The Ideal Family of the Permanent Deacon
Two texts illustrate the characteristics of the ideal husband and of the ideal wife on the one hand, and of the ideal deacon on the other. The first is taken from the Bible, the second from the ordination rite. A Regula Vitae for the deacon can be deduced from them and includes elements of a new way of living guided by the Holy Spirit.
These texts serve as the first two parts of my talk, the deacon as husband and the deacon as an ordained minister. In the third part I will point out elements of the deacon’s spirituality. In the conclusion, examples of contemporary family spirituality will be cited.
Three preliminary clarifications are in order. First, I assume that the family of the Permanent Deacon includes his wife and children. Although it is true that some deacons are single or widowed, most are living within a family they have established.
Second, Pope John Paul II offers the Church a magnificent vision of the family in his 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio. "Like each of the seven sacraments, so also marriage is a real symbol of the event of salvation. ‘The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple, so that the first and immediate effect of marriage (res et sacramentum) is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and the mystery of his covenant. The content of participation in Christ’s life is also specific: conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal union that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual self-giving; and it is open to fertility (cf. Humanae Vitae 9). In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values’" (13). The ancient and glorious insight of the family as the Ecclesia domestica shines forth in these words. The Ecclesia domestica is the ideal for the Christian family.
Third, the term ‘ideal’ means a practical model of excellence, a standard of perfection. God’s design for marriage and the family must be striven after responsibly. It is undoubtedly true that the deacon knows, loves and accomplishes the moral good by stages of growth. But the baptized, including deacons, do not look on the moral law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the indefinite future. Pope John Paul II explains that married people must embody the values enshrined in the law of God through concrete actions. "‘And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’, as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness" (Homily at the close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, 1980). In the title of my talk, ‘ideal’ doesn’t mean ‘unattainable.’
I. The Deacon as Ideal Husband.
St. Paul gives the description of the wife and husband in his letter to the Ephesians. This well-known text is foundational for Christian marriage and sexuality. Today, unfortunately, it has become the focus of acrimonious and unjustified criticism.
"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of he church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands , love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one. And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (21-33).
St. Paul introduces this unsurpassed instruction on marriage with a general command. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." Covering all relations among Christians, including husbands and wives, it undercuts any possibility of an anti-woman interpretation of Paul’s Letter. Above all, it offers a complex and beautiful vision of the Christian family and indeed of every type of Christian community. Within a communio of prayerful thanksgiving to the Father, believers are called to live in reciprocal subordination to one another (20). This command attains a central place in the catechetical exhortations of the early Church.
St. Paul then elaborates on the application of this reciprocal subordination to Christian marriage. He clearly teaches that this subordination does not apply only to the wife. Both spouses must show a readiness to renounce one’s own individual will for the sake of the other. This mutual subordination is marked by a fear of the Lord Jesus Christ whose anticipated final coming is the context of all Christian relationships.
The wife is to be subject to the husband as to the Lord. It is a unity of obedience to the husband as to the Lord. By being subject to her husband, the wife makes concrete in her life the truth that Christ is head of the Church his body.
It is such because "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church, his body and is himself its savior" (23). The salvation of the spouses, as always, has the cross of Christ at its unique and universal center. Because the church submits to Christ who has been crucified for her, so should the wife submit to her husband.
The norm of the sexual relationship for Christian spouses is a theological one, namely the relationship between Christ and the church. Does this imply the wife’s exclusive subordination to a dominant husband? No! The Christian husband himself is the sign of the boundless image of the bodily gift of self. It signifies Jesus’s self-surrender on the Cross to his Father by giving himself up for the church.
The husband observes the Christian commandment of love within marriage and in the marital act only by handing himself over unconditionally for his wife. Henceforth he sees in her all that he has surrendered, which is his very self. "Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’" (28-31). St. Paul concludes that the mystery of man and woman who become one flesh is unfathomable when he writes, "I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church" (32).
