Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ prayer intention for deacons and their ministry.
As we join the Church in being aware of the Holy Spirit among us, we recall the beginnings of the Church and the institution of the diaconate. Pope Francis calls this office in the Church to mind in his intention for the month which states: We pray that deacons, faithful in their service to the Word and the poor, may be an invigorating symbol for the entire Church.
If we recall the purpose of the institution of the diaconate we will remember that it was for service to the poor. Deacon Greg Kandara puts it this way, “We have deacons because the Church herself is called to be deacon to the world. We have ministerial deacons to help us actualize our ecclesial identity as servants to and in the world.”
The United States Bishops’ website offers a reflection on Francis as deacon. “Francis often used the word ‘mercy’ or in Latin misericordia — a heart sensitive to misery. That’s what a deacon is all about. That’s what mercy is all about.” Misericordia might also be defined in lived form as being ‘heart sore.’ To live the mercy of God is to become heart sore. Your heart is aching when you see people in need or people who are hurting or people who are broken. How did St. Francis teach us, through his actions, to be that way? Find the leper. Find the one who is so repugnant to you and embrace him or her.”
Francis felt called to serve the Church as a deacon, because the role of the deacon is that of servant. For Francis serving also required mercy in its highest manifestation. Service without mercy, without love becomes condescending and self-serving. We pray for the heart of Francis present in all deacons ordained for the service of the Church today.
Pope Francis tells us that deacons must have “a healthy heart” that has been healed by God through forgiveness and constant dialogue with Jesus, through daily prayer and the sacraments. Speaking directly to ordained deacons he says, “You can offer the Lord your work, your little inconveniences, your weariness and your hopes in an authentic prayer that brings your life to the Lord and the Lord to your life. When you serve at the table of the Eucharist, there you will find the presence of Jesus, who gives himself to you so that you can give yourselves to others.”
The liturgical actions of the deacon shed light on his call. Deacon Joseph Donohoe shares his insights on the deacon’s work at Mass. “He stands at the altar because of his contribution to the poor—both the earthly poor and the spiritually poor. The Deacon conducts the prayers of the faithful for God to hear the petitions of the Church offering them up to God like incense before His throne. It is the Deacon that mixes the water into the wine as a product of hard work, sweat and blood, of the community and presents this gift to the priest so that he can offer it up to God. The Deacon is also the one who helps brings resolution to conflicts within the community. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Twelve ordained seven worthy men to become Deacons. This was due primarily to the need to bring unity between the Hebrew speaking and Greek speaking communities. Thus, the Deacon invites all to share a sign of peace at Mass.”
To further inform our prayer this month, we can recall this passage from the writings of St. Francis.
“We must be simple, humble, and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we pray for vocations, let us remember to pray for good and holy deacons to serve the Church with mercy, humility, and love for God’s Word as well as for his little poor ones.