Fifty Years And Counting; Celebrating in “The Big Easy!”

deacon red stoleFrom 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.

Servant Church – Diakonia

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  (John 13: 12-15)

In the above Gospel passage, and in many others, Jesus stressed that those who follow him, must be willing to serve both those within the faith community, and those who are outside of it.  Throughout all the Gospels, Jesus showed through his healing ministry, that the Messiah in their midst came as a servant to all.  So his Church was also to be a servant to all, providing aid and support to the poor, serving those both within and without the Church.  The Greek word “diakonia,” meaning “service,” has been applied to describe an aspect of life in the Christian Church.  As related in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles appointed seven men to serve the Hellenist Christian widows.  In Christian tradition, they became known as the first Deacons.  As the Church grew, so did the number Deacons, performing works of mercy to the poor.  They became an Order in the early Church, an official sign of Church acting as servant to all.

As Europe moved into medieval times, as Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe, as bishops and the Pope inherited secular power, changes began to take hold.  The papacy and the episcopacy began to take on the trappings of the nobility; some adopting the view that they, with the nobility, deserve to be served by the serfs and peasants.  The idea of a servant Church almost disappeared; it was preserved by laypersons who were inspired to serve the poor; by some bishops and priests who established hospitals, homes for orphans, lepersariums.   An active Diaconate also declined, becoming a transactional position that a man would acquire for a period of time before being ordained to the priesthood.

With the Second Vatican Council, the concept of a servant Church was reborn.  The Council, and many encyclicals since then, have stressed that all members of the Catholic Church are called to participate in the ministry of service to the poor, the homeless, and the forgotten.  Fulfilling this call can take many forms: giving financial support to charities; volunteering for food pantries and kitchens, homeless shelters and centers; visiting patients in hospitals and nursing homes.  We need to be open to promptings of the Holy Spirit; and discern an opportunity to serve and show mercy.

The Council turned once again to the Order of Deacons, to be a visible sign of being a Servant Church.  About fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI reestablished the permanent Diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church.  Men, married and single, from many countries, including the United States, have stepped up and been ordained.  They are servants to the Church and the world, through liturgical participation, works of charity, preaching and being religion educators.  In the Archdiocese of Boston newspaper, The Pilot, three Deacons have written an excellent column on the Permanent Diaconate of today.  I invite you to go read it.

In our country, in our world, there are people in need, who feel abandoned and discarded.  In such times the world needs a Servant Church, to bring hope and relief.  A Church who follows Our Lord Jesus command; “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

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What Happens Next?

Country Mourns 1A week later, our nation is still in mourning over the tragedy occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. 58 individuals confirmed dead; over 500 individuals wounded, some critically. And for an untold number of families and friends of victims; and the citizens of Las Vega, their lives have been turned upside down forever. What makes this event even more frightening, is that authorities still cannot get a handle on a motive; why did a person, for no reason at all, slaughter innocent persons? In many ways, that question alone is terrifying.

Prayer services and remembrances are being held in Las Vegas, and across the country. Politicians are sending condolences and words of comfort to the victim’s loved ones. There are some politicians, however, who have refused to join in such ceremonies or gatherings. They do so because such events have become far too frequent in this nation because of far too many mass shootings. They want actions that will help prevent something like this from happening again. And then, there are those who wish to mute the uproar; who are passionate about their interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They feel that any discussion on the issue of gun control, will deny them of their rights, of their way of life.

So, here is where I go out on a limb. There is a part of me that is a pacifist, who is against the use of lethal force. An early Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, of which I am a member, forbade it members to carry weapons, (during the Middle Ages, that would get you in very hot water!). Yet, at that the same time, I am a pragmatist/realist. I know that American gun culture is here to stay. I am not against those who hunt; whether for need or for sport. I am not against those who feel the need to have a licensed weapon for protection. And I know that lethal force sometimes must be used to defend oneself, and others. What I am against, is the unregulated proliferation of weapons, especially military class automatic or semi-automatic weapons, which are designed to kill as many persons, as rapidly as possible. We have seen what havoc these weapons can wreck upon a community, when they are in the hands of an unstable individual. Yet, our politicians are, in many cases, afraid even to debate or just discuss measures to address this, for fear of the powerful gun lobby.

I pray that reason will take hold again in this country; I pray that our political leaders will be able to sit down with each, and discuss a way forward, that both respects the legitimate desires of gun owners, and will protect citizens from another tragedy like Las Vegas.

I feel the need to quote from Scripture; it might be out of context, but at this moment, it speaks to me:

Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  (Matt 26:50-52)

I hope soon we will all put our “swords” back into its sheath.

One of My Favorite Catholic Bloggers Interviewed

For quite some time now, I have enjoyed reading posts from Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, who writes for the National Catholic Reporter website, NCRonline.org.  She does interviews with various CathDeacon Greg Kendraolics, delving into their faith and spiritual lives.  Today, I discovered that she had interviewed one of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Deacon Greg Kandra.   He is a Permanent Deacon, ordained for the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY.  In 2007, he created “The Deacon’s Bench.”  It currently exists on the Patheos.com website, which has blogs from many faith perspectives.  In the interview, Deacon Kandra shares some of his history, especially his faith life.  And how he began blogging and what being a blogger has meant for him.

I have enjoyed reading his postings, ever since I entered formation for the Diaconate.  He has his finger on the pulse of the Catholic world, the Catholic blogosphere, and the Catholic Diaconate.  I have his posted homilies and commentaries both thought provoking and inspiring.  I really believe that reading his blog placed the seed in my head about maybe blogging myself.  I would recommend “The Deacon’s Bench” to anyone, but especially to my fellow deacons.