This time last year I was in Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, having just completed a 100km walk over four days as a Pilgrimage in preparation for my Ordination. As we arrived there, the streets were bustling full of pilgrims and the church buildings were full. Of course this year things are not like this in any of our church buildings, the priests celebrate the Eucharist with empty pews in front of them as the world works together to try and stop the pandemic. This pilgrimage known as “The Way” goes back to the 9th Century when the local Bishop “‘invented’ or discovered the tomb of the apostle James the Great”.1 The Way reflects the way of St James or the roads which lead to his tomb, now surrounded by a large cathedral.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, he is the only way to the Father; he fulfils all the truths of the Old Testament and he illuminates the world by destroying death and giving us all the hope of our own resurrection. Our Gospel acclamation sings out that hope “May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.” This hope is something which sustains us as we journey on our own way, this hope is vital especially in difficult times. As we journey on our way, we journey together as a community, a community with a shared hope, a community that is the Church and please God we will be back together in our church buildings again when we can all do so safely.
In our first reading today we hear about tensions within the early Church, the Greek speaking community were complaining that the widows in their community were being overlooked when the daily share of food and resources was being distributed. All of the Community whether they spoke Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic recognised the authority of the Apostles. The Apostles decided that their mission to preach the Gospel should not be distracted by the sharing out of food. So they asked the Community to select from among themselves seven men of good reputation, they chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus of Antioch to look after the flock’s physical needs. These men were the first of what is now known as Deacons in the Church. The Apostles prayed and laid hands on them. This laying on of hands, signifies that the Apostles were not doing this as individuals, but they prayed and called down the Holy Spirit to empower these men in their ministry. This laying on of hands has been passed down from the Apostles through the ages linking Ordinations today with the Apostles selected by Jesus.2
It is worth noting that the Apostles didn’t impose their own men onto the Community, they asked the community to select the men from their OWN community. As we heard last week, on Vocations Sunday, priests and deacons come from our Community, they don’t appear out of thin air. Also worth noting is that the names of these men all had Greek origins, so the Apostles trusted the care of the whole community to a group of men who came from the group of people who identified the problem in the first place. As we know it is easy to identify problems, far more difficult to come up with solutions and to implement them. Initially entrusted to the ministry of ‘waiting on tables’, with the support of the whole community these men flourished and the Acts of the Apostles goes on to tell of how well Stephen and Philip preached.3
The Apostles, as early leaders of the fledgling Church were open to listening to the Community. They looked to solve problems as they arose, allowing the group of people who identified an issue to be involved with implementing the solution is inspirational leadership. How often do we sit back and complain and then meekly accept the problem as unchangeable – without putting any effort into resolving it ourselves? Do we leave it to others? Do the others also leave it to others? And then nothing changes.
Deacons are called to serve the Church in the three-fold ministry of the Word, Liturgy and Charity, for example –
Word – proclaiming the Gospel, preaching at Mass, catechesis, evangelisation and sacramental preparation;
Liturgy – serving at the Eucharistic Table, solemnly baptising, witnessing marriages, bringing viaticum to the dying and presiding over funerals and burials;
Charity – serving the poor and marginalised, visiting the sick and imprisoned and ministering to the dying (although not celebrating the Sacrament of the Sick).4
Although I have only been a deacon for a short time, it has been a fulfilling time. I will forever be grateful to the people who prayed for me while I was studying, while on pilgrimage or retreats and through the assessments and Ordination (and continue to do so).
In our Second reading today from St Peter’s first letter; the man chosen as the rock which Jesus built His Church upon; recalls ancient Scripture “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone” (Ps 118:22). St Peter knew his audience, those he was writing to were mainly Jews who lived away from Israel, he knew they had an understanding of Scriptures and he was opening their eyes to what this Psalm meant. He uses great symbolism, be close to the rejected stone and He will make you a living stone within His spiritual house, put your trust in Him and you won’t be disappointed. But if you keep rejecting Jesus then this stone will you will stumble and trip on your journey. He reminds them, and us, that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God. Our second reading this week finishes with a message which is so apt for now, this God, who we praise, has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
So as we wait for our civil leaders to make decisions for our whole society on how to keep everyone safe, we wait and pray; we pray for all of those affected by Covid 19, for the repose of the souls of those who have died, we pray for the comfort of those who grieve, we pray for the healing of those still affected, we pray for the protection of those who provide medical support, nursing and care and we pray that God inspires the scientists looking for a cure which can be made available to everyone who needs it. We also pray for our politicians who have to make decisions which have so many influences, we pray that God inspires them to make the correct decisions which will respect the dignity of mankind throughout the world and that world leaders can come together to make decisions which are not based on self-interest, nor National pride but on what is best for the whole world.
In this month of May, dedicated to Our Lady, we are asked to pray the Rosary every day, may this be a time of special grace for you and your families.
One of my favourite songs, which to me should be a hymn, is from the musical Carousel, it was recently at number one in the charts when it was released to raise money for NHS charities, it is called You Will Never Walk Alone. It has been used as encouragement for football teams since the 1960’s to remind the players that the fans are with them while they try their hardest to perform. For us as Christians we know that we never walk alone because we walk with hope in our hearts knowing that Jesus is beside us always until the end of time and that in His Father’s house there are many rooms and he has prepared a place for us.
Deacon Tony Darroch, 8th May 2020.
If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.
1 Alfonso Carrasco Rouco, Bishop of Lugo, Towards a Christian Understanding of the Way of St James, (Diocese de Lugo Publications, Lugo, Galicia, 2012)9.
2 Fra Angelico, St Peter Consacrates Stephen as Deacon, Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican
3 Robert Draper, Breaking the Word Sundays – 5th Sunday of Easter Year A, (Pastoral Review Vol 16 Issue 2, Twickenham, London, 2020)80.
4 Permanent Diaconate Information available from https://bostondiaconate.org/Resources/what_is_a_deacon.html accessed 8/5/2020