Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Diaconal Balance: Contemplation and Action

Over at "Whispers in the Loggia," Rocco recently reported on the papal audience of 25 April, in which Pope Benedict reflected extensively on Acts 6.  Since this passage has often been associated throughout the Tradition as having particular relevance for deacons, I offer the following.

Contemplation -- then, Action!
The pope, in his remarks, drew attention to Peter’s understanding of the problem being faced by the growing number of Christians living in Jerusalem: On the one hand, the needs of the Greek speaking community of Jerusalem needed to be met, and quickly; on the other, the Twelve recognized that they couldn’t do it all by themselves.  They needed to remain free for prayer and preaching the Gospel.  Both contemplation and action were needed as part of the Christian community.  As the pope noted: “In every age the saints have stressed the deep vital unity between contemplation and activity.”

I have written often about the balance that is essential in the ministry and life of a permanent deacon: balance between family and ministerial obligations, balance between his secular employment and ecclesial ministry, and even the balance that should exist between and among the deacon’s participation in the three-fold service of Word, Sacrament and Charity.  However, the pope has pointed out perhaps the most fundamental balancing act for all of us in ministry: the balance between prayerful contemplation and ministerial action.

“Prayer, nourished by faith and enlightened by God’s word, enables us to see things in a new way and to respond to new situations with the wisdom and insight bestowed by the Holy Spirit,” observed the pope.  This form of “contemplative seeing” should be at the heart of all Christians, especially those called and ordained to serve others in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church.  Peter directs the community to find seven persons of good reputation who are filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  All three attributes are important.

“Good reputation” means that those selected already have credibility within their own community prior to any subsequent responsibilities they may assume.  We frequently remind seminarians and candidates for the diaconate that we are looking for people who are already living lives of service; our vocations come from God, not something that we choose or can be “trained” to be.  “Good reputation” has a practical dimension as well: such people will be more effective in the community because they have already established a relationship of trust and responsibility within the community.  “Wisdom” has long been associated with the very nature and presence of God within our Tradition; so much more than simple human knowledge, wisdom sees as God sees.  Finally, it is only through the action of the Holy Spirit that anything can be accomplished.  It is particularly noteworthy that Peter asks the community to identify candidates who already have all three of these attributes!  He does not say that the candidates will “receive” these traits after ordination; good reputation, the Holy Spirit and wisdom are all prerequisites for the ordination that will come later.

Contemplation -- then, Action!
How are we doing on keeping this balance in our own lives?  Do we find the time for prayer and contemplation, and then, do we find the opportunities to take concrete action to serve the real needs of people?  Pope Benedict observed that the Seven “cannot just be organizers who know what they are doing, but they must do so in the spirit of faith, with the light of God, in the wisdom of the heart and therefore their function, although mainly practical, however, is a spiritual function. Charity and justice are not only social actions, but they are spiritual actions made in light of the Holy Spirit.”

The pope concludes his reflection with an insight that, while applicable to all disciples, should certainly be inscribed on the hearts of all the ordained: “In our own daily lives and decisions, may we always draw fresh spiritual breath from the two lungs of prayer and the word of God; in this way, we will respond to every challenge and situation with wisdom, understanding and fidelity to God’s will.”

1 comment:

  1. yyThis topic and the topic on pastoral ministry both lead me to conclude that the necessity of spiritual direction is essential. The process itself allows the minister to vocalize the very tension that exists in every day ministry.

    Another necessity, I believe is needed is a sense of community. The community, be it a blog or other media source such as e-mail servers for deacons and ministers allows us to share our thoughts, concerns, and issues we deal with on a daily basis.

    Remember sent his disciples off two by two. Community is something none of us can do without.