Friday, June 10, 2016

A mini-lesson on the permanent deacon

Tomorrow I’m headed out to the meetings of the councils of the four zones of the parish. Padre German has asked me to do a short formation on the permanent diaconate at each meeting.

This will be interesting – not only because it will be a challenge to get to all four places in the morning, but also because it’s a challenge to explain the diaconate in twenty or thirty minutes. But I’ll try.

What do I want to tell them?

I will of course have to explain that the deacon is not a mini-priest but I want to give them a deeper sense of the diaconate that will help them recognize their own call to the ministry of diaconal service.

First of all, the permanent diaconate is a renewal of the role of deacons in the early church.
Second, the deacon is not someone special. The diaconate is not a privilege. The ministry of the deacon is in some ways an intensification of the ministry of all who are baptized. As Thomas Keating has written:
The deacon possesses no unique power by virtue of ordination but possesses a mission in being sent by the bishop; he evokes from others the power that is theirs by baptism.

In our parish we speak a lot about the Triple Ministry that we all receive at baptism when we are joined to Christ Jesus, prophet, priest, and servant-king.

Vatican II’s Constitution of the Church notes that deacons “serve the People of God in the ministry of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity.” The deacon also has a triple ministry, based first of all in his baptism.

Thirdly, the deacon is not to take over or replace the ministry of others but is called to be, in the words of Pope Paul VI, an animator of diaconia, of the ministry of others. Or, as Cardinal Walter Kasper said in a 1997 talk,
[The deacon] should not and cannot conduct the whole diaconia of the Church; but he can and should inspire, motivate and qualify others for diaconal service, and he does this best, if he himself leads by example in his own diaconal works, by his preaching invites others to follow his example and by sacramental service strengthens them for the way ahead.

Fourthly, the deacon is a sign of our call to live as followers of Christ the Servant. He is called to be, in Pope Paul VI’s words, “a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who "came not to be served but to serve.” When people see the deacon they should look through him to see Christ the Servant whom we are call called to follow.

Fifth, the deacon is called to show in a concrete way the connection of the table of the Eucharist with the table of the poor. Cardinal Kasper put it well:
In his ministry of the altar, [the deacon] lays the needs of human beings on the Eucharistic table, and naturally he also speaks of these needs when he preaches. He must make the parish aware of urgent situations of need, motivating them to share with one another and to give practical help.

In an article, Father Paul McPartlan put it very graphically:
The deacon stands at the altar and prepares the gift with clean hands, but he also stands where the practical need is greatest, getting his hands very dirty.

Sixthly, I did not seek this. The bishop asked me to consider it and I put forward all sorts of reasons not to become a permanent deacon. But when I read the paragraph on the diaconate in Vatican II’s Decree of Missionary Life (Ad Gentes), I was shocked into beginning the process:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life, according to the norms of the Constitution on the Church. 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.

Finally, I need to make people aware that this is not a privilege; rather it is a grace to be received in my weakness. James Keating puts it well in The Heart of the Diaconate:
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.

There is so much more I want to share with them, but that will have to wait for another day.

But we will also speak of the ordination day, July 15, with the hope that many can come and share the joy of our call to follow Christ the Servant.

The ordination Mass will also include the ordination of Wilman Pérez, a transitional deacon. Much of the Mass has already been planned, but we will have a part in the procession of offerings during the Presentation of Gifts. 

Padre German and I spoke about this yesterday. Following up on our talk I will suggest that the parish bring sacks of beans, corn, coffee, and salt to present to God and that we take these to a center for abused women and their children in Santa Rosa. That would be really diaconal.

Holy Thursday. Plan Grande, 2014

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