Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Deacons Today" has moved to WordPress!

Dear Friends who have followed this blog in the past,

I've moved the blog over to WordPress, since that seemed a bit easier to manage!

Please join me there!

In case you still need the link, click here.

I will be deactivating this site in about a week.

God bless,

Deacon Bill

Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Easter Vigil Reflection: New Life Springs Forth

For Christians, we have entered into the chairos time of the Sacred Three Days (triduum) of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  Some around us will choose to celebrate Easter as simply a secular holiday, complete with colored eggs and a bunny.  Easter as a rite of Spring, a sign of new life in the natural order of things.

For others, though, including many Christians, the focus will be on the historical events surrounding the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth more than two thousand years ago.  Some Christian churches will re-enact the Last Supper as part of a Maundy Thursday service.  More specifically, Catholic Christians will celebrate the command of Christ to wash each others' feet.  Recent press coverage of the agitation caused in certain "conservative" circles over the actions of Pope Francis as he washed, dried and kissed the feet of young men and women, Christian and Muslem, show just how serious this ritual is taken, and how those who are upset by the pope's actions feel that he has somehow dishonored the actions of Christ.  Both approaches, the ignore-the-religious-implications-of Easter approach, and the "let's-do-what-Jesus-did" approach, in my opinion, miss the whole point.

For the secular approach, one often hears, "I'm not a Christian and it's just as silly to talk about a crucified man who lived and died 2000 years ago who somehow is supposed to have come back to life, as it is to believe in the Easter Bunny.  And at least the Bunny brings chocolate."  For the historicist approach, the triduum is little more than a Passion Play that we watch from our seats.  Various people have their favorite parts to perform in the drama, but when it's over, it's over until next year.  Godspell without the music.

May I suggest, on this Holy Saturday, that we all challenge ourselves to go deeper?  For those inclined to the secular, "rational" approach, may I suggest that Easter isn't about Jesus, or at least, not ONLY about him.  Easter is about finding those ways in our lives in which a loving God, whether one "admits" of God or not, finds new ways every day to give us life, joy and peace.  To the extent that we find those things in our lives, we know that they do not come from within ourselves, nor are they of our own making.  They are gifts from One who loves us even when we don't reciprocate that love. 

For those Christians inclined to the historical Jesus approach, might I suggest that there be a "so what?" moment of reflection.  Yes, we believe that Jesus the Christ did all of these things.

But so what?

How does Christ's self-emptying love, leading all the way to the Cross, find meaning in what I do today?  What difference does it make in my life and the lives of those around me?  If my focus is all on the historical, how do we engage the present and envision the future?  How does the kenotic become theotic? 

Tonight, at the great Easter Vigil, I too will have a part to perform, a ministry to exercise, as deacon.  In fact, one of the great joys and challenges for me will be the singing of the Exultet, the ancient hymn of praise which opens the Vigil.  Standing in the light of hundreds of candles, held in the darkened church by those who are recalling the candles received at their own baptism, I will do my best to proclaim the true meaning of Easter.  There is a section of the Exultet which often "causes me to tremble" as I chant it.  While we have a newer translation in place, I offer here the following words of comfort and challenge  Please read them slowly, reflectively, prayerfully:

The power of this holy night:
dispels all evil,
washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred,
brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Easter isn't about the Bunny and it isn't just about Jesus.  What we see around us in Spring: new life, now becomes a reality within ourselves as well.  Easter IS about new life, new chances, new beginnings for ALL people, rich or poor, women or men, gay or straight, black or white.  In Mark's Gospel, when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John, we are told that "the heavens were opened".  The Greek word used there is "schizomenous", and given the Jewish cosmology of the time, we might easily translate that word as saying that the heavens "were shattered": that in Christ there is no longer anything to separate creation from the Creator.  God and creation are joined.  It becomes our mission to live that good news in the way we treat others.  As Pope Francis demonstrated so beautifully on Holy Thursday, that includes caring and loving ALL people, with no consideration of anything other than that they are sisters and brothers from the same God.

