As I began to discern the bishop’s suggestion that I become a candidate for the permanent diaconate here in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, one passage from the Second Vatican Council stood out, from “The Decree on the Missionary Activity on the Church,” paragraph 16:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.
Isn’t this what I am doing? I felt a call to ask for the grace of the sacrament – to better serve God’s people here.
A few month ago I read a few essays that Karl Rahner had written about the permanent diaconate in the early 1960s. In “On the Diaconate,” he argues for the restoration of the permanent diaconate, noting that there are already persons performing the office of deacon, without being ordained.
…the diaconate already exists de facto in an anonymous form in the Church of today. In these circumstances, it is right that those who are already vested with this anonymous diaconate should also have the sacramental commission conferred upon them, because in principle it is possible for there to be a sacramental diaconate in the Church, and such a sacramental commission is reasonable and productive of grace.
“On the Diaconate,” p, 199
In another essay, “The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate,” p, 189
what we are asking here is whether in our Church of the present day the office of deacon is de facto being performed. If, and to the extent that we have to answer this question in the affirmative, or if and to the extent that we have to say that it is absolutely necessary for there to be such an office, given the circumstances of the present day, then this office is to be set up. And if an individual is already suitable for this office, then it seems to me to be necessary on theological grounds that grace should be conferred upon him, which does exist in the Church precisely for the official functions that he is de facto performing.
I thought I had read most of the really significant for the passages on the diaconate from church documents. Yet last Wednesday, sitting in a clinic waiting for a doctor’s appointment, reading Alberto Villegas Betancourt’s Diácono Permanente: Quién es y qué hace, I came across this quote from the final document of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference meeting in 1979 at Puebla, Mexico, paragraph 697:
The deacon, collaborator of the bishop and the priest, receives his own specific sacramental grace. The charism of the diaconate, a sacramental sign of “Christ the servant,” is very effective in bringing about a poor, servant Church, that exercises its missionary function for the integral liberation of the human being.
Can God work through me, bringing us to be a poor, servant Church? Can God work through me for integral liberation of al God’s people?
I sometimes have my doubts.
If, as planned, I am ordained on July 9, may God give me the sacramental grace to be such a missionary – at the service of the Word, the Altar, and the Poor.