palestine, drive them out and restore the Kingdom of David and be its ruler and king. So, quite shocked, Peter says to Jesus: ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’
And Jesus, who had just called Peter “The Rock” on which he would build his church turns to Peter and calls him “Satan,” “Get behind me Satan,” and tells Peter that he is not a help for Jesus at all but rather a stumbling block. And he tells him why: “For you are thinking not as God does, but as humans do.”
And that is where we find very sound advice from the lips of Jesus as we prepare for and live out this vocation to the diaconate. Would we be in the habit of thinking as humans do? Of course we would. We’re humans. But Jesus calls us to step out of this ordinary and human way of thinking and doing things and to step into the way in which God thinks and acts. Jesus taught us to say to God: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done...” Jesus did this in his own life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing the horror of his imminent death by crucifixion, Jesus says to his Father: “not my will but yours be done.’
When we follow Jesus, we must be ready to accept a world turned upside down; a world where God takes on a human way of living and thinking and humans must then take on God’s way of living and thinking; a world where the last are first and the first are last; a world where those who are the most important are the poorest and the weakest; a world where the leaders, the powerful and influential, are to be the servants of everyone.
St. Paul had this lesson down pat. In his letter to the Romans, a part of which we heard in the second reading, he wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Your formation for the Diaconate has as its goal this transformation and this renewal of your minds. For, to serve Jesus Christ and the Church as a deacon, you will very often need to stop thinking in human terms and instead think as God does. The important people in your lives now are not the rich or the powerful. The Deacon shows to the church Jesus Christ the Servant of all. The Deacon helps the church to become a servant people, especially to the poor and the marginalized.
In his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis says that the missionary impulse of the entire church, which must express itself in the life of each local community, in the life of each parish, is oriented first and foremost to the poor, to those on the margins, to those excluded from community. (EG 48) In the diocese in which you serve, in the parish in which you serve, your mission is to embody in your ministry this service to the poor, the marginalized and the excluded.
That is no small challenge. So we must draw very close to Jesus the Son of the Living God, so that we may follow Him who denied himself, took up his cross and in the most perfect act of service, gave up his life so that we may live forever. It is this divine act of service that is at the heart of every call to be a deacon.