Holy Jubilee and Deacons: “Proclaim and Serve”

unnamed-2-740x493The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy focused over the last few days on the ministry of deacons.  Today the Holy Father celebrated Mass in Saint Peter’s Square and thousands of the world’s deacons were there.  The Holy Father’s homily is a short but powerful lesson in diakonia.

In one sense, Pope Francis picks up where St. John Paul II left off sixteen years ago at the 2000 Jubilee.  In his address to deacons during this audience with us, Pope John Paul challenged deacons to be “active apostles of the New Evangelization.”  Today Pope Francis began his homily by quoting St. Paul:

“A servant of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:10). We have listened to these words that the Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, uses to describe himself. At the beginning of his Letter, he had presented himself as “an apostle” by the will of the Lord Jesus (cf. Gal1:1). These two terms – apostle and servant – go together. They can never be separated. They are like the two sides of a medal. Those who proclaim Jesus are called to serve, and those who serve proclaim Jesus.

Active apostles, active servants: no better challenge for deacons!  Not surprisingly Pope Francis reflects what Pope-emeritus Benedict once referred to as “the great et. . .et” (both-and) as contrasted to “aut. . . aut” (either-or).  Pope Benedict was responding to a question from an older priest who had recalled that his seminary spiritual director had once criticized him for preferring playing football over studying, and Pope Benedict rather humorously reassured the priest:

Catholicism. . . has always been considered the religion of the great “et. . . et” [“both-and”]: not of great forms of exclusivism but of synthesis. The exact meaning of “Catholic” is “synthesis”. I would therefore be against having to choose between either playing football or studying Sacred Scripture or Canon Law.

DEACONS JUBILEE MASS

Today, Pope Francis says the same thing about apostles and servants.  We are called to be both, not one or the other.  His simple simile captures it perfectly: apostle and servant “are like the two sides of a medal.”  “A disciple of Jesus cannot take a road other than that of the Master. If he wants to proclaim him, he must imitate him. Like Paul, he must strive to become a servant. In other words, if evangelizing is the mission entrusted at baptism to each Christian, serving is the way that mission is carried out.”

Pope Francis offers three ways deacons can live this great “et. . . et” in our lives:

  1. Be Available.  Most deacons I’ve known over the years readily joke that there’s no such thing as a deacon’s “day off”!  Between responsibilities for our families, our various jobs and professions, as well as ministries, most deacons wouldn’t know what a real “day off” feels like, any more than we can take a “sabbatical” from any of those responsibilities.  I’m sure that Pope Francis’ words touched many a deacon and his family when he observed:

A servant daily learns detachment from doing everything his own way and living his life as he would. . . . [He] has to give up the idea of being the master of his day. He knows that his time is not his own, but a gift from God which is then offered back to him. Only in this way will it bear fruit. One who serves is not a slave to his own agenda, but ever ready to deal with the unexpected, ever available to his brothers and sisters and ever open to God’s constant surprises.

The pope had some words about trying to keep to a “timetable” for service, too:

One who serves is not worried about the timetable. It deeply troubles me when I see a timetable in a parish: “From such a time to such a time”. And then? There is no open door, no priest, no deacon, no layperson to receive people… This is not good. Don’t worry about the timetable: have the courage to look past the timetable. In this way, dear deacons, if you show that you are available to others, your ministry will not be self-serving, but evangelically fruitful.

2.  Be Meek.  Using the example of the centurion who pleads with Jesus to save his servant, the pope stresses that even though the centurion was a man in authority, he was also a man under authority.  The centurion could have thrown his weight around to get help for his servant, but he did not: he approached the Lord meekly and in acknowledgment of Christ’s authority, power, and mercy.  “Meekness,” says Francis, “is one of the virtues of deacons.”

When a deacon is meek, then he is one who serves, who is not trying to “mimic” priests; no, he is meek. . . .  For God, who is love, out of love is ever ready to serve us. He is patient, kind and always there for us; he suffers for our mistakes and seeks the way to help us improve. These are the characteristics of Christian service; meek and humble, it imitates God by serving others: by welcoming them with patient love and unflagging sympathy, by making them feel welcome and at home in the ecclesial community, where the greatest are not those who command but those who serve (cf. Lk 22:26). And never shout, never. This, dear deacons, is how your vocation as ministers of charity will mature: in meekness.

