Saturday, July 12, 2014

The diaconate and ministry: an Eastern Catholic perspective

In response to my last blog post, a friend of mine, Isolde, a sister in Christ who belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, wrote something I thought was important enough to pass along:


The transitional diaconate makes the diaconate seem like a consolation prize or stepping stone and it therefore loses it's unique charism. I love the suggestions, including the possible, and appropriate context for, a return of the role of the deaconess (which is not a female deacon as it doesn't hold a liturgical role and has a unique ministry to women and children). Though, it could be argued that returning deaconesses would be an orientalization, too. (The Coptic Church recently re-established the order of deaconess. Whether deaconesses were once tonsured/set aside or ordained is a semantic issue highly disputed. That they existed, as evidenced by Phoebe in the Bible, is not.)

It's a job already being largely fulfilled in the church by RCIA directors, directors of catechesis, or under similar titles. Giving them the recognition, training, and unique ministry they deserve would be a benefit IF it could be accomplished within the appropriate context.

That the role of deacons is not properly respected or understood right now is an underlying issue that needs to first be addressed within it's own right for the sake of our deacons and our church. Similarly is the role of male religious, whose identity of being set aside was consumed in the corporate ladder model to the priesthood, making the religious orders top-heavy with priests and bereft of brothers. Which is what started the process of them losing their communities and identities as they filled the role of parish priests. I am so pleased to see both the diaconate and the male religious life beginning to be rediscovered in the west and to serve the church with their unique charisms again.

Serving alongside my bishop- this picture appeared on the front page of the Deseret News last weekend

I think a similar rediscovery of the ministry of the priesthood needs to happen, which will remove the role of marriage or celibacy from the equation. How can the priesthood be a vocation if it is dependent on the church's need and affirmation? It isn't an alternative to marriage. The "mandatory" celibacy requirement caused us to frame the priesthood as an alternative to marriage, but it isn't. Celibacy is an alternative to marriage, but there are a lot of ways to live out celibacy. Singles (like deaconesses), consecrated virgins, religious, priesthood... The uniting factor is that every person lives that out in a community that supports and builds up that vocation. Even hermits are attached to communities. Sadly, our diocesan priests today lack in this essential area and I think a large reason is the rhetoric that the priesthood is the vocation instead of the proper focus on the celibate life being the vocation and the priesthood being the ministry.

Understanding vocation--the life one will work out one's salvation through--to be marriage or celibacy will really go a long way. Then, the priesthood as a ministry that the church calls the most qualified to will transform who is chosen, how they're chosen, the training provided, etc. And all of a sudden, whether the best candidate for the job being required to be married or celibate doesn't rank so high any longer. His stability, personality, responsibility, gifts, orthodoxy, witness, and so on become qualifying qualities.

I am so excited to see all of these transformations of how we speak and think returning to the fuller contexts in which practical solutions for how to live that out within our traditions can be legitimately discussed.


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