Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Point to Ponder #6: Threading the Needle

I happen to have huge hands, and whenever I've had to thread a needle, it usually takes a day-and-a-half or so to accomplish.  It can be a tough thing to do, but it's an essential and prerequisite skill if that button is going to get sewn back on!

This point of reflection, as I wrote in our original list, goes like this: We should not be co-opted into someone else's ministry.  The Holy See actually says this quite strongly: we are not supposed to be substitutes for priests or anyone else, nor are we supposed to take on ministries that rightly belong to others.  Here's the actual quote from the Congregation for the Clergy's 1998 document, The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons:
In every case it is important, however, that deacons fully exercise their ministry, in preaching, in the liturgy and in charity to the extent that circumstances permit. They should not be relegated to marginal duties, be made merely to act as substitutes, nor discharge duties normally entrusted to non-ordained members of the faithful. Only in this way will the true identity of permanent deacons as ministers of Christ become apparent and the impression avoided that deacons are simply lay people particularly involved in the life of the Church (#40).
Sounds like threading a needle to me! 

First, "in every case" deacons are supposed to exercise their ministry fully, and the text specifies the triple functions of word, sacrament and charity: ALL of them are important, and ALL of them are to be exercised, and exercised "fully."  So far so good, although many deacons complain that, in real life, their pastors often circumscribe their duties, but for now, let's just get the theory down.

Second, we get to the actual "assignment" of the deacon.  We are told that deacons are not to be marginalized (as in, "Well, I've got a deacon at the parish, but I don't intend to use him.").  Also, deacons are not "substitutionary" for someone else.  In particular, we should look at this the way a parishioner or the pastor might.  I once had a parishioner come up to me and tell me how glad she was that the church had deacons now, "since we're running out of priests, and you guys can fill in."  Substitutes until the number of priests goes back up.  But the Congregation is being very clear here: Deacons are not substitutes for ANYONE else's ministry.  This doesn't mean we can't help out as we can, of course!  But how often are deacons "filling in" for someone else?

We continue to read that deacons should not be doing things that would normally be exercised by lay persons.  So, deacons aren't substitutes for anyone else, including the priests, on the one hand, while on the other hand, deacons are not to usurp things which are legitimately to be the responsibility of lay people.

And yet, in real life, what do most deacons hear in conversation?  "Deacon, what can't you do that the priest can?"  "Wow, deacon, you do almost everything a priest does!"  Or, alternatively, "Deacon, now that you're here, take over the responsibilities of the DRE."  "Deacon, run the liturgy committee of the pastoral council."  "Deacon, serve on the finance council."  Now I'm not saying that deacons should NOT help out in these areas, but only if there is some particular need for it.  Simply to do such things "just because he's a deacon" is not a good reason!  These are the responsibilities of the baptized faithful and they need to be encouraged and inspired to take them on, and should not be set aside when a cleric becomes available.

So this really is a lot like threading a needle.  Deacons need to find and steer a course in ministry that is neither substitutionary nor usurping.  Actually, this can be quite freeing, and it gets back to some of our earlier points, since it means that it encourages the deacon's own creativity at identifying needs that are not yet being met, and charting a course to help meet them.  It also means, with gentleness and tact, to resist attempts to have us be "merely substitutes" or to take on tasks that should be done more appropriately by others.

So, for reflection: If you're already a deacon, are you serving in ways that can and probably should be done by others?  If you're not a deacon, but perhaps a priest or a parishioner, do you find yourself trying to put the deacon into roles that ought best be done by another?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Point to Ponder #5: Breaking New Ground in Service

This point of reflection flows rather naturally from the last one.  In my summary of the list that began this series, I wrote, "Don't get stuck in old patterns of ministry!  What areas of need are not being met at all?  How willing are we to be creative and break into new areas of service?"

All through formation, and even after we enter into ordained ministry, the focus so often is on "what we're going to do" in our assignment, whether that's in parish or other ministries.  Functions are important, of course, although as we have seen, what any of us "do" (function) as a result of baptism and ordination is of lesser import than who we "are".  That being said, let's spend some time with "function" and the deacon.

It's fairly easy to find indicators about what we're supposed to "do."  Canon law specifies various things, probably the most significant being the faculty to "preach anywhere."  So we can make a list of functions based on the law.  Then we can look at the liturgy and see what we're supposed to "do" there: baptisms, weddings, viaticum, certain blessings, and so on.  Fine.

Then we can look at what deacons have done in other parishes, or in the same parish to which we're being assigned.  "Deacon Tom used to handle RCIA until he retired last year; I'd like you to take that over, Deacon."  So there's still another way to find "functions" that the deacon can handle.  Finally, we can consider what we are already doing before we were ordained, and simply continue doing those things, only now as deacons.

