The discipline of giving thanks

Tomorrow I return home – to Honduras. I’ve been in the United States since May 19. This may have been the longest time I’ve been in the US since 2007.

I came, first of all, to renew my Iowa driver’s license. I looked at my license in April and realized it expired June 1. I have a Honduran driver’s license, but that won’t work when I visit the US or other countries.

When I decided to go back to the US (and found the airfares very inexpensive), I considered getting the Corona virus vaccine. Knowing that I’d probably have to spend three or four weeks between doses, I originally thought of flying back to Honduras and then returning for the shot. A good friend dissuaded me from this idea and suggested I take a retreat.

With another friend’s help, I got an appointment to get a new driver’s license and the new card has arrived before i leave. I was able to get an appointment for the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine two days after arriving here and got the second dose last Friday. I also found that my debit card had expired last year and was able to update it.

I also had time to go back and visit at St. Thomas Aquinas Church and the Iowa State campus.

I stayed with friends who were kind enough to lend me a car for the whole time. I also enjoyed a beautiful sunset one night from their back porch.

I served as deacon twice at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, where I had served as a campus minister for almost 24 years. The first Sunday (Pentecost), the twin daughters of some dear friends were baptized during Mass.

I had time to visit with some friends, eat some great meals (including asparagus and rhubarb which are treats this time of year.) I’ve put on a few pounds but decided on an exercise regimen when I get back home.

I’ve had some really great conversations, especially with a friend as he showed me a just planted grove of trees on his farm that will be a place of prayer. Returning from my retreat, I had a great morning and afternoon with a friend and his family; he had stayed with me while studying English and is now living in Perry. It was great to see him, especially since he had suffered a severe case of COVID-19. Last night, I had a great evening with another family who have five girls, including twins who will be one year old in a week.

I also was able to go through some of the stuff I have stored in Ames. I managed to give away almost five boxes of books. I also found some photos that I didn’t know I had and was able to send them to cousins. I found two photos of my cousin in her habit; she is a St. Joseph Sister and hasn’t worn the habit for decades. Talking with her, she told me she had not seen these photos.

I also came across some memorabilia from the month I left for Honduras in 2007, including this interesting (and humbling) acrostic of my name.

But, in many ways, the greatest gift was the retreat.

I found an eight-day retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. It was arranged by Creighton’s Christian Spirituality Program and the directors were advanced students in their program. Eight days of silence with personal spiritual direction session each day were what I needed. I also happened to pick up Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I highly recommend. I also did a lot of walking on the beautiful grounds of the center.

The retreat was intense, after the months of seclusion during the early pandemic and feels of being isolated and being out of the loop. Sometimes my ruminations continued after I tried to get to sleep (which wasn’t easy since the sun doesn’t go down here until after 9 pm during this time of the year.)

 One night, May 31, the day before my birthday. I decided I needed to do something different than go over my life and try to figure things out. Nouwen suggests that the way to go through the resentment of the older son in the parable is the double road of thanksgiving and trust. So, obviously inspired, I decided to name people in my life and give thanks to God for them.

I don’t know how much time I did this before I fell asleep, but when I woke up twice during the night, I returned to the practice and added more names. When I got up, more people came to mind. During my hour of spiritual direction, I remembered more. I still find myself adding people, even those I have been in conflict with or who have caused me pain.

Before noon, on June 1, I spent some time in the chapel and went through my life chronologically, remembering people.

This remembering of persons in my life and giving thanks for them was a gift that was healing.

I have a great devotion to the saints and rejoice in being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – from Mary to Saint Oscar Romero, from Saints Francis and Clare to Saint Benedict the Black.

A few years ago, I began to write the names of people in need or who have died in a book in my prayer room at home, so that I am surrounded by the people in need.

But now I have a new circle that I am aware of – and grateful for: the people I have come across in my life. Their presence has enriched me, has helped me become who I am.

I remember with joy people like Fr. Regis Duffy, OFM, who was a high teacher, and with whom I stayed in contact until a year or two before his death. (Going through stored files, I found a few notes he had sent me.)

I even remember a painful situation when I was working in Ames which led me to seek spiritual direction and a short period of therapy; any resentment I had against those responsible for my pain at that time is fading away.

