By Colleen Rowan
CHARLES TOWN—With family and friends gathered with him at St. James the Greater Church in Charles Town on May 30, Deacon Phillip Szabo was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Mark Brennan.
“Today you will make promises to be a man of prayer, a man of celebate love, and a man of obedient faith,” Bishop Brennan said to Deacon Szabo in his homily. “These promises will sustain in you a vibrant diaconate and, God willing, next year a fruitful priesthood.”
One of the great achievements of the Second Vatican Council, the bishop said to Deacon Szabo, was the restoration of the permanent diaconate. There is no difference between a permanent deacon and a transitional deacon, he said. The diaconate is one and the same for both, he said.
Every Christian, the bishop continued, is joined to Christ through baptism, and called to serve others. The Lord inspires his disciples to serve through his words and his example and he strengthens them by the grace of the sacraments to imitate his service, Bishop Brennan said.
“As you, a deacon, engage in the ministry of charity you will often do the same things that lay disciples do,” the bishop said to Deacon Szabo. “The difference is not in the material act but in its spiritual significance and broader ecclesial or church context.”
In helping the poor or visiting the sick, his service will take place in this wider context, the bishop said to him.
“You are an icon or image of the unity of the love of God and the love of neighbor. Your voice comforting the sick also proclaims the good news in the assembly of the faithful gathered to show their love for God,” he said. “Your hand giving food to a hungry family or helping a frail person up a flight of stairs also gives the sacramental Christ to his people, who love him and want to receive him. The love we offer God at Mass must bear fruit in the love we offer those in need and you, as a deacon, represent before the faithful the unity of those loves which are truly one.”
Bishop Brennan said that because the credibility of Jesus’ teaching that we must love both God and neighbor is at stake in his diaconal role, the Lord will endow him with a grace beyond his baptism.
Building upon it, the bishop said, but beyond that. Others may exercise some of his liturgical roles such as Eucharistic ministers, lectors, or visiting the sick, which is all on the basis of their baptism.
“You will exercise these ministries as one even more intimately joined to the source of all service, the Lord Jesus, who offered his life to rescue ours,” the bishop said to Deacon Szabo. “Your service of word and sacrament in the liturgy is also a form of charity. For the word of God and sacraments give life to God’s people, and you are Christ’s minister on their behalf.”
The diaconate is not lost in priesthood, the bishop said. Rather, it will be a continuation of it. Much of his own priesthood, the bishop said, has been a continuation of his diaconate in visiting the sick, sharing the faith with others, helping a homeless person find shelter. Bishops, he said, wear a deacon’s dalmatic under their chasubles as a sign that their diaconate endures. “The call to serve as Christ served, the minister of charity, doesn’t go silent once you’re ordained a priest,” he said.
In the promise of celibacy, Bishop Brennan told Deacon Szabo that he will commit himself to follow the Lord Jesus, literally.
“For as highly as he regarded marriage, raising it for his disciples to the level of a sacrament which gives grace to the couple for a lifelong union of fruitful love, the Lord himself did not marry,” the bishop said. “He remained celibate … to serve the kingdom of God without distractions and, even more, because we, all of us together, are his spouse and he could have no other.”
The bishop spoke of Deacon Szabo’s promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors. Bishop Brennan said to Deacon Szabo that it really is a promise to the Lord to do what he asks and acknowledge his choice to exercise his authority in his church through his apostles and their successors, the bishops.
“The Lord has sent you and all of us an example of obedience by his steadfast adherence to his father’s plan for our salvation,” he said, emphasizing that it cost him much suffering. “I cannot promise you that in being an obedient servant of God you will never suffer. You may be asked to do things you dislike or feel unqualified for, but I can promise you that God will always stand by you and he will not let the suffering crush you.”
“As you pray with and for the church, as you strive to be a faithful and obedient and celibate man, as you give up yourself in service to others on the altar and in a poor family’s home, you become the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies,” that dies to a life turned outward and produces much fruit.
In ending his homily, Bishop Brennan said to Deacon Szabo, “In your diaconate and later in your priesthood you will discover the loss is gain and pain is growth. Trust the Lord, turn to him often, and be confident that the one who has called you to this good work will bring it to completion.”
Deacon Szabo then prostrated himself on the altar. This was followed by Bishop Brennan laying his hands upon Deacon Szabo’s head, ordaining him a deacon. He was vested with the stole and dalmatic by Deacon David Galvin, permanent deacon at St. James, and Deacon Larry Hammel, permanent deacon at Assumption of Our Lady Parish in Keyser and Szabo’s home Parish of Our Lady of Grace in Romney.
Bishop Brennan then presented the Book of the Gospels to Deacon Szabo, so that he may proclaim the good news and model his life after Christ.
Deacon Szabo will spend a year preaching the Gospel and preparing for his ordination to priesthood. He began that ministry June 3 in his summer assignment at St. Thomas Parish in Thomas, and Our Lady of Mercy Mission in Parsons, with Father Timothy Grassi, pastor.
Szabo Ordained Deacon
By Colleen Rowan