Saturday, April 21, 2012

Diaconate, a Spirit-filled ministry

I felt that after more than 5 years of continuous blogging a short Easter hiatus was very much in order. As I emerge from my self-imposed silence I am finding it very difficult to discern a re-entry point back into posting on a regular basis. As I was reading Jaroslav Pelikan's theological commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, which is the very last book published by the great historian of Christian doctrine before his passing in 2006, I came across something he wrote in his commentary on Acts 2:1 ("When the day of Pentecost was fully come") that reminded me about the root of my blog, being a Catholic Deacon, which is all that the fancy-looking Καθολικός διάκονος means.

In his theological reflection on this foundational passage, Pelikan highlighted "[t]he theological theme of the connection between the Holy Spirit and 'fullness'," which, he noted, "runs through the entire narrative of Acts." He went to on cite examples from the text of the marvelous book of Scripture of those who were filled with the Holy Spirit, along with the example of Ananias, who was not. In this he points forward to Acts chapter six, where, as a result of the complaints of the Greek-speaking widows of the early Christian community, who complained they were not being treated fairly in the daily distribution of food, the Twelve instructed the community to "pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty" (Acts 6:3 ESV), noting that being "full of the Spirit" was a requirement.

One of these men, of course, "was 'Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom' (6:5)." Stephen, Pelikan went on to point out, was also noted for being "'full of grace and power (6:8)"... who at his protomartyr's death, 'full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus stand at the right hand of God' (7:55)."

Blessed fruit from my own ministry, part of which is leading RCIA, with one of our Neophytes, Lexy, following the Easter Vigil

In the ordination prayer for deacons their bishop, with hands extended over them prays:

In the first days of your Church
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of
     good repute
to assist in the daily ministry....

Lord,
send forth upon him the Holy Spirit,
that he may be strengthened
by the gift of your sevenfold grace
to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.


The sevenfold grace referred to are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the same ones referred to when the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, also known as Reverence, Wonder (and Awe). These gifts, along with the fruits of the Spirit, which are set forth by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23 ESV) - are what a Spirit-filled person looks like, lives like. It seems to me, both from my studies and my experience, that living a Spirit-filled life is essential for being a deacon. Theologian Herbert Vorgrimler, in his tremendously worthwhile book, Sacramental Theology, put it well and succinctly when he wrote: "In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension." This is only possible if a deacon is Spirit-filled.

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