Perhaps the most compelling and convincing quality that elevates a deacon into a “trusted position” is the ability to keep his promises. For some reason, baptized Christians have a tendency to think that their commitment to God holds little or no relevance in today’s world. Many men are more upset if someone is late for an appointment than they are if one reneges on their baptismal promises made in the presence of God and His Church.
Perhaps the most compelling and convincing quality that elevates a deacon into a “trusted position” is the ability to keep his promises. For some reason, baptized Christians have a tendency to think that their commitment to God holds little or no relevance in today’s world. Many men are more upset if someone is late for an appointment than they are if one reneges on their baptismal promises made in the presence of God and His Church. We can blame much of this on secular society; but, the clergy, including deacons, are not always by-standers in the area of relativism. The clergy should always stand “above the fray” when evangelizing those preparing for the Sacraments. But, interestingly enough, the secular media seems to be quick to identify the Church as the source of moral deterioration; few, if any, take an inward look at their own shortcomings.
Since the beginning of time, the lack of covenantal trusts between God and Man has been a scriptural impediment to many individuals throughout salvation history. It is a fundamental reason Our Lord sent prophets (read deacons) to preach warnings to the nations throughout the biblical historical time frame. Jesus, Himself, was sent to do the Will of the Father. Indeed, we have been consecrated to the truth and it for the truth that we are dispatched to the world.[i] Therefore, it is imperative that God provide to the human family, men serious about their commitment to Him with a genuine concern for the Kingdom of God. As ordained men, we are called to this vocation. Pope John Paul once said, “the deacons ministry is the Church’s service sacramentalized”[ii]
As trite and unimportant as this might sound to some; keeping one’s promoise is the most profound characteristic of a man called to be a “Living Icon of the Servant of Christ”[iii] This man, marked with the indelible mark of ordination, has made new promises to obey his Bishop and to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.[iv] These vows are made “over and above” the promises made in Baptism, Penance, and Holy Matrimony. If we take a brief look at all these promises, we can see that we, as deacons, have a tremendous responsibility to the people of God.
In Baptism, whether we are initiated as an infant or an adult, we gain membership into the royalty of God. In truth, we are “anointed”. Baptism also releases us from the original sin of humanity, started by our first parents. But we also make solemn promises, defined as vows,[v] to be raised in and to live the faith in which we are baptized.[vi] This promise is repeated three times during the baptismal event.[vii] Once we have made our commitment, we receive the light from the Paschal Candle and promise to keep the flame of faith burning brightly.[viii]—the flame of “faith”! In Confirmation, we will reinforce these commitments as we “confirm” our commitment to God.
As deacons, we recite these promises to each individual that comes to us for entrance into the Church. By doing so, we become the example or model of Catholic life for the newly baptized, for the parents, and for the sponsors of the new member. This is no small undertaking. Our value to the newly formed people of God is that as the Living Icon of Christ that we purport to be and as lived through the life of the deacon in the Church.
For those Deacons that are married, our marriage vows are no less important. Deacons are uniquely established as being individuals who are able to take on both vocational Sacraments. The graces that we receive through each of these Sacraments come from the same source, the Holy Spirit, and are distinct but complementary. One Sacrament does not take precedence over the other nor does one have priority over the other. Rather, the grace from each Sacrament should enhance the other to be lived out in harmony and balance[ix] fruitfully and courageously; as gifts from God. That does not mean the Sacraments co-mingle. Instead, the commitment to the vows made from each Sacrament should be of particular importance to the man who wears the Deacon Cross.
Undoubtedly, our wedding plans include inviting the important people in our lives to witness our vows as they stand in on behalf of the Church. Then, we reserve a place that includes Jesus Christ, real and substantial in the Eucharist and present to us in the tabernacle. We also come before a minister of the faith to declare our commitment to our spouse, to the Church and to God—immediate and real! The Sacrament, itself is a tripartite agreement with our spouse and with God. We make this declaration aloud and commit ourselves as a living covenant of faith. Our commitment in the Sacrament of Marriage stands as an important element of our complete trust in God as we build a family[x] around the foundational truth of the Church.
