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  • Writer's pictureFr. Paul MacNeil

October 23, Deacon Gunther's Homily

Good morning/evening … I’m Deacon Gunther. I feel honored that Bishop Bergie has re-assigned me to this parish as your deacon, under the leadership of Father Paul. “Thank you” Father Paul for graciously welcoming me … to be a part of your liturgical team. And I also wish to thank “you” the parishioners for your support your enthusiastic encouragement and your prayers as you have welcomed Jan and I back to this parish.

Just a bit about me I’m 74 years young. I was ordained a deacon 8 years ago. Some of you were there. Jan and I have been married for 50 years. We are blessed with two daughters and four grandchildren.

Some folks have asked what is the role of a Deacon? So, I thought I’d share a bit of history and briefly explain the diaconate. In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 6 verses 1-7…We hear of complaints from the Hellenists against the Hebrews about “widows” being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The Apostles saw a need, called together all their disciples and let them select 7 men “of good standing” full of the “Spirit” and of “wisdom” to be appointed to collect food and distribute it to the widows. The 7 men stood before the Apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them. These were the first deacons to be ordained. The Apostles were really following the model of their own Jewish religious tradition where priests offered sacrifice at the altar … And deacons looked after the Temple grounds and went begging for food for the widows and orphans. This brings me to the particular vestments of the deacon the “dalmatic”. The dalmatic has wide sleeves as opposed to the “chasuble” worn by priests that do not have sleeves. The deacon’s sleeves were originally meant for carrying food. That way they could stick loaves of bread up their sleeves as they travelled around collecting the food for widows and orphans. There are different designs available for the dalmatic but I chose this ancient symbol of the “X” and the “P” which are formed from the first two “Greek” letters of the word “Christ”. Plus, the “X’s” resemblance to the “cross” made it a natural symbol that the early Christians used to express their faith in Christ. As another symbol of his role the deacon wears a “stole” across his left shoulder this reminds him of the towel Jesus wore when he washed his disciples’ feet. And shows others that the deacon is a servant to the community.

Then around the third century as the number of priests increased the role of the diaconate died out and was replaced by “transitional” deacons, seminarians on their way to becoming priests. Eventually Vatican II restored the “permanent” diaconate and gave it a specific mandate to minister to the marginalized people pushed to the fringes of society by crime, poverty, age, illness, travel … or work.

Therefore, deacon’s minister where people “cannot” come to church the deacon takes church to them.

Every deacon has a three-fold ministry of Service of Liturgy and of the Word.

Today you see me celebrating two of those ministries Liturgy as I assist at the altar and the Word as I read the Gospel and Preach. Deacons are the “normal” proclaimers of the Gospel; even when the bishop or the pope presides at mass; if he is present, it is the deacons’ responsibility to proclaim the Gospel. When requested; a deacon may preside at Benedictions Stations of the Cross, Prayer Services, Funerals, Weddings and Baptisms. So, what can Deacons not do? Deacons can “not” … preside at the Eucharist cannot confirm cannot ordain cannot hear confessions nor give absolution and cannot anoint the sick or dying. Only priests are able to do those things.

Let me tell you about my ministry of Service. Before I was ordained I began volunteering at the St. Catharines Hospital as a Spiritual Care Visitor for about a year and a half. With the expectation that visiting the sick, the suffering, and the dying would be my ministry of service. Well God had a different plan for me.

The deacon; who ministered to the inmates at the Niagara Detention Centre moved to the east coast to accept employment. This left a void in Christian ministry to the prisoners. So, the Bishop asked me to fill that void.

God sees into our hearts and knows what we are capable of far better than we know it ourselves. My ministry for 8 years involved leading group communion services and prayer services as well as one-on-one spiritual care to inmates at the Niagara Detention Centre located in Thorold.

So, when the deacon stands by the altar, he is a reminder that there are other members of our community who cannot be here. The sick the hospitalized the prisoners the homeless the refugees the migrant workers the immobile.

The deacon represents those separated members of our church whom we must also keep in our prayers. Which leads me into a story that relates to today’s Gospel message. The story is about Frederick the Great who was the King of Prussia in the 1700’s. It seems that one day while visiting one of his prisons he decided to talk with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence of misunderstood motives and of mistreatment. Finally, the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No ... sir ... I’m not” ... replied the man. “I’m guilty ... and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden the king said “Here release this rascal immediately before he corrupts all these fine innocent people in here!”

The inmate was released because he was honest and humble enough to accept his mistake. This is the attitude Jesus asks us to have when we pray.

Not the arrogance of the Pharisee we heard about in the Gospel but the humility of the sinner. In today’s Gospel Jesus addresses those who think they are better than others. In doing so he teaches the parable of the proud Pharisee who believes his prayer to be superior to the lowly tax collector’s. Jesus does not mean that the Pharisee was wrong in his deeds of morality and piety and giving money to the church. Or that the tax collector was right in being a swindler. Rather the point of this parable deals with the proper attitude in prayer and with the way we approach God… And with our attitude towards others. If we compare the Pharisee to today’s world it would perhaps be like a rich executive of a major corporation blowing his own horn before God about how much his company donates to charity. And then looking down on the janitor who humbly asks God for help putting food on the table for his family. In such a modern parable the janitor would go away with a right relationship with God. The executive would have missed the mark. The tax collector who honestly faced his complete dependence on God asked God for divine mercy and received it. The Pharisee who mistakenly believed his accomplishments were due to his efforts alone...

Did not really pray to God, he prayed to himself, informing God about how good he was.

Jesus teaches us that prayer needs to be rooted in humility which means accepting the truth of who we are... Telling God all that is in our hearts.

So how do we pray? Sometimes we sing our prayer. Other times we speak our prayers … like during this mass. And sometimes we pray silently.

We offer prayers of petition and intercession, prayers of blessing and adoration, prayers of praise and thanksgiving. But always prayer is our conversation with God. When we pray what we say and what we do says a lot about who we are and what our relationship is with God. Perhaps there is a little of the Pharisee in each of us. We can so easily be judgemental. And boast of our own good deeds.

Did you notice that even Paul boasted using sporting images as he declares in our second reading .... “I have fought the good fight ... I have finished the race ... I have kept the faith.” However, later in the reading Paul does give the credit for his efforts to the Lord when he admits …. “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength”. Today’s Gospel challenges us to humble ourselves that we might be exalted. We should not be comparing ourselves to others, we should be comparing ourselves to Jesus. And when we understand his holiness we can only repeat what the tax collector said ... “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This teaching of Jesus should be comforting to us. It tells us that nothing stops God’s mercy, grace, and love for us. Not our sin nor our failures nor our weaknesses.

God has chosen us to be his disciples. We are called to love, cherish, and serve one another.

Let’s continue choosing to love God and to love others for the sake of God!

So here we are on World Mission Sunday. What a great opportunity as Pope Francis said to ... and I quote: “Roll up our sleeves and not stand by and watch passively the suffering of the world.” Let’s think about those good things we have received. And how we can share some of it with our brothers and sisters around the world. So, they too might experience comfort and hope. On this Word Mission Sunday all of us are invited to become missionary disciples. By offering our talents our wisdom our prayers and our financial support.

To help feed those who are starving...

To give something to drink to those who are thirsty...

To give clothes to those who are naked...

To provide care to the sick...

To visit the prisoners...

To welcome the stranger.

To invite family and friends and neighbours to come with you here to celebrate Mass.

My friends, when we leave this church today.

Let’s imitate the Pharisee, not in his boasting, but in his good works.

May God bless you!


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