Sunday, May 10, 2015

Deacons and charity

Saint Lawrence is one of the most well-known deacon saints.

Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome while Sixtus was the bishop. When Pope Sixtus was martyred with six other deacons on August 7, 258, Lawrence was spared.

When St. Sixtus was being led away, Lawrence is reputed to have said: "I was your minister when you consecrated the blood of Our Lord; why do you leave me behind now that you are about to shed your own?"

The prefect of Rome knew that Lawrence was in charge of the goods of the church and demanded he hand them over.

Lawrence, according to some accounts, distributed all the church’s good to the poor and then showed up with the poor and the ill, telling the prefect: “These are the treasures of the church.”

Early deacons were involved with the administration of the diocese and thus with care of the poor. Thus, even today, the “service of charity” is central to the ministry of deacons – or at least it should be.

The centrality of charity follows from the deacon’s call to be a servant. As the Vatican’s document on “Basic Norms for the Formation of the Permanent Deacon” puts it (¶ 72):
The element which most characterizes diaconal spirituality is the discovery of and sharing in the love of Christ the servant, who came not to be served but to serve. The candidate must therefore be helped progressively to acquire those attitudes which are specifically diaconal, though not exclusively so, such as simplicity of heart, total giving of self and disinterest for self, humble and helpful love for the brothers and sisters, especially the poorest, the suffering and the most needy, the choice of a lifestyle of sharing and poverty...
Cardinal Walter Kasper put it much more directly:
 The basic spiritual attitude of the deacon… must include a perceptive eye for those suffering distress, illness or fear. The task is to bring a healing that sets them free and empowers them to trust and so to serve and love others.
The service of charity has been, at least theoretically, at the centre of most of my life. At times I have had to be coaxed to actually serve the poor – rather than just talk about it. 

This happened especially at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames where I was challenged to serve the poor directly – partly by meeting with those who came to the church for financial assistance, partly by serving meals at the local shelter.

There I also learned that I cannot do it all by myself and so we established a number of ways for both resident and student parishioners to interview those who came for help and to serve those in need at a local shelter and with other groups that served the poor.

I owe a lot to the women who helped set up St. Thomas’ Love Your neighbor ministry as well as to the university students who formed the Student Justice and Service team and enabled hundreds of students to respond to the needs of the poor. There were also those who challenged me with other ways to serve the poor. It is a great blessing to hear that these ministries continue at St. Thomas.

Those who help start these ministries and continue to serve the poor are my teachers of charity. They are the ones who really have served the poor. They know who they are.

They are my inspiration as I go forward to becoming a candidate for the permanent diaconate.

I am who I am in part because of them.

I thank God for them and pray that I may be worthy of their example.


Image by Ade Bethune.

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