There are not a lot of permanent deacons in Central America. Currently there are only two permanent deacons in Honduras, both academicians in the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa.
God willing, when I’m ordained on July 15 to the order of deacons as a permanent state of life, I will be the first in our diocese.
Though some bishops at the Second Vatican Council wanted to restore the permanent diaconate in part for the sake of the countries of the south, in many places in Latin American it has not caught on.
There are many reasons, including the lively involvement of lay people in the local church, including Delegates of the Word. There may have been a concern that the establishment of the diaconate will undercut these efforts.
But this does not mean that the Latin American bishops have not seen a role for the permanent deacon.
A passage from the 1979 Conference of the Latin American bishops in Puebla, Mexico, (#697) stands out for me:
“The deacon, co-worker 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.”
This passage can serve as an examination of conscience for me as I prepare for ordination as a permanent deacon.
• The deacon is to be a sacramental sign of “Christ the Servant.”
All the People of God are called to be servants, following Christ who came “not to be serve, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Yet the deacon is there to make this evident in a sacramental way, officially ordering the Church to be the Bod of Christ the Servant in the world.
How will I make clear by my ministry as a deacon that we follow Christ the Servant?
First of all, I am called to deepen my commitment to the poor and the marginalized, rooting out all the fears and prejudgments that cause me to turn away from others (as did the priest and Levite) because they make me uncomfortable.
In addition, in my ministry I am called to refuse and reject the temptation to see the diaconate (and other orders and ministry in the Church) as questions of power, privilege, prestige, or honor. Ministry is to “be there” where God calls us.
• The deacon’s charism is effective in “bringing about a poor, servant Church.”
Soon after he was name Pope, Francis told a group of journalists: "How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor."
Becoming poor, becoming one with the poor, the church is only following our source, Jesus –
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
That doesn’t mean that one must be poor but it does mean, for me, that the cause of the poor is my cause, that I accompany them.
As Blessed Oscar Romero said in a homily shortly before his death:
… We want a church that is really side by side with the poor, with the people of El Salvador. And as we draw near to the poor, we find we are gradually uncovering the genuine face of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. We are getting to know closer at hand the mystery of the Christ who becomes human and becomes poor for us.
What else does the church do here? It proclaims the good news to the poor, I said….
I do mean that those who have for centuries listened to bad news and lived even worse realities are now hearing from the church the word of Jesus: “The reign of God is near; it is yours! Blessed are you poor, for the reign of God is yours.”
Hence the church has good news to proclaim to the rich as well; they are to turn to the poor and thus share with them in the riches of God’s reign that belong to the poor.
• The deacon exercises a “missionary function.”
The deacon is not to stay inside the church – either the building or the people who make up the church. The deacon is to be a missionary to the world.
This can be seen very effectively in the lives of those deacons who are married and who hold jobs in the world. They can be missionaries in the workplace, consecrating their workplaces, bearing Christ into the streets and offices of the city, into the fields and forests of the world.
For me, this will mean going out to the villages more often, in order to animate their lives of faith. It means continuing to help people see that being the People of God is not practiced within the walls of a church but must be practiced in daily life.
• The deacon exercises his mission “for the integral liberation of the human being.”
The deacon is to be one who opens himself and others to the freedom of the people of God, a freedom that opens us to life with God.
Liberation is, as Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi, 9:
As the kernel and center of His Good News, Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses [the human person] but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him. All of this is begun during the life of Christ and definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection. But it must be patiently carried on during the course of history, in order to be realized fully on the day of the final coming of Christ…
It is not merely a “spiritual” liberation from sin, but a liberation from that which prevents us from living a God’s People and finally arriving at full enjoyment of the Reign of God on the day of Christ’s finally coming.
The deacon, in a special way, lives the connection between our life of faith and our life in the world. In this way, he can also, even by his example, show the relation between faith and the world, between salvation from sin and salvation from injustice.
How then can I live this?
This is a question to ponder as I approach my service as a deacon – and every day of my life.