Deacon Matthew Lawler, who was ordained by Bishop Edward Malesic on May 1 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, works as a civil engineer in his day job and often must make connections among various disciplines in order to get things done.
In his ministry as a permanent deacon, the bishop urged him “to connect the sanctuary of the church to the places where people work and live, whether in shelters or in mansions. That is how you can do the work of an evangelist,” he said. Many people may not appreciate that, but many will, Bishop Malesic added. Making the connection between the sacred and the secular, he said the new deacon could help people realize “there is no place that God is not. And remind them that there is no person who can outrun God’s love.”
In the Gospel, he said Jesus reminds us that ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” St. Paul says that God chooses the weak to confound the strong. “If anything, those chosen by the Lord for ordained ministry are often the weakest people. They might not give you consolation, but it is the truth,” he told Deacon Lawler. “Who of us have the qualifications necessary for the mission? It is Jesus who makes up what is lacking in us,” he said, and once we accept the call of God in our lives, we feel compelled to do what God wants us to do.
However, that call must be tested, the bishop said, illustrating how the call to marriage is tested by dating and engagement, while the call to consecrated life is tested in postulancy and novitiate. “Those called to holy orders are tested in the seminary and formation programs and by many other things. The Church also must discern your call to holy orders because every relationship requires at least two parties to agree to say ‘yes,’” the bishop said.
He told Deacon Lawler that on his ordination day, “We say ‘yes’ to your ‘yes’ and once I ordain you, the two of us are going to have a special relationship. You will become the bishop’s special co-worker in the service of God’s people in the Diocese of Cleveland. In making (your) promise of respect to me (and the bishops who will come after me, you will imitate Christ, who became the servant of his Father.”
There is a special bond between a deacon and his bishop that extends to the priests who work in the same vineyard, Bishop Malesic said, adding, “And we work with the laity and men and women in consecrated life, who often are more gifted than we are. We work together with the Lord for his Church, each in the way the Lord has called us.”
He also reminded the new deacon about his ministry, telling him he will be a minister of the Word through his preaching and teaching. “But ministers of the Word often say more by how they live their lives than by the words they say in a homily,” he added. As a deacon, the bishop reminded Deacon Lawler that he will be a more public Church figure who people will watch closely, holding him to a higher standard
“So preach to them by how you live and not only by the words you speak. Today the Church will remind you to not only teach orthodox Church doctrine – which you must – but also to live that doctrine, to practice what you teach.”
A deacon is a minister of the liturgy and assists priests and bishops at the altar, Bishop Malesic said. “You have already drawn physically close to the Eucharistic Lord who comes to us under the signs of bread and wine. But more importantly, you must continue to be drawn spiritually closer to him,” the bishop told Deacon Lawler. “Your heart must beat close to his heart. You can only give away what you have received. Then you will be able to take Christ with you from this altar and give him to others when you preside over public prayer, administer baptism, assist at marriages, bring viaticum to the dying and conduct funeral rites.”
In addition, a deacon is a minister of charity who is sacramentally configured to Christ who made himself the deacon or servant of all, the bishop said. “Remember that you must be like Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve. Be Christ, the servant, for us,” he added.
Bishop Malesic recounted how the disciples sought out the first deacons and laid hands on them so they would serve at table, which can be an act of evangelization, he said. The deacons give food for bodies and souls. “This is the type food we are asking you to share with those who are hungry for something more in this life. Share Jesus, the bread of life. Serve him at whatever table you find yourself.”
He also encouraged Deacon Lawler to “boldly proclaim the Gospel of life in its totality, which has the respect for others at its core,” reminding him that being a deacon is not a job, but a vocation that is 24/7.
Ordination fell on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, who answered the call of God “and then went courageously into an unknown future. Like St. Joseph, roll up your sleeves and get to work,” the bishop told Deacon Lawler, telling him to work with humility and perseverance.
“Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord, you will be able to hear him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”
After Mass, Deacon Lawler learned he was assigned to minister at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The new deacon, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville, is single and has three adult children.
For more information on the permanent diaconate, click here.