Diaconate Ordination of Michael Etuka, Joseph Gulliford, Nicholas Harden, Allan MacDonald & Joseph Meigh, St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, 3 July 2021, Feast of St Thomas the Apostle

Dear Michael, dear Joseph, dear Allan, dear Nicholas, dear Joseph, that one, simple word – ‘present’ – together with the testimony given about you, signals that you are ready to make a lifelong commitment to Christ; a lifelong commitment to his Church; and a lifelong commitment to serving his people. You are ready, are you not?

Each of your pathways to this moment has been an unfolding of God’s loving providence, of his purpose, his plan, for you and his Church. The Lord knew and loved you before you were born. He has accompanied you through all the twists and turns of life thus far and is not going to stop now. The Lord Jesus is not a stranger to you, nor you to him. You are citizens of God’s household, like the saints. Like the saints, because, just in case there is any confusion, ordination is not canonisation. You are, not yet, the finished product. None of us are. Founded on Christ, the only true foundation stone, you must keep growing in holiness. Only if you are built on Christ, fitted together with him, can you lead people more deeply in the life of faith where God lives in the Spirit. At this particular point, however, above all, be serene, be secure, and be at peace. The Lord Jesus calls you personally, by name, in friendship, to be his servant.

St Thomas the Apostle is a good patron saint to have as a deacon. His journey was marked by an increasing intimate connection with the Lord Jesus, but not without its ups and downs. Perhaps, on occasion, we each share his struggle to believe. The challenges to faith are certainly felt acutely by others, sometimes with hostility. But St Thomas’ difficulties were not, ultimately, an obstacle to faith. Actually, they were the very means to belief in the resurrection.

How significant that the journey from ‘I refuse to believe’ to ‘My Lord and my God,’ revolved around the wounds of Christ. Dear friends, each of us is wounded, in one way or another, and to a greater or lesser degree. Wounded by sin, by doubt, by our troubled relationships with others, and our tough experiences of life. But in Christ, and with Christ, wounds can be healed. In Christ, and with Christ, wounds can become fountains of grace.

Michael, Joseph, Nicholas, Allan and Joseph,your ministry as deacons and, please God, as priests, must hold healing at its heart. When you meet people, whoever they are, whose wounds hold them back – in life and in faith – you must be Christ’s loving presence: walking alongside them; listening, waiting, and praying. By your gentle, Christ-like accompaniment, help people step out from closed rooms of hurt, uncertainty, and disbelieve about the Lord and about themselves. Whisper into their being the words of our Saviour: ‘Peace be with you…doubt no longer, but believe.’ Place your own particular gifts at the full disposal of the Lord’s kindness. Our wounded world, our wounded Church, our wounded brother and sisters, need you to be servant-healers. By your words and actions, witness with utter conviction that Christ’s wounds save us and raise us up. 

Today, dear brothers, as deacons of Jesus Christ, as his servant-healers, you will be clothed for the first time with sacred vestments. These are symbols of your new relationship with Christ and his Church, and with his people. They are the exterior signs of the interior reshaping which takes place through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration. The stole you wear across your chest, close to your heart, is the harness of your obedience and fidelity. The dalmatic, shaped like the cross, is the apron of your dedication and service. This is the uniform of those who serve Christ, and you take it upon yourself freely, with an undivided heart, joyfully celibate for the kingdom. In the world, but detached from it, like Christ you must wash feet without hesitation. You must wait on table with courtesy and perseverance. You must stand by the downtrodden and bind up hearts that are broken.

St John records that the house doors were closed when the Lord Jesus entered the room and stood among the disciples. Dear brothers, your ministry is to open doors for the Lord Jesus. In this, the first door to be opened, and kept open, is that of your own heart. Had Christ not already made a home in you, how could you give him your life today? At times, you might have doubted this day would ever come. But the Lord has always known it. Before God, we can sometimes feel small and inexperienced; but it’s no bad thing to be in the nursery of discipleship. It stops us being proud and arrogant. It prevents us thinking we have nothing to learn. Trust implicitly that the Lord who calls you is sending you out in the name of His Church. Have the confidence of faith and the gentleness of humility.

Today, the Lord Jesus asks you to promise obedience so that you can be completely free. He asks you to promise celibacy so that you can love without limitation. Be sure that the Lord is with you to protect you. Hear again his powerful words: ‘Peace be with you…doubt no longer, but believe.’ It is the Lord who stretches out his hand and lays it upon your head. It is the Lord who puts his word upon your lips. It is the Lord who consecrates and appoints you, entrusting you with the care of his household. You are to announce His presence, especially through the proclamation of the Gospel, through assisting the Bishop, and his priests, at the altar. Your prayer and preaching, and your concern for the weakest and the poorest, are all intrinsically linked.

Remember that opening doors is the servant’s job. It’s your job, now and forever. Help others open the door of their hearts to Christ. By your faith-filled preaching encourage people to invite the Lord Jesus into their lives, perhaps for the first time, or in a new and deepened way. Attune yourself to listening prayerfully for when Christ is knocking on your heart and the hearts of others. Be prepared, in every situation, especially at inconvenient times, to see and serve the Lord Jesus in others. With a servant’s heart, you will meet Christ in places you never expected. If you persist in loving, long after anyone is looking, or there is any benefit to yourself, the Lord will reward you in ways you cannot imagine, in ways that are out of this world.

Dear brothers, dear sons, your faith has brought you to this place of response, of saying ‘yes’ – yes to Christ, yes to his Church, and yes to his people. Today you offer yourself in an act of surrender for the rest of your life. Put aside any anxiety and step forward. Open the door of your heart to the graces with which the Lord will flood your soul and your ministry. Love and serve the Lord Jesus above all. Love and serve the Lord Jesus through all. Love and serve the Lord Jesus in all.

May our blessed Lady, Queen of the Clergy, the Doorway of Heaven, pray for you. May St John the Evangelist, and all the saints, pray for you. May you find that happiness, that blessedness, of believing without seeing until that glorious day when you see the Lord face to face. Amen.