Speeches 1987 - Cathedral of Saint Mary, San Francisco
Cathedral of Saint Mary, San Francisco
Friday, 18 September 1987
"To him whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine-to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations..." (Ep 3,20-21).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Catholic Lay People of America,
1. I am grateful to you for your kind welcome and pleased to be with you this morning in glorifying the Father, "in the Church and in Christ Jesus", through the working of the Holy Spirit. I also wish to thank you for the informative presentations which have been made in the name of the Catholic laity of the United States.
The Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians has a deep meaning for the life of each one of us. The text movingly describes our relationship with God as he reveals himself to us in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Paul reminds us of two fundamental truths: first, that our ultimate vocation is to glorify the God who created and redeemed us; and secondly, that our eternal and highest good is to "attain to the fullness of God himself" - to participate in the loving communion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. God’s glory and our good are perfectly attained in the Kingdom of heaven.
The Apostle Paul also reminds us that salvation, which comes as a free gift of divine love in Christ, is not offered to us on a purely individual basis. It comes to us through and in the Church. Through our communion with Christ and with one another on earth, we are given a foretaste of that perfect communion reserved for heaven. Our communion is also meant to be a sign or sacrament which draws other people to Christ, so that all might be saved.
This gift of the Redemption, which originates with the Father and is accomplished by the Son, is brought to fruition in our individual lives and in the life of the world by the Holy Spirit. Thus we speak of the gifts of the Spirit at work within the Church- gifts which include the hierarchical office of shepherding the flock, and gifts given to the laity so that they may live the Gospel and make their specific contribution to the Church’s mission.
The Council tells us that “ everyone in the Church does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God (Cfr. 2Petr. 1, 1). And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries, and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ" (Lumen Gentium LG 32). Through a great diversity of graces and works, the children of God bear witness to that wonderful unity which is the work of one and the same Spirit.
2. Dear brothers and sisters: it is in the context of these mysteries of faith that I wish to reflect with you on your role as laity in the Church today. What is most fundamental in your lives is that by your baptism and confirmation you have been commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ himself to share in the saving mission of his Church (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 33). To speak of the laity is to speak of hundreds of millions of people, like yourselves, of every race, nation and walk of life, who each day seek, with the help of God, to live a good Christian life. To speak of the laity is to speak of the many of you who draw from your parish the strength and inspiration to live your vocation in the world. It is to speak also of those of you who have become part of national and international ecclesial associations and movements that support you is your vocation and mission.
Your struggles and temptations may differ according to your various situations, but all of you cherish the same basic hope to the faithful to Christ and to put his message into practice. You all cherish the same basic hope for a decent life for yourselves and an even better life for your children. All of you must toil and work and bear the sufferings and disappointments common to humanity, but as believers you are endowed with faith, hope and charity. And often your charity reaches heroic dimensions within your families or among your neighbours and co-workers. To the extent that your resources and duties in life permit, you are called to support and actively to participate in Church activities.
It is within the everyday world that you, the laity, must bear witness to God’s Kingdom; through you the Church’s mission is fullfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Council taught that the specific task of the laity is precisely this: to "seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God" (Ibid. 31). You are called to live in the world, to engage in secular professions and occupations, to live in those ordinary circumstances of family life and life in society from which is woven the very web of your existence. You are called by God himself to exercise your proper functions according to the spirit of the Gospel and to work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven. In this way you can make Christ known to others, especially by the witness of your lives. It is for you as lay people to direct all temporal affairs to the praise of the Creator and Redeemer (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 31).
The temporal order of which the Council speaks is vast. It encompasses the social, cultural, intellectual, political and economic life in which all of you rightly participate. As lay men and women actively engaged in this temporal order, you are being called by Christ to sanctify the world and to transform it. This is true of all work, however exalted or humble, but it is especially urgent for those whom circumstances and special talent have placed in positions of leadership or influence: men and women in public service, education, business, science, social communications, and the arts. As Catholic lay people you have an important moral and cultural contribution of service to make to the life of your country. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much" (Lc 12,48). These words of Christ apply not only to the sharing of material wealth or personal talents, but also to the sharing of one’s faith.
3. Of supreme importance in the mission of the Church is the role that the laity fulfil in the Christian family. This role is above all a service of love and a service of life.
