Ampleforth Abbey

25 February 2018

St Lawrence

Homily preached by Rt Revd Alan S Hopes, Bishop of East Anglia, at Conventual Mass on the Community's patronal feast: the Solemnity of St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, during which Brs Columba Moujing and Cedd Mannion were ordained to the dioaconate.

The Rule of St Benedict describes monastic life as being about seeking God. At the heart of the individual monk must be the pursuit of holiness in his search for God, otherwise there would be no point to his being in the monastery.

This search for God is a lifelong journey. In the search there are many confusing ups and downs. There are some wonderful moments of consolation. There are the dark moments of desolation. Our Lord and the saints experienced both consolation and desolation during their lifetime. 

The vows a monk makes help to carry him through such moments.  They help him to realize that ultimately his life is not about himself and his own experience, but about reaching union with God.  Monastic life is an intensely personal vocation – set in the midst of community life.

However, the Rule of St Benedict reminds the monks that the monastery is never without guests and that they should always be received as if they were Christ himself.  It is a reminder to the monks of the outside world and our need to benefit from the fruit of the brethren’s searching for God.  For monastic life is very firmly situated in the life of the Church. The call to grow in holiness and the call to share the fruits of our searching for God is common to all God's people.

The vocation to the monastic life and the vocation to the Sacred Orders of the Church are two distinct things. Monastic vocation gives a special character to the Sacred Orders of the Church and Sacred Orders give something special to the monastic vocation. At the heart of both is the same pattern: the pursuit of personal holiness at the service of others.

Brother Columba and Brother Cedd within your monastic vocation God is also calling you to the sacred Order of Deacon. At the heart of both vocations must lie your pursuit of personal holiness at the service of others.

This ministry of service to others lies at the heart of the Diaconal ministry. In the Acts of the Apostles we read how in the early Church there was dispute amongst the Hebrew and Greek members of the Christian community about the daily distribution to the widows. The apostles, who were concerned mainly with the prayers and the word, that is the Eucharist and teaching, felt overburdened by serving at the tables. So they appointed d seven men to carry out this necessary work on their behalf. Each of these men was to be full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:1-6). This ministry of service was to be both practical and spiritual. With the formation of this group and their specific apostolate, the Diaconate, the ministry of charity, became part of the fundamental structure of the Church. (Deus Caritas Est - Pope Benedict XVI).

And we could not let today pass without mentioning the patron Saint of this great Abbey – St Lawrence of Rome. During the persecution in which he was martyred he also displayed the practical and spiritual sides of this ministry of service in a profound way. When he knew he was to be martyred he gave away all that he possessed to the poor. He was commanded by the Roman Prefect to bring him the rest of the riches of the Church. Lawrence gathered up all the sick and the faithful people of God and presented them to the Prefect: Here are the riches of the Church!

A Ministry of service which is both practical and spiritual.

Today, Columba and Cedd, you are to be ordained to this Sacred Order of the Church. You are called upon to be full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, to grow in holiness, and to exercise this ministry of service in rich and varied ways.

First, the Church speaks of your ministry at the Altar: preparing the altar and distributing the Lord's Body and Blood to his faithful People. You will grow in holiness as you stay close to Christ in your life and continue to encounter Him in the Eucharist. Nourished on His Body and Blood, and so becoming more fully alive in Him, you will also grow in awareness of the needs of others. Responding in love to their pain and suffering and being a witness to hope.

Second, the Church speaks of your ministry of the Word:  on handing you the Book of Gospels I shall exhort you to believe what you read, to teach what you believe and to practice what you teach.  As you continue to meditate on the Word of Life and steep yourself in the riches and truths the Scriptures contain, so you will be drawn closer to God and grow in holiness.  In this you will also serve the people of God and the mission of the Church to the wider world, as you proclaim the Gospel grounded upon your own encounter with the truths you proclaim.  That personal encounter is vital – but it is not the heart of it: we are to  proclaim what the Church has received and discerned from the Word of God.

Both the ministry of the Altar and that of the Word lead us to the ministry of charity itself.  Love must be the essence of the ministry of deacon.  For this we must go to the Upper Room of the Last Supper where Our Lord gives us the gift of the Eucharist, proclaims the saving words of salvation and give us the new commandments that we should love one another as he has loved us.  He sets us the example by washing the feet of his disciples.  Love can be commanded because it has first been given.  As we seek God, as we grow in holiness, our vocation will always involve an abundant and fruitful loving service of others.

The grace necessary for so great a task is promised by the Lord.  So, with the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration, He will pour out the Holy Spirit upon you both and consecrate you as deacons.  May he sustain you as you seek to remain always faithful to Him.