- Acts 6:1-7
- Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
- 1 Pt 2:4-9
- Jn 14:1-12
The first reading gives us the origins of the diaconate. Appointed by the Apostles to care for the needs of the Greek widows, who were evidently being neglected, their social mission would quickly append to itself that of evangelization and proclamation of the Gospel. Among the listed deacons chosen we find the name of Stephen, “a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.” We may recall that later in the Acts of the Apostles it is noted that he was stoned by certain Jews for witnessing to the word of God. Like our Lord, he sets a pattern for martyrs by forgiving his murderers. The deacons represent the third and final tier of Holy Orders that comes down to us in succession from Jesus and the Apostles. Full apostolic jurisdiction would be given to the bishops. The presbyters or priests would assist them in the ministry of reconciliation and in the re-presentation of the Lord’s Supper. The deacons, yesterday and today, proclaim and preach the Gospel, assist at the Eucharist, witness marriages and perform baptisms.
While the foundation stone for the Church is Jesus Christ, the community of believers itself is made into a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood”. Baptismal priesthood refers to our imitation of Christ and of his sacrificial love. God’s people participate with their consecrated and ordained priests in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. Bishops and priests most importantly signify Christ at the altar and in the sacraments. They are priests because Jesus is the High Priest. Jesus extends something of himself and his authority to the Church. He does not want us to feel abandoned. Jesus does NOT orphan his people.
This past week we were privileged to have Pope Benedict XVI in Washington, DC. Many of us saw the successor of the Fisherman with our own eyes. He is the Vicar of Christ. He is Peter. He is the visible head of the Church while Jesus remains the invisible head and our grounding hope. This forcefully realizes for us the continuing presence and ministry of Jesus in the universal Church. While the accidentals may change, the core truths and the deposit of faith remain the same. We see in the Acts of the Apostles the early expressions of faith and ministry that still prevail 2,000 years later. That might seem like a long time, but I had an aunt who lived to be 124 and my paternal grandmother was 99 plus years (almost 100) when she died. If one such person who lived a century were to be born at the moment that another died, we would only be 20 people away from the time of Jesus and the Apostles. Maybe it is not so long after all?
While asserting again his unity with God, indeed, his role as the revelation of the Father, Jesus makes a pledge to his Church. He says:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.
Here is proof-positive, that Jesus intended for his bishops, priests and deacons to perpetuate his saving works. All the extraordinary claims of the Catholic Church are for real- we trust our Lord and take him for his word. We are members of the House built and sustained by Jesus Christ.