Ordination to the Diaconate Roland Agrisola, Shelwin Fernandez

St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore Feast of St Andrew, Apostle, 30 November 2010


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear Roland and Shelwin:
The Gospel of this Ordination Mass brings to our notice two young men who are called, in a seemingly incidental way “as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee” to become “fishers of men.” By this meeting, which faith tells us was by no means a random encounter, but rather part of the unfolding of a divine plan, the lives of the two brothers, Peter and Andrew, are changed for ever. From the obscurity of a fisherman’s life they are taken by the irresistibility of grace to the work of the apostolate, and, via a martyrs’ death to occupy one of the twelve thrones on high allotted to the apostles of the Lamb. It is from that place, as the Preface of this Mass tells us, that they watch over the Church and protect us always, from which, as shepherds of the flock, they guide us still.

But there is an earlier history to this call by the side of a lake, and it takes us to the bank of a river. St Andrew is honoured in the East with a particular title, as you see in the icon printed inside the back cover of your service booklet, the title of protokletos, or ‘the First-Called.’ This derives from the information given us in St John’s gospel, where we first meet Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew meets Our Lord, who is also among the crowd on the banks of the Jordan. In the meeting, a revelation must clearly have taken place. Andrew cannot contain the joy and rushes off to find his brother, announcing to Simon, “We have found the Christ”. He immediately takes his brother to introduce him to the Lord, who there and then tells him, “You shall now be called Peter.”

Andrew seems to have discovered the Lord’s true identity earlier than his brother, and seems as a result to have a special access to Jesus. Later in the gospel we find Andrew with Philip, the only other apostle with a Greek name, when Greek-speaking visitors to Jerusalem address their request to Philip, “We would like to see Jesus.” Philip turns to Andrew so that the two of them might together arrange a meeting. It is evident that Philip felt it useful to have the accessible Andrew at his side when this supremely apostolic task needed to be done.

Andrew appears as an arranger and go-between on another occasion, again by the Sea of Galilee, where St John gives the account of the great miracle by which Our Lord provided food, and food to spare, for five thousand people. Again Philip is at a loss –  how to cope with all the hungry people. But another apostle has the answer. We are told, obviously from an eye-witness, “One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish.’”

Just how did Andrew know that this boy was carrying these particular items of food, no doubt wrapped up as the left-overs of a few days of rations packed by his mother, the best of it already eaten and what remained probably reaching its use-by date?

How did Andrew know? We may guess that he was alert enough earlier to notice the boy and perhaps offhandedly ask a friendly question, “Sonny, what did Mum pack for you in that bag? Andrew had the information which made possible a miracle.

Roland and Shelwin, born and nurtured in the Philippines, perhaps we can call you the protokletoi, the first-called from afar to be ordained as deacons for the service of the Diocese of Lismore. The future direction of your lives has changed as you have accepted the Lord’s call, like so many before you, to work for Him in another work and in another place. Tonight, the seal is placed upon that call. Tonight we welcome you to our family, as you enter the fraternity of the clergy of Lismore, and are incardinated by ordination into the service of the Lord’s people in this Diocese.

The Holy Order that you are to receive in a sacrament has its origin in the decision of the Lord’s Apostles, and is a sacred ministry which has been exercised in the Church ever since. We may safely suppose that St Andrew was with the Twelve as they met in Jerusalem, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, when those first seven were chosen, and were brought before the Apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them. Andrew knows all about deacons!

It will be your duty, in the Bishop’s name, to give teaching and catechesis to believers and unbelievers alike, to preside over prayer and liturgical services, to administer the Sacrament of Baptism, to assist at and bless Marriages, to bring Holy Viaticum to the dying, and to conduct funeral rites. Through this ministry you now become more closely bound to the service of the altar, in prospect of Ordination to the Priesthood in due course.

You are entrusted in the name of the bishop and priests with the works of charity which are a characteristic of the office of deacon, by which people will recognise you as the disciples of him who came not to be served, but to serve. As ministers of Jesus Christ the Lord, you must be one with the Master in doing from the heart the will of the Heavenly Father. Avoid all else, especially the temptation to an avaricious concern about money, or to any sort of impurity, so that you have no other master over you, which would be the service of a false god.

You will exercise your ministry, as you have freely chosen after long and mature deliberation, in the celibate state. You have chosen no other love but that of Christ and His Spouse the Church, but be assured you will have sons and daughters in abundance in this great spiritual family whom you will love and serve with all the devotion of a good father. This dedication of an undivided heart will enable you to proclaim the Gospel more effectively and enable you to ever deepen your grasp on the mystery of faith which you convey to others in word and sacrament.

St Andrew, the First-Called, is a reminder to all of us, especially to those who take up an office in the Church, to be ready for any chance that comes our way to introduce relative, friend or stranger to the Lord. In his quiet way, without drawing attention to himself, Andrew is ready and willing to be there as the go-between, to serve as a conduit for others, the arranger of meetings, the sort of encounters that can change a life.

Andrew shows us how to have an answer ready in any situation, to have on hand the materials, however simple or seemingly inadequate, with which the Lord can work miracles.

Roland and Shelwin, soon you will be robed with the dalmatic, the deacon’s vestment, which is accompanied traditionally with a prayer, that the Lord may clothe you with the garment of salvation and with the vesture of praise, and enrobe you with the dalmatic of righteousness for ever.

We ask God, through the prayers of Our Lady, St Andrew, St Mary of the Cross and all the saints, to always strengthen your call, your consecration, and your obedience, to the service of Christ and his Church, and to bless your ministry now about to begin, with great fruitfulness, with great joy.