Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Deacons are evangelists

As a follow-up to John Allen’s observation that at the Synod on the New Evangelization currently being held in Rome nothing had been said about the role and ministry of permanent deacons, who Bl. Pope John Paul II, the man who called for the New Evangelization, identified as “apostles of the New Evangelization," I want to note that this changed today. In his intervention at the Synod, Dr. Steven Croft, Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Sheffield, England, a man whose entire life as a Christian minister has been dedicated to mission and evangelization, commented on the role of deacons in evangelization, seeing them, as did JPII, as ideal evangelists, working side-by-side with lay evangelists, taking the Gospel to the streets, in a manner of speaking: “This process of going and listening and serving and forming new communities requires particular gifts. In the Church of England we have named this cluster of gifts ‘pioneer ministry’. We have recognized pioneer ministry as a focus of both lay and ordained ministry in our Church. Pioneer ministry is rooted theologically in diakonia and the ministry of deacons: listening, loving service, and being sent on behalf of the Church.”

Dr. Croft, who is the author of many books on mission and evangelization, in addition to a lovely novel about the meaning of Advent, The Advent Calendar, also located evangelism in discipleship saying, “new evangelization calls for a clear vision of what it means to be a disciple. The new evangelization is a call to whole life discipleship: an invitation to follow Christ for the whole length of our lives, with every part of our lives, and into wholeness and abundance of that life.”

St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

Going all way back to the seven men who are considered the Church’s first deacons, evangelism has been, as Bp. Steven observed, “rooted theologically in diakonia.” It is interesting to note that St. Philip, on whose liturgical memorial, 11 October, the Second Vatican Council and our current year of faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of that momentous occasion, began, was among the first to preach the Gospel outside of Jerusalem, preaching in Samaria. Then there is, of course, his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, after which encounter we are told, “Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8).

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