Deacons connect the dots

The Diocese of Richmond is blessed with the ministry of nearly 235 active and retired deacons. Since 1997, I have been privileged to work with some exceptional deacons at every parish in which I have served.

On the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we have the reading from Acts of the Apostles where the apostles institute the diaconate. It is, therefore, a fitting Sunday to reflect upon the essential vocation of deacons in the Church and the role the diaconate has in the Church’s structure.

Deacons are the ones who connect the dots. Their ministry has its origin in the ministry of Christ the Servant, but they are not sacramentalized social workers.

Deacons assist at the altar and are called to teach and preach, preside at baptisms, marriages and funerals. But they are not a priest “lite.”

Deacons are a sacramental sign of a particular and indispensable part of Christ’s identity and ministry – Christ the Servant. Deacons help the Church connect the dots between one essential aspect of the ministry of the Church – care of the poor, justice and administration – and the other aspect of the Church’s ministry: word and sacrament.

The connection between the two helps give the Church’s ministry life. In his very person, the deacon is the sacramental presence of this twofold aspect of the ministry of the Church. This connection, personified in the deacon, prevents the Church from devolving into simply one more non-governmental agency in the world.

During the Easter season, yes, the Church wants us to reflect on Christ’s Resurrection. But the Church is also reflecting on how she lives out that reality in time. The Church is the continuation of Jesus’ words and deeds until, in the fullness of time, all things are brought together in the risen Christ.

During the Second Sunday of Easter, we reflected on the gift of Divine Mercy. On the Third Sunday of Easter, we had the Kerygmatic preaching of Peter and the apostles that is still the mission of their successors, the bishops of the Church, to proclaim in season and out of season.

On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church sets before us Jesus’ priesthood through the image of the Good Shepherd. Many priests use Good Shepherd Sunday as an opportunity to reflect on the vocation of priesthood.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter shows us that the diaconate was instituted to protect and promote the central ministry of the apostles and their successors – preaching the Gospel of the Lord.

A deacon’s mission is for the whole Church, not just for the parish to which he happens to be assigned. The mission of a deacon is to look out for the unmet needs of the Church and to address those needs. He connects the dots between the proclamation of the Gospel and serving God’s people.

Conversely, in the practical ministry of a deacon, he grows closer to God’s people. Through that closeness, the deacon is a bridge connecting the dots between the needs of the individual members of the Body of Christ with the Body of Christ at prayer in the eucharistic liturgy.

We give thanks to God for all deacons who have allowed them- selves to be configured to Christ the Servant for the sake of the Church and her ministry.

Msgr. Timothy Keeney is pastor of Incarnation, Charlottesville.

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