BUT HERE'S MY POINT (pardon my shouting, but I want to make sure you're with me on this!): WHAT ABOUT ALL THING THINGS THAT ARE NOT BEING DONE?  Sometimes deacons, like anyone else, get into a rut.  We tend to accept the structures that are in place, and try to make sure that all the gaps IN THAT STRUCTURE are filled.  But we're supposed to go one big step further.  As "eyes, ears, heart and soul" of the bishop, we're supposed to be pushing the envelope in ministry: what are the needs NOT being met in the parish, in the surrounding community?  I once had a priest tell me that there was no need for a deacon in his parish because "everything is already covered; everything is being done."  Period.  He was not a happy camper when I told him I thought that was great, but was he really saying that there was no person in any kind of need at all within his parish or the community?  Really?  Seriously?  ALL needs are being met?

And that's where the deacon can step in.  Perhaps he doesn't have the expertise to handle the unmet needs himself, but if he's alert to them, he can help identify the appropriate resources that might be available to meet those needs.  He can be the bridge between the people in need and the resources to meet those needs.

There are so many blessings with this approach!  First, those folks already involved in ministry don't feel threatened that the deacon is trying to "horn in" on their turf.  Second, the deacon -- from his very identity as servant-leader -- is using his eyes and ears, his heart and soul, to "see" things that others perhaps have not seen.  Third, it helps the church extend her ministry into new areas in need of transformation.

So, when I talk with deacons and all I hear are stories about various parish functions, I often challenge them to look beyond the existing structures: Catholic social teaching, for example, is not the sole province of a parish social justice committee.  This can be an unsettling dimension: we'd all like to get into a groove and stay there.  But that's not the extent of what ordination means.

It's time to "look beyond" and break into new territory.  Be creative!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Point to Ponder #4: Deacon as Servant-Leader

A major industry has arisen around the nature and exercise of leadership, including the specific type of leadership known as "servant leadership."  Even one of my own books is subtitled "Servant Leaders in a Servant Church".  So this little reflection cannot hope to contain all of the insights to be found in all of these resources.  However, I still encounter members of the diaconate community who struggle, and sometimes oppose, the notion that they are called to leadership!  "I'm a servant," they say, "not a leader."  However, the history and theology of the church tell a very different story.  Ordination to any order, like it or not, involves leadership responsibility.  I find that reluctance to accept this fact usually flows out of some rather narrow understandings of what leadership actually means within a community.

Here are some things I find important about leadership, especially vis-a-vis deacons:

1) Ordination, to any order, involves the assumption of leadership in and for the church.  A review of scripture, the patristic authors, and the historical theology of the church all agree: the reason for ordination is to set persons in leadership relationship to their community.  A bishop, for example, presides over the worship of the community precisely because he is first the overall leader of that community; the same can be said about a presbyter appointed pastor of a parish.  And a deacon, ordained and appointed by the bishop to extend the bishop's own sphere of leadership, participates in this role as well.  Vatican II, in Lumen gentium #18, as it begins its treatment of the three ordained ministries, describes them all as ministries instituted by Christ to build up the People of God.  "Building up" is a function of leadership, and the willing assumption of such leadership is an important part of the vocational discernment of the deacon.

2) All good leadership is "servant" leadership.  The best leaders in any enterprise are the one who have vision and the ability to communicate that vision to others, inviting and inspiring those others to share in bringing that vision to reality.  The best leaders are the ones who also provide for those with whom they serve.  Even in the Navy, for example, I found that the best leaders took care of their troops so that those troops were free to do what needed to be done.

The expression "servant leadership" has been around since 1970 when Robert Greeleaf wrote his landmark essay "The Servant as Leader", but the reality has been around forever.  Greenleaf wrote:
The servant leader is servant first.  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. . . . The different manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society?  Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
In a second essay, Greeleaf speaks of leadership within institutions, which seems to have a particular relevance for those involved in ministry:
This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.  Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions -- often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt.  If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.
I hope and pray that deacons would find those words particularly apt guidance for who we are (servant-first) and what we try to do with and for the People of God!  In a special way, notice how this approach stresses the WHO WE ARE dimension of ministry as PRIOR TO the "what we do" dimension.  What we do in ministry is critically important and we must not minimize that; but we are more than simply the some of our actions.  Our actions flow from who we are, and as deacons, we are servant-first.

3) Leadership is not always tied to a particular position in the organization.  Anyone with any experience whatsoever in parish life knows that the most powerful leader in any parish is usually the parish secretary.  In other ways of life, even something as rank conscious as the military, the most powerful leaders in an institution are often not the ones who hold the highest rank.  General Patton, for example, could not have accomplished anything whatsoever, if there were not sergeants, corporals and privates exercising leadership as well.  Leadership cannot be reduced to position/rank.  Positional leadership is one type of leadership, but it is not the only type of leadership.  In fact, a wonderful little book which every deacon should have in his or her library (I'm hoping deacons of other Christian traditions are reading this!) is called "Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams," by Tom Bonem and Roger Patterson. 

