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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Catholic Deacon - Is he the parish activist or something else?

I recently received an e-mail from a man in the United Kingdom. He appears to be a good, intelligent, and spiritual man, but stated that he really didn't understand the role of a deacon, or at least had a bad experience or two with a deacon, and asked me to elaborate what I thought the role of a deacon was.

Sooooooooooooooooo, here are my thoughts.

A Deacon is a Man caught in two different worlds.
This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.

I am a member of the clergy, but I don't look like one. At least not most of the time. I only wear special clothes when serving at Mass, otherwise I look just like the laity.

This is a good thing. I am able to live and interact in places that the clergy cannot so easily enter. I hold a secular job, and interact with people in a setting away from the church. The majority of my ministry is held within my life in the secular world......

From the beginging of the church, the apostles found it necessary to identify a few men, men of good character, and full of the spirit, to tend to the needs of the widows and orphans so they could be free to preach and have Mass.

Yes, I am allowed to assist with some Sacraments (i.e Marriages, Baptisms, Funerals) and assist at Mass and preach homilies, but my main ministry is meant to be with the people where they live, in their homes, their work, their schools, their jails, and their hospitals.

The life of a deacon is to be the face and spirit of Jesus and a servant. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Diakonia, service, is the ministry of Jesus, and the Deacon represents that service.

I AM NOT A PRIEST, I don't look like a priest, I might have some similarities in my actions, but they are not the actions of a priest, but rather the actions of Jesus.

Don't misunderstand. I have the highest regard for priests, they have dedicated their lives for the service of the Lord. That was their calling, mine was to be a Husband, a Father, and a Deacon......Much Different.

I am to be a bridge between the secular world and the world of faith, religion, and the church.

I have met some deacons that are exactly what I have been discussing, and I have met others who in my opinion have confused their roles with a priest.

I am thankful for the work that I am allowed to do at the parish, but it is only through my work away from the parish that gives life and meaning to what I do at the parish.

I was once told that if the deacon doesn't have a dedicated and active life of service to the poor, the sick, and the marginalized, he has no business preaching at the parish.

What would he have to say that would contain any significance if it wasn't related to his personal experiences of service.

The priests are far better trained in theology, philosophy, and catechesis than are deacons. It is only through real life experiences as a deacon, a servant, who may also be a husband, and a father, that brings special meaning to his actions while also in service at a parish.

A deacon can live his whole life without participating in any activity in a parish and could fulfill his calling. He has been called to be a servant to the children of God, to evangelize, and to be the face of Christ to the world.

I myself, had no desire regarding the activities of a parish, not that I dislike them, but I see myself as a reserved and introverted person. I enjoy one on one converations and have a little difficulty with large groups.
However, I do find a desire to serve those who are not actively involved in a parish.
I hope to be a positive Christian representation to those individuals, and to hopefully bring them to a relationship with Christ. It is often without any preaching that I am told is my most influential tool, that my relationships in my work, coaching kids, and making friends, that the evangelization begins and seeds are palnted.
It is then through those external relationships, that friendships develop, maybe in Redding California, maybe in San Lucas Toliman Guatemala, maybe in Ohio, maybe in Honduras, that there are clear messages that become apparent, and then those messages and experiences develop a larger meaning, and then those experiences can be shared at a parish.

OK enough said.......

As you can tell, My idea of a deacon is to be a humble servant of the Lord. Not one to be held up on a pedestal, but rather to assume the position of servant. The reward is meant to happen in heaven, not here on earth.......

It is the deacon that willing accepts with gratitude the work and opportunity of working with and serving those who have the greatest need, and those who have the greatest suffering while at the same time providing for my own family.

I am a brand new deacon, a baby deacon, a deacon with little experience and I have no illusion that I posses the answers to how to live this life.

I do know that God has given me a wonderful wife, a wife who has a spirituality far greater that I posses, a wisdom and faith much superior to my own, and I have been given 3 great children to raise, to mentor, and to parent.

God has implanted in me a quiet, yet deep desire to work for him. He has lead me thus far through a life of such great love and joy, although allowed trials, and failures, and growth, all in what I believe to be preparation for a much great mission.
I am not sure where God will take our family, but our eyes and ears are open, and we are willing to follow his desires.
OK, the end.

See if you ever ask me again for my thoughts about "What is a Deacon."


Joe said...

Many thanks for sharing your response to my question about the diaconal role, and doing so in such a thorough and thoughtful way.

I like your point about not confusing the role of the deacon with that of the priest - I think that touches on my difficulty where I have come across the diaconal role in the parish being spoken of as "helping the priest with baptisms, etc".

I was very interested, too, in the way in which you see your diaconal role as being mainly lived out in your work with people where they live and work, in their homes, schools etc. Perhaps what I can see here is that you have a sense of your diaconal vocation that is distinctively your "own", a vocation that you have in your "own right" rather than through "delegation" from, say, the parish priest. Yes, you act in communion and collaboration with the priest and bishop, but this is not the same as being only their "delegate". This comes back to not confusing the diaconal role with the priestly.

May I ask a supplementary question?

I can certainly see how the deacon is a bridge between the world of the Church and Christian faith and the secular world. How does this differ from the way in which a lay person would be a bridge between faith and the secular world?

I get the impression that the permanent diaconate is not as numerically well established here in the UK as it is in some other countries. This probably has consequences for how well individual deacons understand and develop their roles; my - very limited - experience seems to suggest that they develop a kind of dependence on their parish for their role, perhaps because there are not good examples of anything else for them to see.

Deacon Pat said...

In answering your question:

"I can certainly see how the deacon is a bridge between the world of the Church and Christian faith and the secular world. How does this differ from the way in which a lay person would be a bridge between faith and the secular world?"

All Christians through baptism, share in the priestly, prophet, and kingship of Jesus. Lay as well as ordained share in being a "Bridge" for non-christians.

However, there is a unique role that a deacon can also play. The Cathecism of the Catholic Church can explain the role of a deacon far better than I could, so the following is a few words from the catechism:

"At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry.'"53 At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon's special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his "diakonia."54

Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.55 The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all.56 Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.57

Since the Second Vatican Council the Latin Church has restored the diaconate "as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy,"58 while the Churches of the East had always maintained it. This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church's mission. Indeed it is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should "be strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate."59

VII. The Effects of the Sacrament of Holy Orders

The indelible character

This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.

As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.74

The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.

With regard to deacons, "strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the Gospel, and of works of charity."81

Joe said...

A bit by accident, I came across a message/pastoral letter from the Bishop of Lancaster here in England. Go to www.lancasterrcdiocese.org.uk, the diocesan website. Hover your mouse over the "About the diocese" and then click on the "Bishop's messages" link that appears.

The message on "Training of Deacons" seems to very much reflect the point about not confusing the role of the deacon with that of the priest.