I even reconnected with some folks. A woman who as a teenager had been part of the St. Thomas Charity, Justice and Peace commission, came up to me after Mass last. A friend whom I haven’t heard from in years sent me an e-mail (which I still have to respond to).

We are surrounded by people who are gifts of God to us, even if they cause us grief.

As I close this reflection, I call to mind the famous epiphany of Thomas Merton at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, which he writes about in his diaries as well as in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. As he wrote in the latter:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness….

“It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

“I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.…

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….”

It is not easy to maintain this, in the midst of the hassles of daily life, but I now have another discipline to add to my spiritual life – remembering the people who have been part of my life. I need to recall that “they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

May we all shine – grateful for life, grateful for friends, grateful to God for life.

As Mercedes Sosa sings, “Gracias a la vida”.

Paschal Baylon: the Eucharist and the poor

I learned of Saint Paschal Baylon, a Franciscan brother, when I was in grade school. His great devotion to the Eucharist impressed me. But I didn’t know one part of holiness until recently.

He was the porter and cook of his friary, He attended those who came to the door and was especially attentive to the poor who came for help.

Fr. Elgar Mindorff wrote this about him:

Towards the poor and lowly he felt a special compassion. He aided them in many ways – comforting them in their trials, instructing them in their religion, and dispensing material alms. A superior once warned him against being too generous to loafers who came to the monastery door; Paschal answered: “I give the alms for the love of God, and who knows whether Christ Himself might not be found among these needy brethren?”

He is another of the holy porters who found Christ in those who came to the door. I wrote about them in a previous post. They included the US Capuchin priest Blessed Solanus Casey, the Canadian Holy Cross Brother Saint André Bessette, the Dominican Saint Juan Macias, and the Spanish Jesuit brother Saint Alfonso Rodríguez.

Their holy hospitality embraced the poor as Christ. They lived the admonition in the Letter to the Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have entertained angels unaware.”

There is a story I read long ago. I don’t know if it was about Saint Paschal, but it seems to fit his character. One day he was praying in his cell and Christ appeared to him. But someone rang the doorbell. He was reluctant to leave Jesus but went. When he returned he found Jesus there. The Lord told him that He would have left if the saint had not gone to see the poor person at the door.

This story reminds me that not only is hospitality an important virtue for us deacons – and for all followers of Christ. We are also called to be available, ready to respond to the needs of those around us. Their calls are not interruptions but the call of God.

Christ is found in the Eucharist but also in the poor at our doorsteps.

That’s a hard message but all too important and saints like Paschal Baylon provide us examples.

May we be like Saint Paschal and all the other holy porters, attentive to the Eucharist and the poor where we can find Christ the Lord.

(Image of art work of Hank and Karen Schlau, found at this site.)

A saint for young workers

Saint Nunzio Sulprizio, pray for us.

I had the blessing of being able to attend the Mass for the canonization of Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero and to serve as one of the deacons at the Papal Mass. There were several others canonized at the same time, including Pope Paul VI and Mother Nazaria Ignacia March y Mesa who founded a religious congregation in Bolivia as well as the first women’s labor union in Latin America. But learning of the life of Nunzio Sulprizio, one of the others canonized, stirred me.

As we were preparing the murals in the Dulce Nombre Church we had decided to put Saints Isidore and Maria, patrons of farmers, on one part of the wall of the south chapel but had not decided what saint we wanted on the other part. One day I thought of Saint Nunzio, a young man, who suffered abuse as well as physical illness and who worked in a smithy. He seemd a logical choice.

Image of Saint Nunzio at his canonization

He was a young man who endured hard work. He also suffered from abuse, violence, and illness, I thought of the children who suffer violence and abuse in much of Honduras as well as the children who endure the suffering of cancer and other diseases. I recalled the blacksmiths who abound in Dulce Nombre de Copán.

 Saint Nunzio Sulprizio seemed a logical choice for the empty wall I mentioned this to the pastor and he agreed. He now appears opposite Saint Isidor and María in what might now be called the chapel of holy workers.

