The Catholic Diaconate: A Novice’s Vision

In my Philosophy class we are discussing the arguments of Katz and his relationship of experience to knowledge, whether we can have knowledge without experience or experiences without knowledge.  What is primary and what follows as predicate?  In my Sacramental Theology class, we have a discussion in progress that wonders whether we should ordain younger men as Deacons or expect men have raised their families before giving time over to service to the Church.  Isn’t it easier to ask only one’s wife to accommodate a busy schedule than to shuffle duties as a father aside to make room for the ministry while children are younger?  How is a younger man experienced enough to teach and answer questions as opposed to the older man whose life experience lends itself to helping others find better ways to comprehend the blend of their spiritual and temporal journeys?

The consensus of our class seems to be that both are needed.

Trained and educated as we are the ordination affirms the Church’s trust in representing her to the places of our public vocations.  Maybe in the current environment of social change our place is not serving at the altar and helping with ministries in the parish (now covered by professional staff), but being present in the workplace as well as locations of our avocations as representatives of the Church?  Certainly, someone known as a Deacon of the Catholic Church in their workplace and social circles will be stopped often and queried about the Church and its positions on our changing social views.  How many of us are known as ‘Deacon’ so-and-so to our peers at work?  Do we get asked questions about the Church’s position on marriage, abortion, immigration, and the lot?  Do we, as Deacons, know and study the USCCB website to stay appraised of the bishops’ position papers?

A young man, with or without a family is just as able to represent the Church at the water cooler as the older one is at the coffee shop, assuming the preparation and the continuing education is maintained.  Knowledge is gained more easily early in life (education psychology) and knowledge gained early can be practiced and exercised longer, increasing experience to be applied along the way and in latter days of ministry.  Perhaps fewer ministerial duties are appropriate for the Deacon in early years and his primary post should be as a beacon of the Church in his vocation, officially sanctioned as a spokesperson on Church policy.  It means he has to be busing himself studying Church position routinely.  How many of our Protestant ministerial peers are already doing this in their late twenties and thirties while growing their families?

‘Second career’?  I put off studying for a year when our parish DRE made this rash statement to me.  I was so embarrassed.  To her, a lifelong professional, I was a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ to the labors of the vineyard.  Both of us were mistaken in our viewpoint.  I should have said, “So what?”  I have the time and as scripture reminds us, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”  Older, experienced, and with time available, why is it we shouldn’t become more representative of our faith and serve the Church.  We certainly can dedicate our time to the ministry more than our younger peers who are chasing the soccer games, making the dance recitals, and keeping up with the ‘honey-do’ list, though for many of us that latter concern remains.

The vision of the Deacon as the bishops’ representatives to the world in our vocations seems the most appropriate one for us to pursue.  Yes, we can teach, but the teaching role of the Church belongs to the presbyters.  Yes, we can preach, but that is the primary means of the presbyters’ to accomplish their teaching role.  Yes, we can administer certain Sacraments, but the Diaconate of the early Church was not one of presiding, it was one of service.  We can, with this in mind, be the parish administrator, but we have a professional core of laity serving the Church in this capacity.

What we lack in our society is the official representative of the Church in the community today, accessible to all the people.  We lack the official seal of the Church on specific people in a time where vocations to Holy Orders and to the religious life of women have declined, and in some places, have opposed the teachings of the bishops.  We need more laborers in the vineyard trained and dedicated to living and teaching the principles of the Church.  The medieval farmer could look over at the next pasture and see the monks working as hard as he was working.  The widows in Ephesus could expect a visit from Lydia to raise their hopes and she might bring them some clothe to work and give them purpose.  The indigenous across the world have seen missionaries laboring to build houses near their villages, and wondered about the songs that they would sing and the prayers they would hear as they harvested the crops.  So too should today’s society see the Deacon at work at the desk next to them, or helping them with their financial planning, or examining them and prescribing medication and therapy to help them heal.

Too often do I hear in the news of the ‘liberal’ Catholics that oppose the bishops’ views without a response.  Too often do I see our youth supporting the neo-Roman social agenda with no response.  Too often have I heard the bishops call for action from the people with no response.  Where in our society do Catholics have the courage to BE Catholic.  Who are their leaders in the workplace?  Who is the voice of the Church between Sunday homilies?  This is the role for the Deaconate in today’s society in the Western culture.  This is an emerging vision from those in this Holy Order today.

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