“So that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.”
These words from St. Paul to the church at Ephesus bring together the theme of the three readings that Nam chose for his ordination to the diaconate, and it is at the heart of what it means to be the Church.
When St. Paul talks about saints, he is not talking about people in heaven. He’s talking about ordinary Christians like you and me. We are the saints, the holy people, called together to be a presence of Christ in the world.
But, of course, if you read enough of St. Paul, you will see that he knows that we saints are not always people who act in a saintly way. One of our problems as human beings is that we are often very self-centered, and we are often people who are difficult to work with.
One of Paul’s big themes, and he repeats it in this reading today, is that every person in the Church is called to a particular ministry. Thirteen years ago when I became Bishop of Bathurst, I said, “I’m only a bishop, and there are some things I can’t do; but there are some things that only I can do. That goes for each one of us. There are some things that only you can do, and if you don’t them, they won’t be done.”
The life of the church depends on each of us learning from God and learning from the Church what our ministry is to be, “and the saints together make a unity of service”.
You can see in the first reading today, which talks about the beginning of the diaconate which arose because the young Church, whose members had originally all been Jews, started to let in Gentiles. Of course, this caused something of a culture clash: in this instance, some of the Gentile widows thought they weren’t being looked after well enough. So the Church got together and decided to start this service of the diaconate.
In the Gospel tonight, Jesus addresses the reality that we, as humans, can be very self-centered. We can also be very self-important, and it’s part of human frailty. Even in a playground, you’ll see some children wanting to be the most important one there. Jesus is calling the Apostles to leadership in the Church to that specific form of service that is leadership because, without leadership, a body, an organization, a Church can’t function.
One of Nam’s great achievements in the Seminary was as captain of the soccer team. Although the year he was captain, they just missed out on the national championship, the following year, they won for the only time in the history of the seminary. I told Nam that it was probably the spirit of the team he built up the year before. But whether it’s a soccer team or a parish, the Church needs leadership.
However, Jesus is reminding the apostles that if you are the leader, it means you’ve got a particular job to do, but you are supposed to remember that this leadership is not for your glory. It is for the glory of God and it’s for the service of the Church.
Today is the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, who was a third-order Dominican, and a woman who led, in some ways, a restricted life, but who had an enormous influence on the Church of her day and, through her writings, continues to have an influence on us as a Doctor of the Church.
Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever local church we find ourselves in, there is a work of service to be done, and no one person can do that alone. The Church exists for us to be in this “unity of service to build up the body of Christ”.
So we rejoice that Nam is to be ordained a Deacon tonight. From this day, he needs your prayers in a very special way.”
Bishop of Bathurst