It came in mail postmarked Vatican: an announcement that Pope Francis was calling all the Deacons in the world to Rome for the first ever Jubilee of the Deacon. WOW—it really looked official! Never in the tradition of the diaconate, an ordained order of the Church, has there been such a call. Who would not want to be there? Who would not want to experience the conclave of servants who give their all in the service of the Lord? Who would not want to hear the message of the shepherd of the Universal Church?
And there we were in Rome this past week with over 4,000 deacons who responded from all over the world to the invitation to celebrate the reality of the diaconate with the Holy Father. So where did the joy we experienced come from? Did it come from you at Our Lady of Lourdes who sent your prayers and blessings of hope? Did it come from being at the Vatican? Did it come from the unity of purpose that brings so many believers together? Did it come from being in close proximity to the Pope? Did it come from his message? No, it did not come from any one of these, it came from all of these! We felt fullness of purpose that the world can become a better place when we all acknowledge the call of our Lord in our lives. We felt the joy of a call to serve and in service to witness the reality of one’s relationship with Jesus.
The Holy Father in his opening remarks called us all not just the community of deacons, but all believers, to be like St. Paul, to be apostles and servants. He declared these two terms are forever united like “two sides of a medal”. Those who are called to proclaim Jesus are called to serve, and those who serve proclaim Jesus.
As I reflect now with you, I realize that the call for me was not as much to visit the Vatican or to attend the Jubilee of the Deacon, as it was to hear this message of service and witness. The message was that if we are truly serving our Lord we are giving witness and as we are witnessing His presence in our life, we are truly serving.
Pope Francis’ proclamation struck at the heart of being a Christian, and the spirit of that theme captured the hearts of the over thirty thousand attending Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Oh, you thought I was speaking of a private audience with the Holy Father. There were thirty thousand in attendance of which four thousand were deacons, whose hearts and souls yearn to serve the call of the Lord at all cost.
The Pope continued, “The Lord was the first to show us the true meaning of service. ‘He came not to be served but to serve’ (Mark 10:45). He came as a servant to all. If we want to proclaim him, we must imitate him.” Then Holy Father said, “Like Paul, we must strive to become a servant. In other words we must evangelize. That is the mission entrusted to us not by diaconal ordination but to all of us by our baptism.” We are all witnesses; we are all missionary disciples.
And how do we become missionary disciples? I realized through the Holy Father’s message that just as the early Christian did, we become missionary disciples by living the joy of a Christian life. We live the joy of being a member of the community of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The message that resonated from our Vatican experience is that Joy is not something that we express only when things are going our way. It is something we express because of our relationship with Jesus. The underlying message of this experience of the Jubilee is to witness joy. The Holy Father shared that the depth of our joy is not in what we do; in other words, it is not in what we accomplish, but rather in the depth of our relationship with Jesus that calls us to do what we accomplish.
Thank you, Fr. Griffith and all, for your love and support as we journeyed to Rome. Your prayers and thoughts meant much to us as Lynne and I experienced the fullness of the Lord in our pilgrimage through the Holy Door of our Catholic faith.
Blessings in service I remain,
Thom Winninger, your Deacon.