It's hard for me to believe, but it was already 12 years ago today, October 7, 1999--on this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (and my brother, Todd's, birthday)--that I was ordained a deacon.
Pontifical North American College in Rome, I had the unique privilege of being ordained with thirty of my classmates at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The bishop who ordained us ought to look rather familiar to you, although he went by a different name back then: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Even before his 2005 election to the papacy, it was pretty intimidating that he was the one before whom I first made my promise of obedience! I'll never forget the moment in the rite when he turned to the seminary rector (who's since become the archbishop of New York) and asked in his German accent, "Do you judge them to be worthy?" All these years later, and I'm still trying to be--worthy, that is.
The future Pope's homily that joyful day--excerpts of which follow-- was (no surprise!) quite powerful, and still provides much food for thought for me today...
"We understand authority and service in the Church only in the light of the mystery of the incarnation and the Cross. If we truly wish to be followers of the Lord and his ministers in the Church, we must seek to imitate his example of service, his example of self-emptying. We must want to imitate the one who came not to be served but to serve, the Incarnate Lord who in the silence of Nazareth lived and worked as a humble carpenter, who at the Last Supper knelt as a servant before his disciples to wash their feet, and who dies on the Cross condemned as a criminal. And that is why the credibility of the Church's ministers--that which makes them truly convincing to others especially in today's world--is found above all in the radiance of their desire to take the lowest place, to truly follow in the footsteps of Christ."
"It is profoundly significant that the practice of the Church from her beginning has been that those who will be ordained to the priesthood must first be ordained to the diaconate. In a sense, it is the Church's way of emphasizing that all ordained ministry is diakonia, a self-emptying service lived out in different ways. It is the Church's way of saying that only from among those who have proven themselves to be servants will she call men to live that service in the form of the priesthood."