The insights of these authors are very good, and deacons will find much in them that resembles our own pastoral experiences.  And for those who like to complain, "What can I do?  I'm JUST a deacon!"  this book should help change your mind.  And, by the way, "JUST a deacon"?  Are you kidding?  "JUST" a deacon?  Remember that all of the patristic sources who mention deacons, from East to West, ALL of them refer to deacons as bearers of the very ministry of Christ.  Bishops are referred to as representing God the Father, deacons represent Christ, and the presbyters are described as representing the apostles.  While it became commonplace in the second millennium to refer to presbyters as "alteri Christi" -- "other Christs" -- that was a rather novel development.  In the ancient Church such an understanding was more associated with deacons.

4) Leadership exists beyond institutional parameters.  Just as leadership is not restricted to those who hold positions of power and authority from an institution, the human aspects of institutions do not "confine" leadership either.  Now, we believe that the church is not merely a human institution.  That's true.  However, as Vatican II teaches, human institutional elements nonetheless exist within the church, and Christ did not dictate particular forms for these human elements to follow, and they have changed remarkably over the centuries!

Consider this insight from John Gardner:
All too often, on the long road up, young leaders become "servants of what is rather than shapers of what might be."  In the long process of learning how the system works, they are rewarded for playing with the intricate structure of existing rules.  By the time they reach the top, they are very likely to be trained prisoners of that structure.  This is not all bad; every vital system reaffirms itself.  But no system can stay vital for long unless some of its leaders remain sufficiently independent to help it to change and grow.
We can, and must, ask ourselves as deacons: Are we "servants of what is rather than shapers of what might be"?  Are there ways in which we might be a bit of both?  Certainly within the church we are respecters of Tradition (capital "T"), and even hold this, along with Scripture, to be a source of divine revelation.  And yet, as Church, we are always a pilgrim, always changing, always adapting to new needs, new cultural realities in which we are challenged to make a difference.

Cardinal Walter Kasper once described deacons and presbyters as the "two arms of the bishop"; but he continued in that same address to remind deacons (and others) that, once ordained, the deacon -- like the presbyter -- attained a certain autonomy as well.  There will be times, the Cardinal noted, that the deacon will need to exercise his prophetic role even to the bishop who ordained him!  That the "respect and obedience" promised by the deacon at ordination does not relieve the deacon of such a prophetic responsibility even within the structures of the church.

One of the best servant leaders of modern times, in my opinion, was Angelo Roncalli, Blessed pope John XXIII.  During his opening address to the Second Vatican Council, he reminded the world's bishops that while Truth is eternal and unchanging, the ways in which that Truth is communicated to the world can and must change.  Another fine little book for all who are interested in leadership in the Church is "Pope John XXIII: Model and Mentor for Leaders" by Fr. Bob Bonnot, Ph.D.  While you can read any number leadership books using examples from business leaders, this book gleans leadership insights from examining the leadership style of Pope John.

Setting a tone, establishing a purpose, outlining a program, having a strategy, selecting a team, keeping on message, using the media, rationing the time available and deliberately pursuing the goals established are just some of the areas examined by Fr. Bonnot in this book, and they can be very helpful for all involved in ministry.  Once again, the great John XXIII can inspire us in our appreciation of the servant-leadership to which we are called and ordained.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Point to Ponder #3: Deacon as Risk Taker

One definition of a "risk taker" is: "A person who is not fearful of uncertainty and may even enjoy risky, speculative situations."  While such a description is often applied to the world of business, there are certainly elements of it which apply to ministry!

When one pours oneself out (kenosis) in the service of others, there is a certain amount of risk involved: risk that our own needs will not be met, risk that the ones we serve will not reciprocate, risk that our selflessness will not be effective.  And yet, these all-too-human shortcomings need to be confronted.  As we saw in the earlier quotation from John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, kenosis involves the understanding that "suffering and death can express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return" (#93). 

I once heard a young bishop express concerns over approving a document for publication by the Bishops' Conference, because there were many questions for which no answers had yet been found.  The bishop continued that, "We must not move forward until we have answers to every question."  I was immediately struck by the difference between that young bishop's opinion, and the remarkable work done by the world's bishops at the Second Vatican Council.  They opened so many doors, accepting that they did not have all the answers, and perhaps did not even know all of the questions!  Consider the diaconate itself: There had not been a diaconate opened to married men for many centuries in the Latin church.  The bishops knew that problems might emerge, but they also knew that this was the right course of action to take, and that problems would be resolved as they developed.  While prudence would dictate thorough research on important matters, of course, I think that suggesting one must have answers to ALL questions goes to far, and quickly paralyzes us into inaction.  Fear can freeze us in place.  However, the emphasis with kenosis is on the self-giving, and not on the results of that gift.

So we come to the notion of "risk" and diaconal ministry.  Deacons must be willing to extend themselves (perhaps another way of saying "pour themselves out"?) based on the needs of others, not by our own needs.  That means we sometimes have to leave our personal comfort zones.  A quarter of a century ago, when I was in formation for ordination, our formation director used to say that if he ever heard any of us say, "Oh, that's MY ministry," or "I don't do prison ministry; that's not MY ministry."  He reminded us that it is not our ministry at all, but the ministry of Christ.  Through ordination, we are called into a participation in the ministry of Christ, not a ministry of our own choosing.

