Sunday, July 03, 2016

Worthiness and the diaconate

May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

Yesterday I asked Padre German if he would lie for me at the ordination ceremony on July 15.

I was being facetious but the question was sincere.

During the ordination rite, a priest presents the candidate, saying:

holy mother Church asks you to ordain this man, our brother, for service as deacon.

The bishop, in turn, asks:

Do you judge him to be worthy?

The priest responds:

After inquiry among the people of Christ
and upon recommendation of those concerned with his training,
I testify that he has been found worthy.

In the Orthodox Church the congregation is asked the question and responds:  Ἄξιος – Worthy.

What has become clearer to me this year is recognizing – in a non-denigrating way – that I am not worthy.

What this means became clearer this week when I read a passage from a Sermon of the English Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx, found in Benedictine Daily Prayer, speaking on Peter and Paul as the pillars of the church.
These are the pillars that support the Church by their teaching, their prayers, their example of patience. Our Lord strengthened these pillars. In the beginning they were very weak and could not support either themselves or others. This had been wonderfully arranged by our Lord, for if they had always been strong, one might have thought their strength was their own. Our Lord wished to show first what they were of themselves and only afterwards to strengthen them, so that all would know that their strength was entirely from God. Again, these apostles were to be leaders of the Church and physicians who would heal the sick. But they would be unable to pity the weaknesses of others unless they had first experienced their own weakness.
Am I willing to recognize my own weakness so that I can empathize with the weaknesses of others? Or do I fail to acknowledge my weaknesses and so build defensive walls that keep people out? 

Reading a medieval monk reminded me of a passage from James Keating’s Heart of the Diaconate, The: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ: 
To be called to an ecclesial vocation is not a crown placed upon virtues; it is an act of mercy from Christ in light of one’s own spiritual weakness. Having mercy upon our weakness, the Lord gifts a man with ordination and all the assistance that such a state in life can bring: the liturgy of the hours, daily or more frequent Mass attendance, service to the needy as ministerial obligation, the responsibility of holding a public place as a spiritual leader, and deterrents to sin such as knowing that one has “to preach on Sunday,” or one has to lead others down the path to conversion through the RCIA, adult faith formation, and spiritual counseling, for example. Within all these “helps” and more, Christ begins to slowly shrivel the ego and fill that space with his own servant mysteries. Becoming a deacon is not an honor in the sense that one wins an award for a lifetime of service. In fact, it may be a lifeline of divine mercy to someone who is so weak in the spiritual battle that he needs further and deeper institutional support.
I do not have to be perfect; in fact, it’s better that I know that I am imperfect. I do not have to be strong; it’s better that I can share a bit in the weakness of others. I do not have to be the perfect deacon, speaking perfect Spanish.

What counts is that I am open to mercy – accepting God’s mercy shown to me and sharing that mercy to all those I encounter.

That’s the only way I can see to respond to the question of worthiness.

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