Happy Easter Sunday!  But the real test will be: How will you live Easter on MONDAY?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pope Francis: The Deacon's Pope UPDATED

Already I'm hearing from some deacons who are all upset that our new Pope, Francis, has only made one reference to "deacons' since becoming pope.  I've seen all kinds of speculation about the diaconate in Argentina and how the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio just didn't have the chance to get to know his deacons, and on and on.  OK, I get it: in the short time he's been pope, he hasn't mentioned us much.

Big deal.

Far more important, in my opinion, is the fact that this man IS a deacon in everything he is modeling and teaching us.  Even as Archbishop, he consciously made the decision to change his stole before washing feet: he reconfigured his stole into the diaconal mode.  That's a conscious decision, telling me that he wanted to be sure that his actions would be seen as diaconal in form and in substance.  THAT's a big deal.  UPDATED: The latest news from the Vatican offers the photo from today's ceremony at the juvenile detention center, and it appears that the Holy Father is continuing his tradition of rearranging his stole to be worn as a deacon.  I'm adding that photo below.

Not unlike previous popes, Francis speaks from his own experience and that, frankly, is generally priestly.  But is it such a stretch to take his absolutely wonderful Chrism Mass homily -- focused intentionally on the priesthood -- and adapt it to deacons?  I think not.  Here's the full text: for the most part, you could simply replace "priest" with deacon, and "dalmatic" for chasuble, and you have a perfect exhortation to deacons.

From his appreciation of carrying the people on our shoulders and in our hearts, to his emphasis on "unction, not function," there is a strong diaconal message for all people, and certainly a model for those of us humbly honored to be a part of the Order of Deacons.

Like his namesake Francis of Assisi, our Francis "gets" the diaconate, thinks like a deacon, and acts like a deacon -- whether he "names" us or not.

Welcome aboard, Holy Deacon Francis!

From the Management. . . .

Once again I apologize for not blogging as frequently as I would like.  On the other hand, the reasons are wonderful ones: my ministries on behalf of the diocese, the teaching I am doing, especially graduate students in pastoral ministry, and the ministries of our parish are all life-giving and time-consuming.  All of which is wonderful!

I have also been considering prayerfully whether to keep this blog running in any case.  Without re-hashing what is now ancient history, I was recently "uninvited" from a scheduled talk in an archdiocese on the East Coast over concerns related to my writing and research.  Unfortunately, that work was largely misinterpreted or (in at least one example) unread.  The decision, we are told, was also based on concerns raised in certain unspecified "blog postings."  Not knowing whether that was a reference to something I may have written here on this blog, or comments made by other bloggers, was never fully revealed.  Needless to say, I have been reticent to return to such a nebulous environment.

What has changed my mind has been the election of Pope Francis.  As I have written before, I was a seminarian during the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI.  The world has changed drastically since those years, but I can safely say that I have not experienced the nearly universal outpouring of hopeful enthusiasm over the papacy which we are now experiencing since the days of John XXIII.  I do not write this from some naive expectation that "he will change church teaching," as some like to say.  Rather, it is in the way he is approaching his ministry as Bishop of Rome (his preferred style of self-reference).  He is clearly a man of the people, and the people are responding in kind.  People who might be complaining that all he has done thus far is more "style" than "substance" are missing their Marshall McLuhan, that "the medium is the message."  I also find an echo of John XXIII's insight during his opening address to the Second Vatican Council, that religious truth is one thing, timeles and unchangable, but the ways and means by which we communicate that truth is quite another.  Where Pope Benedict was brilliant at communicating religious truth through the theological enterprise, Pope Francis is demonstrating through his earthiness.

A parishioner recently complained to me that she was upset about all of the media "hype" surrounding Pope Benedict's retirement, the run-up to the conclave, and then the conclave itself.  She felt that all of this attention from the media trivialized the moment.  I can understand her concern, but at the same time, I felt completely the opposite: the world -- and not just the Catholic world -- was genuinely interested in what was going on and who might appear in the (black) shoes of the fisherman.  What I felt was the hunger of people who had often been disappointed by other people in the name of Church, but who still longed to be a part of all of the wonderful aspects of church that thrive despite our best efforts sometimes to sabotage.  Francis is emerging as the best example of a true pontifex  -- builder of bridges -- that we have seen in a long, long time.  I saw all of that media involvement as a marvelous example of evangelization at its best, an opportunity to be in dialogue with others about what matters most.