Mural of Saint Nunzio in the church of Dulce Nombre de María

Nunzio Sulprizio died at 19, his body devastated by gangrene (and, as some sources note, from bone cancer).

Born in Abruzzo, Italy, his parents died when he was six years old. His grandmother raised him and nurtured a profound faith in Nujnzio, but she died three years later.  An uncle, who was a blacksmith, took him in and forced him to work in his smithy, even though Nunzio was only nine. His uncle also beat him A wound in his foot developed gangrene.

He was hospitalized for a time; there he was a great comfort to other patients. Yet another uncle learned of Nunzio’s condition and presented him to Félix Wochinger, a military official in Naples, who secured some treatment for his wound. His health improved and he moved from a clinic to the house of Colonel Wochinger. But his health worsened, and he was found to be suffering bone cancer.

He experienced high fevers and intense suffering but maintained his faith. “Jesus suffered much for me. Why can’t I suffer for him?”

He died on May 5, 1836.

He is an apt patron of blacksmiths. But,  more than this, I consider him a patron of young people, especially young workers, young people mistreated and abused, and young people suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.

Chapel of the holy workers – Maria, Isidore, Nunzio

Jesus and Jonah

Thoughts on the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-3; Mark 1: 14-20

Evangelization, sharing the Good News, involves conversion, change. In fact, conversion is part of the Good News.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins his mission proclaiming “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus knows that “The world in its present form is passing away” and that’s good. That will be good for everyone of us.

Jonah flees the Good News. He is satisfied with the current situation.

He is called by God to go to Niniveh, the enemy of his people, to call them to repentance. No way, he says and flees to the ends of the earth. But God has other plans; a storm and a big fish intervene. The fish throws him up on the shore. When God calls him to go to Niniveh again, Jonah goes, probably reluctantly. There he gets a big surprise. Niniveh repents and is not destroyed. The enemy has a second chance. Jonah is not at all happy and goes out and pouts.

He is comfortable with bad news – the destruction of an unrepentant enemy. But he can’t tolerate good news – that they repented and lived.

He is content to point out the faults of the other and that’s what he preaches. I don’t think he really believes in the possibility of something good coming out of other people. It’s much easier to attack others, to point out their faults, to show where they are wrong – rather than showing them how they can turn away from what keeps them from really living as God wants.

Jesus is all so different. He begins by preaching that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He offers them an alternative. He shows them the way.

All too often I see people in the church pointing out the sins of others, their moral evils, their failings. This is easy to do – since

But the way to lead people to the Kingdom is, I believe, to show them the beauty of the Reign of God and what they what do to get there.

It is also easier to point out others’ faults and sins than to identify our own. Jesus spoke clearly about this.

The mixed heritage of St. Thomas à Becket

Saint Thomas Becket is one of my favorite saints. The play by Jean Anouilh, Becket, later adapted into a movie, as well as T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, are classics for me. I saw both plays and the movie and even acted in the play in high school.

What I find most remarkable about Saint Thomas Becket is that he was able to move from a position of privilege, as chancellor of the kingdom, to being a pastor of souls, praying and fasting, and looking out for the poor.

He refused to hold on to the power he had had as chancellor and didn’t seek to use his privileges, as well as his friendship with the king, as means to advance himself.

He was treading in the tricky swampland of the relations of the church and the state.

He was not willing to subjugate the church to the state, but insisted on the rights of the church and, doing so, he undercut the absolutism of the English monarchy. For that I am grateful.

But he insisted that clerics be tried by church courts and not by the courts of the realm.

I am not sure exactly why he did this – perhaps to avoid control by the state. But, from the perspective of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, I have a problem.

How often, in the face of clergy abuse of children and those in situations of vulnerability, have church leaders tried to hide the perpetrators from the news and from the courts? This has happened in the US and in other countries across the globe. I believe, it still continues, as the church doesn’t face the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse that church leaders have done not just to children and adolescents, but also to persons in situations of vulnerability, including women religious and seminarians. All too often this has been done to “protect the church,” but all it does is to hide the festering wounds of abuse.

