Today’s 1st reading (Acts 6:1-7) recounts a conflict between two groups of 1st generation Jerusalem Christians and the solution – the selection of 7 pastoral ministers chosen from among the Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian community and their commissioning by the 12, who prayed and laid hands on them.
The Church has traditionally seen in this story the beginning of the order of deacons, one of the three orders within the sacrament of Holy Orders. Thus, when ordaining a deacon, the bishop prays: In the first days of your Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the apostles of your Son appointed seven men of good repute to assist them in the daily ministry.
I heard those words prayed over me 24 years ago, on April 19, 1986. Of course, I did not know then that I would remain a deacon for over 9 years!
The men who serve as “permanent” deacons do so largely for free, their time generously given to the Church in addition to their commitments to married life, their families, and their careers. Their contribution to day-to-day parish life in the United States has been enormous. “Transitional” deacons receive the same sacred order but function more like apprentices preparing for ordination and lifelong ministry as priests.
In my own prolonged diaconate, I somewhat straddled that divide, beginning and then ending again as a transitional deacon, but for most of the years in between inhabiting a kind of no-man’s land – neither in training to be a priest nor living the life of family and career of a permanent deacon. It was not an experience I would ever have asked for, but the ministries I engaged in during those years taught me a lot that I might not have learned otherwise and formed me to be the priest I am now.