Diaconate Ordination of Messrs
Motlatsi Phomane, Thembalethu Sandondo, Luthando Xhamlayo, George Kageche
All Saints Cathedral
29 September 2011
Bishop S. Sipuka
My brothers and Sisters we are closing our Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting with a solemn and a joyful even of the ordination of four Deacons. With all the difficulties and challenges that we have spoken about, it is as if the Lord wants to console us by giving us four good and enthusiastic young men as additional members in our pastoral team. These young men are not only adding to our numbers, but they are also adding quality. We have received good character reports about them, good academic reports and we have observed them in action for some months now and we are pleased with what they have shown us. I extend to these four brothers my warm greetings, and thank them for the joy that they have given us by responding to God’s call as Deacons on the way to Priesthood. Brothers we appreciate you and we value you as soon to be co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I also greet and welcome the members of their families and thank them for the seed of vocation that they planted in them and for allowing them and supporting them in embracing priesthood vocation. Members of the Diocesan Pastoral council, brother priests and all the faithful, I welcome and thank you for presence.
Let me start off by noting that the Deacons we are ordaining today come from some of the smallest parishes in the Diocese, some of them do not even have a priest. There are big parishes in the Diocese, for which we give priests, some of them two, and yet we do not get candidates for priesthood. Perhaps in allocating priests, parishes one should take into consideration the fact of whether or not the parish has produced a priest. Please give birth to priests and encourage your children to be priests and religious.
We are having the ordination of these candidates on the feast the Archangels. We are invited to ponder the meaning of Angels in our faith in relation to today’s event of the ordination of Deacons. What does this feast say about today’s celebration of ordination? Let us begin first by understanding the place of Angels in our faith. From the book of the Genesis to the book of Revelation, the Bible makes mention of Angels. In the creed we profess a God who is the maker of “all that is seen and unseen” and part of God’s unseen creation are the Angels. When we confess our sins at the beginning of Mass “and I ask blessed Marry, ever virgin all the Angels and saints… to pray for me to the Lord our God. Before we sing the Holy Holy, the priest says “we join the angels and all the saints in proclaiming your glory. In Xhosa hymnal we have those two hymn to the Angels, i64 and 165. If belief and teaching about Angels is found in the Bible, in the Creed and in the prayers of the Mass, in the hymns of the Church, it is not for nothing that we have. So what is their relevance of Angels for today’s event?
A consideration of Angels can be done from the point of view of their nature where we ask ourselves, what are the Angels, what are they like, what are their qualities, what are their faculties, do they have intelligence, to they have a will, etc. The belief that is expressed in the Creed that Angels are unseen appears to be addressing itself
to the nature of Angels. From this statement that they are unseen, we can go on to explain the substantive constitution of Angels.
The other consideration of Angels can be taken from the point of view of their function, their role in relation to God, to the world and to us. This is what the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation tells us about Angels, it does not tell us less about their nature but more about what they do. What they do ranges from serving as law enforcement agents of God, e.g. when an angel with a burning sword was placed at the gate the garden after God had expelled Adam and Eve from the garden, or serving as an army of the Lord, e.g. when the Angel of God fought in favour of the people God when they were attacked by their enemies, executioners of God’s judgements at the end of the world being guardians of those loved by God , providing for those in need and serving as conveyers of God’s message.
In relation to today’s event of the ordination of four Deacons, I would like to highlight the last two functions of Angels, namely to provide and to convey God’s message because these two appear to be relevant to the life and work a Deacon. Starting with provision, you will recall that the office of Deacon emerged as a result of the need for service of the poor, which the Apostles could not adequately attend to and the order of Deacon was thus established. Let me remind you about the text that is at the origin of the order of Diaconate:
About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom, to whom we can hand over this duty…. The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected (the seven)…They presented these to the apostles, and after prayer they laid their hands on them. Acts 6:1-6
I know that your training has prepared you more for the cultic function, for altar work, and so soon we shall be fighting for space with you around the altar, but remember your biblical foundation, which is to make sure that the deprived, the disadvantaged, the poor are provided for in their needs. On account of the shortage of personnel, we have had to put on hold the establishment of justice and peace desk, and my hope is that though we shall be laying a heavy burden of pastoral work on you, that you will also be able to give attention to what primarily belongs to your order, that is to help to provide for the needy.
Our diocese has a high level of unemployment and the majority of our people are not well provided for in their basic needs of food, water, shelter and security. I pray that through the charism of the order of deacon you are about to receive, you will be able to find a way of releasing our people from the mentality of being objects of delivery, a delivery that often fails because of corruption to a mentality of being partners in improving their lives. I trust that Mr. Kanise, our diocesan development worker will find in you willing collaborators and achieve the dream of seeing the work of development spreading beyond the confines of Mthatha into the whole diocese. I pray that the Angels, whose task include providing for the welfare and development of the poor will intercede for you and make you achieve the task of your vocation as Deacons that ensures socio economic justice for the majority of our people.
Of course, achievement of material wellbeing is not sufficient for the total welfare of human beings, for we are more than just consuming animals. As Jesus tells, human beings do not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt.4:4) And so the other task of the Angels, in addition to providing material wellbeing on God’s behalf is to convey God’s message that gives meaning to life. The whole Bible is full of references to Angels serving the purpose of making God’s word known to the people. As deacons, in addition to your concern for the poor in their material needs, the preaching of the Word of God, the announcement of the message of God is an essential element of your vocation. For that reason, in a short while, after your ordination, I will instruct you in the name of the Church, to “believe what you read, preach what you believe, and practice what you preach”.