What Pope Francis will do in the future remains to be seen.  What he has already done has generated hope and enthusiasm for the papacy itself and the Church.  One person admitted to me recently that, as a gay man, he struggled with many aspects of the church's approach to homosexuals.  I reminded him that he shouldn't expect the new pope to make any substantive changes to the teaching itself.  He readily acknowledged that, but then said something quite remakarkable: "Oh, I understand that, Deacon.  But you know something?  There's just something in this new pope's approach that shows me that I am loved by God.  If the teaching doesn't change, I can live with that because I know now that God loves me and that this pope truly cares."

The medium AND the message.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vatican II at Fifty: One Deacon's Reflection

The following was written last week, but only posted now because of technical difficulties.

October 11, Vatican City: 1962, 2012

I apologize for not being an active blogger since last July, but what better time to start up again than today, the fiftieth anniversary of the Solemn Opening of the Second Vatican Council?  Through the generosity of my bishop and my university, I am here in Rome as I write this reflection.  I am here primarily to attend meetings related to our new St. Lawrence Institute here in Rome; a marvelous coincidence of events put us here for this grand celebration surrounding Vatican II and the initiation of a Year of Faith for the New Evangelization.

It will take many years, probably the rest of my life, to reflect fully on this day.  This is but a poor initial attempt.

First, a word about the cassock I am wearing in this photograph, for those who might be interested/curious/upset/confused/angry/offended!  The communication with the Holy See about those of us who were to assist with the liturgy was, to say the least, confusing.  One day we'd get an e-mail that said to bring no special attire or vestments at all.  Then the next day, we would be told to bring cassocks (sottani), and then the next day, we were to bring albs only.  And around it went.  So, finally, I brought a cassock and an alb. Tonight, I was still in it from earlier.  More about THAT in a moment as well.  And for those who still are confused: what I'm wearing is CLERICAL attire, not simply PRIESTLY attire.  Since deacons are clergy, it's OK.  Not something I want to do every day, but somehow it seemed to fit here and at this celebration.

This morning's papal Mass was exciting of course.  We were told to be at the altar at 8:00 AM for a final rehearsal.  I was part of a team of 12 deacons who were going to distribute communion to the cardinal/bishop concelebrants.  There were dozens of other priests and deacons who distributed communion to the non-concelebrating priests and bishops and deacons and the faithful.  The rehearsal went well and we were taken to a special sacristy where the 12 of us were to vest along with all the Cardinals.  The bishop-concelebrants vested in another sacristy.  Why they put us with the Cardinals is a Vatican mystery.  I spoke briefly to Cardinal Rigali before vesting.  I didn't see Cardinal Dolan until later.  Then, personal disappointment struck.  It seems that the only dalmatics they had for the 12 of us were very, VERY short ones.  So short, in fact, that when I put mine on, it looked like a surplice, not a dalmatic.  The Franciscan priest who is the head Sacristan scurried around trying to find something else, but in that style there was nothing, so two of us tall guys had to drop out of the group. I was given a good seat among the bishops and priests just to the side of the papal altar, however, so I was able to see what was going on.  I would have loved to assist, of course, but that was a personal disappointment that in the grand scheme of things just doesn't matter.

