Today we celebrate Palm Sunday in ways no one could have ever imagined, although there have been times in the life of the church when our ancestors had similar experiences. Pope Francis has given a wonderful Palm Sunday homily [here] to a world weary of illness, isolation and violence. His words remind us all of some very important truths, and for those of us who serve in the particular order of deacons: our service can only truly be understood against the more fundamental reality that the church herself is a servant. Indeed, peeling the layers back even more, we remember this Holy Week that we are a servant church precisely because our God — who is love — is Servant. As Pope France put it succinctly, “God saved us by serving us.”
All of us who are baptized disciples of Christ, are immersed into the life of God and are called to “the imitation of Christ,” who came to serve and not to be served. The Holy Father recounts how often, especially during the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week, Christ — the Second Person of the Trinity — is referred to as a Servant. Created in the image and likeness of God, we are to live as Christ did: pouring out his life for the health and salvation of others. In a moving passage, Pope Francis reminds us:
Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing at this time summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One – look upon the Crucified One! – the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and, – fixing our gaze on the Crucified One – let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.
All of this applies to each and every one of us. What, then, can it mean to those of us who are deacons? It is a potent reminder to us that we are ordained, not simply to do what all of us are supposed to do as a result of our sacramental initiation (discipleship), but as a result of our ordination at the hands our bishop, to renew our commitment to be true leaders in service (apostleship). We are not ordained to serve so that others do not have to! We serve first as a result of new life in Baptism; we serve further as animators (to use St. Paul VI’s word) of that service by others. We share in the bishop’s own diakonia, a diakonia first lived through Paschal Mystery of Christ which we celebrate this week.
I encourage everyone, but especially deacons, to pray over Pope Francis’ wonderful homily today. May this Holy Week during a time of global pandemic be for all a time of renewal, of overcoming death, of new life in the Christ.