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Waiting in Joyful Hope

What it means for me to be a deacon

Today is my 6th anniversary of ordination as a deacon. I feel it is important for me to keep this date in mind, because I don't believe my ordination as a priest erased by ordination as a deacon — I'm still stamped with the grace of diaconate in my soul. In fact, I find that a lot of the tasks I do from day to day are actually much more diaconal tasks than presbyteral ones.

What does it mean for me, to be a deacon? I believe that the ministry of deacon is that which bridges the sacerdotal ministry of the priests and bishops with the charismatic apostolate that comes from baptism. The baptized have a mission in the world, derived from the grace of baptism, but it can be chaotic at times in its practical application. The ordained ministry exists to keep it apostolic, i.e. true to the teaching and ministry of the Apostles. The deacon acts as a special interface between the two: present among the works of the baptized apostolate, he represents the apostles to such works, and he helps bring the fruits of the apostolate to the altar of God as a holy sacrifice of thanksgiving. Liturgically, we see this when the deacon goes to prepare the gifts for the altar, before asking the priest to actually make the offering. But the calling has the Eucharist as its summit, it also has it as its source: the deacon also dismisses the people at the end of mass, for them to go into the world and bear good fruit once again. This presence in the Eucharist, therefore, sets the tone for the whole ministry of diaconate, *most of which* is meant to be in the world, helping organize works of charity and other works of the apostolate.

World Day of Prayer for Priests

A reader sent along this message:

I was watching EWTN last night and thought you and any other priests or laity
you know may be interested in the following web site: World Day of Prayer for Priests

Thanks for that! Let's pray for all our priests, that they may ever increase in holiness!

Vocations of being

People often ask their priest for advice on "what they should do with their life", and I've received that question many times myself. What I've noticed, however, is that many people don't quite realise that there are, in fact, two kinds of vocations: vocations of doing, but also vocations of being. They are not the same thing, although they do overlap: each person has (at least) one of each. Part of the puzzlement many seem to live about their vocation, therefore, is due (I have found) to a confusion between the two categories. In this post I'd like to share a diagram I often use to explain the "vocations of being". I call it the "vocations wheel":

Vocations wheel

The first thing to notice about the wheel is that the vocations of "celibate life" and "married life" do not touch. This is because they are, by definition, mutually exclusive: celibacy is defined as "the unmarried state", so you simply cannot be married and celibate at the same time. Because each of us is born into a default state of "being single", the first discernment we must make is whether we are called to continue to live as a single person on a stable basis (i.e. as a celibate), or whether we are called to the married state. Given the very exalted spiritual perspective the Church has of married life (it is a mirror, for example, of the love of Christ for his Church), this can be a very complex discernment for those who are journeying on the spiritual path, and quite frankly is too complicated to explain in detail here (perhaps I can do a post on this at a later date). Nevertheless, as I say, it is a basic necessary discernment.

The next level of discernment involves the next two sections of the wheel: clergy and consecrated life, which *are* touched by the "celibate" and "married" sections. This is because it *is* possible to be celibate + clergy at the same time, or to be celibate + consecrated, or even to be celibate + clergy + consecrated. It is also possible to be married + clergy, married + consecrated, or even married + clergy + consecrated. Think of the following possible situations:

  • Celibate + clergy: unmarried bishops, priests, and deacons of the secular clergy
  • Celibate + consecrated: consecrated virgins, monks, nuns
  • Celibate + clergy + consecrated: unmarried bishops, priests, deacons who are part of a religious order
  • Married + clergy: married permanent deacons; in the Eastern churches, married priests
  • Married + consecrated: spouses who are part of a Third Order (e.g. secular Franciscans)
  • Married + consecrated + clergy: married secular clergy who are part of a Third Order

Recent years have seen an upsurge in interest for spiritual associations for the "married + consecrated" state of life, such as in the so-called "covenant communities". Not all of these have been terribly successful, as there is less experience in the Church for this kind of life, but I am convinced that the renewal of married life as a true vocation and a means of holiness will likely require the foundation of such associations. I expect that the wisdom gained from the present experiments will help us in this regard — but only if we get a good sense of what is really going on.

Consecrated virginity

I had a chance today to chat with one of the consecrated virgins here in the diocese of Montreal. Let me begin by saying how much I admire her personally for the love she radiates for Christ her husband. Her vocation is an ancient one, so ancient that it is mentioned in the New Testament itself, but it is poorly understood by people in the world today — or even, I'd venture to say, by Catholics. Here is a web site with more on the life of consecrated virginity, if you'd like to know more before reading this post further.

I believe that consecrated virgins have a significant spiritual role to play in the Church, especially today. I've come to appreciate the importance of consecrated virgins particularly within the context of the modern debates on the admission of women to the ordained priesthood. People openly ask why the Church reserves the vocation of priesthood to men only, but few realise that there is an equally-ancient vocation that is reserved to women only, that of consecrated virginity. The Church does itself no favours when it ignores this important vocation, therefore, as it makes it harder to understand the very nature of the Church itself.

The Bible describes the Church as a Bride, waiting for Christ her Bridegroom. A priest is ordained to sacramentally represent Christ the Bridegroom. People sometimes say to me "Father, it's like you're married to God!" Well, not quite: it is more accurate to say I'm married to the Church. This is why, when a bishop is ordained in the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, he gets an episcopal ring that goes on the same finger as a wedding ring: he is "marrying" his diocese, the community for which he must care.

A consecrated virgin, on the other hand, through her consecration, comes to represent the Church in a special way as the Bride of Christ. She also receives a wedding ring, but in her case it is to show she is in love with Jesus and, in effect, is married to him. While hers is a celibate vocation, in the human sense, it is definitely called to be fruitful: Mary was the first consecrated virgin, and she gave birth to the Messiah! The book of revelation portrays a woman clothed with the sun who symbolizes, at least in part, the Church, as it gives birth to new children of God by the sacraments. And so while consecrated virginity is more what you ARE than what you DO, this life of consecration implies a new activity and creativity in the service of nurturing the life of the Church.

The ordained ministry and the consecrated life are fundamentally oriented towards each other. The way I see it, the ordained ministry acts like the skeleton of a body, while the consecrated life acts like the muscles. If there was only a skeleton, the body would be only dry bones, terrible rigid and unable to move; indeed, it would be dead! But a body still needs a skeleton, or else its muscles create only a quivering, twitching heap. The ordained ministers possess a hierarchical vocation, providing structure and support to the Church, while the consecrated life is a charismatic vocation, meant to be bursting with the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. And the consecrated virgins, in particular, are meant to possess this life in the Spirit, living out the words of the book of Revelation: "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!" (Revelation 22: 17)

As a final point, I think the life of consecrated virginity is important because it reminds the world (and the Church) of the eschatological dimension of reality. The simple fact is that Jesus is alive, and we are supposed to be Waiting in Joyful Hope for his coming. Consecrated virgins, by being visibly in love with someone our eyes cannot otherwise see (apart from in the Eucharist), witness by that love that Jesus really is alive. Their life of consecrated virginity is a proclamation of the coming great wedding banquet, when the new wine of God's Kingdom will be poured out. It is also a reminder that we must always be ready with our lamps lit, so as to welcome Christ when he does come. And how precious it is, that central to what they offer Christ is their perpetual virginity, an increasingly rare reality in our Western world which is more and more callous with regards to the gift of sexuality. Their virginal love for Christ is freedom, not oppression! Consecrated virgins are living symbols of the reality of the Christ's presence in the world, and of the profundity of our response we are called to have. May we have many more consecrated virgins in our Church, and may their vocation be held in honour everywhere.