A little known fact is that there are 196 Permanent Deacons serving in the Diocese of Orlando at 72 of the 93 Parishes and Missions throughout the Diocese. These deacons come from all walks of life and from many parts of the United States and a few foreign countries. What they have in common is that they all have been called and ordained as Clergy – not to the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service. The deacon “gives witness in the world of today, as well as in the working world, of the presence of faith, of the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the sacrament of Orders: (Pope Benedict XVI 2008). But who is the deacon?
by Deacon David Gray, Director of Diaconate, Diocese of Orlando
Who is the Deacon?
The origins of the permanent diaconate are found in scripture beginning with the selection of the first seven deacons (Acts 6:1-6) and Saint Paul’s outline of the qualification of those who would be called to serve others as deacons (1 Tim 3:8-13). For me, the real example and testimony of who the identity of the deacon is can be found by looking at the Church’s first martyr, Saint Stephen. Saint Stephen was one of the first seven deacons. He began to serve the poor and preach to the people about Jesus. More and more people converted to Christianity. The high priests of the temple were jealous of Saint Stephen’s successes, and accused him of blasphemy – telling lies about God. They took him in front of a judge, just as they did Jesus. At the trial, Saint Stephen kept teaching about Jesus. He told the judges that they were hard-hearted murderers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When the crowd heard this, they became so angry that they stopped the trial, dragged Saint Stephen outside and threw rocks at him. Saint Stephen forgave the people who were stoning him, and asked God not to punish the people. Then he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” and died. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr, the first person to die because he loved Jesus so much that he wouldn’t stop talking about Him.
Sometimes the deacon is seen as a helper for his pastor – simply picking up ministerial roles that there aren’t enough priests these days to perform. This view does not reflect the nature of the deacon who is called to be the Sacramental sign of the servant as Christ is the servant to all. As the Sacramental sign, the deacon’s ministry is always present – in his home, at his parish and where he works in the secular world. His ministry is often described as three legs of a stool – if one leg is missing the stool will be out of balance. The deacon should always be seen in one of these three-fold ministries:
- Ministry of Charity and Justice – Deacon as Witness and Guide.At the very heart of the diaconate is his calling to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ, and of our brothers and sisters. For this reason, each deacon must be involved in one or more ministries in the community as a direct response to Christ’s call for each of us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36). Since the ministry of service is every baptized Catholics’ responsibility the deacon encourages others to participate in these ministries as a witness and guide.
- Ministry of the Word – Deacon as Evangelizer and Teacher. The deacon as an evangelizer and teacher calls others to live a life of true Christian discipleship as he calls others to be the best person that Christ has called them to be. He proclaims the Word of God in such a way that he first witnesses its empowerment in his own life.
- Ministry of Liturgy – Deacon as Sanctifier. The ministry of the deacon is a visible grace-filled sign of the integral connection between sharing of the Lord’s Eucharistic table and serving the many hungers felt so keenly by all God’s children. This means he is to be in love with all of God’s people and to serve each of them with joy. He is called to be a Holy person who encourages others to be holy by his life.
- As the deacon ministers at home, in the parish and at the office, a deacon should be easily recognized by how he lives his life in four different areas:
- Human Dimension – A deacon’s personality should be as a bridge and not an obstacle for others as they journey with Jesus Christ. His character must be centered on humility and the needs of others. His life must reflect the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
- Spiritual Dimension – A deacon “puts on the mind of Christ”. He is configured sacramentally to Christ the Servant. A deacon’s spirituality is grounded in the attitudes of Christ.
- Academic Dimension –A deacon preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily through his walk in life. He must have a good foundational understanding of Catholic teaching, embrace this teaching, and be living in communion with the Catholic Church.
- Pastoral Dimension –The ordained deacon is Christ the Servant. The deacon must live the life of an authentic disciple of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.
Finally, the deacon is an ordained minister configured to Christ’s consecration and mission – “a sacred minister and a member of the hierarchy”. The deacon is called to distinct identity and integrity in the Church – a cleric who is ordained to diakonia, namely, a service to God’s People in communion with the bishop and his body of priests.