Vocations: Chancellor reflects on service as a deacon
By Deacon Ron Walker
Deacons are occasionally asked what it means to be a deacon. A response listing the many ministerial activities of the particular deacon may readily answer the question. But, personally, this question sometimes moves me into deep prayer and reflection. The word “be” is the most critical word in the question. The world benefits not so much from what the bishop, priest, or deacon does as much as it benefits from who they are. Of course, our actions reflect who we are.
Some years ago, as I stood beside the bishop at the altar, I realized that the character of the deacon is reflected in the second half of one of the Eucharistic prayers. It answers the question of who is a deacon better than my own words.
All men and women are called to serve, yet the deacon is called to serve as a member of the clergy who also works and lives a secular life. While this reflection focuses on the deacon, it applies to all in certain, yet different, ways.
The second part of the Eucharistic prayer begins, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” As I stood and listened to those words, I was overcome with awe that I was extremely privileged to be standing at the altar in Christ’s presence, just two feet away from the action that was being spoken. Me, a sinner and lowly man, had come to this moment where I stood in the presence of Christ with his apostle, the bishop. Remarkable! I was not worthy to be there, but, in his mercy, God brought me there to the altar. God had guided my decisions in life to bring me to that moment. How fragile, and yet so important, our little decisions in life are.
These same words, “held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you,” call the deacon to minister to Christ himself. This speaks directly to the call of service inherent in “diakonia.” If I, the deacon, cannot see Christ when I serve the church or the faithful, then I am not fulfilling my call as a deacon. If I cannot see Christ in my ministry, I must ask whether I am serving properly, or for the right purposes or motivations. For me, this statement is the deacon’s “mission statement” and the test of a deacon’s deepest motivations. Whether I serve at Mass or minister in a hospital, in a prison, in a classroom, or in another area, I must know, see and feel that my service is to Christ. My service must touch him.
The prayer continues, “Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” The Eucharist joins us to Christ as one. The deacon, therefore, constantly returns to the Eucharist, because he is joined to Christ. Without it, he cannot serve Christ or the faithful or help others to be one with Christ. How can the deacon gather others into Christ if he, himself, is not one with Christ? Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ is the source of the deacon’s purpose. It is the place from which the deacon leaves, the place from which he carries Christ to others, the place to which he points others to go, and the place to which he returns. Just like the 72 who went out, the deacon goes out as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. He comes back joyfully having served, even if the service was painful.
“Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope and Joe our Bishop and all the clergy.” The deacon’s ministry has direction and is tied to the church only if the deacon is intimately linked to his bishop. The deacon, working with his bishop, seeks to bring the church to the fullness of charity. These words, fullness of charity, mean that the church seeks to love perfectly, as Christ loves us. Perfect love is never satisfied with not giving more. By serving, the deacon gives himself completely to Christ’s church and, therefore, completely to Christ, but only by going out into the world to serve the faithful in accordance with his bishop’s direction. The deacon is a man of prayer. The deacon prays for the church, especially for his bishop, quietly in liturgy and quietly in his work. He prays for wisdom and strength to leave and enter ministry. The deacon’s work in the church’s ministry is a gift, and it is a gift of the church. The church’s ministry is the fruit of its charity and a source of joy for the deacon and his bishop.
“Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.” While the deacon works today, his service is not only for today but for the eternal. The fruit of his work might not be seen or recognized today or by anyone (except Christ). The ultimate purpose of any work or ministry is for the faithful to be welcomed into the light of God’s face. The reality of God’s mercy that welcomes the faithful into his light makes all the inadequacies in our ministry meaningful and tolerable.
“Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her Spouse, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ.” Why is God pleased with our Blessed Mother, Blessed Joseph, the apostles, and all the saints? Because they said “yes.” Yes, to God’s call to serve and love him. In whatever form their vocation has taken, they have responded “yes,” as our Blessed Mother did at the annunciation and the apostles did in response to Jesus’ call to “follow me.” The deacon says “yes” to God by saying “yes” to his bishop and his canonical superiors. He says “yes” to God by being intimately in love with the Gospel and the Eucharist. He says “yes” to God by ministering according to the directions of his superiors. He knows that he does not own his ministry or have rights to be engaged in ministry or have rights to perform his ministry in any certain way. Any merit he might achieve occurs only by responding “yes” and thereby glorifying God through his son and our brother, Jesus Christ.
“Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.” Amen.