Saturday, August 08, 2020

Deacon reflection 6

 What’s different, being a deacon?

A few months after I had been ordained, my pastor asked me what was different.


Not much, I told him.


I was continuing my work in visiting communities on Sundays for Celebrations of the Word with Communion as I had been doing for years. I was continuing to visit the sick and bringing them communion. I continued working with catechists and helping to organize the social ministry in the various communities.


There were some differences in the way I presided at Celebrations of the Word with Communion and in how I visited the sick. The most obvious difference was that I was giving a blessing to those I encountered.


There were a few new things. I baptized a few times and presided at funerals.


I was a member of the clergy.


As such, I had a position within the church. I was ordained for the order of the community, in my case to image Christ the Servant.


But a real difference for me was that I was no longer a “free agent.”


I had come to Honduras as a volunteer and offered myself to the bishop to serve as he saw fit. But I was a volunteer. I had no contract. I had no official commitment. I could leave when I wanted.


But ordination meant that I was no longer a volunteer. I had a role in the church as a deacon. I couldn’t, without permission, just get up and leave. I had been called and ordained for a specific service in this local church, the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras.


Now, I’m here as one with a particular ministry in the diocese. I’m no longer here on my own.


This isn’t a privilege, nor an honor. It’s a calling to live out.


Before my ordination, I had been serving in the church and the world. But now I’m expected to do this because of being called in a different way.


This doesn’t mean that all the baptized are not called to serve. That’s part of who we are as persons baptized into Christ who is prophet, priest, and king (servant), as the rite of anointing with chrism after Baptism notes.


This is who I am now, not above anyone, but commissioned, ordained, to serve the People of God in a special and visible way.


All of us who are baptized are also called to live as Christ, as member of His Body. Before we were baptized, if we were baptized as adults, we may have been living as Christians. But, by baptism, we are doing this publicly, commissioned to do this – not because we want to, but because of who we are.


And so, I am now called to serve, not because I want to, as a free agent, but as I am – called to be an Icon of Christ the Servant in the world, at the service of the People of God, especially the poor.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Deacon reflection 5

 Dachau and the prophetic role of deacons

The first thing I read after Bishop Darwin Andino asked me to consider the diaconate was an article by Deacon William Ditewig in US Catholic. (Source noted below.)


In that article, which is well worth reading, he noted the recent origins of the permanent diaconate in the priests’ barracks at the Dachau concentration camp. More than 2,500 priests, as well as Orthodox priests and a bishop and Protestant clergy were held there. I wrote about this shortly before I was ordained in this blog post.


In Dachau, several priests began discussions about the church, concerned that, in the face of World War I and the rise of Nazism, the Church had not been as aware and forthright as it might have been. Having deacons, who were involved in their “mundane” occupations, might be a way for the institutional church to be more aware of what was happening – not just in the political sphere but also in the daily lives of the faithful.


I see this as one of the most important aspects of the restored diaconate, one that I fear is not always practiced.


The permanent deacon has, most often, a family and a job “in the world”. I am an exception, being single and working in the church.


The married deacon can bring to his ministry the joys and the struggles of family life, including raising children with values that are very much different than those of the dominant culture of competition, individualism, and domination. These can influence his preaching, his ways of connecting with people, and even his role in the sacraments of baptism and matrimony. They also can open his heart to the needs of poor and broken families.


The deacon with a “secular” job can not only bring the Gospel to impact on the workplace, but he has the opportunity to show in his work the dignity and holiness of work that serves the common good and keeps the poor at the center of our concern.


But there is another dimension that I have not seen all too often. The deacon can bring to the Church, both the local congregation and the bishops and priests, the injustices and the temptations to worship the gods of power, wealth, and sex that he encounters in the world.


I wish that we deacons were more visible in this prophetic aspect of our ministry – following the example of Christ who is prophet, priest, and servant-king.

visiting the sick in a rural village

Where am I in the face of the injustices around us?


I do mention the problems of corruption in some of my homilies, but is there more that I can do? A few times I have shared my concerns with the bishop, usually in a letter or e-mail. I accompanied the bishop and some priests when he went to the town of Azacualpa where a mining company is moving a cemetery to extract the gold found under it. I also try to share my concerns in my blog and on my Facebook page.


This can be done and we deacons should do it more.


Our prophetic word, our analysis of reality, our denunciations of injustice must be done – but with a spirit of love and based in the message of the Gospels.


So much of the discussion about issues is partisan and vituperative.


How can we be prophetic – in truth and in love?




"A call of their own: The role of deacons in the church", US Catholic, June 2014.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Deacon reflection 4

The deacon and serving in the margins


The tradition says that the first seven deacons were chosen by the apostles in response to a crisis in the early Christian community. (Acts 6:1-7) The Hellenists, the non-Hebrew speaking followers, complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily ministry. So seven “reputable men, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit” were chosen.


It is notable that the name “deacon” does not appear in the account in the Acts of the Apostles, though the complaint was the widows were neglected in the daily diakonia (ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ).


For many years this was understood as serving at the table, caring for the physical needs of the Hellenists in the community. Recently, some writers have contended that it is inadequate to speak of them as serving at table since the word deacon had a wider meaning at that time. I don’t want to go into this dispute here which I think is overstated and may mislead us in trying to comprehend the ministry of the deacon which should be seen as three-fold.


A recent Instruction of the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy "The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church” noted that Pope Saint Paul VI, “reaffirmed that the deacon serves Christian communities ‘in proclaiming the Word of God, in sacramental ministry and in the exercise of charity’.”


What is interesting in the Acts of the Apostles is that, though the deacons were formed to assist those in need, we find two of them, Stephen and Philip, evangelizing. Stephen, the first martyr, defends the community in the face of the religious leaders of the day. But Philip evangelizes and baptizes those outside the Jewish community, people in Samaria, a people despised by the Judean community, and then an Ethiopian eunuch.

