In today’s first reading (Acts 6:1-7) we are introduced to the first deacons of the Church. The apostles, finding that they were spreading themselves too thin, gathered their followers and laid hands on (i.e., ordained) seven men for ministry, the first chosen being Stephen (his fate will be made known the first two days of next week). Consequently, we learn, that conversions, even among priests of one or more Jewish sects, increased dramatically.
The Greek word diakonia, used in verses one and four, means ministry or active service. Without the help of dedicated men like the first deacons (and all faithful deacons since) our priests and bishops would not have enough time and energy to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry [diakonia] of the word” (v. 4). With the rapidly growing Christian movement in the first centuries anno Domini, it was necessary to have special helpers to take care of the needs of this growing community.
Since Vatican II re-introduced the permanent diaconate, many generous souls, married and not married, have discerned a call to this important vocation. Deacons do so much more than assist at Mass and give a homily from time to time. Yet few parishioners realize how much they do within and outside of the parish — and how much they sacrifice in so doing. All this while not being dispensed from also devoting themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (it’s not just for priests).
So, give your deacon a hug or a hearty handshake the next time you see him (or at least give him a shout out on social media today). Thank him for his ministry and his service. Ask him about his vocation and how he arrived at it. Pray for all such men regularly, especially today, that they will be strengthened by the grace of their ordination to serve well all those whom they encounter. Meanwhile, be mindful to encourage Catholic men in your family, parish, workplace, study group, or elsewhere, that you feel would be a good fit for this life, to consider such a vocation (he can talk to the pastor or check out the diocesan website).
Let us not forget those in formation, as well. I have been privileged to come to know many deacon candidates in the last several years. I extend, and encourage you to do so as well, my prayers for them that they discern well as they work, study, and most importantly, pray, through their formation. So let me send my best wishes to the men of Chicago (being ordained on June 4), Lafayette (IN), Indianapolis, Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Evansville, Wheeling-Charleston, and Springfield. A great bunch of guys supported by a great bunch of gals. Thank you for taking the journey. God bless you all!