(Editors’ Note: We’re proud to introduce here a new regular column about the theology, practice, and spirituality of the Sacred Order of Deacon.)
So there I was, spending some time on Facebook when I got a message from The Call’s editors. They asked that I write a little column about our faith and social justice from the viewpoint of a deacon. Well, I’m to be ordained a deacon on December 17, 2016. Pretty new to be doing this, I thought. Then I realized I’d been doing, or trying to do, many of the roles of a deacon for years. So, here goes. I hope it helps you gain an insight for yourself.
A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or ‘orders,’ of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops,presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came ‘to serve and not to be served.’ The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.
All ordained ministers in the Church are called to functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these functions in various ways. As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. But no matter what specific functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is that is important. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Well, this is clear enough. But it makes me wonder: am I in over my head? I am OLD! Too old? Maybe, maybe not: time will tell.
I’ve always had a real concern about social justice issues, going all the way back to my high school days in the 1960s. This led me to join the Society of Jesus, where I studied for 10 years. I was a community organizer in Chicago, Toledo and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. After I left the Jesuits, I worked for 30 years with at-risk high school students.
I figured that by now we Baby Boomers would have cleared the pile of societal problems.
So what’s up these days? Well, let me start by saying that in this season of Advent and Christmas, joy and sharing with others is what we as Catholics and Americans are supposedly all about. Are there ways we, both as private individuals and as members of the ANCC, can help those in need?
I think it helps if we look at our world today and explore what needs we can address.
Perhaps first, we can identify some issues. To start, there’s the environment, immigration, politics, racism, hunger, homelessness, sexism, and discrimination to all kinds of groups, just to mention a few.
Next, I suggest narrowing this world of problems down to a manageable one or two that we have a personal stake in and figuring out how we can directly take action. What I’ve been doing for some time now is trying to learn to use small steps to try and approach larger ones. Specifically, I bring communion to folks in an assisted living facility, serve at a liturgy at an Alzheimer Care Unit, and help in a food pantry in Newark, NJ. In these seemingly small ministries, our parish has jumped in with enthusiasm and joy to help spread the Lord’s message of love, inclusiveness, and forgiveness. About 12 of St. Francis of Assisi parishioners now go to serve other Assisted Senior Care residences. This is in addition to all the outreach ministries of Bishop George Lucy and Father Oscar Geety. We help other groups with donations of food, clothing and things which children need.
Many years ago, I thought I’d fix our societal problems with sweat, toil, brains and my personal passion and anger. I now experience a joy in what I am doing that I don’t remember experiencing as a younger person. I love the time I spend with the people in senior care, at the Alzheimer’s unit, and at the food pantry. I know those moments matter to them. Doing this work I experience an inner peace and tranquility I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before.
Please feel empowered to do whatever you can, wherever you live, and know we are all in this together.
St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, NJ)