I am NOT saying that a deacon must become competent in all areas of need!  No one person could ever do such a thing.  However, I am saying that the point of view of the deacon ought to be on the "other", the person in need as well as the structural causes for that need.  It also means that the deacon must have a "deacon's eye" for spotting not only need, but for the persons who are best able to meet that need, and arrange a meeting between them; in other words, the deacon must know how to refer, to coordinate, to lead.

All of this involves a certain measure of risk, of going outside of our normal comfort zones.  The point of reflection here is: "Am I, as deacon, a risk taker, or am I risk averse?"  In terms of the description above, am I a person who "is not fearful of uncertainty" for the sake of others?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Point to Ponder #2: The Bishop and his Deacons

Moving on to point #2: How healthy is our relationship with our bishop?  We are supposed to be the "eyes, ears, heart, soul" of the bishop, extending his ministry throughout the diocese.  How's that going?

With a h/t to Rocco over at Whispers in the Loggia, I found this photo to be perfect to illustrate this point.  It's a picture of Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York surrounded by some of his deacons.  And this is how it should be!

From the earliest scriptural references to deacons as ministers in the ancient church, deacons are always, always, always -- did I write that enough? -- ALWAYS associated with the bishop.  The letters of Paul, the pastoral letters (such as 1 Timothy, which gives the famous list of qualifications for bishops, followed immediately by the qualifications for deacons), even the famous passage from Acts 6 which is traditionally associated with deacons with the selection of the Seven: all associate the ministers we have come to know as deacons with the apostolic ministry of the bishop.  Here's the famous passage from 1 Timothy 3: 1-13:

1                    This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.
2                    Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach,
3                    not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.
4                    He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity;
5                    for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?
6                    He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the devil's punishment.
7                    He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the devil's trap.
8                    Similarly, deacons must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain,
9                    holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10                Moreover, they should be tested first; then, if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
11                Women, similarly, should be dignified, not slanderers, but temperate and faithful in everything.
12                Deacons may be married only once and must manage their children and their households well.
13                Thus those who serve well as deacons gain good standing and much confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.

The patristic literature is just as emphatic in this relationship; you can read all of them in any good text on the history of the diaconate, such as some of the books on my bookshelf to the right of this posting.  My own particular favorite citation is from Syria in the 3rd century, the Didascalia Apostolorum.  Here are a few samples:
Let the bishops and the deacons, then, be of one mind; and do you shepherd the people diligently with one accord.  For you ought both to be one body, father and son; for you are in the likeness of the Lordship [Christ]. . . . Let the deacon be the hearing of the bishop, and his mouth and his heart and his soul; for when you are both of one mind, through your agreement there will be peace in the Church. . . .  And be you [bishop and deacon] of one counsel and of one purpose, and one soul dwelling in two bodies.
"One soul in two bodies"!  Wow! Here's the tough bit: Does that sound like the relationship the deacons you know have with your bishop?  I rather doubt it.  The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Deacons in the United States, however, promulgated in 2004, repeatedly stresses the relationship of the deacon with the bishop, and it's critically important to remember that the National Directory is a text written BY the bishops of the country FOR the bishops of the country.  This means that the bishops themselves wish to stress this relationship.  Still, it's one thing to put something like that in a book; it's quite another to live out that relationship in real terms during the day-to-day life of diocesan ministry.

So, for reflection, if you are already a deacon: How is your relationship with your bishop?  What can you do to improve it, to strengthen it?  If you are a bishop: What are you doing to improve relationships with your deacons?  Are there opportunities to have honest, forthright conversations with your deacons?  Is there a forum to receive the pastoral insights of these men whom you have ordained to be your eyes and ears, heart and soul throughout the diocese?  And if you're a baptized disciple or a presbyter, what are you doing to strengthen the relationship of deacons with the bishop?

I often tell the true story of a bishop who, while literally standing in the middle of his deacons, said, "When I ordained you as deacons, I ordained you to share with me the burdens on my heart for the people who live in this diocese; today I want to share what's on my heart, so it can be on  yours as well."  I've always remembered that, because it seemed to me that this bishop truly captured the relationship that should exist.  If the diaconate is going to be strong and effective, it is critical that this relationship be healthy and vibrant. 

What can YOU do about that?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Point to Ponder #1: Kenosis and the Deacon

The first question for reflection is, "How kenotic am I?"  This is a good question for all disciples of Christ, and for deacons there is a particular relevance.  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical "Fides et Ratio", wrote that "the prime commitment of theology is seen to be the understanding of God's kenosis, a grand and mysterious truth for the human mind, which finds it inconceivable that suffering and death can
express a love which gives itself and seeks nothing in return" (#93).  We deacons are fond of saying (correctly) that being a deacon is less about what we do but who we are; indeed, that's true for all disciples.  So, we begin our reflection by reflecting on "God's kenosis."

