From July 22 to July 26, 2018, 1,300 Catholic deacons, along with their wives and children, gathered in New Orleans, LA, for the 2018 National Diaconate Congress. This year’s meeting was significant because 2018 is the fiftieth anniversary of the restoration of the permanent Diaconate in the Latin Rite Catholic Church. Nationwide, there are 18,500 permanent deacons in the United States. Columnist, blogger, and Deacon, Greg Kandra, shares some of his experiences of the Congress.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, presided at the opening Mass. In his comments to the deacons before the end of the celebration of the Eucharist, he challenged them “to be an evangelizing force in the world.” The homilist at the opening Mass, was Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans. He called on the deacons present to be the “conscience” of the Church; bringing it’s attention to the needs of the poor and powerless. “All Christians are called to charity by their baptism, but deacons lead us as a church in the works of charity,” he said. “We look to you in some ways as the conscience of the church. We ask you to find those who are in need and to invite us to serve them. And when we forget them or fail to be people of charity as a church, we ask you to be our conscience and to call us back to what God asks.”
It is a challenge that all of us deacons need to accept, and act on. Through reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, through prayer and being open to the Spirit, to realize new ways to serve the poor; to be a voice for the poor. To seek from the Holy Spirit the strength to reach out of our “comfort zones,” and encounter the poor where they are. Now is the time for us discover what new ways are open to us on how to live and minister as husbands, parents, and deacons.
There has been a school of thought that when raising our children, we need to be strict, uncompromising about standards of behavior. This “tough love” school was particularly popular some years ago. And among many parents, it still is.
I want to talk about another type of “tough” love. The type of love that Jesus calls us to have for one another. I have been deeply troubled by what has been going on both politically and socially in our nation. Racism is raising it’s ugly head. Splits between poor and rich; blue collar and white collar; liberal and conservative, are becoming more fractious and angry.
This is not completely a new thing, one needs only read about the life and incidents that occurred leading up to the Civil War. In 1854, abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was beaten by a Southern Congressman, on the floor of the Senate Chamber itself. Fast forward, we have a Democratic Congresswoman calling for the harassment of any supporter of President Trump. And his supporters are doing the same to anyone who opposes his policies. And the social media of both sides are egging their followers on. And the country appears to be fracturing.
Jesus taught that there are two prime commandments from which all other commandments come from: You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. And the second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the “tough” love I am speaking about. A love we experience when we open our hearts, our inner selves to God. A love that asks us to change, but also to accept who we are at that moment. And if we can accept ourselves because God does; so must we accept other persons, because God loves them too. They are due at the least respect; even if they do not offer it in return. We can never dehumanize another, turning them into an object of our anger.
Now that does not mean we just standby and remain silent. We are still called to the prophetic role of speaking truth to power. We speak out against those who spread bigotry and hatred of others. But we do not use their own tactics. Look tothe work of Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day, their movements used protests, and civil disobedience; but using non-violence, in word and action, to win people to their side.
So we are challenged by the Spirit, to be faithful to the commandment to love our neighbors; even when they are being asses. Gospel love is “tough” love.