3.  Be Healed.  Finally, Pope Francis turns to the example of the servant whom Christ heals.

The Gospel tells us that he was dear to his master and was sick, without naming his grave illness (v. 2). In a certain sense, we can see ourselves in that servant. Each of us is very dear to God, who loves us, chooses us and calls us to serve. Yet each of us needs first to be healed inwardly. To be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart: a heart healed by God. . . .  .

Dear deacons, this is a grace you can implore daily in prayer. You can offer the Lord your work, your little inconveniences, your weariness and your hopes in an authentic prayer that brings your life to the Lord and the Lord to your life. When you serve at the table of the Eucharist, there you will find the presence of Jesus, who gives himself to you so that you can give yourselves to others. . . ,  to encounter and caress the flesh of the Lord in the poor of our time.

Those final words echo the promise we make at ordination.  The bishop asks, “Are you resolved to shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ, whose body and blood you will give to the people?”  We respond:”I am, with the help of God.”  This Jubilee — this holy season of Mercy — gives us a chance to re-affirm that promise:

“I am, with the help of God!”

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The “O Antiphons” 2015

oAs we entire the final days of Advent, we have reached the time of the beautiful “O Antiphons”.  The USCCB website has this nice introduction:

The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

 

Two years ago I wrote reflections on each Antiphon.  I hope to do the same again this year by updating those reflections through the lens of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

May your blessed Advent continue. . . .

Gaudete

Connecting the Dots: Mary, Vatican II and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

Pope_Francis_before_the_Holy_Door_of_St_Peters_Basilica_during_the_convocation_of_the_Jubilee_of_Mercy_April_11_2015_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano-255x255The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis today in Rome, actually began fifty years ago with the solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council on 8 December 1965.  When dealing with the Catholic Church it is always good to step back and take a long view on what is going on, and today’s events in Rome are no exception.  Let’s connect some dots.

MARY AND THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

The first dot is Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception.  Celebrated in one form or another from the 7th Century, this Feast was established for the entire Church in 1708 by Pope Clement XI.  Fifty years ago, this date was deliberately chosen for the solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council.  6a00d834516bb169e201b8d0bcba63970c-250wiThe Church’s teaching about Mary was originally crafted as a separate document by the curia before the Council began.  However, the world’s bishops rejected this arrangement, rightly including Mary at the heart and climax of its dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium.  Mary, our sister and our mother, the first disciple of the Christ, is held up to all as the model of Christian discipleship.   Fifty years ago, therefore, standing on the same spot where Pope Francis stood earlier this morning, Pope Paul VI ended his homily with the following observation:

While we close the ecumenical council we are honoring Mary Most Holy, the mother of Christ and consequently. . . the mother of God and our spiritual mother. . . . She is the woman, the true woman who is both ideal and real, the creature in whom the image of God is reflected with absolute clarity. . . .

Is it not perhaps in directing our gaze on this woman who is our humble sister and at the same time our heavenly mother and queen, the spotless and sacred mirror of infinite beauty, that we can terminate the spiritual ascent of the council and our final greeting?  Is it not here that our post-conciliar work can begin?  Does not the beauty of Mary Immaculate become for us an inspiring model, a comforting hope?  Oh, brothers, sons and all who are listening to us, we think it is so for and for you.  And this is our most exalted and, God willing, our most valuable greeting.

VATICAN II

1115_p12b500Vatican II is a gift that keeps on giving.  The great historian of the Church, Hubert Jedin, once observed that it takes at least a century to implement the teachings and decisions of a general Council.  If he is correct, and I believe he is, we have only now just reached the fifty yard line as we say in American football.  For all the progress made, much more remains to be done.  Let’s take a closer look at those closing ceremonies to the Council, because there are some significant elements there that point the way to what happened earlier today.

THE SERVANT CHURCH

First, on 7 December 1965, Pope Paul celebrated Mass with the Council Fathers.  This was the last general assembly of the Council and the day before the Solemn Closing.  In his speech to the Fathers, Paul summarized the four year work of the Council:

deacon-feetAnother point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has, so to say, declared herself the servant of humanity, at the very time when her teaching role and her pastoral government have, by reason of the council’s solemnity, assumed greater splendor and vigor: the idea of service has been central.

