June 30, 2017

'We point to Christ': 21 men from across archdiocese ordained as permanent deacons

Archbishop-designate Charles C. Thompson poses with 21 newly ordained permanent deacons of the Church in central and southern Indiana on June 24 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis after the Mass in which they were ordained. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop-designate Charles C. Thompson poses with 21 newly ordained permanent deacons of the Church in central and southern Indiana on June 24 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis after the Mass in which they were ordained. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

In a historic liturgy on June 24 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, Archbishop-designate Charles C. Thompson ordained 21 men as permanent deacons for service to the Church in central and southern Indiana.

It was only the third such ordination of permanent deacons in the history of the archdiocese—an ordination that was celebrated only 11 days after the announcement of the appointment of Archbishop-designate Thompson, who will be installed on July 28 at the cathedral.

(See a video of the Mass | See a photo gallery)

While much of the attention of the nearly 850 worshippers at the cathedral was focused on the deacon candidates and the newly appointed shepherd, Archbishop-designate Thompson invited all present to turn their hearts and minds to Christ.

“We point to Christ, not to ourselves,” he said in his homily during the ordination. “We are to be the voice, not the Word. As these candidates are ordained today, … we should be reminded of how we are to keep our focus on Christ and lead others to that personal encounter.”

With the 21 men ordained on June 24, there are now 58 deacons ministering in 52 parishes across the archdiocese, including 16 faith communities that did not have deacons assigned to them before this ordination. (See a photo spread from the Mass)

Permanent deacons were ordained in the archdiocese for the first time in 2008, with a second group coming four years later.

Although the permanent diaconate is a relatively new phenomenon for the Church in central and southern Indiana, its roots stretch back to the earliest days of the Church when the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, selected the first six deacons and ritually laid hands on them in ordaining them for service to the faithful.

Archbishop-designate Thompson, the latest successor of the Apostles appointed to lead the archdiocese, continued that ancient ritual when he laid his hands on the heads of the 21 men ordained on June 24.

Silence reigned in the packed cathedral during the ritual. The deacon candidates simply walked, one by one, up to Archbishop-designate Thompson and knelt before him. He then laid his hands on their head, leaving them there for several seconds while he, they and the whole congregation prayed silently.

Deacon Kerry Blandford, archdiocesan director of deacon formation who was ordained in 2008, stood next to the newly appointed archbishop during the ritual.

“It’s silent, but the sense of power, the sense of the Spirit’s presence is so strong at that moment,” Deacon Blandford said. “That was the most moving moment of the whole ordination.”

Newly ordained Deacon Kenneth Smith, who will minister at St. Paul Parish in Tell City, likened the moment to the wedding day of him and his wife, Carol.

“Then you know it’s real,” said Deacon Smith of the laying on of hands. “It’s like saying your vows at your wedding. It really happened.”

Newly ordained Deacon Juan Carlos Ramirez, who will minister at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, said he sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit during that moment.

“There were no words,” he said. “But I know the Holy Spirit was saying, ‘You are now my instrument.’ ”

The 21 new deacons now go forth as instruments of the Holy Spirit to minister in parishes and in the broader community at such places as jails, hospitals and nursing homes.

In the Church’s worship, they will baptize, witness marriages and preside over funeral services. At Mass, they will be able to proclaim the Gospel and preach, but may not serve as celebrant or consecrate the Eucharist. In the ministry of the word, deacons teach the faith and serve as pastoral counselors. Their ministry, however, is focused on charity.

Carol Smith said after the ordination that she was excited to see how her husband will be “more involved in the Church, especially in ministry outside the Church, to serve where he’s needed.”

“It’s an open field,” Deacon Smith said. “I’m ready to go and see what happens. There’s a lot to be done.”

In his homily, Archbishop-designate Thompson reminded the 21 men that, whatever shape their ministry takes, it should always go forward into the community to lead others to Christ.

“Though all ministry and service is rooted in baptism, setting each of us on the path of missionary discipleship, it is especially true for those to be ordained,” said Archbishop-designate Thompson. “Ordained ministry is not a right, but a privilege. It is the Lord who calls. It is the Lord who sends.

“We are to lead others to encounter the person of Jesus Christ through personal witness to the joy of the Gospel.”

The liturgy was an emotional one for many involved in it.

“It’s such a bucketful of emotions,” said newly ordained Deacon Gary Blackwell, a member of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. “I don’t know whether to cry or to laugh, jump up and down or be humbled. It’s indescribable.”

“I never cease to be surprised by the power of the Holy Spirit in these things,” said Deacon Michael East, archdiocesan director of deacons, who was ordained in 2008. “It just brought back so many memories of my own ordination. It’s a thrill to see so many men stepping up and accepting the call.”
 

(For a video of the diaconate ordination, more photos from it and profiles of all the new deacons, visit www.archindy.org/deacon.)

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