St. Michael in the Letter to the Hebrews is depicted as an Angel that defends the supremacy of God over the devil and his revolting army against God, and so St. Michael is regarded as protector of the Church against evil forces. And that is what we sing in Xhosa hymn 164, “Nantsi imimoyemibe itshtuthsisa ityalike, Mikaeli oyingcwele siyabongoza yixhothe”.
With Vatican II, we have moved away from seeing the world as the enemy of the Church, to understand it as a place where God is present and operating. He is present in the market place, in the factory, in the workplace, he is present among the poor and he is present in the cultures of people. We are called to transform all the institutions of the society from within.
Yet with all the openness that we must have towards the world, it is not always the case that the world welcomes and accepts the values and principles of God’s kingdom. With relativism that is fast characterizing the world, there is a clear indication that God is being elbowed out in the lives of people. Systems of thought and ideologies are competing with God in teaching people about what is important in life, how they should live and how they should relate with each other. Even in our own Catholic Schools we have to struggle to retain the religious character of the schools. So while in the spirit of Vatican II, we must embrace the world, we must also know that the devil is at work in the world, trying to confuse and to lead people astray. And so as Jesus once said it, when he was sending his disciples, Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves Mt. 10:6. In other words be part of the world and work with it in common principles, and learn something from it.
But remember also that the world is not the Church, and it will continue to have principles, ideologies and thought systems that are contrary to what the Church
stands for, it will continue to propagate what the Church regards as idolatry manifesting for example in lack of respect for life, denigration of human dignity, subjective choice of values, and reduction of human life to materiality. To the human question and to the problems of the world the Church has an alternative view, and that view consists in God being the point of reference for our life, human life can have no real meaning without God because our beginning and our end is in God. Now the world with which we engage can at times seek to convert us to its view, a view that seeks to take God out of the picture, a view that seeks to free humanity from God, as Adam and Eve tried to free themselves from God by their disobedience. Like St. Michael my dear Deacons to be, for the sake of humanity, our task is to protect the presence and sovereignty of God in the world, because only if God is present will the wellbeing of human beings be secured.
St Raphael is presented to us, above all in the Book of Tobit, as the Angel to whom is entrusted the task of healing. When Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission, one of the tasks he entrusts to them is healing. So my dear Deacons to be, like Raphael and Jesus’ apostles, to you today is entrusted the task of healing. You are called to preach God’s word that heals people from all forms of blindness, the blindness of sin that keep people away from God, their blindness of hatred and division that keep people away from each other. Many people carry with them deep hurts in their live, some of which go back to their childhood when they were abused and neglected. Many people have been betrayed in their relationships and are angry and hurt. By your ordination today you are called to bring healing to such situations as St. Raphael healed Tobias’ father from his blindness, you are called to heal people from their blindness.
St. Raphael also exorcised the demon that was threatening the marriage of Tobias. The woman that Tobias had wanted to had married 7 men before and they all died on the first night of their marriage. The angel Raphael drove this demon away and Tobias was able to marry Sarah. Many of our people are bothered by evil spirits. Among us priests Fr. Makoro is presently struggling alone to meet the need for healing from evil spirits. You are ordained on the feast of St. Raphael who drove away evil spirits, and if God should grant you the same, please use it to release his people from evil spirits.
With regard to St. Gabriel, we know that he is the one who informed Mary of God’s purpose that she would be the one who will give birth to the Jesus. As we know, this was a profound message that changed the life of Mary. From that moment when Mary accepted the message of the Angel, her life changed completely from what she had planned it to be. You are still young, but today by this act of ordination on the feast of St. Gabriel, you too are called to communicate to people profound messages that will change their lives, messages that will help people to open themselves up to God and to seek to align their lives with the will of God as the message of St. Gabriel did for Mary. So yours is not the task to utter slogans and predictable clichés; leave that to the youth league. By requesting and accepting to be ordained deacons today, you are saying to us look, like St. Gabriel I am a bearer and communicator of God’s message. And so you must communicate that message from God.
And you will be able communicate a message from God when you are in touch with God. Angels are described as creatures that are always standing before God, and always in the presence and sight of God; their whole life is oriented towards God. The names of Angels we are celebrating end with El, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, which means God, as we know from Jesus when he called God from the cross Eli Eli. If the names of the angels end with El, which means God, it means that God is inscribed in their nature, and for this reason, they can be true God’s messenger.
We too can be God’s messengers only if we are awake to the divine life that has been indelibly inscribed in our nature, and as you know, this divine life was indelibly inscribed in us when we were baptised, when we were confirmed, and today it is again inscribed by the act of ordination. Only when we appreciate and value this life of God within us, can we be his true messengers like the angels were. Only when we always stand before God in prayer and contemplation like the angels do can we be able to communicate a message that will make an impact to those to whom we give the message. Without attention and understanding of the divine life within us, and without prayer, our message will not make an in impact. We will talk yes, but our talk will be empty, nothing more than hot air.
And so dear Deacons to be, as part of assisting you to always stand before God and to deepen the divine life within you we shall invite you today to commit yourselves to the daily prayer of divine office. The prayer of the divine office is meant first of all to bring you closer to God through meditation on the word of God, the psalms and the spiritual readings found in the divine office. So pray the office for your own sanctification.
Secondly just as the angels are always standing before God interceding and praying for us, the divine office is an invitation to you to intercede for human beings and the world. In praying for the people, you will understand them and become a messenger of God for them bringing them hope in their troubles and sufferings, calling them to the ideal God has for them and uniting them with God who is their beginning and their end. When you do that you will no longer be ordinary men to them, and they will no longer know you as Motlatsi, George, Thembalethu and Luthando, but as MotlatsiEl, GeorgeEl ThembelethuEl and LuthandoEl for you will be angels