I wonder that St. Thomas Becket would think of this. I have no idea, but today I pray that he may intercede for the church. May the church abandon all quests for power and prestige. May the church put itself at the service of the abused, the marginalized, the impoverished. May the church be a church that admits its faults.

This morning I came across this quote from St. Thomas Becket on a Facebook friend’s page. He is supposed to have said this to a friend on his way to being ordained archbishop of Canterbury.

Hereafter, I want you to tell me, candidly and in secret, what people are saying about me. And if you see anything in me that you regard as a fault, feel free to tell me in private. For from now on, people will talk about me, but not to me. It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.

The last line is wise advice to the church, even today:

It is dangerous for men in power if no one dares to tell them when they go wrong.

Christmas in the cave of Bethlehem

Last Saturday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King in our sector of the parish, which includes four aldeas. We had a Celebration of the Word with Communion and then a short meeting. Padre German had hoped to have meetings in all the sectors; he would go to five; Fernando, a seminarian with us this year, would go to three; and I’d take the last three. Because of impassible roads, I didn’t get to the other two sectors that were assigned to me.

At the meeting in Plan Grande spoke of a few things and I mentioned that we should carefully on how we would celebrate Advent and Christmas.

Here there is a tradition of the Posadas, from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas eve. People gather and, usually with images of Mary and Joseph, go to a house (and sometimes several houses) seeking posada, a place for the holy family to stay. There is a song that is sung, alternating with the people outside and those inside the house. Finally, the door is opened and prayer and celebration continue.

This is a very popular devotion and many people come out for it. Before the hurricanes, aware of the dangers of COVID-19, we were thinking that we would encourage villages to not have one big Posada but Posadas in several parts of each barrio at the same time. Each village will have to decide how to do this.

But then I started a discussion about celebrating Christmas. From somewhere, I was inspired to say that this year we need to think about celebration Christmas in light of the cave of Bethlehem – not in terms of the splendor with which we usually celebrate.

Site of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Jesus came among us in the poverty and simplicity of a manger, a place where animals feed. It may have been a stable, part of the house, or even a cave. But I think the image of a cave might be helpful for us this year.

Woodcut by Ade Bethune

I will try to develop this theme in reflections throughout Advent. I invite you to share your reflections with me.

Let my tongue loose

I have been very careful during the last few months in my posts, trying to avoid anything that would be considered partisan. I did post critiques of policies I think have been disastrous and sinful. But I had decided, because of my status as a deacon, to avoid naming names.

But now the election is over and I feel no such reluctance.

No matter who is declared the winner of the presidential race, the US and the world have not won. Perhaps they may have lost less but they have not won.

The battle in the US is not of one party against another. I believe it is a battle of the principalities and powers of this world that encourage domination, violence, and division. This will demand ongoing resistance to all – and I mean all – the forces of evil and especially to the roots of these evils in the structures of our societies and in our hearts.

No party and no candidate can be the savior of the nation or the force that will make America great again. I object to the support a Catholic sister publicly gave to Biden as well as to the sometimes veiled, sometimes blatant, support of some priests and bishops for Trump.

I especially object to demeaning rhetoric of any kind – mostly that manifested by adherents of Trump but not lacking in some Democrats – that appears to have fomented diabolical divisions. I use the word “diabolical” intentionally, for many have demonized those who oppose them. It also makes the accuser appear to be claiming to be holy and correct. It is not irrelevant to note that “Satan” means, literally, the accuser. In a canticle used at Thursday Vespers from Revelations 11, we pray that “the accuser of our brothers and sisters be cast out.”

The Democratic party has lost much of its connection with much of the working poor and with many Catholics by some ideological stands, most particularly its stand on abortion. Many middle class workers, including Catholics, have lost faith in the Democratic party because they see it as a party of the elites. This opinion is not dispelled when some Democratic leaders speak disparagingly of the supporters of Trump.

Many in the Republican party have, in many ways, let themselves by captivated by a false religion that may say they is for the unborn but they support policies that promote disdain for those who are different and that discriminate against the poor, the refugee, and people of color. They may oppose abortion but they don’t see the evils of war, militarism, and the death penalty.

But adherents of both parties have let themselves be sold an ideology of power, of violence, and of individualism. Some Democrats have idolized choice when it comes to abortion and some Republicans have idolized individualized choice when it comes to economics and guns.