Later, Pope Paul referred to this service in a particular way when he spoke of the service of the Good Samaritan as the role of the Church in the modern world.  But I’m getting ahead of myself!  More about the Samaritan a little later.  For now, this identification of the Church as servant can serve as a valuable hermeneutic when studying the work of the Council as well as the efforts of our leaders ever since.  In particular, this can be a profound insight into the way in which Pope Francis exercising the Petrine ministry — and in a most special way — his declaration of an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

UNIVERSALITY

In his homily fifty years ago, Paul VI begins by proclaiming that his greeting, his message, and indeed the message of the entire Council is universal.  He refers to his brother bishops, to the representatives of nations who were in attendance, to the entire People of God, “and it is extended and broadened to the entire world.  How could it be otherwise if this council was said to be and is ecumenical, that is to say, universal?”

Paul-VIPope Paul digs deeper, using the image of a bell:

Just as the sound of the bell goes out through the skies. . . so at this moment does our greeting go out to each and every one of you.  To those who receive it and to those who do not, it resounds pleadingly in the ear of every person. . . . No one, in principle, is unreachable; in principle, all can and must be reached.  For the Catholic Church, no one is a stranger, no one is excluded, no one is far away. . . .  This is the language of the heart of one who loves.

After greeting specific groups of people, especially those who are ill and imprisoned and suffering, he continues:

Lastly, our universal greeting goes out to you who do not know us, who do not understand us, who do not regard us as useful, necessary or friendly.  This greeting goes also to you who, while perhaps thinking they are doing good, are opposed to us. . . . Ours is a greeting, not of farewell which separates, but of friendship which remains and which, if so demanded, wishes to be born. . . .  May it rise as a new spark of divine charity in our hearts, a spark which may enkindle the principles, doctrine and proposals which the council has organized and which, thus inflamed by charity, may really produce in the Church and in the world that renewal of thoughts, activities, conduct, moral force and hope and joy which was the very scope of the council.

people-out-perspFinally, at the end of the Mass closing the Council, a remarkable thing happened.  Most people today are unaware that it even took place, and that is a real tragedy, for it sheds a light on the whole proceedings, and points the way to our contemporary Jubilee.  A series of messages from the Council Fathers was read to the world.  The bishops of the Council prepared these messages because they wanted the world to realize that the Council had not been simply an exercise of ecclesiastical navel-gazing; rather, the work of the Council was focused outward, to the very real needs of the people and the world.  In the introduction to the messages, the bishops write:

We seem to hear from every corner of the world an immense and confused voice, the questions of all those who look toward the council and ask us anxiously: “Have you not a word for us?”  For us rulers?  For us intellectuals, workers, artists?  And for us women?  For us of the younger generation, for us the sick and the poor?

These pleading voices will not remain unheeded.  It is for all of these categories of people that the council has been working for four years.  It is for them that there has been prepared this Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which we promulgated yesterday amidst the enthusiastic applause of your assembly. . . .

Before departing, the council wishes to fulfill this prophetic function and to translate into brief messages and in a language accessible to all, the “good news” which it has for the world. . . .

Then, dramatically, a number of the bishops stood up, and in a variety of languages, read out the messages.  To each group, support and encouragement was offered, as well as the challenges within each area to benefit the entire human race.  The seven messages were addressed:

  1. To the Rulers of the World: Those Who Hold Temporal Power
  2. To People of Thought and Science
  3. To Artists
  4. To Women
  5. To the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering
  6. To Workers
  7. To Youth

It is important to recognize that in every Holy Year celebrated since the Council, there have been particular celebrations during the Year for various groups of persons, which extends this pastoral outreach first demonstrated here at the end of the Council.  This is true of the Extraordinary Jubilee just begun.

MERCY

And so we connect the final dot.

Again we find ourselves assembled in honor of Mary, and Pope Francis reminds us that the “fullness of grace” such as that we recognize in Mary, “can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.”  In Mary we see the love of God, along with a realization that “the beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love.”

Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness.  Sin can only be understood in this light.  Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures.  But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.

In speaking of the Council, Pope Francis recalls and connects the dots for us:

Pope_Francis_prays_after_opening_the_Holy_Door_in_St_Peters_Basilica_Dec_8_2015_launching_the_extraordinary_jubilee_of_mercy_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNAToday, here in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world.  This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith.  Before all else the Council was an encounter.  A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time.  An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. . . Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, ,and the mercy and forgiveness of God.  After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm.  The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council.  May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

May this Jubilee be a celebration of this spirit of the Samaritan in each and every one of our own relationships and encounters.kindness2

Deacons and Synod 2015

Synod Press ConferenceAt a recent press conference (6 October 2015) held in Rome highlighting some of the points raised thus far in the Synod, Father Thomas Rosica summarized one particular area of special concern for deacons.  As phrased by Father Rosica, some Synodal Fathers were asking, “How can the permanent diaconate come to the aid of so many people who are in need of mercy?  Are there new ways of using the permanent diaconate and those who are permanent deacons to be real ministers and bearers of mercy?”

