By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The ordinations to the transitional diaconate of Nick Adam and Aaron Williams were joyful celebrations for all who have nurtured their vocations throughout their lives. Most of all we are grateful to their families of origin, and especially their parents, who planted the seed of faith in baptism and raised them in such loving ways that they were open to the call of the Lord Jesus to follow him in the vocation of ordained ministry.
Surrounding the newly ordained deacons and their families at Saint Patrick’s in Meridian and in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson were many others who accompanied them through the years. Seminarians and faculty, priests and deacons, parishioners from around the diocese and friends, all part of the Body of Christ, the people of God, who embraced them in a joyful expression of faith, hope and love in both Eucharistic liturgies.
On the path to priesthood the transitional diaconate passes quickly and Deacons Nick and Aaron then will be ordained as priests for the Diocese of Jackson. Yet the enduring character of the diaconate will remain as a distinguishing mark of the priesthood. They have been configured to Christ the Servant as deacons and will strive each day by God’s grace to follow the Lord who came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20,28) As I have done, so you must do, (John 13,15) are the timeless words of Jesus at the Last Supper after he washed the feet of his disciples.
They will serve the Lord in a threefold manner: in his Word, as heralds of the Gospel and preachers, as ministers of the sacred mysteries at the altar and as dedicated disciples of charity and goodness in manifold ways. This ministry of service will deepen their call to become priests who will be servant-leaders with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.
Deacon Nicholas Adam was ordained on the feast of Saint Patrick, March 17, and the name of the great missionary apostle to Ireland was added to the Litany of Saints. Besides the gift of corned beef on a Friday in Lent, the gift of Saint Patrick’s inspiring words nourished the Eucharistic celebration of ordination. Like the Irish missionary who came from elsewhere to evangelize and serve, so Deacon Nick has embraced the people of Mississippi, having come from another land to the east.
Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that you worked through me with such divine power? You did it, so that whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God. God is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of the Gospel, bearing witness to all the nations.
Heralds of Good News indeed. The ordained deacon is given the Gospel of Christ at the culmination of the ordination ceremony to bear witness to the nations in the 21st century. “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.”
On the following day Deacon Aaron Williams was ordained at the Saturday evening liturgy of the third Sunday of Lent. As the Gospel of John narrates, Jesus sat down to rest at Jacob’s well at the same time the Samaritan woman arrived with her bucket. As we know the encounter transformed the train wreck of this woman’s life. She arrived dragging her bucket in the noon day heat which we know a little bit about in our Mississippi summers, and departed with winged feet into her new life as a missionary disciple. She understood that the Messiah did not need a bucket to immerse her in the spring of water welling up to eternal life. She is our paradigm during Lent as we thirst for the Lord to stir the waters of our own Baptism, knowing that he is already waiting before we arrive.
Another outstanding saint invoked during the Litany of Saints in the ordination liturgy is Saint Ephrem, a deacon of the Eastern Church who lived in the fourth century. He loved the liturgy and composed an enormous compilation of hymns and poetry which are replete with biblical wisdom and theology. He is a fitting intercessor for Aaron who loves the liturgy and has also written liturgical pieces. The following is from the works of Saint Ephrem and we recognize the harmony with the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
The breath that wafts from some blessed comer of Paradise
gives sweetness to the bitterness of this region,
it tempers the curse on this earth of ours.
That Garden is the life-breath of this diseased world
that has been so long in sickness; that breath proclaims that a saving remedy
has been sent to heal our mortality.
Thus it is with another spring, full of perfumes,
which issues from Eden and penetrates into the atmosphere
as a beneficial breeze by which our souls are stirred;
our inhalation is healed by this healing breath from Paradise;
springs receive a blessing from that blessed spring which issues forth from there.
‘If you knew the Gift of God’ are the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman revealing his deep thirst for her faith and salvation. We celebrate the Gift of God through faith, and the hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5,5) May the Lord renew our faith during this season of Lent as we follow the Samaritan woman from darkness into the light of a new day.