Sunday, 29 January 2012

Deacon? (9) A blurred line

We should all
‘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”. (Lumen Gentium, 33.)

These words remain as true as ever, but the drastic alteration in the nature of the threshold has, I believe, led to a corresponding expansion of the territory in which they can become that salt.
The diminishing numbers of vocations – as the Church has become used to seeing them – coupled with the general public’s declining respect for the clergy, due, in part at least, to the adverse publicity of recent years (founded on truths, however small the minority on which those truths are based) may have made the responses of lay men and women to their callings the crucial next stage in the necessary rebuilding of confidence and fellowship within the Church.

There are clearly defined priestly functions directly related to the Eucharist and to the Church’s gathering around the altar for mass.

The “diaconia at the altar, since founded on the Sacrament of Orders, differs in essence from any liturgical ministry entrusted to the lay faithful. The liturgical ministry of the deacon is also distinct from that of the ordained priestly ministry.”

Beyond these functions, however, I suggest that there are very few areas from which members of the laity should be absolutely excluded on the grounds of their not being members of the defined hierarchy. Beyond the demands of charity and justice, it is not with answering the call of, or being obedient to men that we should be concerned; we must consciously dwell within earshot and within reach of both the Spirit’s leading and of each other if we are to discern our individual and collective callings and intended direction.

Reading that,
‘if married, (a deacon) is at the interface between the secular and sacred and so is a primary agent of evangelisation and mission, configured to Christ the Servant in the midst of contemporary culture’
has reminded me to state clearly that nothing I write here, and none of the thoughts giving rise to my writing, is intended to give the impression that I do not believe in the value and the relevance of the permanent diaconate today. I do believe in its importance but, in the context of individuals as opposed to the local community or wider Church, only for those who truly have that particular vocation.
I have had experiences (fleeting only) of deacons who have left me with doubts as to whether or not God would truly have called them to ordination, but, in spite of being unable to completely shed the memory, I do, of course, admit that I am in no position to judge whom God may call to what, and why. Simply knowing that He wants me, of all people, not to simply believe in His existence but to be in a real relationship with Him, as a friend, is more than enough to silence my doubt; other than in such a context as this, where my honesty is not only relevant but essential.

I have also had the best of experience of deacons: one being the husband of the lady with whom I had been talking when first asked whether I had thought of becoming one, and the other being Louis Kelly, recently deceased, of St Joseph’s parish in Malvern. It is impossible to doubt that such people as these are much needed in the Church and that they have responded to very real vocations.
They are also examples of the sort of Christians much needed to be formed and to remain among the laity, where they too will be influential ‘at the interface between the secular and sacred and so … a primary agent of evangelisation and mission, configured to Christ the Servant in the midst of contemporary culture’.

The widening of the threshold into a broad expanse was always nothing more than a personal and unexpected way of seeing one aspect of the Church today. It also proved to be a purely temporary phenomenon which contracted back to its former narrow dividing line; but not before it had drawn my attention and stirred my thoughts in ways which would not otherwise have come to expression here.
Those thoughts were beckoned into the empty central field where I was given the space in which to wander and found myself walking far closer to the ‘maximum’ line, the crossing of which cannot be avoided by those who are ordained. It would not have been possible to walk there without the threshold having been expanded to that far larger scale. Persons attempting to, or actually doing so, could be in danger of finding themselves falling onto the wrong side of it, whether through desire for some share in the power, authority, perceived superiority, or other misguided or imagined attribute conferred by ordination; or through arrogance, or simply having no real idea of what they were doing.  They would be on the wrong side because of arriving there for any reason other than the only right one: a vocation.
I had to remind myself that this was not just another slow stroll in the countryside, alone with my thoughts. This was the ground we are all being asked to step onto: the place where we are called to meet – meaningfully, in peace, in fellowship, and in His name. 
But where was everybody? I returned from my wanderings dwelling on the disconcerting fact that I had been there completely alone.

Looking at the threshold now yields only the fine dividing line; but it appears blurred. The space in which we should be gathering is still there, but is clearly not the spacious ‘third field’ in which I had walked. That, I am sure is how it is meant to be. The division of the Church into two parts, with the imbalances that history has incorporated into them, is how it is and how it long has been. But any actual division into three would probably be the beginning of the end; certainly it might be seen as such by many women in the Church, who would suspect its potential for being another false hope in their journey towards acknowledgement and full acceptance, genuine appreciation and equality: another manmade corral on their own journeys towards becoming the persons God wills them to be.

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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