Friday, 27 January 2012

Deacon? (5) Calling

Among the Diaconate related documents and pages read during these weeks, are further sentences clearly stating that much of what is necessary in a person suitable for training as a deacon is in fact required of every mature Christian.

- ‘Through baptism each one is united with Christ and so shares in the mission given to Christ by the   
   Father, the mission of proclamation, prayer and charity.’
- ‘The work of prayer, witness and service is properly that of every baptised person.’
- ‘The exercise of these responsibilities is the key characteristic of the Christian way of life: letting the 
   Gospel be known by what is said and done; praising God in prayer and liturgy; serving those in 
   need (diakonia).’
- ‘These activities are proper to every baptised person.’
- ‘The functions assigned to the deacon can in no way diminish the role of lay people called and
   willing to co-operate in the apostolate with the hierarchy.’

This last leads us straight into the reminder that it is the Spirit who calls, not the priest, the bishop or the wider Church.

- ‘In the Church's care for her children, the first figure is the Spirit of Christ. It is He who calls them, 
   accompanies them and moulds their hearts so that they can recognise his grace and respond
   generously to it.’
- ‘A natural inclination for service should not be understood “in the sense of a simple spontaneity of
   natural disposition ... it is rather an inclination of nature inspired by grace, with a spirit of service 
   that conforms human behaviour to Christ's. The sacrament of the diaconate develops this 
   inclination: it makes the subject to share more closely in Christ's spirit of service and imbues the
   will with a special grace so that in all his actions he will be motivated by a new inclination to serve
   his brothers and sisters”.

Can ordination, with its essential entry into the confines and restrictions of the church’s hierarchy, really be the only way God intends men to receive the grace that will bring an intensification of such an inclination? And, what exactly are we to understand from this where women who have an ‘inclination for service’ are concerned? That it is not possible for their ‘natural inclination’ to have been ‘inspired by grace’? That grace is available to men and directed to men alone, and that women are forever beyond its reach?
Dear Lord, let there be not a single person in your Church today who even half believes in such an impossibility.

- ‘The bishop alone imposes hands on the candidate and invokes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on

Yet each of us is gifted in some way. Why is it that the bishop does not lay hands on committed members of the laity, men and women, invoking the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on them before searching among them for potential deacons? – for the ones upon whom he will again lay hands at their ordination?

- ‘It is a particular task of the spiritual director to assist the candidate to place himself in an attitude
   of ongoing conversion’
- ‘The deacon, mindful that the diaconia of Christ surpasses all natural capacities, should
   continually commit himself in conscience and in freedom to His invitation: “Remain in me and I in
   you. As the branch cannot bear fruit unless it remain in the vine, so also with you unless you
   remain in me”

John’s recorded words of Jesus (15:4) apply not only to deacons but to everyone, ordained or not.

-  All priests and deacons ‘should be mindful that the lay members of the faithful, in virtue of their
   own specific mission, are “particularly called to make the Church present and fruitful in those 
   places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth”

This is true enough, but the restrictions lodged in such a focus can become a hindrance through allowing and accepting a reduced access and availability of both ordained ministers and eager members of the laity in what I think of as the ‘narthex’ areas of the Church: the areas between the place of focus, of prayer and of liturgy, and the scramble of the outside world. It is the place which represents the line between laity and ordained but at the same time hints at something more. It lies between, and acts as a threshold when moving through it in either direction: going in or going out; ordained or not; regular visitor or stranger; rich or poor; at peace or distressed; in sickness or in health. It is where I have often metaphorically turned my head in search of the source of something that, just for a moment, I had thought I heard ... and it gives rise to the question: -  Are there, in fact, any places and circumstances from which the laity are excluded in their ability to respond to their call? – other than those from which they are separated by declared requirements for obedience to rules made by other men?
It would be a mistake to think of these narthex areas as being only the spaces that first come to mind: those through which we may pass on our way into and out of the church building we often think of as ‘the Church’. When attending any church service we pass through not only the physical space but the transitional spaces within our own hearts and minds, just as we do in our meeting and leaving of spiritual friends, in our beginning and ending of private prayer, of reading scripture, of becoming engrossed or enthralled when finding God’s presence in the world around us, whether in the harmony of nature’s kaleidoscope, in the phenomenal wonders of the sciences, or in the profound beauties of the arts.
Those inner recesses are places in which to rest; to be still and know that He is God. We should linger there whenever possible, rather than hurrying away to get on with our “real” lives.
This is where we should meet Him, and each other, far more than we do. How do we take our knowledge of Him out into the world if we have found no way to hold onto His presence as we make our way back into it?

- ‘The scope of human formation is that of moulding the personality of the sacred ministers in such a
   way that they become “a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ
   the Redeemer of man”.

Here again, every one of us should be hoping to become “a bridge and not an obstacle for others.”

- ‘Contemporary society requires a new evangelization which demands a greater and more
   generous effort on the part of ordained ministers.’

Of at least equal importance, is the need for “a greater and more generous effort on the part of” members of the lay faithful. Deacons, priests and bishops need such men and women if their own efforts are to bear real fruit in today’s culture. They are already too far distanced from most ordinary men and women of both the Church and the wider world; not through what they profess to believe nor through the commitment of their lives to an expression of their faith, but through having crossed the seamless threshold that runs between members of the Church hierarchy and all other members of Christ’s Church. The line that runs through the narthex seems almost non-existent when that is where we are standing, but when right inside the Church one can feel aspects of the separation: it is what we have entered it for, whether as a passing parishioner calling in briefly for prayer or simply for a few moments of quiet; as a potential ordination candidate following and trying to fully grasp his calling; or as an ordained deacon or priest seeking an ongoing confirmation of his vocation and necessarily longer periods of quiet and peace.
However unnoticed when passing through, and however blurred when focussed upon, that defining line is there. It is nothing new, of course, but the way it is perceived and felt may benefit from a change.

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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