The sense of the common good seems to have been forgotten by some as has been the sense of responsibility for oneself as well as for one’s neighbor. It’s me, me, me.

In addition, many in both parties have not given up the idolatry of the US as the savior of the world – or, at least, the nation that calls the shots.

This can be seen in US foreign policy under both Democrat and Republican regimes. I think of the ways that Hillary Clinton supported the 2009 coup in Honduras as well as the way many politicians of both parties have supported wars, especially in the Mid-East. Many in both parties have applauded executions of opponents like Osama Bin Laden.

What is my politics? Not Republican, not Democratic, but very much inspired by my faith in a God who became poor, who healed the sick and hung around the wrong people, who suffered under an empire, and who rose from the dead to say that death and the powers of death do not have the final word. He also forgave those who killed him.

I cannot support demonization of anyone. I don’t hate Trump, though that is a temptation. More than anything, I want to cry when I hear what he says and does. I also wonder what he might have suffered.

But I can, and will, speak out against what I see as evil and unjust. That is the call of people of faith.

Saint Óscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, put it well, in his homily of January 22, 1978:

A preaching that does not point out sin
is not the preaching of the gospel.
A preaching that makes sinners feel good,
so that they become entrenched in their sinful state,
betrays the gospel’s call.
A preaching that does not discomfit sinners
but lulls them in their sin
leaves Zebulun and Naphtali
in the shadow of death.

A preaching that awakens,
a preaching that enlightens –
as when a light turned on
awakens and of course annoys a sleeper –
that is the preaching of Christ, calling:
Wake up! Be converted!
That is the church’s authentic preaching.

Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict,
must spoil what is miscalled prestige,
must disturb,
must be persecuted.
It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin.

The Violence of Love, pp. 45-46

Following Christ and listening to the prophets is essential.

But above all, I want to accompany those who experience the effects of the structures of sin in our world. And so, I will continue to be with the people in my little corner of the world, as they experience the death of children, the loss of livelihood, the lack of medical care, the corruption of leaders, and more.


Visiting the sick, burying the dead, preaching Good News of hope to the poor, helping people see their inherent dignity as children of God.

Above all, I want to make these two passages of Scripture real in my life.

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly you’re your God.”

Micah 6: 8

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4: 8-19 (Jesus citing Isaiah)

It’s a lifelong task, requiring love and courage. I ask God to help me be faithful.

Saint Martin de Porres and the U.S. elections

Today I realized that the US elections this year are being held on the feast of Saint Martin de Porres.

I propose that we pray to him for a miracle – the healing of the United States.

Saint Martin is the patron of all those who work for social justice. What the US needs is a conversion toward justice.

Saint Martin suffered discrimination for being the child of a Spanish conquistador and a freed black slave from Panama. Black lives must matter.

When mice infested the Dominican friary where he lived, he captured one and told the mouse to lead its companions to the garden where he would feed them. The mice soon left for the garden. Our common home must find a place for mice and humans.

One day a friar saw a dog, a cat, and a mouse eating from the same dish that Saint Martin had provided them. Reconciliation among enemies is a challenge of our faith, reconciling red and blue, and all the nations of the world.

Saint Martin was called “the father of the poor” because of his care for the marginalized – the poor, the sick, the indigenous, the slave. Will we become a nation that puts the needs of the poor before the desires of the rich?

Saint Martin healed the sick, using his training as a barber-surgeon and the knowledge of natural medicine his mother shared with him, as well as the healing powers that God gave him. The world needs to provide health to all those in need.

Saint Martin was humble, even offering to be sold as a slave when the friary had no money. Humble service is the sign of a Christian, not lording it over others.

Saint Martin, heal us, lead us to conversion.

Reconfiguring the image of the permanent deacon

Much has been written recently about the need for a more profound theology and spirituality of the permanent diaconate. I would like to propose several dimensions of the permanent diaconate that we might want to consider. I offer these thoughts not as the final word, but as starting points for reflection. These thoughts come from my formation, my reading, and from my experience as a celibate permanent deacon in a rural parish in southwestern Honduras.

