Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Bishop of Rome to his deacons

In February 2006 in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the deacons of Rome on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Rome. I find these words interesting because there is so little deacon-specific teaching/exhortation. Of course, this is okay because deacons are ordained to serve, not to be served, but it is still nice to be encouraged and challenged in our endeavors. In his address the Holy Father quotes three passages of scripture that establish the diaconate of Christ: Philippians 2,7 and Matthew 20,28, Luke 22,27. He then discusses the need for deacons to cultivate a relationship with the Lord who we do not seek to serve, but to imitate in his service to others. Instead of leaving it there, the Holy Father discusses how union with Christ is "cultivated."

It is cultivated through "prayer, sacramental life and in particular, Eucharistic adoration." Union with Christ "is of greatest importance to your ministry, if it is to testify to God’s love." Of course, there is no other reason to engage in ministry than to testify to God’s love. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, we read in number one: "We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life." It is only through cultivating union with Christ that we can "accept with joy and gratitude" what the Lord gives us and, in turn, generously give this same love, that "we have received as a free gift," to the people we are called to serve. As ministers of charity, in addition to working to alleviate material poverty, the Pope identifies both "spiritual and cultural poverty." We are to assist people who "have lost the meaning of life and do not possess a truth upon which to build their existence." In this way we engage in and become the diakonia, or servants, of the Truth who is Jesus Christ.

In the sacramental realm, the Bishop of Rome encourages his deacons in their ministry of Baptism and the family: "By teaching Christ’s Gospel, a faculty conferred upon you by the Bishop on the day of your ordination, you help parents who ask for Baptism for their children to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the divine life that has been given to us, and that of the Church, the great family of God." Deacons are also encouraged to "proclaim the truth about human love to engaged couples who desire to celebrate the sacrament of marriage." The truth we are to proclaim to those preparing for marriage is nicely summarized in number 11 of Deus Caritas Est: "marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa."

"Welcoming the Redeemer into their lives is a source of deep joy for human beings, a joy that can bring peace even in moments of trial," the Pope continues. "Therefore," he exhorts deacons, "be servants of the Truth in order to be messengers of the joy that God desires to give to every human being."

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