No doubt, you’ve heard of the man who was so humble he was given a medal. Alas, the medal was taken away the first time he wore it.
There’s a kind of humble affliction making the rounds in the deacon community. I call it the “PPLD virus.”
The primary environment in which PPLD manifests itself is a Mass with two or more deacons. The Deacon of the Word is given a wireless microphone and instructed to take all of the diaconal speaking parts away from the ambo: not only the Penitential Rite and Intercessions, but also the invitation to the Sign of Peace, announcements (if any), and the Dismissal. The latter three, especially, are proper to the Deacon of the Eucharist; as he sees his speaking parts evaporate, he says quietly, “Okay, I’ll be a potted plant.”
PPLD also emerges in other settings, such as a gathering of clergy, both priests and deacons, perhaps with the archbishop. The topic of the day is particularly challenging, and many of the presbyters are not shy in expressing their opinions and describing their experiences. One of the deacons ventures to offer a different perspective; be begins, “I’m just a lowly deacon, but …”
It’s time for an immunization campaign against the PPLD (Potted Plant Lowly Deacon) virus:
The Congregation for Catholic Education’s Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons (BNFPD) introduced a marvelous image of the deacon – he is a “living icon of Christ the servant within the Church.” By virtue of his ordination, the deacon acquires a new identity. He is the visible sign of the Suffering Servant, who laid down his life for his friends. So the deacon lays down his life, in Christ, for all he comes into contact with, beginning with his wife (if married), family, parish, and, especially the poor, sick, and afflicted.
The Leitmotiv of his spiritual life will therefore be service; his sanctification will consist in making himself a generous and faithful servant of God and men, especially the poorest and most suffering; his ascetic commitment will be directed towards acquiring those virtues necessary for the exercise of his ministry. (BNFPD)
The humble, self-emptying ministry of Christ didn’t need to call attention to itself. The dignity of ordained ministry, whether serving at the altar or discussing critical issues in the Church and world with other clergy, requires no excuse, whether the deacon has the wireless microphone or ministers silently. Word, sacrament, and charity are to permeate one another. Charity – caritas – a deep caring for others is founded on confident faith in Christ Jesus. That is, as the minister of charity, liturgy, and Word goes about his tasks, Christ is acting in him, with him, and through him.
If the deacon ministers in humility, in love, and in the power of the Spirit, there is no need for a badge, there is no potted plant to be seen, nor is there a “lowly deacon.” There is, rather, a living icon of Christ the Servant.