I invite others to a discussion to help clarify our calling.


First of all, ordination to the permanent diaconate is a deepening of the vocational call of all the baptized to be members of Christ, prophet, priest, and servant/king. 

The call to holy orders – as deacon, priest, or bishop – should not be considered separate from our call to be members of the Body of Christ that we received at Baptism. Separating the theology of holy orders from the theology of baptism could lead to a failure to consider he saving power of God in the sacrament of Baptism and the call to follow Christ of every baptized person. 

In our diocese here in Honduras, ministry is organized in terms of the prophetic, the liturgical, and the social – because these are what we are baptized into, as member of the Body of Chrsit. 

In the prayer before anointing the newly baptized child with Holy Chrism, we pray: 

Les unja con el crisma de la salvación, para que se incorporen a su pueblo y sean para siempre miembros de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey.” 

“May He anoint you with the Chrism of Salvation, that you may be incorporated into His people and be forever members of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.”

(My translation from the Spanish.)

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, with an emphasis on being the servant. For me the diaconate is trying to live as evangelizer, servant of the poor, and minister at the altar.


Secondly, the deacon is ordained to the ordering of the community and to be a driving force for the diakonia of the whole church. 

I recently finished reading a work from the early 1960s by Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church. I heartily recommend this small book. At several points he puts the sacrament of orders in perspective:

“St. Paul expressly says that ordained ministers organize the ministry of the saints, that is, of Christians, (Eph 4:23). They organize it, but they also invigorate and animate it and drive it forward. They are the drivers and the governors of the Body in that condition of responsibility and universal service that is the Christian condition itself.”  

Yves Congar, OP, Power and Poverty in the Church, p. 45.

One is ordained for the ordering of the People of God in its evangelization, its charity, and its prayer in common (the liturgy, the work [ergon] of the people [laos]).

Thus, the sacrament of orders is for ordering the community and assuring that the Church reflects who it is. It is not insignificant that the diaconate is called to be the animator, the driving force for diakonia, as both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II affirmed.


Thirdly, the deacon has a special relation to the bishop and in the early church was spoken of as “the eyes and ears of the bishop”. I think this has dimension has not been developed sufficiently. 

Take note of this passage from Pseudo-Clement, from his letter to James, chapter 12

“Moreover, let the deacons of the Church, going about with intelligence, be as eyes to the bishop, carefully inquiring into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertaining who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, he may happily not accomplish the sin. Let them check the disorderly, that they may not desist from assembling to hear the discourses, so that they may be able to counteract by the word of truth those anxieties that fall upon the heart from every side, by means of worldly casualties and evil communications; for if they long remain fallow, they become fuel for the fire. And let them learn those who are suffering under bodily disease, and let them bring them to the notice of the multitude who do not know of them, that they may visit them and supply their wants according to the judgment of the president. Yea, though they do this without his knowledge, they do nothing amiss. These things, then, and things like to this, let the deacons attend to.”

(Found in the Compendium of the Diaconate: Kindle Location 1849 ff.)

I would like to suggest that the recovery of the diaconate as a permanent state offers a new way of doing this.

It is notable that the Vatican II restoration of the diaconate owes much to the discussions in the priest block at the Dachau concentration camp. Many of the priests there lamented the failure of the church to recognize the evil of Nazism. As Deacon William Ditewig wrote: 

“Following the war, these survivors wrote of how the Church would have to adapt itself to better meet the needs of the contemporary world if the horrors of the first half of the 20th Century were to be avoided in the future. Deacons were seen as a critical component of that strategy of ecclesial renewal. Why? Because deacons were understood as being grounded in their communities in practical and substantial ways, while priests and bishops had gradually become perceived as being too distant and remote from the people they were there to serve.”

Having people as clergy who worked in the world, outside the institutions of the church, might be a way to keep the church more aware of the challenges of the modern world and the temptations of modern people and nations. A permanent deacon who worked “in the world” might be able, in the words of pseudo-Clement, to “carefully inquire into the doings of each member of the Church, ascertain who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, that person [or that nation] may happily not accomplish the sin.”

