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?

1 comment:

  1. An observation on risk-taking:

    In the Army, there are individuals who are called "Pathfinders." They are highly trained to live and thrive deep in enemy territory; learning what they can about the terrain, the allocation of enemy resources, and (in some cases)taking isolated and effective action on their own. The big problem, however, is that they are in enemy territory and often are injured or killed by their own people -- by"friendly-fire" from behind the lines -- by those who do not know or care about the Pathfinders tasks and mission.

    There have been times in my long ministry as a deacon where I very much felt myself in that role of a "Pathfinder." I was breaking into new ground -- thinking outside of the box, so to speak -- in a milieu where that sort of pastoral risk-taking was neither admired nor supported. And, yes, I did get shot at by "friendly-fire" more than I care to admit.

    While it did not make me risk-adverse, it did make me realize that a whole bunch of pew-sitting folks (and, yes, maybe a fellow clergy or two) were no where near as energized about risk-taking as I was.

    I am older now. In recent years, rather unexpectedly, that theme of risk-taking has become a common theme of my preaching -- when it fits the scriptures we use. Jesus was not at all afraid of thinking outside of the box and challenging those whose mind-sets prevented them from being "the best they could be" (with some apologies for using that now obsolete Army recruiting theme).