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At transitional deacon ordination, Dennis Stameza advised to ‘teach what you believe and practice what you teach’ — Bishop Koenig homily, photo gallery

Dennis Stameza with Bishop Koenig during his diaconate May 11 at St. John the Beloved Church in Wilmington. Dialog photo/Don Blake

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: since this man, Dennis Stameza, our son, brother and friend will soon be advanced to the Order of Deacons, let us join him in reflecting upon the nature of the ministerial rank to which he shall be raised.

Herald of the Gospel

My brother, Dennis, as you undoubtedly know, towards the end the Rite of the Ordination of a Deacon, the newly ordained deacon comes forward and, as the Book of the Gospels is placed in his hands, is told: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”  As you go forth today as Deacon Dennis Stameza, may those words to believe what you read, to teach what you believe and to practice what you teach, be embraced and lived. Let us reflect for a moment on how this will be done.

Believe what you read

We begin with the call to believe.  In today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we listened to how Jeremiah’s first response to God’s call to be a prophet was: “I know not how to speak; I am too young.”  And we heard God’s reassurance to have no fear because God will be with you.  The call to believe is the call to trust in God’s love.  It is the call to be a person of prayer and walk forward in faith.  It is the call to follow not my will, but God’s will.  As you reflected upon this reading, Dennis, you told me how this reading from Jeremiah reminded you of how the call to be a priest first came to you when, like Jeremiah, you were young.  As an eight-year-old, you would wear a long white garment that resembled the white alb that the priest wore as he celebrated Mass.  You would then raise up for all to see a slice of a roasted banana and then distribute banana slices to your relatives.  Over these intervening years, you have come a long way from being that eight-year-old.  You’ve grown in wisdom and age.  You’ve studied philosophy and theology.  You’ve learned pastoral skills.   Through it all, God has led you to this moment.

As God leads you from this moment, continue to listen to God’s voice.  Continue to live the life of belief by following his call. Be especially conscientious in taking time to open yourself up to God’s voice through the sacraments, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and private prayer.

Teach what you believe

We next look to the call to teach what you believe. Today’s Gospel reading related how Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus then tells the disciples to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” As you reflected upon this Gospel passage, you saw your vocation to diaconal ministry as a reflection of the way that Jesus went to and from towns and villages teaching and proclaiming the Gospel. You will do this in your dedication to meeting, along with me and the priests of the Diocese of Wilmington, the needs of the people of God. You will do this as you carry out “your duty to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and instruct them in holy doctrine, to preside over public prayer, administer baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites.”  (Rite of Ordination of One Deacon).

Practice what you teach

Dennis Stameza lies prostrate during his diaconate May 11 at St. John the Beloved Church in Wilmington. Dialog photo/Don Blake

And lastly, we look to the way that you will “practice what you teach.” As you go forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ who came not to be served but to serve, your life of dedicated service, often referred to as caritas, is an essential dimension of the church. As we heard in today’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, it was for the purpose of caring for the widows in the early Christian community whose needs were being neglected that the first seven deacons were selected. In reflecting upon this passage, Dennis, you recalled the needs of the people whom you encountered during your work in a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee and your desire now to selflessly offer yourself to meeting the needs of people that you will encounter in the coming days. Pope Francis refers to this as a “diaconal conscience” and tells us that the call to serve “is a verb that refuses all abstraction: to serve means to be available, to renounce living according to one’s own agenda, to be ready for God’s surprises that manifest themselves through people, the unexpected, changes of plan, situations that do not fit into our schemes” (2/28/2024). Your promise of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven will be lived out as your diaconal conscience directs you in living a life for others.

 Cry the Gospel

As you go forth today, Dennis, you will, in your diaconal ministry, be a herald of the Gospel. You have been called to believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.  Over 100 years ago, St. Charles de Foucauld was called by God to leave the land in which he grew up and herald the Gospel in northern Africa. You, Dennis, like St. Charles have followed God’s call to leave the land in which you grew up and labor in another part of God’s vineyard. May you, as one sent to be a herald of the Gospel, “Cry,” in the words of St. Charles de Foucauld, “the Gospel with your whole life.”

Bishop William E. Koenig is the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington.