Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saint Bonaventure and a diaconal spirit

God willing, Monseñor Darwin Andino will ordain me as a permanent deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, on Friday, July 15, which is the feast of St. Bonaventure.

Saint Bonaventure was an early Franciscan noted for his learning who lived from 1221 to 1274. He is noted for his learning and his writings as well as for his leadership of the Franciscan order in times of turmoil. He was a friend and colleague of St. Thomas Aquinas, though their theological and theological approaches were quite different. He produced a life of St. Francis as well as a work that treated Francis in philosophical and theological terms, The Journey of the Mind to God.

But Bonaventure was still a humble friar. He didn’t want to be a bishop, to climb the hierarchical ladder. In fact, he refused to accept the office of archbishop of York. But a later pope finally forced him to become cardinal bishop of Albano. The papal delegates who came pursuing him found Bonaventure in a remote friary, washing dishes. They had to wait until he was finished, according to one story putting the cardinal’s hat on a bush while waiting.

I did not plan to become a deacon. In fact, I forcefully turned down a suggestion in May 2014 by my pastor. But when the bishop independently asked me to consider the permanent diaconate that October I took a second look.

To become a deacon is not to have a higher place in the church. It is not a question of power or privilege or prestige. I think it is a question of washing dishes.

The deacon prepares the table of the Eucharist and presents the bread and wine to the priest during the Offertory. The deacon is also one of those who can purify the vessels after communion – washing the dishes.

In my mind, the deacon should also prepare the table for the poor, working with them to see that all are fed, not just at the table of the Lord but at the family table. Father Paul McPartlan puts it beautifully:

The deacon stands at the altar and prepares the gifts with clean hands, but he stands also where the practical need is greatest, getting his hands very dirty.

May I learn to get my hands dirty, at the side of the poor, so that I might become worthy to stand as a waiter at the table of the Lord.

Rev. Paul McPartland, “The Deacon and Gaudium et Spes,” in The Deacon Reader, edited by James Keating (Paulsit Press), p. 67.

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