The love of husband and wife, which is blessed and sealed in the Sacrament of Marriage, constitutes the first way that couples exercise their mission. They serve by being true to themselves, to their vocation of married love. This love, which embraces all the members of the family, is aimed at forming a community of persons united in heart and soul, an indissoluble communion where the love of spouses for each other is a sign of Christ’s love for the Church (Pauli VI Humanae Vitae HV 10).
The service of life rests on the fact that husband and wife cooperate with God in transmitting the gift of human life, in the procreation of children. In this most sacred responsibility, the service of life is intimately united to the service of love in the one conjugal act, which must always be open to bringing forth new life. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explained that in the task of transmitting life, husband and wife are called to "conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church".
While "love and life constitute the nucleus of the saving mission of the Christian family in the Church and for the Church (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 50), the family also performs a service of education, particularly within the home, where the parents have the original and primary role of educating their children. The family is likewise an evangelizing community, where the Gospel is received and put into practice, where prayer is learned and shared, where all the members, by word and deed and by the love they have for one another, bear witness to the Good News of salvation.
At the same time we must recognize the difficult situation of so many people with regard to family living. There are many with special burdens of one kind or another. The are the single-parent families and those who have no natural family; there are the elderly and the widowed. And there are those separated and divorced Catholics who, despite their loneliness and pain, are striving to preserve their fidelity and to face their responsibilities with loving generosity. All of these people share deeply in the Church’s mission by faith, hope and charity, and by all their many efforts to be faithful to God’s will. The Church assures them not only of her prayers and spiritual nourishment, but also of her love, pastoral concern and practical help.
Although, in fidelity to Christ and to his teaching on Christian marriage, the Church reaffirms her practice of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion those divorced persons who have remarried outside the Church, nevertheless, she assures these Catholics too of her deep love. She prays for them and encourages them to persevere in prayer, to listen to the word of God and to attend the Eucharistic Sacrifice, hoping that they will “undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 84). At the same time the Church remains their mother, and they are part of her life.
4. I wish to express the deep gratitude of the Church for all the contributions made by women over the centuries to the life of the Church and of society. In speaking of the role of women, special mention must, of course, be made of their contribution, in partnership with their husbands, in begetting life and in educating their children. “The true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions” (Ibid. 23). The Church is convinced, however, that all the special gifts of women are needed in an ever increasing measure in her life, and for this reason hopes for their fuller participation in her activities. Precisely because of their equal dignity and responsibility, the access of women to public functions must be ensured. Regardless of the role they perform, the Church proclaims the dignity of women as women - a dignity equal to that of men, and revealed as such in the account of creation contained in the word of God.
5. The renewal of the Church since the Council has also been an occasion for increasing lay participation in all areas of ecclesial life. More and more, people are joining with their pastors in collaboration and consultation for the good of their diocese and parish. An increasing number of lay men and women are devoting their professional skills on a full-time basis to the Church’s efforts in education, social services, and other areas, or to the exercise of administrative responsibilities. Still others build up the Body of Christ by direct collaboration with the Church’s pastoral ministry, especially in bringing Christ’s love to those in the parish or community who have special needs. I rejoice with you at this great flowering of gifts in the service of the Church’s mission.
At the same time we must ensure both in theory and in practice that these positive developments are always rooted in the sound Catholic ecclesiology taught by the Council.Otherwise we run the risk of "clericalizing" the laity or "laicizing" the clergy, and thus robbing both the clerical and lay states of their specific meaning and their complementarity. Both are indispensable to the "perfection of love", which is the common goal of all the faithful. We must therefore recognize and respect in these states of life a diversity that builds up the Body of Christ in unity.
6. As lay men and women you can fulfil this great mission authentically and effectively only to the extent that you hold fast to your faith, in communion with the Body of Christ. You must therefore live in the conviction that there can be no separation between your faith and your life, and that apart from Christ you can do nothing (Cfr. Io Jn 15,5). Since union with God in Christ is the goal of all Christian living, the laity are called to prayer: personal prayer, family prayer, liturgical prayer. Generations of devout lay people have found great strength and joy in invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially through her rosary, and in invoking the saints.
In particular, the laity must realize that they are a people of worship called to service.In the past I had occasion to emphasize this aspect of the life of the laity in the United States: "All the striving of the laity to consecrate the secular field of activity to God finds inspiration and magnificent confirmation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Participating in the Eucharist is only a small portion of the laity’s week, but the total effectiveness of their lives and all Christian renewal depends on it: the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit!" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Ad quosdam episcopos Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septemtrionalis occasione oblata ad limina” visitationis coram admissos, 5, die 9 iul. 1983: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI, 2 (1983) 48. .