Some general observations, and these are just mine.  I haven't read or seen any press accounts yet so I don't know what else has been said.  First, during the whole run-up to this event, the correspondence has focused on this Mass as the beginning of the Year of Faith for the New Evangelization.  Almost no mention whatsoever was made about this being the golden anniverary of Vatican II.  As an Italian friend put it, "Many here don't really want to focus on the Council."  Yesterday, before our first rehearsal, I spoke with some of the pilgrims who had come, and it was clear how much work remains to be done.  One lady asked me, as she entered St. Peter's Basilica, what all the preparations were for. I explained that the pope was going to have a big celebration today,  "Oh," she said, "does the pope say Mass in this church?"  Still another pilgrim asked what the big Mass was going to be for, I responded that it was to commemorate the beginning of Vatican II.  "What's that?", he asked, and then laughing at his own wit, he continued, "so there was a Vatican I sometime, huh?"  For these folks, the Basilica was simply an interesting sight to see on vacation without any particular connection to their daily lives.  And certainly, Vatican II had no more meaning for them than any other distant event of history.

Today, however, the Pope, in his homily, spoke warmly of the Council, as did Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.  Another connection to the Council came at the end of the Mass.  First, a bit of history.  On December 8, 1965, at the solemn closing of the Council, a series of "Messages" were given from the Council Fathers to various groups of people: to statesmen and politicians, to artists, to young people, to medical professionals, to workers, and so on.  At that time, these messages were given by various Council Fathers, and they were presented in French.  All of this was to communicate that the messages were coming from all of the Council Fathers and that they were intended for wide distribution; French at that time was considered the language of international communication and diplomacy, a kind of "universal" language.  At today's Mass, the Pope invited up representatives from each of these same groups and presented a souvenir copy of the original messages.  Curiously, I thought, however, the souvenir copy was printed only in Latin and in Italian, not in the original French.  I admit that I was somewhat disappointed by this, since it seems to miss the "universal" intent of the messages themselves.  Still, it was a nice nod to the Council.

However, there was another aspect of the Mass which I found even more disconcerting.  On the upper platform were hundreds of bishops and Cardinals, priests and deacons; two choirs, multiple Masters of Ceremonies: all of the pomp and ceremony one could expect at a papal Mass.  About halfway through the Mass, however, I turned to look at the rest of St. Peter's Square and I was struck by the fact that there seemed to be almost no one there.  Using the famous obelisk as a reference point, it was clear that the crowd in the Square didn't even come close to extending that far.  The impression from where I was sitting was that, essentially, the Square was empty.  Given the fact that this was the occasion being used to inaugurate a Year of Faith dedicated to the New Evangelization, the relative emptiness of the Square seemed to emphasize both the lack of "connectedness" the average person has for the institutional dimensions of Church today.  Obviously it also highlighted the need for the Church to find more powerful ways to reach out and to connect with the everyday lives of people.  That was the whole point of the Council fifty years ago, and it remains as vital a mission today!

After Mass, my two friends and I agreed upon where we would meet later in the day for supper and planning for our meetings the next day.  So, for supper (cena) we met at a little place a few hundred years from St. Peter's.  We then decided to walk over to the Square and see what was going on.  What was going on was remarkable.  But first, some more history.

Fifty years ago, one the opening night of the Council, thousands upon thousands of people came to St. Peter's Square to pray for the success of the Council.  I'm attaching a link here so you can watch it.  It was a stunning sight, to say the least!  If you look at the video closely, you will see that the crowd not only fills the entire Square: it looks like it reaches back to the Tiber!  And then, the best bit: Pope John XXIII comes to his window and addresses the crowd.  He speaks of the moon looking down on this wonderful spectacle, so his remarks are sometimes referred to as the "Discourse to the Moon" ("discorso della Luna") or similar titles.  At the end, he tells everyone to go home and to embrace their children, and to tell the children that this embrace is from the Pope.  For people who were there, this event was one of the most significant of their lives.

Now, fifty years later, my friends and I walked into the Square and it was full of people, many carrying candles, singing songs and praying.  It wasn't nearly as large as that original crowd fifty years ago, but it was still a stunning sight.  As "empty" as the Square had seemed that morning was contrasted vividly by how full it was tonight.  HERE and NOW the Church was connecting with people.  Sure enough, the light in the papal apartment was lit, and at 9:00 PM Rome time, Pope Benedict appeared at the window.  He recalled Pope John's famous remarks, and the crowd roared its appreciation of that memory.