I would suggest that the first “deacons” were needed to respond to those at the margins – first the widows of the Hellenists in the community and then Samaritans and even an Ethiopian.


From his first days as Pope, Pope Francis has spoken of the call to “go to the peripheries,” to seek out those on the margins. (Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 20.) He has shown this in his washing of the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, in his visit to the refugees on Lampedusa in the first months of his papacy, in his openness to people of many faiths – and no faith.


As I see my ministry as a deacon, I am called to go out to the peripheries; for me this means, at the very least, going out to the impoverished in the remote parts of the parish where I serve here in Honduras. For others it may mean reaching out to those in prisons and hospitals. I have heard of one deacon who is active in the struggle for the abolition of the death penalty in the state where he lives. I know of another deacon who is reaching out in solidarity with the gay and lesbian communities in the town.


The deacon should not be reduced to being in humble service to the poor, nor should he be limited to a role at the altar or to preaching and teaching. We should be involved in all – but with a special emphasis on reaching out to the marginalized.


The deacon should be one who goes out, in imitation of Jesus who did not remain in heaven to save us from afar but, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 5-8)


Jesus come to be with those on the margins and so should the deacon leave the sanctuary to be with those at the margins, serving them and being a living sign of the Gospel, at times evangelizing with words.


The question is whether I as a deacon am really serving in the margins.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Deacon reflection 3

The Ordained Deacon and the Baptized

When the bishop asked me to consider the diaconate, I shared with him one of my concerns: Would this create a wider breach between me and the people I serve?

I am aware that there is a breach already between us. I am white, from the United States, I have bank accounts and an assured income (Social Security). I have many more years of education than most of the people I work with. I can leave whenever I want for the United States and don’t need a visa to visit there since I am a US citizen. I can take vacations, even to Europe (if I save enough money). I am from a different culture and prefer different foods (though I love baleadas and pupusas). Would becoming a deacon, a member of the clergy, create a further breach? I still struggle with this.

Some of my concern is with the clericalism I see here. Many people have a clericalist view of the clergy. Not only does Father know best, his word is law – for some lay people. It is not easy to find people with a critical consciousness, able to raise questions with priests and bishops. I have also seen aspects of clericalism among some priests, a sense of entitlement and superiority and an unwillingness to hand over responsibilities to lay people. I have also known priests who seek to empower the people.

Avoiding any type of clericalism or sense of entitlement or power over others is absolutely necessary. But I think there is also a need to rethink the sacrament of holy orders, especially in light of the sacrament of baptism.

For me, the sacrament of holy orders is a special way to some members of the community to live out their baptism in such a way as to “order” the life of the people of God.

The deacon serves in the church in evangelization, liturgy, and charity.

In our diocese the pastoral work is organized for the most part, in three areas, which we call the Triple Ministry – the prophetic, the liturgical, and the social.  In the rite of baptism in Spanish, the baptized person is anointed with chrism, “para que se incorpore a su pueblo y sea para siempre miembro de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey” – so that the baptized person may be incorporated to God’s people and be forever a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, for the good of the whole Church. The deacon needs to place emphasis on servanthood – which is the way Christ see being a King. But he will also live out the other two aspects. And so, for me, the diaconate is trying to live as the evangelizer, the servant of the poor, and the minister at the altar.

I am there not to replace the non-ordained in the ministries but, in the words of Pope Saint Paul VI, to be a driving force, an animator of diaconía for the whole church.

The deacon is not above the baptized. He is called to live out his baptism in a unique way, serving God and the People of God.

There are my first thoughts on this important issue: How can is the ordained diaconate related to baptism? I plan to write more on this.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Deacon reflection 2

Why are there deacons and why me?

After the bishop’s invitation to consider the diaconate, I began to read and pray.

The diaconate as a permanent grade of the sacrament of Holy Orders had been restored after the Second Vatican Council. Between the Middle Ages and Vatican II, the diaconate was considered almost exclusively as a step on the way to the priesthood.

There were a few cases of men who remained deacons. Saint Francis of Assisi is said to be among them. There was also a suggestion at the Council of Trent to revive the permanent diaconate. There were discussions during the nineteen century.

During the Second World War, priests in the Dachau concentration camp seriously discussed the diaconate in the light of what they considered to be a church out of touch with the world. After the war, some of those priests and other theologians wrote on the topic. There were also laypeople who began discussions and formed Deacon Circles. Pope Pius XII at one point said it was not yet time for permanent deacons.

But the bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) took up the questions and in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, opened the way to the ordination of men, even married men, to the diaconate as a permanent grade of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

They began paragraph 29 with a description of the deacon:

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service." For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: "Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all."

They then suggest the restoration, with an openness to ordaining “men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state.”

I knew this but I had to read the Decree on Mission, Ad Gentes, to really see how I might be a candidate for the diaconate.

In paragraph 16 the bishops wrote:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life... 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.

When I read this, I was stunned.

Soon after I came to Honduras in 2007, I began helping in the training of catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. With a new pastor in 2013, I soon began going out several Sundays to distant villages to preside at Celebrations of the Word with Communion. I also have been involved in efforts to respond to the needs of the poor – first through visiting a kindergarten in a poor neighborhood in Santa Rosa, and a lunch program for kids; then through assisting in the diocesan Caritas office; and then more recently in efforts in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council were proposing that those who had been involved in one of the three areas of evangelization, worship, or service to the poor might be ordained to the diaconate “to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar.”

I had been serving in all three areas. Maybe what I needed was “the sacramental grace of the sacrament” and the life commitment to serve.

 And so I continued my discernment.

Grinding coffee in a distant village while with Caritas