Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

Deacons serve physically and spiritually

Voices Jun 5, 2017

This is an excerpt from a homily given during Mass for the ordination of three new permanent deacons May 26.

The deacons’ ministry is a visible sign of the Church’s service to the world; they will dedicate themselves generously to the works of charity and justice in the Archdiocese, above all to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

In doing so, they are continuing the ministry of waiting on tables entrusted to the first seven deacons as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

The service the first deacons were to provide was absolutely concrete, as Pope Benedict wrote, “yet at the same time it was also a spiritual service; theirs was a truly spiritual office which carried out an essential responsibility of the Church, namely a well ordered love of neighbour.”

This reminds us that the ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian, orderly way belongs in the fundamental structure of the Church.

Those entrusted to this ministry were not just any good men but those known to be and put forward by the community as “men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Reputable and wise were the first deacons.

Reputable and wise were the first deacons, setting the standard for the Church’s choice down through the centuries. Moreover, they were not simply to be servants waiting on tables but they were presented to the Apostles who prayed and, following an ancient Jewish gesture used to set apart individuals for special ministry, they laid their hands upon them.

Theirs is a ministry which gives “holy order” to the Church’s life, expressing an essential element of what it means “to be Church.”

We are a people called to hear and practise God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, and exercise charity. While the deacon’s ministry is involved in all three dimensions, in particular they are entrusted with caring for the marginalized, those on the fringes of ecclesial and social life: the unborn, the sick, the abused, the dying and bereaved, the disabled, those with troubled marriages, the homeless, victims of substance abuse, prisoners, refugees, and street people.

They seek out the lost and forlorn – those alienated from the sacramental life – and lift up those who have fallen. As servants of the Lord and servants of the Church, deacons are to foster charity and justice in an exemplary way, guiding us all to such service.

As those who proclaim Jesus, therefore, brothers, you are called to serve, and those who serve proclaim Jesus.

The Lord was the first to show us this. He, the eternal Son of the Father, himself became our servant. “He became the servant (diakonos) of all,” wrote St. Polycarp in the second century. Those who proclaim him are called to act as he did. A disciple of Jesus cannot take a road other than that of the master.

One mark of a "good and faithful servant," is his availability.

One mark of a “good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21), of a good deacon, is his availability. He trains himself to be generous with his life and to realize that it is no longer his own, but given over to others. Those who serve cannot hoard their free time; they know time is not their own, but a gift from God, which is then offered back to him. Only in this way will they bear fruit.

In the words of Pope Francis: “A servant knows how to open the doors of his time and inner space for those around him, including those who knock on those doors at odd hours, even if that entails setting aside something he likes to do or giving up some well deserved rest. Dear deacons, if you show you are available to others, your ministry will not be self-serving, but evangelically fruitful.”

In the Upper Room Jesus tells his disciples they are not just servants, but invited to something deeper, and more profound: they are called to friendship. “No longer do I call you servants, Jesus said to the twelve, but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). The Lord makes us his friends. This is the most beautiful part of being a Christian and, especially, of being a deacon: becoming a friend of the Lord.

Before you proclaim God’s word or preach, spend time in prayer meditating on the depth of the Lord’s love for us. Ask him to make you a messenger of his redeeming love. Before you assist at the altar of the Lord or distribute Holy Communion, baptize, or preside at a wedding, funeral, or a prayer service, spend time in prayer; “abide” with him.

When his love fills your heart, you will be a good servant of the Church’s sacramental life. And before you serve those who press upon you or are troubled in mind and heart, meditate on how the Lord in his love identified with those who are in need, his “little ones.” Thus you will see Jesus in those you serve.