Leaving the Square tonight, I was left with a feeling that this desire for connectedness is the heart of what we seek in our understanding of communio and evangelization.  The whole point of Vatican II was to serve as an act of evangelization, and Pope Paul VI himself referred to the Council as "the great Catechism of our day."  The "New Evangelization" is not really so new; it is, and remains, the perpetual mission of the Church since Pentecost: to offer Christ to a world in pain in the Spirit of God who loves, sustains and provides for us.

For now, I've rambled long enough.  More soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Council, Conscience, War and Birth Control: One Faded Memory UPDATED

I have written extensively about the connections between the Second World War and the Second Vatican Council.  Many people assume that, since the Council took place from 1962-1965, the Council was about the world of the 1960s.  A friend of mine once remarked that he remembered the Second Vatican Council.  "That was when the Catholic Church," he said, "sold out to the Beatles!"  The truth, however, is much more complex.  After all, as the Council opened in 1962, the Second World War had been over less than twenty years.  One can ask: If a 62-year old French bishop was processing into St. Peter's on 11 October 1962, where had he been twenty years before, in 1942?  What would he have experienced as a teen and young man during the First World War and the rise of, eventually, three totalitarian regimes, a second World War, the Holocaust, the advent of the nuclear age and the Cold War?  And how might that experience have affected what he did at the Council?

UPDATE: I am indebted to Helen McDevitt-Smith for acquainting me with one such bishop: Pierre Francois Lucien Anatole Boillon, Bishop of the Diocese of Verdun, France. 

Pierre was born in 1911, and was ordained a priest in 1935.  In 1962, at the age of 51, he was ordained a bishop less than a month before the opening of the Council.  He served first as an auxiliary bishop of Verdun, and then became the diocesan bishop of Verdun from 1963 until his retirement in 1986; he returned to the Lord in 1996.  But what about those all-important years between 1935 to 1945?

Young Father Boillon served, as did many priests, in the French Resistance.  So it would come as no surprise to find out that in 1965, as the Council Fathers were debating issues related to war and peace for Gaudium et spes, Bishop Boillon rose to speak strongly in favor of total military disarmament; he had seen the horrors of war first-hand.  But there's more to this story.

After the Council, Bishop Boillon continued his work as Bishop of Verdun and the implementation of the Council.  His name turns up again in a remarkable account of the French bishops' conference and their 1968 response to Pope Paul VI's famous encyclical Humanae Vitae ("On Human Life"), which had just been promulgated.  Here's a link to an archived article on the topic.  It gives us many things to consider prayerfully, and shows the complex relationships involved.  Some highlights:

"Vatican officials expressed appreciation this week of the 'deep spirit of charity' contained in the statement on birth control with the French bishops issued last Friday.  The 120 members of the French episcopate said in their statement that although contraception was always  'disorder,' it need not imply moral guilt on the part of married couples who practiced it.  This was a matter for the couples to decide themselves after serious reflection before God."

Bishop Boillon of Verdun served as the spokesman of the French episcopal conference in presenting this statement to the press.  He explained that "a Catholic who felt compelled to use artificial means of birth control need not confess it to a priest and could take communion with a clear conscience."  In attempting to balance the duties of marriage and the teachings of the Church, the French bishops wrote that "a couple must prayerfully decide which duty took precedence."  They continued that "contraception can never be good.  It is always a disorder but this disorder is not always guilty."

It is here where Bishop Boillon draws on his own wartime experience.   "I killed four Germans," he said.  "I try to justify myself before God, but I did not accuse myself at confession of a sin.  I had a conflict of duty between the duty of defending my country and that of respecting human life.  Killing those Germans was evil but not a sin."

I find much here that is profitable for our reflection today.  Among other things, the statement of the French bishops accurately presents the role of conscience and the formation of conscience required by every individual.  It also respects that each individual must ultimately form that conscience himself or herself; no one can do it for another.  As the Council itself taught, the conscience is a "crucible" in which a person is alone with God.  The French bishops respect this religious freedom and responsibility.

