in the service of the Lord

Inherent within each and every one of us resides a secret dream, a fantasy if you prefer, of being the central figure in the great adventure of life, the most admired, the most famous, the most interesting, or the most powerful. At times our fantasies would, if they could, make us feel almost as gods. But then these are but dreams and dreams seldom if ever match reality. Within the hidden spaces of our minds, what our dreams truly represent is the very human desire to be noticed, appreciated, recognized and loved. No matter who we are, we all have a need to be valued, to experience, if only for a moment, the spotlight shining upon us. We all long for our fifteen minutes of fame.

Saint Deacon Stephen, Martyr

Saint Deacon Stephen, Martyr

And this desire isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. But as the Catholic historian, politician, and writer Lord Acton is best known for remarking, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men” which should serve to temper our dreams of attaining near godlike stature, position, and power. When our desire to achieve greatness becomes our obsession, when attaining great glory consumes us, when our possessions possess us, then we have elevated those things to be gods and have placed them on the altar of idolatry.

Last week we heard Jesus tell the man who asked how to inherit eternal life, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the man heard that, his face fell and he went away sad for he had many possessions. And then Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”[1] It wasn’t the man’s wealth or possessions that were intrinsically evil but his overwhelming desire to hold onto them at all costs, for they quite literally possessed his heart, his mind, and his soul, they were his gods.

This week we hear how the rulers of the gentiles “lord it over them and their great ones make their authority over them[2] which reminds us of Lord Acton’s cautionary admonition that “Great men are almost always bad men.” Jesus then admonishes his disciples and us, that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[3]

Here the word servant in Greek is “diakonos” [διάκονος] and from this we have derived the word Deacon which means servant or server. Four years ago, just before my ordination to the Permanent Diaconate, I wrote in my first Deacon’s Corner article that:

The apostles, ordained by Christ to the priesthood, were called to preach and spread the Word of God to all the nations of the world. This was and is a heavy burden, a full-time vocation. But much more was required and demanded of them.

In the Acts of the Apostles seven men were ordained as deacons to serve, to care for the needs of the poor, widows, and orphans. The Apostles prayed and laid hands on them. The diakonia was ordained to a ministry of service, to be servants who washed feet, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and gave comfort to the sick and dying.[4]

The primary ministry of the deacon is one of service. As Charles J. Chaput, then Archbishop of Denver and now Archbishop of Philadelphia wrote in the foreword to A New Friendship “[It] is the role of the deacon to care for the needy and to ensure that the poor are brought to the communion of the church so that they too take part in that sacrifice handed down by the apostles. A deacon is not just an image of Christ the servant who came to serve and to offer his life as a ransom. The deacon, through his ministry, is the service of Christ and the church sacramentalized and a constant reminder to the church and the world that Jesus Christ is among us always ‘as one who serves’.[5][6]

I must admit to some amount of naiveté back then although what I wrote was and remains true today. But there is so much more to fully understanding what it means to be a deacon and perhaps this is what I have come to understand to be of greatest importance: as the third rank of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, Permanent Deacons are to be models of service and as such are the servants at the table of the Lord. While they are called to serve and minister to widows, orphans, shut-ins, the poor, the sick, the disabled, the imprisoned, and those who are in need, it is their primary calling to exemplify what it means to serve. As a Deacon, I may serve those in need but if I am not an outward example of Christ the servant who washed the feet of his disciples in humble servitude, then I have failed in my service to my Lord and Savior. To this I humbly pray that I have succeeded in some small way.

But this mission is not the sole domain of the ordained Deacon. On many occasions Jesus called for his followers to be servants for others such as “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.[7] His call was not only to the ordained but to all Christians to be diakonia in how we live our lives, to be “servants of Christ” to those who are in need.

Jesus has told us clearly that we will be judged based on our service to others when he said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.[8]

It is clear then that in order to inherit eternal life we must all become Christ the servant, we must all become waiters at the table of the Lord, and we must all become like deacons in the ministry of service to others.

 


[1] Mk 10:21-23.
[2] Mk 10:42.
[3] Mk 10:44.
[4] Acts 6:1-6.
[5] Lk 22:27.
[6] Monsignor Edward Buelt, A New Friendship: The Spirituality and Ministry of the Deacon, 2011.
[7] Jn 12:26.
[8] Mt 25:34-36, 40.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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