Deacons called to life of service

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Diocese of Jackson for the first time in a generation celebrated the ordination to the Permanent Diaconate of six men, who with their wives, have been in formation for the past five years. Deacons Jeff, Rich, Denzil, John, John and Ted have already begun to serve in their home parishes throughout the diocese. What follows is a portion of the homily provided by the church for the ordination liturgy, and then a concise summary of six outstanding deacons in the church’s tradition who offer us a deeper understanding of this ancient order, now ever new.
Beloved brothers and sisters: since these our sons who are your relatives and friends are now to be advanced to the Order of Deacons, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the church to which they are about to be raised.
Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they will help the bishop and his priests in the ministry of the word, of the altar, and of charity, showing themselves to be servants to all. As ministers of the altar, they will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful.
Furthermore, it will be their duty, at the bishop’s direction, to exhort believers and unbelievers alike and to instruct them in holy doctrine. They will preside over public prayer, administer baptism, assist at and bless marriages, bring viaticum to the dying, and conduct funeral rites. Consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes down to us from the Apostles and bound more closely to the service of the altar, they will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or the pastor. With the help of God, they are to go about all these duties in such a way that you will recognize them as disciples of him who came not to be served, but to serve.
Now, dear sons, you are to be raised to the Order of the diaconate. The Lord has set an example that just as he himself has done, you also should do.
As deacons, that is, as ministers of Jesus Christ, who came among his disciples as one who served, do the will of God from the heart: serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord. Since no one can serve two masters, look upon all defilement and avarice as serving false gods.
New Testament Deacons
From the original seven, two are featured in the New Testament: Stephen and Philip who we find in the Acts of the Apostles not serving at table but serving at the Table of the Word. This reality reveals to us that St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles sees Diakonia as the work of evangelization, preaching and building up the church.
St. Stephen:
Stephen was a prophet and a man full of faith, and also full of grace and power. His courageous preaching led to his martyrdom by stoning, and like the Lord he commended his spirit to God, asking for forgiveness for those were killing him, that they may find peace as he had in Jesus Christ. Saint Stephen is the patron saint of deacons, and the protomartyr.
St. Philip:
He was th e first to proclaim the gospel in Samaria, and two of his notable converts were Simon the Magician and the Ethiopian Eunuch whose Chariot he ran along side of, and afterwards baptized him in a convenient pool of water. Like the Lord himself Philip preached the Word, drove out demons and reached out to the marginalized. He was led by the Holy Spirit to people in need, and so remains a deacon for deacons through preaching and care for the marginalized.

The Patristic Period
St. Lawrence:  200-258
More than 200 years later St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome who also suffered martyrdom. No other saint, except for Peter and Paul was more honored by the people of Rome than St. Lawrence. Saint Ambrose commends Lawrence as an example to his clergy who recalls that the Prefect of Rome asked Lawrence to reveal the whereabouts of the treasures of the church because deacons were entrusted with resources to care for the poor. So Lawrence brought together the poor and the sick and told the Prefect, “these are the treasures of the church.” This cost him his head, but reveals the heart and mind of the ministry of the deacon as one who knows the poor well and who looked after them. In his ministry of charity Lawrence is a deacon for deacons.
Ephrem of Nisibis:  306-373
He became a Doctor the Church and wrote theology in the form of poetry in a dialect of Aramaic. Ephrem views theology not so much as “Faith seeking understanding” as he was all too aware of the limits of human understanding, but rather “faith adoring the mystery.” From a sliver of Ephrem’s poetry. “If anyone seeks your hidden nature, behold it is in heaven in the great womb of divinity. And if anyone seeks your body, behold it rests and looks out from the small womb of Mary.” Ephrem teaches modern deacons the importance and beauty of words and images especially in the homily. In his ministry of the Word, Ephrem is a deacon for deacons.
The Middle Ages
Alcuin of York:  735-804
Alcuin worked closely with the Emperor Charlemagne to bring about comprehensive reform in the church around 800 A.D. He was a teacher par excellence. He instructed his pupils in the scriptures, upgrading the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome, along with ancient literature, logic, grammar and astronomy.
And even more outstanding he was at the forefront of liturgical reform whose zeal is apparent in the following words: “Examine the priests (and bishops) regarding their way of baptizing and celebrating Mass that they may hold to the true faith, to find out if they understand the Mass prayers well, if they chant the psalms devoutly, if they themselves understand the Lord’s prayer and impart an explanation of it to all so that all may understand what they are asking of God.” Alcuin teaches modern deacons the importance and beauty of serving well at Liturgy, and as a true steward of the mysteries of God Alcuin is a deacon for deacons.
Saint Francis of Assisi:  1181-1226
He was ordained a deacon, and remained so until the end of his life. He was an uneducated person of average intelligence, but a visionary who saw all creation filled with divine life. After him we looked with different eyes at nature, animals and people. His love of God’s creation, and his sharing of that love with people who have eyes to see and ears to hear, reveals the harmony of the church in the world.
Francis’ spiritual foolishness for Christ, his sense of inner freedom and his evangelical and missionary zeal (he tired to convert the Sultan of Egypt during the fifth Crusade) reveal the heart of a deacon. By receiving the stigmata, he inspires us to embrace, struggle, sacrifice and suffer in the power of the cross and in so doing is a deacon for deacons.
Through their intercession and the intercession of all the saints may God, who has begun the good work in our newly ordained deacons, bring it to fulfillment on the day of Christ Jesus.