Words on the Word

Vigil of Olsok – Ordination to the Diaconate

In the course of this Mass Florian Pletscher was ordained a deacon. 

Eine deutsche Übersetzung der Predigt finden Sie hier.

Josh 3:14-4:8: What stones are these?
Col 1:9-17: He is the image of the invisible God.
Mt 5:13-20: When salt has lost its power it is useless. 

In Heimskringla the chronicler Snorre Sturlason relates the last conversation St Olav had before the battle on 29 July 1030, the battle that would lead to his death. The conversation took place right here, at Stiklestad. Many were the men, says Snorre, who desired to be counted among Olav’s retinue. Their motivation was varied. The king’s campaign provided a chance to rebel against foreign dominion, also to take revenge on local grandees. A revolution was in the making. Revolutions, no matter how idealistic their source, can provoke a lust for power, ambition, hatred.

This is how Egedius imagined Olav’s journey to Stiklestad.

Many were concerned to better their lot, but couldn’t care less about big ideas. In this motley crowd, one man stood out. He was tall and handsome, with a fine head of hair and distinguished arms – a veritable Samson in appearance. He was granted audience of the king. He announced his name, Arnljot Gjelline. He proclaimed his errand: he would be Olav’s friend, ready to serve him with all his riches, all his strength. The battle was about to begin. Olav needed reliable allies. Yet there was only one thing he was keen to ask Arnljot. He wanted to know if he was a Christian. The answer Arnljot gave is broadly representative of what most Norwegians would reply today, were the question put to them. He chiefly believed, said he, in his own strength and prowess — sufficient unto himself, like Ibsen’s troll. Now, however, his intention was to believe in Olav, the king. Olav declared:

If you would believe in me, you must believe in what I teach you. You are to believe that Jesus Christ created heaven and earth and all men, and that those who are righteous and good will be gathered unto him after death.

Arnljot had already heard about the White Christ. At Olav’s word he adopted faith. Forthwith he was baptised, here at Stiklestad. ‘The king taught him what appeared to him the essential tenets of the faith, then placed in the front line of battle, ahead of the banner.’ Arnljot fell in the first assault, a victim to the peasant army’s rain of arrows. He died a Christian.

Is it not remarkable? The last thing that occupied Olav before he set out for his life’s decisive battle was not strategic planning but catechesis to a neophyte. It was a risky business, he knew, to be among the king’s men. He wished those who entered combat with him to be nurtured by the hope that carried him, the hope of eternal righteousness beyond this world of chance. He wished them to discover faith in a God who has made all human beings with kindness and who in Christ assumed our nature.

In the liturgy we honour Olav as ‘Servant of Christ’. Snorre shows us wherein such service consists. Slowly but surely, by God’s infallible and patient pedagogy, the proud, self-righteous Olav learns to forget himself and his own interest. With Paul we might say that he gradually sheds himself to put on Christ. Not that he became a paragon of piety — he was headstrong to the end. Nonetheless, his actions and options show that he had become Another’s. He no longer belonged to himself. The banner he carried into battle was adorned with the cross, not with his own mark. Under the cross-banner he died.

Today, dear Florian, you will be consecrated a servant of Christ. You are about to declare that you desire to be such always, with regard to all, until death. You are not to about waving a visible banner. But you are to walk underneath the banner of the cross.

We have heard that you have been ‘found worthy’. What does that mean? Worthiness is not about honour. It is not about preciousness or merit, about a front seat at feasts or fancy titles (jfr. Mt 23.7). The worthiness at cause here is an aptitude for self-forgetting. Only he is worthy to be ordained who wholeheartedly and without ceasing confesses in his heart what we all say before receiving Holy Communion: ‘I am not worthy’. Never forget: Christ declared himself a servant, a diakonos. Now you must walk as he walked (1 Jn 2.6).

Some question, these days, the purpose and usefulness of ministry. Has it any sense? You know that the answer is ‘Yes!’. When I in a moment, according to the sacred rite, will ask whether you wish to assume your obligations, you will answer five times, ‘Yes, that is my will’. Thank God for that. Keep the flame of generous will alive by coherent living, by prayer and studies, by a daily immersion in the Word of God, by generous presence among those whose servant you will become.

If the call to ministry has come to seem irrelevant it is at least in part because many a flame that once burnt brightly is now perceptible only by way of deduction on the basis of heaps of burnt-out ash. Tend the flame that today is lit in you through the sacrament of Holy Church, our Mother. Share it with others following the pattern of the symbol of the Easter Vigil, magnificently effective in its simplicity. Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever. May your life give him glory.

I ordain you on the feast of a martyr. There is an original connection between the diaconate and martyrdom. St Stephen, the Church’s protodeacon is also her protomartyr. Dear Florian, may you live peacefully and long in the land! Still, do not ever lower the breastplate of righteousness. Hold high the shield of faith. Today you are placed, like Arnljot all those years ago, in the front line of battle. You do not walk alone. Today you enter a new relationship with Christ through the mystery of his self-outpouring.

Remain underneath the banner of the cross! There you will find strength and an ever surprising joy. By your fidelity you will give others courage to to be faithful.

May St Olav pray for your service in the Church today and every day. Amen.