7. Every age poses new challenges and new temptations for the People of God on their pilgrimage, and our own is no exception. We face a growing secularism that tries to exclude God and religious truth from human affairs. We face an insidious relativism that undermines the absolute truth of Christ and the truths of faith, and tempts believers to think of them as merely one set of beliefs or opinions among others. We face a materialistic consumerism that offers superficially attractive but empty promises conferring material comfort at the price of inner emptiness. We face an alluring hedonism that offers a whole series of pleasures that will never satisfy the human heart. All these attitudes can influence our sense of good and evil at the very moment when social and scientific progress requires strong ethical guidance. Once alienated from Christian faith and practice by these and other deceptions, people often commit themselves to passing fads, or to bizarre beliefs that are either shallow or fanatical.
We have all seen how these attitudes have a profound influence on the way people think and act. It is precisely in this society that lay men and women like yourselves, all the Catholic laity, are called to live the beatitudes, to become leaven, salt and light for the world, and sometimes a "sign of contradiction" that challenges and transforms that world according to the mind of Christ. No one is called to impose religious beliefs on others, but to give the strong example of a life of justice and service, resplendent with the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
On moral issues of fundamental importance, however, it is at times necessary to challenge publicly the conscience of society. Through her moral teaching the Church seeks to defend - for the benefit of all people - those basic human values that uphold the good which humanity seeks for itself and that protect the most fundamental human rights and spiritual aspirations of every person.
The greatest challenge to the conscience of society comes from your fidelity to your own Christian vocation. It is up to you, the Catholic laity, to incarnate without ceasing the Gospel in society - in American society. You are in the forefront of the struggle to protect authentic Christian values from the onslaught of secularization.
Your great contribution to the evangelization of your own society is made through your lives. Christ’s message must live in you and in the way you live and in the way you refuse to live. At the same time, because your nation plays a role in the world far beyond its borders, you must be conscious of the impact of your Christian lives on others. Your lives must spread the fragrance of Christ’s Gospel throughout the world.
Saint Paul launched a great challenge to the Christians of his time and today I repeat it to all the laity of America: "Conduct yourselves, then, in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear news of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, struggling together for the faith of the gospel, not intimidated in any way..." (Ph 1,27-28).
8. Dear brothers and sisters, representatives of the millions of faithful and dedicated Catholic laity of the United States: in bringing my reflections to a conclusion I cannot fail to mention the Blessed Virgin Mary who reveals the Church’s mission in an unparalleled manner. She, more than any other creature, shows us that the perfection of love is the only goal that matters, that it alone is the measure of holiness and the way to perfect communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Her state in life was that of a laywoman, and she is at the same time the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church and our Mother in the order of grace.
The Council concluded the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with an exhortation on the Blessed Virgin. In doing so, the Council expressed the Church’s ancient sentiments of love and devotion for Mary. Let us, especially during this Marian Year, make our own these sentiments, imploring her to intercede for us with her Son, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 69).
Friday, 18 September 1987
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Dear Archbishop Szoka,
Dear Cardinal Dearden,
My Brothers and Sisters,
1. I have been looking forward to this happy moment when in this Cathedral, the mother Church of the Archdiocese of Detroit, I would have the opportunity to express my love for all of you in Christ. It is indeed fitting that we greet one another here in this place of worship, in this church dedicated to the Most Blessed Sacrament, since it is the Eucharist above all that expresses and brings about our unity with Christ and with one another (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 3 Lumen Gentium LG 11). As Saint Paul writes, "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Co 10,17). In accordance with the whole life and tradition of the Church, the Eucharist unites the People of God with their bishop in the unity of the Church.
This is the relationship that we are celebrating today: the deep reality of the Eucharist, the local Church and the bishop in the oneness of the universal Church (Cfr. S. Ignatii Antiocheni Ad Philippenses).
2. The Second Vatican Council refers to the Church as a mystery -a mystery of communion. This means that the Church is more than just a community or tradition with shared beliefs and practices, more than an organization with moral influence. Using the imagery of Scripture, the Council also speaks of the Church as a sheepfold, a cultivated field, and a building. The Church is Christ’s Body, his Bride, and our Mother (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 6-7).
We believe that our communion with Christ and with one another comes into being through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We believe too that the Holy Spirit makes it fruitful. The Council says that it is he, the Holy Spirit, who bestows upon the Church both "hierarchic and charismatic gifts" (Ibid. 4), and by special graces makes all the faithful "fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church" (Ibid.12). Established by Christ as an instrument of Redemption, the People of God are “a communion of life, love and truth" and “a most sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race”. In this way believers become the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Cfr. Matth Mt 5,13-14).