First, we should recall Paul's second letter to the Philippians, verses 5-11;

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I like to point out that St. Paul's reason for quoting this early Christian hymn was so that HIS READERS WOULD BE LIKE CHRIST!  So, while the hymn makes a clear statement about Christ's kenosis ("he emptied himself"), Paul's point is that we too are therefore called to empty ourselves in imitation of Christ.  How willing, really, are we to empty ourselves in service of God and neighbor?  This is a profound challenge and really, in the words of the saintly pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is "the cost of discipleship."  Deacons, as ordained servant leaders in and for the church, have a particular responsibility for modeling this kenosis.

I came across a nice talk on kenosis given by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which I share here.  It's in four parts: PART ONE, PART TWO, PART THREE, PART FOUR.  I hope you can take the time to watch it; the total talk is only about a half hour or so.

Enjoy!  And then, share your reflections here. . . .

Deacon Top Ten List

We've been spending way too much time lately on church externals!  Cardinal, vestments, clerical attire.  As the Italians say, "Basta!" ("Enough"!)  Not that these things aren't interesting, but there are more significant things to think about as we enter into Advent.

So, over the years at various presentations, I've developed some points to ponder about the diaconate.  I'll list them here to get us started, and then I'll post more on each point in separate posts so we can, if readers like, discuss them in more detail.

Here's the list, in no particular priority order:

1. How "kenotic" is my ministry? ("Kenosis" is the self-emptying of Christ, to which we are all called as well)  In short, how completely do I "empty myself" into service to others.  Ministry is not about "me" but about "the other," not something we do, but the kind of people we are.

2. How healthy is our relationship with our bishop?  We are supposed to be the "eyes, ears, heart, soul" of the bishop, extending his ministry throughout the diocese.  How's that going?

3. How much do I "risk" in diaconate?  Am I willing to leave my own comfort zone to serve others?

4. How capable am I of servant-LEADERSHIP?  Ordination to any order of ministry involves LEADERSHIP, specifically, servant leadership.  How willing am I to lead in and through service?

5. Don't get stuck in old patterns of ministry!  What areas of need are not being met at all?  How willing are we to be creative and break into new areas of service?

6. We should not be co-opted into someone else's ministry.  The Holy See actually says this quite strongly: we are not supposed to be substitutes for priests or anyone else, nor are we supposed to take on ministries that rightly belong to others.  This can be challenging: Am I serving in ways that are best done by others?

7. How "mobile" am I willing to be?  Our model should be like St. Paul: move into new area, preach Good News, empower local leadership, and move on to a new area.

8. How well do we develop a "mens ecclesiae"?  How well do I understand how the church really works and how sensitive am I to the very real needs of the local people of God?

9. How well do I minister EVERYWHERE?  Or do I just minister "in house"?  We're ordained to serve everywhere, including the work place and market place.  Or have I just become "churchy" in my service?

10.  Balance, balance, balance!  How balanced is family, ministry, spirituality; how balanced are Word, Worship and Charity?

That's the list in brief.  The next posts, over the next few days, will examine each in more detail.  I'll try to have the list complete by Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nice take on the whole "collar" thing -- by a priest

Check out this reflection by Fr. Francis X. Clooney, SJ.  He's writing about priests wearing clericals, and his observations relate directly to the same issue for deacons.

He outlines a number of interesting points, like this one:

  • I suppose all Jesuits know from early on that stories of the great Jesuit missionaries in Asia, who learned to fit perfectly into the local cultures, as it were incarnating in every possible and appropriate way. St Francis Xavier famously threw off his shabby cassock and dressed in yellow silk, to reach the Japanese nobles; Matteo Ricci dressed perfectly for the imperial court; Robert de Nobili adopted the saffron robe of an Indian ascetic, knowing that the black cassock would puzzle and repel. Or just re-read I Corinthians 9:22. And so too today: when on campus, dress for the occasion, fit in, that words and deeds be clearer, less encumbered, freer, direct and undistracted.
What's interesting for us deacons, of course, is how this resonates with what the US bishops have said about deacons' attire since 1971, that it is their preference that "deacons dress in a manner similar to the people they serve."

Again, you can read the whole thing here.  Good stuff.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Before he was a Cardinal

Today Donald William Wuerl became a Cardinal, along with 23 others prelates from around the world, joining a 1000-year old band of advisors and papal electors.  Press reports tell us that the now-Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC had more than 400 family members, friends and parishioners joining him
for the celebration in Rome.  As a deacon ordained and incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington, DC by one of his predecessors, Cardinal James Hickey, I am one of the new Cardinal's deacons, even thought I'm currently serving outside the Archdiocese.

I had first heard of Father Wuerl when, around 1976 or so, he co-authored a very helpful textbook which summarized Catholic teaching.  Later, as newly-ordained Bishop Wuerl he was assigned as auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Hunthausen in Seattle during a very trying time in the life of that local church.  He was then "translated" (as the official lingo has it) to be the diocesan bishop of his home diocese of Pittsburgh.

