Monday, November 29, 2010
Point to Ponder #5: Breaking New Ground in 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!