Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Diaconal Church

"What's in a name?" Juliet asked.

Perhaps a great deal when it is the name chosen by a new Pope. On Sunday, as I was listening to a talk at church given by a woman preparing for ordination to the diaconate, I remembered that Francis of Assisi had been a deacon. In a time when the Church had become very wealthy and might have been thought to have become addicted to wealth and the power that goes with it, Francis understood that rebuilding the Church would require that the Church become diaconal, serving most especially the poor whom Jesus said would also be with us.

The Roman Catholic Church has been diaconal during most of its history with hospitals and schools at the center of its service, not only to its own members, but to many other people as well. For many of us the most obvious diaconal ministers of the Roman Catholic Church are women religious, who, of course, cannot actually be ordained to the diaconate at Francis was. But for those nuns with whom I have had the privilege to work, ordination wasn't important, serving was.

It is too early to tell, but the early signs are promising. Pope Francis may be able to lead his Church down a path of renewed service to the least among us. It may be too much to expect, but it's worth hoping for such a renewal, one that might even spread to other Christian Churches and diaconal partnerships with synagogues and mosques. Christians have no monopoly on serving and becoming more diaconal can bring us into fruitful partnerships with people of other faith traditions.