I first met Bishop Wuerl during that time.  I was part of a team preparing a text for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops now called the "National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States."  A number of bishops were involved in the process, and seven of us (known by the bishops and others as "the Gang of Seven") were charged with coordinating major pieces of the document.  I was originally asked to coordinate the drafting of the section on "diaconal spirituality."

But the real problem was encountered in trying to write a summary of diaconate theology.  The church simply had not written all that much on the renewed diaconate, especially in the mid-1990's when we began working on this project.  After nearly two years of wrangling, we were still at an impasse.  I was asked to step in as a kind of "troubleshooter" or "negotiator" between a couple of differing views being debated for inclusion in the text.  At this point, a new chairman of the committee on the diaconate was elected: Bishop Gerald Kicanas, now of Tucson.  He thought it would help if we could get some other bishops involved (we already had about 15 bishops involved!) who had worked on a similar document on the priesthood.  So he invited Cardinal Maida of Detroit and Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh to serve as "episcopal consultants" to the process.  At our very next meeting, Bishop Wuerl and I sat next to each other and began a very interesting dialogue on what we COULD say in the National Directory about the diaconate, and what we couldn't say, since we would just be offering theological speculation; a document from the USCCB shouldn't engage in theological speculation, which is the job of theologians.

Bishop Kicanas asked Bishop Wuerl if he would agree to draft a chapter outlining the theology of the diaconate based on current church teaching.  Bishop Wuerl agreed, but asked if I would work with him on it.  I was somewhat surprised to be asked, and honestly, I thought he was simply being courteous.  On the contrary, what followed was a most fulfilling part of the whole experience.  We would each draft a section and then fax each other what we had written.  We would then critique each other's work and do it again.  In several exchanges, a workable chapter on the doctrine of the diaconate was written. 

What I'll always remember about this experience is the truly collaborative and congenial way in which this modest partnership took place.  Bishop Wuerl really didn't need me to work on the text, but he treated me as an equal partner in the process and that was refreshing and most appreciated.  It was also very productive.

We have bumped into each other on various occasions as we've addressed the same groups: the National Organization for the Continuing Education of Roman Catholic clergy, a church leadership conference in Washington, and so on.  Invariably, he recalls our collaboration, as I do, with fondness and generosity.

So, congratulations, Cardinal Wuerl, from your former collaborator on the National Directory and one of the deacons of the Archdiocese in which you now serve.  Ad multos annos!

The New Cardinals and the Dalmatic of Charlemagne

OK, so here's some interesting historical and theological bits to ponder as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Christ the King this weekend.

Earlier today in Rome, the pope created 24 new cardinals, including two Americans: Cardinal-Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC and Cardinal Raymond Burke, who now serves in Rome.  I was doing a little surfing about the events and came across the liturgical aid used at this morning's ceremony; here it is if you want to read it for yourself.  To my great surprise, of all the artwork available to the Vatican's liturgical planners for this event, they chose to use several images of "The Dalmatic of Charlemagne": and the dalmatic, as we all know, is the vestment now associated with deacons.  The particular dalmatic in question was for many years thought to have been worn by the Emperor Charlemagne at his coronation; hence the name.  It is now thought to date from the 14th century.  Still, this is an interesting choice of image for a number of reasons:

1) As the notes printed at the end of the liturgical aid point out, the mission of the deacon is very similar to the mission of the emperor: to serve the people with joy and justice.  It is important to see the marriage here of the secular and the sacred: both realms come from God and share in the divine mission of providing for all of God's people.

2) The rich embroidery of the dalmatic is also very significant theologically.  On the back of the dalmatic is a depiction of the Transfiguration, which in Eastern catholic theology especially, is associated with the "divinization" (theosis) to which all people are called, and the front of the dalmatic depicts the second coming of Christ.  Christ has emptied himself ("kenosis") and through this self-emptying, leads all to union with God.

Probably the last thing the participants at this morning's ceremonies expected was to be reminded of the diaconate and its meaning in the contemporary church: but someone responsible for planning the festivities clearly wanted to make this connection, and I think it's a valuable source for reflection by all of us, especially during this weekend of Christ the King!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Clothes make the . . . deacon?

So, as my friend Deacon Greg Kandra likes to note, whenever the topic turns to "Roman collars" it invariably progresses to "deacons in collars" and everyone seems to have an opinion about that!  During my days at the USCCB, I had occasion to hear each and every argument pro and con on this matter -- repeatedly.  I think it's helpful to have some historical perspective on all of this.

1) What is "clerical attire"?  Here we are limiting ourselves to NON-LITURGICAL dress, not the various liturgical vestments we wear.