In addition, the permanent deacon might be able to see more clearly the strain and the pains suffered by the people of God, especially the poor.

As Bishop (now Cardinal Walter Kasper) said at an IDC conference in 1997, 

“The deacons can act as the eyes and ears of the bishop in identifying areas of need and can help him in his task of being father to the poor.”

He can bring the needs of the community to the bishop and, in his pastoral ministry, as Cardinal Kasper also wrote, he can “make the parish aware of urgent situations of need, motivating them to share with one another and to give practical help.”

The deacon’s connection to the bishop is not only in being a herald of the Gospel, but in being the one who assures that the church is aware of the sins of the world and the needs of the poor. He can thus help make real the first paragraph of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

I think Deacon James Keating puts it well:

“The deacon is sent by the Holy Spirit to the forsaken. This is why it is crucial for the diaconate to remain a liminal vocation. The deacon lives at the doorstep between the culture and the liturgical mysteries so that he can see and hear the cry of the poor and lay these needs at the foot of the altar and the pastor. The deacon is also an ecclesial porter, open the gates of mystery to those who desire to have their spiritual needs satisfied by God, and unbolting the doors of society to other clerics who may want to more deeply understand lay life.”

(Deacon James Keating, “The Moral Life of the Deacon,” in The Deacon Reader, p. 132.)


Fourthly, the deacon is to be the icon of Christ the servant, taking into account the kenosis of Jesus.

When Pope John Paul II spoke to US deacons in 1987, he noted:

“By your ordination you are configured to Christ in his servant role. You are also meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.”

The deacon at the altar is a sign of Christ the Servant, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a rescue for many.”

But I would also suggest that the deacon is a sign of the servants who are members of the Body of Christ and see their service sacramentalized, present at the Table of the Lord.

The deacon might thus be a double icon – an icon of Christ the Servant and an icon of the Servant Body of Christ, the Servant People of God.

Can the people of God see in the deacon their living out of their baptismal call to be servants? Does the deacon call them to recognize that calling and put it into practice?


Fifthly, the deacon is called to the margins, to the periphery, to those neglected. It is worthwhile noting that the call of the seven (who are sometimes called the first deacons) came in response to those who felt marginalized, the widows and orphans of the Hellenists. 

Some have argued that this is a limited understanding of the deacon arguing mostly from the work of John Collins. But from the beginning, the deacon has been called to serve the poor, to look after their needs, and distribute the resources of the community to those in need. Note the example of Saint Lawrence. 

I would suggest that a major part of the call of the seven was to attend to those who were marginalized, first of all the widows and orphans of the Hellenists in the community. We might also note that one of the seven, Philip, is seen as evangelizing those outside the community, most notably the Ethiopian eunuch and a Samaritan village. 

I believe that a major part of the deacon’s identity must be his attention to those on the margins, those left out of the church and of the wider society. He is to bring their presence to the Church and to bring the presence of the Church to them, where they are. 


Fundamentally, the deacon is for evangelization and charity, to show the connection of these with the altar. The crossroads of evangelization and charity is found at the altar. 

In July 2020, the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy released an Instruction on The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church. Significantly there is a large section on deacons. There, the deacon is seen mostly in terms of evangelization and charity. The liturgical dimension is extremely important, but the key aspects of the diaconate seem to be “evangelization” and “charity.” 

Paragraph 82 reads, in part:

“the history of the diaconate recalls that it was established within the framework of a ministerial vision of the Church, as an ordained ministry at the service of the Word and of charity; this latter context includes the administration of goods. The twofold mission of the deacon is expressed in the liturgical sphere, where he is called to proclaim the Gospel and to serve at the Eucharistic table.”

These two aspects are not unrelated, nor are they separated from liturgy. Indded, the intersection of evangelization and charity is found at the Table of the Lord, in the Eucharist.

The deacon should come with the concerns of the people of God, especially the poor, as the minister who would normally offer the Prayers of the Faithful. 

The deacon also is the one who sends out the people to evangelize the world. As Pope Paul VI said at the end of the Second Vatican Council:

“We stress that the teaching of the Council is channeled in one direction, the service of humankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has declared herself a servant of humanity…”

The connection of evangelization and charity with the Table of the Lord is perhaps the area where we most need to reflect to develop a theology and spirituality of the diaconate. 


