Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For Catholics there is no sacramental "outside"

I don't think I realized how hard I was working until I slowed down about two weeks ago. Since then I have been enjoying some down time, which has meant not feeling the need to post something here everyday, just almost everyday. On the other hand, when I go a day without posting something I miss doing so. As I mentioned on Monday, there is a lot to write about presently, even when I exclude l'affair Corapi, including a recent pastoral letter on the diaconate by Bishop Alexander Sample of the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, certain aspects of which I will take up in the not too distant future.

While I took myself out of he Corapi conversation early (a decision I do not regret), it has continued to be a hot topic largely due to additional statements made by the soon-to-be laicized priest. One of the most surprising things he said in what can only be described as a rambling statement on Monday was that in twenty years of priestly ministry he did not administer the sacraments very frequently. He said "90 percent of what I did in the past did not require ordination. Speaking through social communication—radio, TV, so forth—that's not ministry, strictly speaking. My particular mission was speaking, writing, and teaching—not so much in the sacraments, but outside of them, in conjunction with them. So what I'm going to be doing in the future is pretty much the same thing."

Before urging you to read Deacon Greg's Patheos article on this rather strange pronouncement, Corapi's 10 percent solution, I feel that I need to make one observation by way of a clarification. As a bishop, a priest, a deacon there is no such thing as "outside" the sacraments, even if conceived as in "conjuction" with them. The same is true of matrimony, which, along with holy orders, is a sacrament at the service of communion, or, more succinctly, the sacraments of vocation. In a still very relevant talk given at the International Diaconate Centre back in 1995, "Images of the Diaconate," Dr. Owen Cummings calls these the "diaconal sacraments." Hence, for those who participate in these states of Christian life there is no "outside."

Yours truly engaged in public ministry

For example, there is nothing I do that I don't do as Holly's husband and as a Catholic deacon. There is no way that I am a deacon more than serving my wife and children, or doing my regular job diligently. My full and simultaneous participation in both diaconal sacraments as a married permanent deacon is what Bill Ditewig, in his America article, "Married and Ordained," called "double vocational sacramentality." Do I have to be a deacon to be a husband and a father? No! Whether ordained or not, the service of any Christian, whether a man or a woman, as a spouse and a parent is diaconal because it is self-emptying (i.e., kenotic) service that requires dying to one's self for Christ's sake and the sake of God's kingdom. In short, there are plenty of priests in the church whose main ministry is not in a parish and who perhaps do not administer the sacraments on a daily basis, who are no less priests engaged in ministry.

Communicating as a bishop, priest, or deacon is certainly a ministry, strictly speaking. Assertions to the contrary strike me as self-serving. As with all ministry, there comes with these endeavors, whether assigned or freely chosen, a great responsibility, which requires some accountability and oversight, unless you are a bishop, whose job is to exercise oversight and to insure there are structures of accountability in place for those so engaged who are under your supervision. Whatever the truth about the allegations that brought all of this to a head, it seems that accountability was sorely lacking during Corapi's twenty years ministering mostly "outside" the sacraments. I find his assertion that what he did was not ministry irresponsible and highly misleading, if not disingenuous. Stated less ecclesiologically and theologically, if he had not been a priest during those years, who would have listened to him in the first place?

Inside the sacraments is not just for those married and ordained. We are also baptized and confirmed, which, as with holy orders, sacramentally imprints on us a permanent character. So, for anyone who is incorporated into Christ's Body, the church, there is no sacramental "outside," or sacramental tangent. To think otherwise is to reject, even if implicitly, the universal call to holiness of all the Christian faithful. In other words, our call to follow Christ is not something we turn on and off, depending on what we are doing.


  1. Thanks for your clarity and your insights..

  2. I shall be quoting this in the Journal I am keeping as part of my Diaconal formation. Many thanks for the insights.

  3. Excellent! This deacon's wife thanks you!


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