If I, therefore, the master and teacher,
have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you,
you should also do.
John 13: 14-15
Central to the Holy Thursday liturgy is the washing of the feet. In many ways, this rite is central to my sense of mission.
When I was discerning about coming to Honduras as a lay missionary, my spiritual director asked me why. My immediate response was “to serve those most in need.”
Once a campus ministry colleague noted that my approach to ministry reflected Avery Dulles’ model of the church as servant, reflecting Christ as servant:
“just as Christ came into the world not to be served but to serve, so the Church, carrying on the mission of Christ, seeks to serve the world by fostering the brotherhood of all men.”
Palm Sunday’s reading from Philippians is one that has shaped my life for many years:
…he emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave…
Serving is central to who I am, central to my ministry, central to my following of Christ.
I am not always as “servicial” as I should be. I tend to do things as I want them to be done. As an introverted intellectual, I tend to retreat into ideas about service, rather than getting my hands dirty. I do not, as Pope Francis has advised us, smell like the sheep.
But it is the vision that impels me, that moves me, that gives me life. It is the spark that keeps me going.
Thus it was perhaps not surprising that last October our bishop, Monseñor Darwin Andino asked me if I would consider becoming a deacon.
I had my doubts and concerns – and I still have them. I will share some of them later. But after much prayer and study, after discussion with several close friends and spiritual advisers, after a month of discernment, I told the bishop that I was willing to go forward as a candidate for the diaconate in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras.
As I read about the diaconate two things struck me.
First of all, the modern initiative for the diaconate as a permanent order began with discussions of priests in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. Struck by the failure of the church to respond to the evil of Nazism, several priests began to discuss how to enable the church to be more responsive. One of their ideas was to involve laymen involved in the world as deacons, ordained members of the Church.
Secondly, the Vatican decree on the mission activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, paragraph 16, provided one rationale for the reinstitution of the diaconate as not merely a transition to the priesthood:
Where episcopal conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life according to the norms of the Constitution “De Ecclesia.”(23) For there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office, either preaching the word of God as catechists, or presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or practicing charity in social or relief work. It is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands which has come down from the Apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar, that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.
When I read that I saw something of myself in the person described. I am already carrying out many of the functions of a deacon – the ministry of the Word, of the altar, and of charity. The diaconate would add the sacramental grace of the diaconate and might aid me to be an animator of charity and justice.
And so, God willing, on Saturday, May 16, I will be received as a candidate for the diaconate. May God make me worthy to serve God, the Church, and the poor – with the love of Christ.
Please pray for me.