By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — Three diocesan seminarians — Matthew Soberalski, William Meininger and Jonathan Norton — were ordained to the diaconate Saturday, May 24, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated the Mass and the rite of ordination and opened the celebration by welcoming the parents, families and friends of the candidates for ordination. “We pray that the Lord, who fills them today with the grace to carry out the work of the ordained ministry, blesses them with peace and joy as they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders,” Bishop Rhoades said.
He welcomed Bishop Richard Higgins, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. “Thank you, Bishop Higgins, for all you do to serve our men and women in the military,” Bishop Rhoades said, and announced, “I am happy that one of our candidates, Jonathan Norton, is being co-sponsored by the Military Archdiocese. I know how much our military services need priests and am happy that our diocese will be helping with this need.”
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades explained why seminarians are ordained deacons before ordination to the Priesthood and the three roles of the deacons.
“The character and grace of the diaconate is something permanent,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Deacons are icons or images of Christ the Servant — the configuration to Christ the Servant through diaconal ordination is permanent.”
“That’s why the Church requires us to be ordained deacons first,” Bishop Rhoades further explained. “We don’t leave one Order behind when we assume a different one. The sacramental effects of the three grades of Orders are cumulative, not exclusive.”
“You won’t be icons of Christ the Servant for just a year, but for a lifetime,” he continued. “No one is admitted to the higher degrees of Holy Orders without first being configured to Christ with the indelible character of the diaconate.”
He noted, “When you are priests, God-willing, the diaconal dimension of your ministry must also be visible. What is this dimension? It is the dimension of service, ‘diakonia.’
Bishop Rhoades spoke of the threefold ministry of the deacon. The first was the diakonia of the liturgy, ministers of the altar. “You will prepare the altar for the Eucharistic Sacrifice and you will give the Body and Blood of the Lord to His people,” he said. This ministry also includes taking Holy Communion to the sick, the suffering and the homebound.
The second was to exercise the diakonia of the Word. “This is the first duty of all the ordained, the first duty of our priests and bishops as well,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We share a common responsibility to proclaim and explain the Gospel. Remember always that it is the Word of God we preach, not our word.”
The bishop said through preaching and teaching, “we are called to lead people to grace, to an encounter with Christ. To do this task well, you must, (I repeat) you must be men who contemplate the Gospel with love. You can’t give what you don’t have. I urge you as preachers to first linger over the pages of the Gospel and read them with your hearts as well as your minds. Prayer, spiritual reading and meditation must be part of our daily routine as ministers of the word of God.”
The third aspect of the ministry of deacon is charity. Bishop Rhoades recalled the first deacons in the Acts of the Apostles were ordained to serve at table, to feed the poor widows.
The bishop recalled the works of Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.”
Pope Benedict wrote that the exercise of charity, “the love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to the Church as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the Word.”
Bishop Rhoades encouraged the three men to love the poor, the sick and the suffering and to go out, as Pope Francis says “to the edges and peripheries, to the vulnerable and forgotten.”
“Have a particular love and concern for the most vulnerable in our midst: unborn children, the disabled and the elderly,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Remember also that besides material poverty, there is much spiritual and cultural poverty.”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Rhoades reminded all that the family is the seedbed of vocations and thanked the families and all who participated in the Mass.
Deacon William Meininger said he was excited about the ordination. “Although I have been serving the people of God as a seminarian,” he said, “it is really amazing to think that I will be able to serve them as a sacred minister.”
Deacon Meininger added he had been looking forward to “officially promising obedience to the bishop,” and “entering into a very special life-long relationship with the people and Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.”
Meeting on the plaza of the cathedral after the ordination Mass, Deacon Soberalski said he was really looking forward mainly preaching and serving the people of God.
He said of the ordination day that he was extremely happy, a little nervous and “so blessed.”
Deacon Norton called the ordination day was an affirmation. He said, “Just the prayers of the people means a lot to me. To be able to lay down my life for the Lord in such a public manner, before the people of God with their praise and their prayers around us.”
He said he looked around the cathedral and realized, “this is my family now.”
“All the people in this congregation are now my family,” he said, “and I am willing to lay down my life for any of them. I look forward to getting to know all of my new family and all of my spiritual children. It’s very exciting.”
His expectations for his diaconate are to continue to “experience the grace of Our Lord and to experience the grace from Holy Orders for the first time.”
He also noted the importance of the Blessed Mother. “No matter where you go, she is always there beside you,” he said. “I expect to experience her hugs for the rest of my life.”
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