Dear brothers and sisters: what great opportunities your city and its suburbs and rural areas give to the mission that is yours by baptism: to build up the Body of Christ in unity by means of the gifts you have received (Cfr. Eph Ep 4). Yours is a mission that unfolds amid the social, cultural, political and economic forces that shape the life of the great metropolis of Detroit - forces that also raise questions of fundamental importance for the future of humanity. By personal conversion and holiness, and by your daily witness to the Gospel in keeping with your state in life, each of you builds up the Body of Christ, and thus contributes to the further humanization of the family of mankind, without losing sight of that Kingdom to come which is not of this world and for which we yearn As the Council also tells us, the Holy Spirit “constantly renews the Church and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse. For the Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord: “Come!”” (Cfr. Ap Ap 22,17 Lumen Gentium LG 4).
3. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the designation of this building as your cathedral. It has witnessed the great events and-more frequently-the great liturgical celebrations that mark your ecclesial life, as well as the daily worship of a parish community. I am very glad that it is so full this evening, full of God’s glory, full of God ‘s praise.
Within the context of the communion that we share, I come to you as the Successor of Saint Peter, and therefore, as the Council reaffirms, as the Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, as shepherd of all Christ’s flock. This is because in Saint Peter the Lord set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of our unity in faith and in communion (Cfr. Lumen Gentium LG 18 Lumen Gentium LG 22). Yet one has only to read about Saint Peter in the Gospels to know that this ministry of his is a great gift of God’s grace and not the result of any human merit. It is precisely at a moment that reveals Saint Peter’s human weakness, that is, the moment when Jesus foretells that Peter will deny him three times, that Jesus also adds: “I have prayed for you that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Lc 22,31-34). And so, dear brothers and sisters, relying on the help of God, I come here today with the desire to strengthen you, as together we continue our pilgrimage of faith to our heavenly home.
The Communion of Saints to which we belong embraces all those who have gone before us in faith on this pilgrimage. In particular, Mary the Virgin Mother of God is constantly with us on our journey. I commend all of you - the clergy, religious and laity of Detroit - to her, the spiritual mother of humanity and the advocate of grace (Cfr. Ioannis Pauli PP. II Redemptoris Mater RMA 35 Redemptoris Mater, 35. 47). May she be for all of you “a sign of sure hope and solace" and "a model of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ” (Lumen Gentium LG 63 Lumen Gentium LG 69).
To him, Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever. Amen.
Saturday, 19 September 1987
Dear Brothers in the service of our Lord,
Dear Wives and Collaborators of these men ordained to the Permanent Diaconate,
1. I greet you in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom, as Saint Paul tells us, God has chosen us, redeemed us and adopted us as his children (Cfr. Eph Ep 1, 3ss.). Together with Saint Paul, and together with you today, I praise our heavenly Father for these wonderful gifts of grace.
It is a special joy for me to meet you because you represent a great and visible sign of the working of the Holy Spirit in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, which provided for the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Church. The wisdom of that provision is evident in your presence in such numbers today and in the fruitfulness of your ministries. With the whole Church, I give thanks to God for the call you have received and for your generous response. For the majority of you who are married, this response has been made possible by the love and support and collaboration of your wives. It is a great encouragement to know that in the United States over the past two decades almost eight thousand permanent deacons have been ordained for the service of the Gospel.
It is above all the call to service that I wish to celebrate with you today. In speaking of deacons, the Vatican Council said that " strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate, they serve the People of God in the service of the liturgy, the word, and charity" (Lumen Gentium LG 29). Reflecting further on this description, my predecessor Paul VI was in agreement with the Council that "the permanent diaconate should be restored... as a driving force for the Church’s service (diakonia)towards the local Christian communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who ‘came not to be served but to serve’” (Pauli VI Ad Pascendum, Intr.). These words recall the ancient tradition of the Church as expressed by the early Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, who says that deacons are "ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ... ministers of the Church of God" (S. Ignatii Antiocheni Ad Trallianos, II, 3). You, dear brothers, belong to the life of the Church that goes back to saintly deacons, like Lawrence, and before him to Stephen and his companions, whom the Acts of the Apostles consider “deeply spiritual and prudent” (Act.6, 3).
