John is known for his famous opening speech at the Second Vatican Council where he encouraged the world's bishops to be true shepherds in finding ways to meet the needs of people in the modern world. The speech that is less known, however, is the concluding speech to the Council delivered by Paul VI the day before the Council's solemn closing. John had died after the first session of the Council (October through December 1962), and Paul had led the church during the last three sessions (September through December, 1963, 1964, and 1965). On 7 December 1965, Paul VI addressed the bishops of the world with these words:
We stress that the teaching of the Council is channeled in one direction, the service of humankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has declared herself a servant of humanity at the very time when her teaching role and her pastoral government have, by reason of this Church solemnity, assumed greater splendor and vigor. However, the idea of service has been central.
Following the Council, and after he implemented a renewed permanent diaconate in 1967, Paul VI continually spoke of deacons as the "animators" of the church's own servant-hood. John Paul II echoed this famous quote and then observed that deacons were "the church's service sacramentalized."
So, what does a "servant-Church" look like? How does a "servant-Church" act in the world? Long before we consider deacons as an order of ministry in the church, we need first to examine the nature of the church itself.