Sunday, December 26, 2010

St. Stephen, pray for us

Since today is Sunday and on the Sunday after Christmas we observe the feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the great day of my patron saint (being Scott Stephen from birth), who is also the patron of this weblog, St. Saint Stephen, is mostly passed over this year, which is okay because without Jesus, Mary, and Joseph there would be no St. Stephen. Of course, St. Stephen's day is also traditionally a special day for deacons. In fact, it was 34 years ago today that Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal, then the bishop of Salt Lake City, ordained this diocese's first permanent deacons. So, to my dear brothers, especially Deacon Silvio Mayo, our diocesan chancellor, with whom I am privileged to serve at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, happy anniversary. All of us who walk the trail you blazed in our local church owe you a debt of gratitude.

To mark this day, I will share a brief snippet from a massive part of an even larger work I am laboring on and, with St. Stephen's heavenly help, I will finish before Easter:

"Acts 6:1 reads: 'At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.' In Greek, the last word of this translated passage is διακονία, which transliterates as diakonia. In the following verse the twelve say to the gathered Jerusalem community, '[i]t is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table' (Acts 6:2). The words 'to serve' are the Greek verb διακονέω, transliterated diakonein. The word diakonia appears again in verse four when the apostles determine to set the seven men apart for service to the Greek-speaking widows of the nascent Christian community so that they might devote themselves more fully 'to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' The word 'ministry' in this verse is a translation of diakonia.

Martyrdom of St. Stephen by Lorenzo Lotto, AD 1516

"Examining this passage serves a dual purpose. First, it shows the difficulty in drawing straight lines from current ecclesial praxis back to the apostolic church. Secondly, it demonstrates the often ambiguous nature of the word 'deacon' in all its forms as it is used by New Testament authors, showing that most frequently it refers to an activity, not to a specific office, or order of ministry, in the church. Two of the three usages of various forms of the word 'deacon' in these verses of Acts indirectly refer to the seven. The first use of diakonia implies what service they are to be set apart for, namely insuring an equal distribution of food daily among the widows of the community, a community that held all things in common, thus they were set apart primarily as peace-makers and bridge-builders within the community. Closely bound up with the first appearance of diakonia is the word diakonein that the twelve use to describe the very service for which the seven are set apart by the laying on of hands. It also bears noting that despite distinguishing being in charge of the daily distribution, which apparently included something like waiting tables, from the diakonia of the word, which, along with having adequate time to pray, is why the twelve wanted to be free from being in charge of the daily distribution, especially in light of the dispute that arose, we shortly read that 'Stephen, filled with grace and power' began 'working great wonders and signs among the people' and launching into an extended sermon that constitutes part of the authentic Christian proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 6:9). So, while this and subsequent references to the seven men, only two of whom, Stephen and Philip, we read more about in Acts, do not refer to them as deacons, it is easy to understand why they represent the biblical basis for this order of ministry."

Veni adoramus

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