This is at the very heart of the diaconate to which you have been called: to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters. That these two dimensions are inseparably joined together in one reality shows the important nature of the ministry which is yours by ordination.
2. How are we to understand the mysteries of Christ of which you are ministers? A profound description is given to us by Saint Paul in the reading we heard a few moments ago. The central mystery is this: God the Father’s plan of glory to bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under the headship of Christ, his beloved Son. It is for this that all the baptized are predestined, chosen, redeemed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. This plan of God is at the centre of our lives and the life of the world.
At the same time, if service to this redemptive plan is the mission of all the baptised, what is the specific dimension of your service as deacons? The Second Vatican Council explains that a sacramental grace conferred through the imposition of hands enables you to carry out your service of the word, the altar and charity with a special effectiveness (Cfr. Ad Gentes AGD 16). The service of the deacon is the Church’s service sacramentalized.Yours is not just one ministry among others, but it is truly meant to be, as Paul VI described it, a “driving force” for the Church’s diakonia. By your ordination you are configured to Christ in his servant role. You are also meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.
3. If we keep in mind the deep spiritual nature of this diakonia, then we can better appreciate the interrelation of the three areas of ministry traditionally associated with the diaconate, that is, the ministry of the word, the ministry of the altar, and the ministry of charity. Depending on the circumstances, one or another of these may receive particular emphasis in an individual deacon’s work, but these three ministries are inseparably joined together as one in the service of God’s redemptive plan. This is so because the word of God inevitably leads us to the Eucharistic worship of God at the altar; in turn, this worship leads us to a new way of living which expresses itself in acts of charity.
This charity is both love of God and love of neighbour. As the First Letter of John teaches us, “one who has no love for the brother whom he can see cannot love the God whom he has not seen . . . whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1Io.4, 20-21). By the same token, acts of charity which are not rooted in the word of God and in worship cannot bear lasting fruit. "Apart from me, Jesus says, “you can do nothing" (Jn 15-5). The ministry of charity is confirmed on every page of the Gospel; it demands a constant and radical conversion of heart. We have a forceful example of this in the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed earlier. We are told: “offer no resistance to injury". We are commanded: “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors". All of this is an essential part of the ministry of charity.
4. Certainly today’s world is not lacking in opportunities for such a ministry, whether in the form of the simplest acts of charity or the most heroic witness to the radical demands of the Gospel. All around us many of our brothers and sisters live in either spiritual or material poverty or both. So many of the world’s people are oppressed by injustice and the denial of their fundamental human rights. Still others are troubled or suffer from a loss of faith in God, or are tempted to give up hope.
In the midst of the human condition it is a great source of satisfaction to learn that so many permanent deacons in the United States are involved in direct service to the needy: to the ill, the abused and battered, the young and old, the dying and bereaved, the deaf, blind and disabled, those who have known suffering in their marriages, the homeless, victims of substance abuse, prisoners, refugees, street people, the rural poor, the victims of racial and ethnic discrimination, and many others. As Christ tells us, "as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 25,40).
At the same time, the Second Vatican Council reminds us that the ministry of charity at the service of God’s redemptive plan also obliges us to be a positive influence for change in the world in which we live, that is, to be a leaven - to be the soul of human society - so that society may be renewed by Christ and transformed into the family of God (Cfr. Gaudium et Spes GS 40 ss.). The “temporal order" includes marriage and the family, the world of culture, economic and social life, the trades and professions, political institutions, the solidarity of peoples, and issues of justice and peace (Cfr. Apostolicam Actuositatem AA 7 Gaudium et Spes, 46ss). The task is seldom an easy one. The truth about ourselves and the world, revealed in the Gospel, is not always what the world wants to hear. Gospel truth often contradicts commonly accepted thinking, as we see so clearly today with regard to evils such as racism, contraception, abortion, and euthanasia - to name just a few.
5. Taking an active part in society belongs to the baptismal mission of every Christian in accordance with his or her state in life, but the permanent deacon has a special witness to give. The sacramental grace of his ordination is meant to strengthen him and to make his efforts fruitful, even as his secular occupation gives him entry into the temporal sphere in a way that is normally not appropriate for other members of the clergy. At the same time, the fact that he is an ordained minister of the Church brings a special dimension to his efforts in the eyes of those with whom he lives and works.
