The ancient and powerful symbols that accompany ordination to the diaconatein both Eastern and Western ritesare expressive of the new deacons choice to lay down his life in service to the Church. As with all of life, this is a choice that is renewed daily by the deacon in the varieties of ways he is called to serve. Through the wonder of human freedom, the deacons choices shape not only his own life, but also that of the entire Church and indeed the worldand will contribute in a vital way to the New Evangelization in the third Christian millennium.
History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is betterbut rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two lovesthe love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6).
I recently returned from the ordination of a friend to the Diaconate, for service in the Melkite Catholic Church. It was a beautiful service, and it gave me an opportunity to renew my own yes to the Lord and to His Church. The ancient Byzantine Liturgy was filled with the beauty and symbols of ancient worship. For many of us ordained in the Latin Catholic Church, we remember various moments in the ordination liturgy. It was more than we had imagined it could ever be. I remember, as though it were yesterday, how I experienced the extraordinary power of God break forth as I lay prostrate before the altar, hearing the ancient litany of saints and crying out in my heart of hearts, Here I am LordFIAT.
Though the service differs in the East, the symbol used at that moment communicates the same profound truth: that our lives are no longer our own. In the East, the sub-deacon candidate lays his head on the altar. This follows the procession with his brother deacons who, after pushing his head to the floor at several stops along the way, lead him to a profound bow. At each stop of reverence, I felt my own heart break with love for the One who walked the way of the Crossand I experienced a new resolve to offer my ordained service to His plan for the New Evangelization.
I know that I may be writing to men who experienced that same call and made the same choice. I also know it is not a one time choice. It is made over and over again, in the midst of both the joy of ministry and the pain of disappointment. It is made at the high pointsperhaps, for example, after you have had the privilege of bringing someone to the Faith, or home to the Church, or seen the power of the Gospel of Life convince a mother to carry her child to term and not to abort.
It is also made at the low times, perhaps when you hear a colleague in the priesthood questioning the very need for your own ordered service. Or when a misinformed lay minister is threatened by your presence on the altar. Or when you are not allowed to wear the same clerical clothing as your deacon brother on the way to priesthood, when you are serving in clerical and sacramental ministry.
This choice for kenotic love is made daily, in the heroic moment upon opening your eyes to greet the day. I have a wonderful bishop friend who maintains that there are two types of people in this world. You can tell them apart in that first moment of the day. Those who say, Good morning, Lord! and those who say, Good Lord, its morning! Our entire life is a series of choices. We CHOOSE our future through the exercise of our freedom. In the words of the Catholic Catechism, Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts (CCC, n. 1749). This is particularly important, I believe, for those who have been ordained to the order of deacon during this time in history. Our call to service is literally being shaped for the future of the Church through the choices we make today.
As we approach the threshold of hope that the Holy Father speaks of and cross into the third Christian millennium, deacons have a tremendous opportunity to play a vital role in the New Evangelization, if we make the right choices. We can get on with the work of ministry or we can complain and wait to be recognized. The choice is ours.
Copyright © 2000 Deacon Keith A. Fournier
Originally published in the Summer 1999 issue of the Deacons Circle, a publication of Human Life International, the worlds largest pro-life and pro-family apostolate. Visit their Web site at http://hli.org/publications/index.html.