The recognition that in life a person can be faced by competing "goods" ("duties") which require hard choices is also refreshing.  At least in my own pastoral experience, most people do not set out to do bad things; they are, rather, trying to do their best in often extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  While seeing things in black-and-white can seem to make human choices seem simple, life is far more often lived in various shades of gray.

This account, to me, captures much of the wonderful complexity that is reflected in the Second Vatican Council and the very human bishops who struggled with the extraordinarily difficult tasks facing the church and world.

As I researched more of this story, I was reminded of a powerful scene from the 1968 move, "The Shoes of the Fisherman," with Anthony Quinn playing a former bishop-prisoner in a Siberian gulag who is elected Pope.  In this scene, his character speaks of the moral tightrope we all must walk.  Given Bishop Boillon's own account, perhaps this is not as fictional as one might originally have thought.  Regardless, it is worthy of great reflection. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Women and the Diaconate: Part II

After my last posting on women and the diaconate, the conversation on Deacon Greg Kandra's Facebook page continued, and I received several interesting e-mails.

1) One deacon observed that "We've had this discussion for a few years now, although Phoebe is mentioned by name, I would like to draw attention to the following; many have stated that Rome hasn't spoken clearly on this subject, yet it seems to me, that they have clearly spoken "men" for ordination. . . ."  He then recounts the facts surrounding Vatican II's renewal of the diaconate.  And yet, for all of the quotations he offers, none really applies to the specific question of the admission of women to the diaconate.  All of the citations could just as easily and appropriately apply to women as well as men.  The fact that the current renewal has not yet included women is not alone dispositive.  After all, prior to 1967, there hadn't been a married deacon in centuries as well in the Latin Church!  I would also point out that the Canon Law Society of America, in 1985, examined this question and determined that there were no major canonical issues that couldn't be rather easily revised if the Church were to decide to ordain women as deacons.  In other words, just because we're not doing something right now doesn't necessarily mean that we might not do something in the future.

As I have said many times elsewhere, we MUST keep the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons quite distinct from the question of ordaining women as presbyters.  WHY?  Well, one major reason is that the Holy Father, both now and in his previous ministry as Prefect of the CDF, has done precisely that!  So, it's not helpful for people to get all excited about this question by somehow equating all three orders.  Prior to the renewal of the diaconate as a permanent order, a neo-Scholastic understanding of the Sacrament of Order might have seen things that way, but the renewal of the diaconate has signaled a paradigm shift in understanding.  And the church has been refining this new understanding over the last twenty or so years and this is evident in changes made to the catechism and subsequent documents (detailed in our book on women deacons).

 2) Deacon Jim, the original "commenter" I referenced in my last blog post, offered a number of further observations.  He clarified that he had not been using the term "definitively" in the technical sense used by theologians.  He also wrote that "it seems arbitrary to make the claim that, of all the uses of 'diakonos' by Paul or others in the NT, that in Phoebe's particular case (but not in any other), it has to mean 'ordained deacon'."  Another friend also wrote in an e-mail, concerning Phoebe, that "When it comes to Romans 16:1 it became clear that whether or not the particular scholar saw it as evidence for the female diaconate, it was not clear what the term "deacon" in this context referred to holding an ecclesial office. Most noted that it was likely too early to attribute to her an established office in the Church, let alone one received by ordination."  I couldn't agree more with both comments!  Let me explain.

St. Paul refers to "our sister Phoebe" as deacon of the Church of Cenchraeae.  Period.  We have absolutely no clue what being "deacon of the Church of Cenchraeae" meant in her day.  What's more, we have no clue HOW she received that designation; was it simply something bestowed on her in Paul's letter?  Some kind of ritual acknowledgment?  We have no idea.  Nada.  Zilch.  I get that, and I accept it fully.  I know of no one who would seriously suggest otherwise.  On the other hand, however, there is something going on with Paul's use of the word.  I can't believe that Paul, whose first language was Greek, somehow screwed up the grammar with the sentence; therefore, his attribution of a "title" of "diakonos" must have meant SOMETHING, and the fact is, whatever it meant, it went beyond some generic kind of "service", since that ought to have been rendered more accurately with a more generic attribution, such as "diakonissa."  So, while we don't know any specifics, we can tell that it was something special, using a "title" that had acquired some kind of technical meaning in Paul's usage (as found in other correspondence).

