I don’t tend to talk about the ministry of the diaconate on these pages very much but I was recently struck by the words of Pope Francis who recently addressed the deacons of Rome. He was asked the question: “What do you expect from the deacons?” His response included the following remarks, which I thought were spot on:
“I know that you are also present in Caritas and in other bodies that are close to the poor. In this way you will never lose your bearings: deacons will not be “half-priests” or second-rate priests, nor will they be ‘special altar boys’, no, that is not the path to follow; they will be caring servants who do their best to ensure that no one is excluded and the love of the Lord touches people’s lives in a tangible way. In short, one could summarise diaconal spirituality in a few words, that is, the spirituality of service: willingness on the inside and openness on the outside. Willingness on the inside, from the heart, ready to say yes, docile, without making life revolve around one’s own agenda; and open on the outside, looking at everyone, especially those who are left out, those who feel excluded.”
“Regarding what I expect from the deacons of Rome, I would like to add three more brief ideas – but do not be afraid: I am coming to the end – which are not so much ‘things to do’, but rather dimensions to cultivate. Firstly, I expect you to be humble. It is sad to see a bishop and a priest showing off, but it is even sadder to see a deacon wanting to put himself at the centre of the world, or at the centre of the liturgy, or at the centre of the Church. Be humble. Let all the good you do be a secret between you and God. And so it will bear fruit.
“Secondly, I expect you to be good spouses and good fathers. And good grandparents. This will give hope and consolation to couples who are going through difficult times and who will find in your genuine simplicity an outstretched hand. They will be able to think: ‘Look at our deacon! He is happy to be with the poor, but also with the parish priest and even with his children and his wife!’ Even with his mother-in-law, that’s very important! Doing everything with joy, without complaining: it is a testimony that is worth more than many sermons. And out with the complaints. Without complaining. ‘I had so much work, so much…’. Nothing. Send these things away. Away. The smile, the family, open to the family, generosity….
“Finally, thirdly, I expect you to be sentinels: not only to know how to spot the poor and the distant – this is not so difficult – but to help the Christian community to recognise Jesus in the poor and the distant, as He knocks on our doors through them. It is also a catechetical and prophetic dimension of the sentinel-prophet-catechist who knows how to see beyond and help others to see beyond, and to see the poor who are far away. You can make your own the beautiful image at the end of the Gospels when Jesus asks His disciples from afar: ‘Have you nothing to eat?’ And the beloved disciple recognises Him and says: ‘It is the Lord!’ (Jn 21:5,7). Whatever the need, see the Lord. So you, too, recognise the Lord when, in so many of his smaller brothers and sisters, He asks to be fed, to be welcomed and loved. I would like this to be the profile of the deacons of Rome and of the whole world. Work on this. You have generosity, and go forward with this.”