My spirituality is deeply Franciscan – not the Francis of bird baths and sermons to birds, but the Francis who sought to identify with the poor Christ and thus to live as a poor man, preaching the Good News of Jesus. Thus I want to make an initial attempt to connect my upcoming ordination as a permanent deacon with Francis and Clare.
Francis was ordained a deacon but I don’t think that he made any reference to it in the writings and sayings that have come down to us. There are only two accounts of his serving as deacon in the Eucharist.
Thomas of Celano wrote of the well-known story that presents him as a deacon at the first Christmas crib at Greccio at the Christmas Mass in 1223. There is also an account of Francis singing the Gospel and preaching at the 1221 Pentecost chapter of the Franciscans.
But he was a deacon, a servant of the poor, an ambassador of God, a servant of the Gospel, even before he would have been ordained.
Central to Francis is his identification with Jesus as God made flesh for our salvation. Thus both the Incarnation and the Cross are indispensable parts of his spirituality. Both point to the God who emptied himself, even to the point of handing himself over to be crucified.
This means responding to the poor Christ and the poor person in front of me. As The Assisi Compilation notes:
When you see a poor person, [Francis] said, you must consider that person in the name of the one who comes, that is, the Christ who took upon himself our poverty and our infirmity. Thus the poverty and infirmity of this person are the mirror in which we must contemplate in love the poverty and infirmity that Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his own body in order to save humankind.
For me this means that a deacon has to accompany the poor, for that is where we find Jesus. He also has to find his strength from a relationship with God-made-flesh, Jesus.
It’s not one or the other – it’s both. When we let ourselves be loved by God-made-flesh we can more readily offer ourselves to others.
I see this as part of the diaconal vocation – making clear the connection between serving at the Table of the Lord and serving at the table of poor. In that way we can see and live the loving mercy of Jesus.
But it also means being a servant of others, doing the simple and humble tasks.
Saint Clare is the example to remember. According to several reports she would wash the feet and kiss of the sisters when they returned from begging.
A few months ago, I came across an icon of Clare washing the feet. I have not been able to identify the source. But it so impressed me that I had a card made for my Franciscan friends, since Clare's humble service is what the deacon is called to do.
Incarnation, identification with the poor by emptying oneself, humbling oneself and washing others’ feet – these are aspects of Franciscan spirituality that are helping me understand the mission of the ordained deacon.