The jubilee Mass for deacons of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is traditionally a joyous occasion. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration was canceled in 2020 and 2021.
(See photo gallery above.)
When the event returned this year on May 10, it was a triple celebration that also included the jubilarians from 2020 and 2021. In addition, it marked the first time that Father Michael Woost concelebrated the Mass in his new role as auxiliary bishop-elect. His appointment was announced the previous day – May 9 – by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Edward Malesic was principal celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrants included Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries; Bishop-elect Woost; Father Don Oleksiak, vicar general; Father Dan Schlegel, secretary for clergy and religious; and Father Ryan Mann, administrator of St. Basil the Great Parish, which hosts the celebration.
Deacon Jim Armstrong, who also serves as executive director of communications for the diocese, was the homilist.
“It is so good to gather here tonight with joy-filled hearts for this most special jubilee occasion,” he said, recalling the words of St. Jean-Theophane Venard, a 19th century martyr who implored that we “Be merry, really merry.” He also said the life of a true Christian “should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity.”
Deacon Armstrong – who marked the 20th anniversary of his diaconal ordination in 2021 -- said those words characterized the joy we feel as followers of the risen Christ who opened up for us life eternal by his dying and rising.
“We come together today inside beautiful St. Basil Church to celebrate our personal jubilees, to remember the special anniversary of the day we dedicated our lives to God, to remember the support of our families in our vocation and our many years of dedicated service to God’s people and the Church,” he said.
Jubilees have been an important event in the life of the Church, a time of special celebration for the worldwide Church and a tradition that dates to the 1300s. Personal jubilees are important and need to be celebrated, also, because they are indicative of an extraordinary individual dedication to a vocation, he added.
Reflecting on the pandemic that impacted lives in so many ways, Deacon Armstrong asked those gathered to remember those who lost their lives to the illness, “especially our brother deacons. May God grant them eternal rest and comfort those who grieve.” He also requested prayers for those who still are recovering and for the medical workers whose efforts and dedication saved many lives.
The celebration sparks memories of ordination day, when the deacons responded to God’s call and received the sacrament of orders that imprinted an indelible mark on their soul and conformed them forever in a very special way to Christ the Servant. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” he said.
After the Mass of thanksgiving at his parish, Deacon Armstrong recalled a deeply devout woman who looked him in the eye and said “Jim, never, ever take your vocation for granted.” After 21 years, he hasn’t forgotten her words. “And I don’t think I ever will,” he said, adding he believes his brother deacons gathered for the celebration also followed that advice and gave their lives fully to God in service to his people.
“What a gift it is to have been called to serve – visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, comforting the lonely, sharing the good news, assisting at Mass, baptizing children, helping to bring people into the faith, preparing couples for marriage, taking God into the workplace and so much more,” he said.
Regarding the Scripture readings at the Mass, Deacon Armstrong said they speak of service, noting that deacons are called to be ministers of word, sacrament and charity.
“We are co-workers in the vineyard of Christ, reflecting his charity and service. The Gospel reminds us we are laborers sent out for his harvest. Take nothing of this world with us, Jesus says, as we go about work, but take only one thing – my peace – the peace of Christ,” Deacon Armstrong said. “As deacons, we also take with us our life of daily prayer, asking the Spirit to strengthen in us a true missionary spirit which helps us to walk with others in their joys and sorrows, imparting peace to them – the peace of Christ – a peace the world cannot give.”
He asked those celebrating their jubilees to reflect on the experiences and memories that came from their lives of service. Also, he asked the married deacons to thank their wives for their unwavering support throughout their ministry. “We owe our wife and family a debt of gratitude for their patience, support, kindness, caring and most of all, their love.”
In addition, he offered thanks to the priests at whose side the deacons minister and from whom they have learned so much.
“Deacons are privileged to witness the pastoral care they provide day after day,” he said, noting it is a tough job and deacons are blessed to be able to assist them. He also thanked Bishop Malesic and Bishop Gries for their continued support of the diaconate.
In closing, Deacon Armstrong reminded his fellow deacons to remember what they heard on ordination day as they received the Book of Gospels from the ordaining bishop: “Believe what you read. Teach what you believe and practice what you teach. Whether you are retired or still active, those words matter. Embrace them always and never, ever take your vocation for granted.”
Bishop Malesic made brief remarks after Mass, thanking the deacons for their service and telling them “The Lord has stretched our lives as ministers of the Gospel, of sacrament and of charity in ways that we never, ever expected. By doing so, he made our hearts bigger. He changed us along the way.”
The bishop also welcomed Deacons Scott Cerrito and Mike Costantini who were ordained on May 7.
After Mass, jubilarians celebrating the 45th, 40th, 35th, 30th, 25th and 20th anniversaries of their ordination posed for photos with Bishop Malesic, Bishop Gries and Bishop-elect Woost before heading to the Family Life Center for a reception and social.
A recording of the liturgy is available on the St. Basil YouTube page.