Here is a link to the full press conference.  Father Rosica’s brief questions on the diaconate begin at about 24:08.

Before going on, let me point out that by focusing on this particular issue I am not ignoring other and far more substantive matters before the Synod!  However, deacons are not often mentioned in a context such as this, so it seems important for those of us interested in the diaconate to stop and take a closer look.

thomas-rosicaFirst: this was a summary given by Father Rosica.  It suggests that the questions may have been present in the interventions by several bishops, but we don’t know any other details.  Therefore, the phrasing of the summary is Rosica’s alone and we want to be cautious not to read too much into it as we would if it were contained in some kind of magisterial document!

DurocherSecond: Although Father Rosica doesn’t allude to the intervention of Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec (who was also present at the press conference but remained silent on this point), I’m guessing that it was within the context of “how can permanent deacons be real ministers or bearers of mercy?” that the Archbishop may have offered his intervention that there should be a conversation about women deacons.  From what I’ve seen so far, however, there’s no way to confirm that.  So, I do not wish to sidetrack onto that specific question in any case, because I think that Rosica’s questions themselves have foundational importance to how we understand and employ the diaconate in general.

Third: Although the Synod is, of course, focused on the family, notice how the questions on the diaconate refer in a particular way to mercy itself, so these are very broad based questions that suggest important opportunities for the diaconate in general, not simply within the context of the family.

So, to the questions.

new way“How can the permanent diaconate come to the aid of so many people who are in need of mercy?”  My first reaction to this question was to think of all the ways deacons already are coming to the aid of so many people!  In fact, I admit to a bit of defensiveness: What did the bishops (or, perhaps this was Father Rosica’s misperception) think we were already doing?  But then I settled down and thought, “What more COULD we be doing?”  And, of course, “How effectively are we already doing this — or not?”

  1.  Are we truly ministers of mercy?  If yes, how precisely are we doing that, across the spectrum of Word, Sacrament, and Charity?  Am I full of mercy when I preach and teach?  Am I full of mercy when we celebrate baptisms and weddings and all the myriad liturgical and sacramental ministries we’re involved in?  Am I full of mercy when offering a helping hand to the sick, marginalized, and the dying?
  2. After this examination of conscience, are there specific ways — more intentional ways — of conveying God’s mercy to others.  What are the very concrete ways (the “concrete consequences” of the deacon’s ministry referred to by Herbert Vorgrimler) we can be better at this?  After all, if the bishops (or Father Rosica) don’t perceive that we’re already doing this, then that perception is problematic and we need to work to fix it.

The second way Father Rosica phrased the question was interesting, too:

“Are there new ways of using the permanent diaconate and those who are permanent deacons to be real ministers and bearers of mercy?”

Here I sense several significant opportunities:

First: Notice the distinction he makes between the diaconate itself and those of us who are deacons.  This suggests that there is interest in the very nature of the diaconate, the fundamental core of the Order.

Second: What are the possible “new ways” of using the diaconate?  Taking just one example: might there be a re-opening of the question of deacons anointing the sick under certain circumstances, perhaps?  Most of the ways we can be used are already included in our canon and liturgical law, so something “new” would seem to be suggesting a willingness to look at things not previously considered.  I am using Anointing of the Sick only as an example here; I am not promoting it or suggesting that this is what is being suggested at the Synod.  But if the bishops are open to looking at “new ways” of using deacons, what might come up in the discussions?

Pope-Feet-2_2522628bThird: When Father Rosica alludes to deacons becoming “real ministers and bearers of mercy,” the first thing I thought of was what is happening with our priests in this regard.  Remember that the Holy Father has found new ways for priests to extend the hand of God’s mercy through sacramental reconciliation, and that he’s even identifying priests to go around the world to offer reconciliation.  Again not wanting to read too much into Father Rosica’s words here, but what additional responsibilities — what “new ways” — might the bishops find for deacons to take on?  Again, I am not proposing anything, and in particular, I am not suggesting that we start hearing confessions!  However, the questions here are most intriguing, and it will be interesting to see what the bishops might discuss.

If for no other reason then, these questions give us much to pray over and to ponder in the days and weeks ahead.  How can we deepen and extend our existing activities even more to convey God’s mercy to all?