2) Where and when did the idea of a distinctive dress for Christian clergy come about?  Obviously, early Christians, like St. Peter or St. Paul, or Phoebe, wore no distinctive attire that identified them as "clergy" or even as someone serving others in some kind of ministry.  Consider this quotation from Pope Celestine in 428 AD to some bishops in Gaul.  After he takes them to task for wearing clothing which made them conspicuous, he writes that "we should be distinguished from the common people by our learning, not by our clothes, by our conduct, not by our dress, by cleanness of mind, not by the care we spend upon our person (Mansi, "Concilia", IV, 465).  I would point out that this letter was written after the church had emerged from persecution and, in fact, more than 40 years after the church had become the official and exclusive religion of the empire.  It will only be after the adoption of newer clothing styles influenced by the arrival of the Germanic peoples, that bishops decided that clergy should retain the "older" styles, including longer gowns (togas) rather than the shorter "doublets" and "trousers" coming into fashion.  The various letters and decrees we see from this time seem to be concerned that clergy dress in a subdued and appropriate manner -- again, without the notion of setting them apart -- that would simply reflect the seriousness of their purpose.  We also see the practice of the wearing of "liturgical vestments" (chasubles, dalmatics, e.g.,) as street wear.  Finally, even in the later Middle Ages, the concerns of bishops seem to be with the wearing of "closed" capes and full length, somber vesture.  This was to counter the practice of many clerics of all clerical ranks to dress more like nobles, with colorful and costly clothes.

In the late 1880's in the United States, the bishops required that their priests wear long, dark frock coats, simple in design.  The "collar" we now identify so much with Catholic clergy, was European in origin, and was used in some places more by Lutheran clergy than Catholic clergy!

This brings up an important point: UNIVERSAL church law says very, very little about the SPECIFICS of what clergy should wear, simply that they should wear something distinctive as determined by the bishops' Conference and/or their own bishops.  I mean, in theory, the USCCB could easily say that ALL clergy were to start wearing brown suits with white shirts and red ties.  Clerical attire has been so varied in both specific clothing and practice, that perhaps it is useful to remember that what we see now has not always been the case, and it need to be the case in the future.

3) Who wears clerical attire?  As the name indicates, "clergy" wear the clothing of clergy.  So, how is it that seminarians wear clerical attire when they're not yet clergy?  We need to remember that UNTIL 1972, a person became a CLERIC through the rite of TONSURE, long before they were ordained to anything.  In the seminary, seminarians "received the soutane" [started to wear the cassock] at about the same time they were tonsured, which took place at sometime between the last 4-6 years of seminary formation.  For those not familiar with the "cursus honorum", this means that a young man became a cleric with tonsure; then, he would later be ordained porter, then lector, the exorcist, then acolyte (the minor orders).  Then, about a year or so before ordination to the presbyterate, he would be ordained a subdeacon, and eventually, a deacon.  So, my point is this: Until 1972, SEMINARIANS IN MAJOR SEMINARY WERE CLERGY, even though they weren't yet presbyters, so it was most appropriate that they be in clergy attire.

4) Since 1972, of course, this is no longer the case, and seminaries have adopted different policies, with some having seminarians in clericals, and in others, only deacons wear them.  This is adding a LOT to the current confusion.

SHOULD deacons wear clericals?  In my opinion, this is a decision best left to the deacon in question.  The reason that the OBLIGATION to wear clerical attire is waived for permanent deacons (canon 288) is because there could be a conflict with the deacon's secular employment.  I, for example, was a career Navy officer.  Without canon 288, I would have had an obligation to wear clerical attire as well as an obligation to wear my Navy uniform.  This is the rationale behind c. 288, not to deny deacons the ability to wear clerical attire in appropriate venues.  The policy of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, is, in my opinion, the best-stated policy I've seen: "If, in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so."  This puts the emphasis where it should be: It is not a question of a deacon exercising a "right" to wear something (which could border on clericalism), but rather, a deacon wearing attire that will make him more accessible to the people he serves.  For example, I was once taking communion to some folks in a retirement/health facility.  I noticed that when I made my rounds wearing "civvies" one woman would never receive communion.  She was struggling with senile dementia, and she would look up and when she saw a collar, she'd receive; if she didn't see a collar, she'd refuse.  This was not the time for a long doctoral dissertation on why she should receive, regardless of the minister!  The poor lady just looked for a simple sign, and from that point on, I wore a collar when visiting that facility.

Hope this is helpful.  Comments? Disagreements? Questions?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Call for "Viri Probati"

With a h/t to my brother Deacon Greg over at the Bench, I found his posting about an interview with Archbishop George Bakhouni of Tyre, Lebanon to be very interesting.  Here's the full Catholic News Service interview.

Although the phrase isn't used in this particular interview, the question of ordaining married men to the priesthood in the Latin church is often referred to as the ordination of "viri probati" -- literally, "proven men."  It's a kind of shorthand for "married men."

One of the things I found of specific interest to this blog is contained in one of the comments to the CNS article itself, in which one of the respondents says that (married) permanent deacons would be likely candidates for ordination to the priesthood.  One can hear and read this suggestion in many places.  I would just observe that no one should PRESUME that a vocation to be a permanent deacon would also mean that the same person has a vocation to the priesthood.  They're two distinct, but related, vocations.  Still, it's an intriguing suggestion and one that will probably continue to be made.