Equally important is the contribution that a married deacon makes to the transformation of family life. He and his wife, having entered into a communion of life, are called to help and serve each other (Cfr. Gaudium et Spes GS 48). So intimate is their partnership and unity in the sacrament of marriage, that the Church fittingly requires the wife’s consent before her husband can be ordained a permanent deacon (Codex Iuris Canonici CIC 1031 § 2). As the current guidelines for the permanent diaconate in the United States point out, the nurturing and deepening of mutual, sacrificial love between husband and wife constitute perhaps the most significant involvement of a deacon’s wife in her husband’s public ministry in the Church (Guidelines, NCCB, p. 110). Today especially, this is no small service.
In particular, the deacon and his wife must be a living example of fidelity and indissolubility in Christian marriage before a world which is in dire need of such signs. By facing in a spirit of faith the challenges of married life and the demands of daily living, they strengthen the family life not only of the Church community but of the whole of society. They also show how the obligations of family, work and ministry can be harmonized in the service of the Church’s mission. Deacons and their wives and children can be a great encouragement to all others who are working to promote
Mention must also be made of another kind of family, namely, the parish, which is the usual setting in which the vast majority of deacons fulfil the mandate of their ordination “to help the bishop and his presbyterate”. The parish provides an ecclesial context for your ministry and serves as a reminder that your labours are not carried out in isolation, but in communion with the bishop, his priests and all those who in varying degrees share in the public ministry of the Church. Permanent deacons have an obligation to respect the office of the priest and to cooperate conscientiously and generously with him and with the parish staff. The deacon also has a right to be accepted and fully recognized by them and by all for what he is: an ordained minister of the word, the altar and charity.
6. Given the dignity and importance of the permanent diaconate, what is expected of you? As Christians we must not be ashamed to speak of the qualities of a servant to which all believers must aspire, and especially deacons, whose ordination rite describes them as "servants of all". A deacon must be known for fidelity, integrity and obedience, and so it is that fidelity to Christ, moral integrity and obedience to the bishop must mark your lives, as the ordination rite makes clear (Cfr. etiam Pauli VI Ad Pascendum, Intr.). In that rite the Church also expresses her hopes and expectations for you when she prays:
"Lord, may they excel in every virtue: in love... concern... unassuming authority... self-discipline and in holiness of life. May their conduct exemplify your commandments and lead your people to imitate their purity of life. May they remain strong and steadfast in Christ, giving to the world the witness of a pure conscience. May they... imitate your Son, who came, not to be served but to serve”.
Dear brothers: this prayer commits you to lifelong spiritual formation so that you may grow and persevere in rendering a service that is truly edifying to the People of God. You who are wives of permanent deacons, being close collaborators in their ministry, are likewise challenged with them to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. And this of course means growth in prayer-personal prayer, family prayer, liturgical prayer.
Since deacons are ministers of the word, the Second Vatican Council invites you to constant reading and diligent study of the Sacred Scriptures, lest - if you are a preacher - you become an empty one for failing to hear the word in your own heart (Cfr. Dei Verbum DV 25). In your lives as deacons you are called to hear and guard and do the word of God, in order to be able to proclaim it worthily. To preach to God’s people is an honour that entails a serious preparation and a real commitment to holiness of life.
As ministers of the altar you must be steeped in the spirit of the liturgy, and be convinced above all that it is "the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and at the same time the source from which all her power flows” (Cfr. Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 10). You are called to discharge your office with the dignity and reverence befitting the liturgy, which the Council powerfully describes as being “above all, the worship of the divine majesty” (Ibid.33). I join you in thanking all those who devote themselves to your training, both before and after your ordination, through programmes of spiritual, theological, and liturgical formation.
7. “Sing a new song unto the Lord! Let your song be sung from mountains high!” Sing to him as servants, but also sing as friends of Christ, who has made known to you all that he has heard from the Father. It was not you who chose him, but he who chose you, to go forth and bear fruit - fruit that will last. This you do by loving one another (Cfr. Io Jn 15, 15ss). By the standards of this world, servanthood is despised, but in the wisdom and providence of God it is the mystery through which Christ redeems the world. And you are ministers of that mystery, heralds of that Gospel. You can be sure that one day you will hear the Lord saying to each of you: "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” (Cfr. Matth Mt 25,21).
Dear brothers and sisters: as one who strives to be “the servant of the servants of God", I cannot take leave of you until, together, we turn to Mary, as she continues to proclaim: "I am the servant of the Lord" (Lc 1,38). And in the example of her servanthood we see the perfect model of our own call to the discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the service of his Church.
Speeches 1987 - Cathedral of Saint Mary, San Francisco