Thursday, March 28, 2013

Some thoughts on Pope Francis and deacons

Referring back to my post about Pope Francis calling on the Church to emerge, I have to say that I am struck by the fact that the Holy Father's ecclesiology, which informs his missiology, does not yet seem to include the ministry of permanent deacons. This is not surprising given that as of 2011 his former diocese, the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, according Catholic Hierarchy, had only 7 permanent deacons. In addition to being a highly significant number in scriptural numerology, the number seven is significant as it pertains to the diaconate. After all, seven is the number of men who were set apart by the apostles in the sixth chapter of Acts and who are considered to be, at least since the time of St. Ireneanus, the Church's first deacons. Traditionally Rome had seven deacons. Today, by the count given again on Catholic Hierarchy, the Diocese of Rome has 114 permanent deacons.

In his homily today for Rome's Chrism Mass, the Holy Father, speaking to priests, said, "We need to 'go out', then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters." I agree with this wholeheartedly. I suggest that one of the ways a priest "goes out" is by sending his deacons.

When meeting with journalists for the first time after his selection as Pope, the Holy Father mentioned that he encouraged his priests to rent space beyond the 600 meters that sociologists say the influence of a parish extends. As far as I could tell, these spaces were to be makeshift chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is present. He mentioned these chapels could be run by laymen, which is fine, I suppose, but such a ministry of presence and prayer strikes me as prime diaconal ministry, one that frees up the laity more to heed the call reissued to them in Lumen Gentium, and frees up priests to more freely administer the precious sacraments, a mediating ministry, which is what the restored and renewed diaconate surely is.

In the thirty-first section of Lumen Gentium, also called Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the laity are defined as "all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church." The Council Fathers went on to note that while "those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession" they are ordained to perform "sacred ministry." "Sacred" here is contrasted with "secular," not by way of elevating it above, but in order to distinguish two different and complementary activities. A similar distinction is made concerning those in religious life. "But the laity, by their very vocation," the Council Fathers ascertained, "seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God." It is important to note that it is in an earlier section (section 29) of Lumen Gentium that the Council calls for the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry in the Church, one that could even be conferred on married men.

In an artcle that appeared in Christianity Today back in July of last year about Iranians converting to Christianity in Germany in fairly large numbers, "The Other Iranian Revolution," mention is made of a place that seems to me to bear some resemblance to what Pope Francis had in mind when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires: "Across Berlin in Neukölln, a district with a nearly 20 percent Middle Eastern immigrant population, deaconess Rosemarie Götz baptized 16 Persians on Easter Day in her modest house of prayer, Haus Gotteshilfe ("God's Help"). The baptisms doubled her tiny congregation, which belongs to the Landeskirchliche Gemeinschaft, a pietistic group within the otherwise liberal Protestant church of the Berlin-Brandenburg region." I remember one Catholic theologian, in fact the person who brought the article to my attention, lamenting the fact that the Lord did not seem to be leading people in that milieu to the Catholic Church. The article mentions some of the reasons why this is so, like the fact that, along with the mainstream Protestant ecclesial communities, the Roman Catholic Church is not interested in evangelizing Muslims due to sensitivities about interfaith relations. This would explain why there is no similar Catholic presence, at least in these places.

I hope and pray that as he turns his energies to being Bishop of Rome, which is clearly his preferred title, as opposed to Pope, Roman Pontiff, etc., that he is soon able to encounter his deacons, to see for himself both the ministry in which they are engaged and the potential for the diaconate in fulfilling his vision for the "fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city," something he mentioned in his first remarks after being chosen as Rome's 266th bishop.


  1. I have an Iranian friend who says that he is planning to convert to Christianity soon. He says that he is not going to become Catholic because it reminds him too much of the Ayatollahs. He says that of the people living in Iran today, having lived under an Islamic theocracy for several decades now, they have concluded that they want no part of it. He says that today, if the people had a choice, most would prefer to become Christians or revert to Zorostrianism.

  2. That's interesting, Stephen, an aspect not considered in the article, but one that I am sure is a factor for many Iranians and understandably so.

    By way of anecdotal contrast, I have worked with several Iranians who have become Catholic over the past few years. In fact one man I have met with and known for several years will be baptized this Saturday. I have never worked with a Muslim from anywhere other than Iran as regards becoming Catholic.

    I was fascinated by the mystical experiences that led many Iranians, at least in Germany, to want to become Christians.


God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...