Stark advice comes with joy of ordination to transitional diaconate
September 27, 2023
Before hundreds of joyful worshippers and in the gloriously ornate setting of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, seminarian Matthew Pohlman was ordained a transitional deacon, along with 17 other seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
And it was in that joyful, glorious setting Pohlman and the other seminarians received some stark advice from Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, who presided at the ordination.
“We gather today to celebrate this Sacred Liturgy in the greatest church of the Catholic world, built over the very tomb of St. Peter the Rock,” Archbishop Coakley said in his homily.
“As we take in this architectural splendor, the artistic magnificence of this place, and as we pause to pray at the tombs of the saints and martyrs, it’s hard to conceive of a greater physical monument to the splendor and achievements of Christendom and the Catholic Church,” he said.
“Yet, as we are all very much aware by now, the age of Christendom – that age when Church and society were so closely aligned as to be sometimes indistinguishable – has passed.
“If any of you seminarians were so naive as to expect that priesthood would bring you a privileged existence, then you came along about 60 years too late,” the archbishop said.
“You have lived through the scandals, you have lived through the global pandemic … the crises and the division that mark our age and indeed our Church.”
The current era is more like the apostolic age, he said, “the years immediately following Pentecost, when the Church was an outlawed institution and those who were marked or identified as Christians prepared themselves not for privilege, but for persecution, marginalization.”
“My brothers,” the archbishop said to the seminarians, “today it is not enough to be good churchmen. You must be disciples. Your life and ministry must be deeply rooted in an intimate friendship with Jesus Christ, Who alone can and will sustain you in the challenges that await you in a hostile, post-Christian world.
“And so be prepared for sacrifice,” he said. “Be prepared for opposition, and indeed, at times for persecution.”
The transitional diaconate is the last stage of seminary formation before ordination to the priesthood.
The ordination to transitional deacon “brings about a profound change in the life of the man who receives it, as he passes from the lay to the clerical state,” according to the Pontifical North American College.
About 50 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Omaha attended the Mass and took part in other events surrounding the ordination. Others could watch the ordination live on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), which aired 9:30 a.m. locally.
Deacon Pohlman, from St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, can now proclaim the Gospel and preach at Masses, distribute Holy Communion and preside at Baptisms and wake services, among other duties.
On Sept. 29, the day after his ordination to the transitional diaconate, Deacon Pohlman was to serve as a deacon at a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of St. Cecilia, where the saint is buried. There he would proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass for the first time.
“This is of course special as she is the patroness of our cathedral and archdiocese, the reason I hoped to proclaim the Gospel and preach there for the first time,” he said in an email before the ordination.
“It is a fitting place to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice with so many people who have made the trip to Rome from the Archdiocese of Omaha. I am so grateful for the support of so many from the people of God from back home.”
For Pohlman, the ordination was a time of promise and grace.
“As a transitional deacon, I hope to do a very fine job of assisting the priestly order, something I will promise at my ordination,” he said. “It is also a moment of tremendous grace as I promise certain things that I have already tried to live well for so long.
“But now my intention is made manifest in a liturgical and sacramental way before God and His Church,” he said. “I am so happy that with this ordination, I will become a member of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Omaha in service to the People of God back home.”
Family and friends were in Rome for the events leading up to the ordination, which included a Wednesday general audience with Pope Francis and personal encounters with him.
“The audience with Pope Francis was incredible,” Deacon Pohlman said. “Yes, it was great to be there personally, but even more joyous than that – my newlywed sisters and cousin, with their husbands, were greeted by the Holy Father.”
The newlyweds wore their wedding dresses and suits and joined other new couples for a customary blessing.
“Pope Francis was so good to have taken the time to meet all of the newlyweds at the audience,” Deacon Pohlman said. “And he embraced and kissed the little children in my immediate family. As you might imagine, it was such an amazing and emotional experience to have the successor of Peter receive children in our own family. It was such a blessed morning.”
Deacon Pohlman – a graduate of V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha – is on track to be ordained a priest next spring in Omaha, along with Deacon Zachary Eischeid, who was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha on May 26.
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