What images could we use to describe the permanent deacon? 

Some have called his ministry as a bridge between the church and the world. This has its limitations because it seems to posit and breach between the two.

Others have spoken of the permanent deacon being in a liminal space, the place where the world and the church meet. 

I wonder if we might think of the deacon as being at the crossroads. 

At first, I thought of describing the permanent deacon as being at the intersection of evangelization and charity at the altar. But, driving to a distant community in our parish, I thought it might be better to speak of the crossroads of these two dimensions in the Eucharist. One of the words for an intersection in Spanish is cruce, which reminded me of cruz, the cross.

The cross reminds us of the integrity of our ministry – Word and Charity united at the Altar. It also reminds us of our identity in Christ, who humbled himself even to the Cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Finally, it reminds us of our commitment of witness, martirio, even to martyrdom, servants of the Blood of Christ, willing to pour out our blood for the Reign of God.

Eileen Egan, artisan of peace

“My life has had a single strain: to see Jesus in every human being,
to realize that each one is inviolable and sacred in the eyes of God,
and then to translate that into everything I do.
This is the heart of anything I’ve done,
the heart of my peace work.”
Eileen Egan

Eileen Egan died on October 7, 2000, twenty years ago today.

Photo copyright by Bill Barrett. used with permission.

She was a peacemaker, an advocate of nonviolence, a friend of the world’s poor, a project coordinator with Catholic Relief Services for more than 40 years, and a co-founder of Pax Christi USA. She was a prolific writer – including books and pamphlets on nonviolence, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, refugees, and more.

In this photo she is with two great holy women of the twentieth century. She met Mother Teresa when she was working with Catholic Relief Services in India. She knew Dorothy Day, working for peace and the poor in New York City at the Catholic Worker.

But her commitment for peace was connected with her commitment to the refugee, the poor, the suffering. As she once wrote, noting that the works of war are in total contradition to the works of mercy:

“Instead of feeding the hungry, we destroy the fields that produce the food; instead of clothing the naked, we bomb factories that produce clothing; instead of giving drink to the thirsty, we bomb reservoirs. In war, the enemy is dehumanized and is no longer seen as a child of God. As Christians, we must penetrate the disguise and see Jesus in the enemy. Then, we would not kill and destroy.”

She seems to be the first US Catholic to use the term “The Seamless Garment of Life,” which was later made famous by Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. In a 1981 publication of Pax Christi USA, she wrote:

“We view the protection of all life, from its conception to its end, as a seamless garment…. Such protection, credible in its consistency, extends to opposition to the taking of life by the state in capital punishment and to opposition to the taking of life by euthanasia and warfare.”

She took her peacemaking seriously – based in a life of prayer, fasting, and serv ice with the poor.

In particular, she took seriously the US bishops’ invitation to fast on Fridays in their 1983 pastoral The Challenge of Peace, ¶ 298:

As a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance we, for the cause of peace, commit ourselves to fast and abstinence on each Friday of the year. We call upon our people voluntarily to do penance on Friday by eating less food and by abstaining from meat. This return to a traditional practice of penance, once well observed in the U.S. Church, should be accompanied by works of charity and service toward our neighbors. Every Friday should be a day significantly devoted to prayer, penance, and almsgiving for peace.

A friend who worked with the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, recalled that when she came to receive the diocese’ Pacem in Terris award, she did not eat meat on the Friday. She took fasting and prayer seriously.

I saw her a few times at peace meetings. She was as, noted by Jean Kelly, “The peace activist often cropped out.”  Her simple but effective presence was one of the ways that many women have shown us the works of mercy and the works of peace.

In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, ¶ 225, Pope Francis noted the need for peacemakers:

In many parts of the world, there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.

Eileen Egan is one of those who forged the path of peace and the works of justice. She is a great example for us as we try to live out our calling to be instruments of God’s peace in a strife-torn and unjust world where many suffer.

For more photos of Dorothy Day (some with Eileen Egan, Mother Teresa, and Cesar Chavez), see the web page of Bill Barrett.