Role of deacons varies, but call to serve others is key to their ministry

Published: April 12, 2008

By Deacon John Marschewski

From the beginning, the diaconate were called to serve those in need. As we will hear in next Sunday’s first reading from Acts (Chapter 6), the original call for deacons occurred in the early stages of the Church.

In St. Luke’s writing in Acts, the Apostles recognize a need and ask the community to “select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task” (taking care of the widows).

Serving others remains a key role for deacons in today’s Church. They do so, primarily, by living out the Beatitudes. This is a call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit those in prison and bury the dead.

The deacon is most visible in his liturgical roles such as assisting at Mass, proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, witnessing at weddings, baptizing and teaching. While all these are important, his principal call is to one of service both inside and outside parish boundaries.

Another key characteristic of a deacon is to serve as a “bridge.” A bridge between the pastor/bishop and the communities in which the deacon serves. These include a deacon’s family community (particularly his spouse and children), his work community (where, for those not retired, a significant amount of time is spent), his social community and his church community.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke recently in Rome to a group of 500 clergy, including 100 permanent deacons, about this bridge and also his strong support for the diaconate.

The last key role of a deacon is one of obedience — his obedience to the Lord (who is central to his journey of service), his obedience to his family (as a husband, father, grandfather), and his obedience to his bishop and pastor.

I heard a phrase many years ago that said a deacon, in the area of obedience, should always ask his pastor, “What can I do for you?” What can I do for you that would help you as a priest carry out what the Lord is calling you to do? In the Diocese of Little Rock, the bishop has ordained about 95 men in five formation classes from 1981 until 2002, who, in obedience, have answered the call to service. Currently there are 83 deacons serving and ministering throughout Arkansas.

Our diocese will begin its sixth diaconate formation class in August 2008. During this past Lent, about 160 men and their spouses spent time in prayer and discernment to see if they are being called to apply for the upcoming diaconate formation group.

The diaconate community is alive in Arkansas, and the Holy Spirit is working to bring more of those called into active ministry as permanent deacons. In this Easter time, this time of resurrection, we thank God for the gift of deacons. Please pray for all involved that they will be open to carrying out God’s will in discerning this call to service.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!