One "Great" Deacon

Tomorrow, November 10, is the feast of Pope St. Leo the Great.  Read more about him here on an Eastern orthodox site.  And here is an encyclical by Blessed John XXIII on St. Leo.

So, OK, he was also pope and a doctor of the church.  But he was a deacon when he was elected to the papacy.

In addition to being a well-respected leader in his own day, and so important in church history that some historians credit him for shaping the way the Christian church was to operate throughout the Middle Ages, he was one of at least 38 deacons of Rome to be elected directly to the papacy.  This was, of course, before the "cursus honorum" became the norm.  At this time in history, in many (most?) dioceses, when the bishop died, it was usually the late bishop's "right hand man" -- his deacon -- who would be elected to succeed him.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Deacon at Dachau -- UPDATED

I, along with others, have written extensively about the influence the priest-prisoners at Concentration Camp Dachau had on the renewal of the (permanent) diaconate by the Second Vatican Council.  For those who are not familiar with this history, you might want to check out some of the books listed on my "bookshelf" to the right.

But what many people don't realize is the fact that there was a deacon incarcerated at Dachau.  Deacon Karl Leisner, now Blessed Karl Leisner, was ordained a (transitional) deacon in 1939, expecting ordination to the presbyterate shortly thereafter.  However, he was such an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime that he was arrested and sent to Dachau.  There he was imprisoned with priests and other religious leaders in the infamous "Priesterblock".  He became very ill with tuberculosis and gave up hope that he might ever be ordained to the priesthood.  However, a French bishop was incarcerated in the same cell block in 1944, and he requested ordination even though he was terminally ill with TB.

Fr. Otto Pies, SJ, the unofficial leader of the priest-prisoners, smuggled letters out of the camp via a young woman candidate of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Imma Mack.  Sister Imma would later be referred to as "the angel of Dachau" because of her efforts to smuggle bread into the camp (Sister Imma passed away in 2006).  Pies gave letters requesting authority for the French bishop to ordain Leisner to the priesthood.  Sister Imma hand-carried the letters to Cardinal Feldhauber, who not only gave a "dimissorial letter" (permission for another bishop to ordain one of his seminarians), but also an ordination ritual book and chrism needed for the ordination; Sister Imma was to return these items, along with written documentation of the ordination if they were able to celebrate it.  Meanwhile, a number of prisoners, including a couple of non-Catholics who worked in different work areas of the camp, made full sets of vestments for the bishop and Deacon Leisner (including a biretta for the new priest to wear!).  The ordination was celebrated in 1944 in secret, and the documentation was smuggled to Sister Imma who delivered it all to the Cardinal.  Here's a video in Italian (but with English and Spanish subtitles that gives some of the details).

Father Leisner was so ill that he only celebrated one Mass while incarcerated.  Shortly after the camp was liberated, he was sent to a hospital for the terminally ill, where he died in 1945.

I think it's important that these kinds of stories remain current in our minds and hearts as we consider what ministry today should look like!  We take so many things for granted!  And yet, it was from experiences such as these that the dream of a renewed permanent diaconate was brought forth in concrete terms.  It was thought, by men like Leisner and Pies, and women like S. Imma, that deacons could help create a world where this kind of madness might no longer exist.

Now, let's talk again about "doing diaconate right."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Doing the Diaconate Right"

Sometimes when a bishop dies or retires, certain things are put on hold until the new bishop takes over.  Often, this includes a decision about the diaconate: should we start another formation class, or wait until the new bishop is here?  (Obviously, in my own opinion, there should be no question that things should continue, just as seminarians are not pulled from seminaries to see if the new bishop wants priests.  But that's a different post!)

I once served on a diocesan staff where this situation took place.  Well, the new bishop took over and announced to us that "if we're going to do the diaconate in this diocese, we're going to do it right, or not at all."  Well that stirred things up!  What does it mean to "do diaconate right"?

In a recent essay I wrote for a book released in Ireland on the diaconate, as they prepare for their first-ever ordinations of "permanent" deacons, I list five factors that I think are important to "doing diaconate right."  There are probably many more, but I thought I'd post these five here and see what people think of them.

1) Select only those applicants who have the gifts and abilities to be servant-leaders across the whole range of diaconal ministry.

2) Approach the diaconate with the same energy and commitment given to the presbyterate.

3) Recognition by all that the deacon is not a part-time minister.

4) Deacons must be correctly perceived as being ordained for service to the entire diocese, not simply to a parish.

5) There needs to be a solid framework of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions from the moment an applicant enters formation throughout his active ministerial career.

Is your diocese "doing it right"?  What do you think?  What would you add, substract or modify?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Regardless of your political views, make sure you vote today.

Of all of the civil rights we possess, voting is among the most precious.  As a former career Navy officer, who throughout my career had to vote via absentee ballot, I treasure this fundamental right of our republic.

I'll get back to more "deacon"-specific postings later, but for now -- VOTE!

God bless,