The 5th Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:1-, 4-5, 18-19
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Peter 2:4-9
Gospel: According to St. John 14:1-12
At the present time, there are 195 married men in the Diocese of Cleveland who are ordained ministers of the Church. To those outside the Catholic Faith, and even to some within it, this might seem like a strange statement, but since Pope (now Saint) Paul VI issued his document Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem in 1967, most of us have personally benefited from the restoration of the order of the permanent diaconate, the order to which these men belong. This weekend’s first reading describes the origin and role of these men in that first generation of the Church.
Just as surprising to many as the existence of ordained married men is the revelation that the ancient Church had the same struggles with division that we have today. As the Church spread, She felt growing pains relating to the blending of those with a Greek background into a religion whose Hebrew roots went all the way back to Abraham. The Hellenists, as the Greek speakers were known – from Hellas, the Greek word for Greece – were upset by the fact that in the “equal” distribution of food to the widows in the community, some of the widows were “more equal” than others.
To realize that discrimination existed in the Church even during the time of the Apostles is to realize that part of the human condition, even after baptism, is the tendency to the sin of pride, the need to feel superior to others, often for the pettiest of reasons.
Fortunately, unlike many today who fuel the fire of pride by promoting division among peoples of different ethnic, economic, educational and geographic backgrounds, the Twelve proposed unity through the selection of seven men who are acceptable to all in the community who were to act as deacons or ministers of service. They would perform the day-to-day efforts of Christian charity, thus leaving the Apostles time to focus on the ever-growing task of evangelization.
For the most part, those original seven are merely names in a list, but one, Stephen, stands out as one of the most famous saints of that or any era, a man who is universally known as the first martyr. In the intervening years since the stoning of Stephen, the ranks of deacon have included such greats as Sts. Lawrence, Francis of Assisi and Thomas Becket. Today’s permanent deacons carry on an amazing tradition of service to God, His Church and all of the members of the Body of Christ.
Every day around 40,000 permanent deacons serve the global Church in ways that would astonish Stephen and his original six companions. From officiating at baptisms and weddings to visiting the sick and those grieving the loss of a loved one to performing so many other essential tasks, today’s permanent deacons have become an indispensable part of parish life wherever the Gospel has been spread.
May they and their families, whose lives are in many ways sacrificed on behalf of their communities, be blessed today and every day. If you see a deacon after Mass this weekend, please thank him and his family for their work on behalf of your parish. Let us keep them and all deacons in our prayers and pray that their example will inspire other married men within the Church to carry on this important ministry of service for future generations.