Deacon Jim also points out the various other ministers who are apparently referred to as "deacons".  The problem, as he correctly points out, is with the language of translation.  In the case of Phoebe, we have a masculine form of the "title" being used with a woman; it is a rather glaring use of the language.  With the men being referred to has "deacon" the challenge is greater, since it could be that the word is being used as a title of ministry, but it could be used in the more generic sense of "assistant" or "servant" without any reference to ecclesial ministry.  This is because it is a masculine form of the word being used to describe males, so we have to let the context help us a bit.  Perhaps some of these men were "deacons"; then again, they might simply be assisting in some other capacity.

3)  Deacon Jim also writes that "any claim that the Seven are somehow separate from Deacons seems, in my view, to be as weak as claims against the 'Trinity' as being Scriptural since the word 'Trinity' isn't used, say, at the Annunciation, or the Baptism of the Lord. If the 'Seven' aren't deacons, what are they? If Philip isn't a Deacon, what is he?"

Again, my earlier concern is that people be quite clear on what sources we're relying on for our information.  Many people honestly don't realize that scripture itself does not allude to Stephen and the rest of the Seven as deacons.  As I've said before, we Catholics do not hold a sola scriptura understanding of Divine Revelation, seeing the Revelation of God coming to us both through Scripture and from Tradition.  So, while scripture itself is silent on the whole Seven-as-Deacons idea, Tradition since the time of Irenaeus HAS seen the Seven as coming to represent the diaconal order.  I have no problem with that; we simply need to be careful in how we make our assertions.  In other words, SCRIPTURE doesn't make the claim here; Tradition does.  That's an important distinction for scholars and anyone else interested in the matter.

Now, as to Jim's questions, "If the Seven aren't deacons, what are they?  If Philip isn't a Deacon, what is he?" let's consider.  FROM SCRIPTURE, we can tell nothing about "what" they are.  For example, I have done some research into Second Temple Judaism, and there are some talmudic sources that suggest that each synagogue had a "board" of persons who were responsible for the charitable outreach of the synagogue, and quite often this "board" consisted of seven persons.  Could Peter have been asking those Greek-speaking Christians of Jerusalem simply to use the existing Jewish model for service?  We don't know, but what we DO know is that Luke -- who would have been familiar with the term "diakonos" and "diakonoi" in the technical sense -- chose NOT to use that term vis-a-vis the Seven.  It's also interesting, of course, that while Peter says that he wants the Seven to take care of the "daily distribution" so that the Twelve can take care of preaching the Good News, the only actual ministry we see two of the Seven doing (Stephen and Philip) is preaching and catechizing!  (I often remind deacon candidates that they should remember that Stephen was martyred precisely because of his powerful preaching, and they should expect no less!)  What we do know about the Seven FROM SCRIPTURE is this: they were picked from among their own community, were of good repute and filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were ordained (hands were laid upon them by the Apostles) into ministry.  As I wrote above, later Tradition will describe that ordination as diaconal.

Why do I persist in making this distinction?  I have encountered some people over the years who would like to say that contemporary deacons should only do what we see the "deacons" in scripture doing.  The problem is that we don't really know WHAT the deacons of scripture were doing, and trying to limit ministry to such scant evidence would not be helpful.  Imagine if we tried to suggest that limitation on presbyters or bishops!  But that's something for a different post.

I have delayed putting this post up, because I have reviewed so many previous posts on this subject and it seems like so much of the material -- both the objections to the question, and my responses -- is simply repetitive.  Many things have changed over the last couple of decades with regard to church teaching as well as historical and theological research on the matter, so I strongly recommend that this later material (starting with church teaching itself!) be studied carefully.