With a Synod of Bishops about to begin, an extraordinary missionary month launched, and a crop of new cardinals set to be elevated, this week is a marathon on the Roman scene and Vatican-watchers find themselves scrambling to keep up.
In the background of the frenzied happenings, a group of 32 young men from the Pontifical North American College, the American seminary in Rome, were ordained deacons Thursday, 30 to serve in the United States and two in Australia. Most will be ordained priests next year in their home dioceses.
Speaking to the crop of new deacons, Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, who celebrated the Mass alongside 12 other bishops and two cardinals, Americans James Harvey and Francis Stafford, urged them to imitate St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast is celebrated Oct. 4 and who is the namesake for Pope Francis.
“The world is a different place” than when St. Francis lived in the 1200s, Deeley said, “but the kinds of problems Francis encountered are still the same in the Church.”
“Within the Church, Francis experienced the careerism which so marred the face of the Gospel. Those charged with ministry of the Church were often taking care of themselves, rather than helping those they were called to serve to know the saving love of Jesus Christ,” Deeley said.
Outside the Church, St. Francis faced the “continuing and ongoing rivalry and conflict ravaging families and villages in the Umbrian valley,” he said.
Taking place Oct. 3 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the ordinations capped a year of fresh scandals involving abuse and its cover-up. Last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report coupled with revelations of abuse on the part of ex-cardinal and ex-priest Theodore McCarrick revived a sense of frustration and outrage, including wide anger over the perceived failure to act by several bishops.
The crisis culminated last August when former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, issued a shocking 11-page letter, among other things calling on Pope Francis to resign for allegedly ignoring reports about McCarrick.
Both today and in the time of St. Francis of Assisi, Deeley said, the antidote to corruption and division is the choice to rise above any politicking, careerism and polemics, and to focus on what’s essential.
“Francis learned something very important from his prayer and his time with the Lord Jesus. He believed firmly that the Gospel was the answer to the difficulties of both the Church and of the world,” Deeley said, noting how St. Francis in his ministry traveled the world, bringing his message to popes, emperors and sultans alike.
“He certainly had a powerful influence on his time,” he said, adding that “the Gospel he preached and followed continues to be the answer to the difficulties of the Church and of the world.”
Deeley noted how St. Francis twice came to Rome - once at the beginning of his conversion, when he prayed at St. Peter’s tomb and befriended lepers, and again in 1210 when he sought formal permission from Pope Innocent III to establish the Franciscan order’s rule.
St. Francis’s calling to love and service began where the new deacons themselves were sitting, Deeley said, insisting that the task of St. Francis and deacons are the same: “Service to the people of the Church.”
This is not merely a “mechanical distribution” of the Church’s sacraments, he said, but a divine calling to be carried out with genuine love and commitment.
“Our mission as Christians is to…show one another the love we have received from God, to serve one another as a way to ensure one another of the worth that each has,” Deeley said, explaining that the deacons have been ordained “so that in your service to the Church, you can be leaders, bringing Christ’s mission to life.”
He urged them to put into practice St. Francis’s motto, “Sanctify yourself, and you will sanctify society.”
In the run-up to a synod of bishops in which debate over married priests is likely to feature prominently, Deeley also called the deacons to embrace both celibacy and chastity.
“Firmly rooted and grounded in the faith, you are to live chastely, and to show before God and his people that you are above any suspicion or blame, a true minister of Christ,” he said, adding that the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience they will make will free them for service to both God and their flocks.
Like the deacons chosen by the apostles to assist them in works of charity in the Gospels, “you should strive to be men of good imitation, filled with wisdom and with the Holy Spirit,” he said, urging the new deacons to not only listen to God’s word, but to live and to preach it.