Saturday, August 13, 2016

Deacons and deaconesses: more viewpoints

Sr Sara Butler weighed in this week and now Dawn Eden.

While I have studied certain aspects of the diaconate academically- particularly the origins and history of clerical continence and celibacy- and I am currently doing so (DMin dissertation is going to be on the elements of diaconal spirituality), this is a fair question. While the diaconate has been the subject of at least two in-depth Vatican studies, I am not sure the issue of what deaconesses did and how their ministry was different from or similar to that of deacons has been looked at specifically. I do know that we use the word "ordination" in a much more specific way than it was used in the early Church and that the history and development of the sacrament of orders is rather more complex than many think it to be.

On the other hand, I am wary of those who want to turn this ideological and make it about gender equality, etc. On a Christian view women and men are equal, which is why the Church, in Can. 1055 §1, describes marriage as "a partnership of the whole life." Partners are equals. This is underlined, not undermined, by Ephesians 5:21-33.

This is a question that Pope Francis has had since before becoming pope. We should not fear a committee report, which is what the Holy Father will receive, or what may result from it. This is why, as Catholics, we are to pray for the pope every day. Personally, I am interested in a variety of views on the matter. I think the views of theologically well-educated women are particularly relevant. The views of one or another theologian, while they may or may not cohere with my own viewpoint (yes, I have one), are not definitive. The person leading the discussion has no clue what a deacon is, "except for the sacraments" and all that nonsense.

One reason why I am not interested in any and all opinions is that, frankly, few people understand what a deacon is. Dawn is tracking along the lines of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out against the clericalization of the Church. Speaking once about the clericalization of the laity he asked, "Why would we want to afflict them with our disease?" One of my favorite bishops, John Keenan of the Diocese of Paisley, Scotland, recently delivered a homily at a Mass to conclude his diocese's synod, which he convened to set the course for that local Church for the foreseeable future. I was struck by this passage:
[Christ] has founded this [what it means to be his disciples] on our better understanding of the first sacrament we received, the sacrament of Baptism. He has revealed to us how this sacrament is more essential to our identity than whether we are priests, laity, religious or married, deacons, teachers, young people or parents
Too often we forget this powerful fact.

Another important thing I read today is by Deacon Bill Ditewig, Ph.D: "Deacons: Myths and Misperceptions." In this piece, he does an excellent job of succinctly describing the restored and renewed diaconate. In his post he also hints at something I took on in one of my deleted posts: if you're looking for what Aretha sang about, namely R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the diaconate probably won't scratch your itch.

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