Holy Orders takes-on a whole new character for those that are called to conform to Jesus Christ the Servant of all. In the Sacred Rite of Ordination, we go beyond our call as a baptized Catholic and make a true and sincere commitment to the local ordinary and to the Church. In fact, Deacons “are ordained within the ministry of the Bishop.”[xi] It is during our ordination that we promise to be obedient to our Archbishop and his successors[xii] and to pray faithfully, the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church.[xiii] These two elements of our indelible character set the process in motion to be diaconal. Said another way, these two promises give us the character of a deacon. In our Sacrament of Holy Orders we now become, whether right or wrong, the Church to the faithful.
By the Archbishop handing on the Book of the Gospels, we are also called to be “heralds of the Gospel”.[xiv] The definition of herald means to be the “royal messenger”; the person who proclaims![xv] We are the prophets for the King of kings and Lord of lords! Indeed, we are the extension of the Archbishop which requires us to present ourselves as if we were him![xvi] We can truthfully state that we come “in place of” or “in the name of” the Archbishop.
This awesome responsibility of conducting ourselves as the Archbishop’s diakonia should give us pause. It should especially give us pause when we conduct ourselves in a way that may deviate from common practice among deacons or that might be questioned by our local ordinary. To be a man who keeps his promises means that we are dedicated to our commitment to obedience even in the face of ridicule and insults. As much as we don’t like to recognize our sinfulness, to be truthful, we must realize that when we are not obedient to our promises we generate sin into our own lives and we become untruthful. Thank God for His Mercy!
As deacons, we have also made a commitment to prayer Lauds and Vespers everyday. Once again, in order to be truthful, we must not rationalize this obligation. The Liturgy of the Hours are common prayers used throughout the universal Church. It is because of the need to unite ourselves with each other through these prayers that deacons use the Breviary. Our commitment at our ordination was to the evening and morning prayers of the Church.[xvii] By building on the prayers of the clergy and religious, we are able to be engrained in a life of prayer; thus, enabling the Church to endure whatever the prince of darkness wants to throw at Her in order to discredit Her mandate for moral integrity.
It’s a lot of work to be a man who keeps his promises. But, as deacons, we have a strong foundation that will lead us into a life of spirituality and closeness to God. By prayerful obedience, we will also be able to endure any suffering that may enter our lives. Are there times when we will fail? I certainly hope so, for it is when we realize our failings that we can grow stronger in grace.[xviii]
[i] John 17:17-18 Jesus prays to the Father, “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.”
[ii] John Paul II, The Heart of the Diaconate: Servants of the Mysteries of Christ and Servants of Your Brothers and Sisters, address in Detroit, MI 1987
[iii] National Directory for the Ordination, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States here on out known as the National Directory. Page 2, para. 3
[iv] Rite of Ordination. Page 132, para. 201
[v] Dictionary.com defines a vow as a solemn promise before a deity
[vi] Baptism Rite for children instructs parents that by accepting baptism they realize that it will be their duty to bring the child up in the faith
[vii] Saying “I do” understand what baptism involves; professing the Creed and prior to pouring water over the elect.
[viii] Ibid. Part of prayer when receiving the Light of Christ
[ix] National Directory, page 34, para. 68
[x] Another promise we make
[xi] Hippolytus, Traditio Apostolica, 8. Also, in the Rite of Ordination of a Deacon, page 120, para. 179
[xii] Rite of Ordination, page 132, para 201
[xiii] Ibid, page 131, para. 200
[xiv] Ibid, page 143, para. 210
[xv] Dictionary.com gives these two definitions that fit our vocation
[xvi] Rite of Ordination of Deacons, p. 126 “They (Deacons) will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop or the pastor…recognize as disciples of Him who came not to be served, but to serve.
[xvii] See footnote 14
[xviii] Romans 5:20 where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more