Most Reverend Father Vicar of the Custody,
Dear brothers and sisters,
Dear beloved ordinands,
May the Lord give you peace!
Today, we are celebrating an important stage in your formation for the priesthood. Indeed, although it is here temporary - as an intermediate stage in view of your priesthood - the ordination to the diaconate is still fundamental. As you already know, each stage of your journey, whether religious or ministerial, has a meaning and a reason for being; it must be lived fully. One may sometimes be tempted to live them in a concentrated and tense way, keeping in mind only the objective of the final step - which is, in your case, the priesthood. By living the other stages only as obligatory moments, required by the ordinances, you will not experience them as moments of verification and vocational discernment. The priesthood encompasses many stages; for it to be fully received, one must live them all. If one understands what the ministry of lector is and internalizes it, then one will better understand what the proclamation of the Word is. With the ministry of acolyte, one deepens one's relationship with the Eucharist, which must be the center of the priestly ministry. With the diaconate, one deepens one's sense of service; especially service at the Eucharistic table, which must then become a way of life at the table of life, in your religious community, in the Church, in your social life.
The Gospel we have heard illustrates very well the sense of service you are called to make your own today.
After the scandalous act of foot washing, John reports Jesus' announcement of Judas' betrayal (13:21). This is followed by the verses we heard today, with words about the new commandment, and then a new announcement of defection, this time concerning Peter and his denial (13:36).
The new commandment is thus embedded between two announcements of betrayal. And it is on this point that I would like to dwell on. Jesus asks his people to love one another in the same way, with the same measure that he loved them ("I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" - 34).
And the measure of this love is the distance that the disciples put between themselves and the Lord: an abysmal distance, that of sin, but which Jesus bridges with his free love. He does not let his people wander away, for he is the good shepherd, and the good shepherd does not want any of his sheep to be lost. That is why he lays down his life for all, even for those who betray Him. Judas, in fact, betrayed Him, handed Him over. But he does so after receiving from Jesus the part intended for his favorite friend, after eating the bread of friendship in which all enmity is overcome.
There is a great lesson here for all of us. Service in the Church is a loving, free service. And in this moment we see what gratuitousness means: to give ourselves even to those who betray us, who condemn us to death. This is the measure to which we are called, that is, not to measure, to be in this world of ours living at a loss, because we know that "whatever gain we had, we counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Phil 3:7).
The words of the new commandment can only be placed in the context of the cross; only then do the actions that Jesus performed on the cross find their meaning. Indeed, the disciples can only love one another through the love they have received, and which is manifested on the cross.
God's love is not reciprocal: we can never return what He has given us. Instead, we exchange God's love with each other, we pass it on, and only in this way can we love God again, can we say our true thanks to him.
It is not an easy thing to do. In fact, we tend to do good to those who do good to us, we are generous in our cultural, tribal, and family contexts. It is not uncommon, if you think about it, that the service we render serves to make us feel better, sometimes even superior. We like to pin the good deed of the day on our calendar. To be brief, behind many of our actions is often a shadow of our own good, of self-reference. Jesus, on the other hand, shows us here an absolute and unconditional gratuitousness, free from all human calculation, interest, and expectation. Betrayals, abandonment and fears did not stop His love.
Let this be your reference. Do not start making calculations and measurements. Your religious fraternity will define the spaces and times of your service, but leave your heart free, and remain exposed to the dramas and pains of those around you, which must become yours. Jewish tradition says that a whole heart is a broken heart. A heart that truly loves cannot but be hurt by those it loves. So let yourself be hurt.
What does it mean, in your case, not to measure? To be deacons and then priests who do not calculate means not expecting gratification in your ministerial service, not seeking pastoral success at any price, not measuring your service by numbers, by the people gathered in the church, by the young people who flock around you, by the offerings, by the walls restored, by the clothes bought... To serve gratuitously, as the first reading reminds us, means knowing that one enters "the kingdom of God through many tribulations" (Acts 14:22), that those who are graced with your service will not always come back to thank you (cf. Lk 17:18), that your service will not always be appreciated, that what you consider good will not always be good for others. All this will soon become your daily bread. Remember, then, what the Lord reminds you today: do not calculate, do not measure. Love with the same love with which you are loved by the Lord, without asking anything in return. Wash the feet of others, as He has washed them for you. This will only be possible if you know how to maintain a true and solid friendship with the Lord. Our heart, like that of every man, needs care, and it is only in your relationship with the Word of God, in regular prayer and in the Eucharist, that you will be able to concretize your friendship with Him, who will then fill your heart with love. From this, you will draw the energy necessary for your ministry.
At the end, I cannot help but look at the second reading, from Revelation, which speaks precisely of us, of Jerusalem seen as the image of the Church.
This second reading speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem, which does not remain up there, but descends from heaven. Jerusalem also has a heaven but no sea (Rev 21:1). This seems a triviality, but in the apocalyptic language, it has a precise meaning. Heaven is the place of God's Presence and the sea is the place of evil's presence, of Satan. Jerusalem is thus deprived of the presence of evil and, at the same time, is illuminated by the presence of God. This city, inhabited by the Lord, descends to earth. It is the place where heaven and earth meet, and thus becomes the place of the new heaven and the new earth, for it is the place of the encounter between God and humanity. This is why the images of the bride ready for the bridegroom (Is 62:5) and the tent are used, recalling the Old Testament tent of meeting (Ex 33:7; 39:32). As the place of union with God, Jerusalem becomes the place where "there shall be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things are passed away" (Rev 21:4). This is a very beautiful image that refers to the Church; it also expresses very well the vocation of our particular Church in Jerusalem, called to be a tent of encounter between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, and therefore also of encounter between all of us.
This seems to be a very distant image of our reality. These days, we have felt the presence of the sea more than that of heaven. The city seems to be inhabited by evil more than by the peacemaking presence of God. In short, we are far from the gratuity and freedom we have been talking about, and we seem to be at the mercy of logics of possession and exclusion, rather than of encounter and reconciliation.
But we must not give up, nor abandon ourselves to distrust. Let us ask for the gift of the Spirit, that he may enable us to see, even here in our Jerusalem, new heavens and a new earth, that is to say, to see the good that is still being accomplished and that is a fruit of God's presence among us, and that he may make us and our religious and ecclesial communities, joyful brides, tents where we can truly meet the Lord and be met by one another.
May our and your service in the Church be a source of light and consolation, a balm of life for your respective home communities and, for the time you will be with us, also for our beloved Church in Jerusalem.