St. Paul places eros, human sexuality and marital friendship under the law of Christian agape. The union of spouses is an image of the communio of Christ and his Church. This nuptial communion finds its complete realization in the Eucharist, the irrevocable self-offering of Jesus to the Father out of love for his church, making her an immaculate bride. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the faithful in the Eucharist "become one body, one spirit in Christ." This is prefigured by the man’s self-offering in the marital act and throughout marriage. Thus redeeming love is transformed by Christ into spousal love (John Paul II, Wednesday Catechesis, 8/18/82, §6).
St. Paul’s instruction to the husband looks back to Paradise: Eve comes forth from Adam’s side and therefore the mystery of Adam in loving her as his own flesh is fully illumined by the Ecclesia ex latere Christi. The Christian husband cannot find his fulfilment simply in an erotic embrace of his wife; his exemplar rather is the self-giving love of Christ crucified for the Church, the New Eve, who is born from his pierced side.
St. Paul also reminds the husband that the relationship with his wife is rooted in their Baptism. He loves his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her so that he might sanctify her, "having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (26).
Here within the New Testament synthesis of the elements of covenantal nuptiality, reference is made to Baptism. The importance of the first Sacrament for the deacon/husband cannot be exaggerated. Reflection will reveal why the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) declares, "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments" (1213).
The deacon also understands why St. Gregory of Nazianzus says that "baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift" (CCC 1243). All Christians should understand it. Unfortunately, for many Christians, Baptism occurs when they are young and therefore unaware of their newfound dignity through God’s merciful love and the faith of the Church.
It is important for the deacon to recall often the critical stages of the Christian’s journey toward Baptism. The first Sacrament, also called the Sacrament of faith, requires a profound changing of one way of walking to another. This ‘turning’ is called a ‘conversion’ - a new way, once embarked upon, leading to ‘salvation.’ It is a ‘liminal’ experience, the crossing of a threshold. It is not surprising that the psalter should begin with the description of such a liminal experience. Pope John Paul II teaches that one "who receives Baptism becomes at the same time - by virtue of the redemptive love of Christ - a participant in His spousal love for the church" (Wednesday Catechesis, 8/25/82, §7).
In ancient times, a series of dramatic exorcisms took place on this journey of conversion. Baptism assumed a conversion from a terrifying field of forces - pagan gods, their cultic processions, the games, the theater, and the gladiatorial extravaganzas.
Likewise, today all the psychological, spiritual, and physical sources of sin, including life’s addictions, need to be subjected to scrutiny and their source, Satan, to violent expulsion. Immediately before the immersion in the depths of the baptismal waters, the catechumen is anointed with oil, like an athlete, to prepare him for one, final, Olympic-like struggle with Satan in the baptismal font.
Tertullian, an African theologian of the third century, explained the reality of the three Sacraments of Initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. "The flesh is the hinge of salvation." This is mystical anthropology at its best. Tertullian understood that the sole foundation of Christian knowledge is the "mystery hidden in God until it was revealed in Jesus Christ." With a thoroughly Catholic imagination he elaborated. "The flesh is washed that the soul may be made spotless; the flesh is anointed that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed [with the cross] that the soul too may be protected; the flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of the hand that the soul may also be illumined by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ so that the soul may be replete with God."
The baptismal font is seen as both a tomb and a womb. The water receiving the candidate, like the earth which received Christ’s body after his death, is a tomb from which, like a womb, Christ and the newly baptized arise new-born.
The baptized gain access to salvation through grace-filled faith and the sacramental signs of water and word. Another patristic writer, Origen of Alexandria, applied the three days that Christ spent in the tomb to the baptized, "Those who have been taken up into Christ by Baptism have been taken up into his death and been buried with him, and will rise with him." Consequently, he calls Baptism the "mystery of the third day." The ‘mystery’ is the participation of the baptized not only in Christ’s death and burial but also in his resurrection through their immersion in the baptismal water.
The baptized walk a new way. The ancient designation of a Roman pilgrimage illustrates this reality, Ad limina Apostolorum (To the threshold of the Apostles). By their pilgrimage to and from the baptismal font, Christians have been converted to a new community, to a new network of relations and responsibilities, and to new values. They have crossed a threshold; they have had a liminal experience and moved into a new society in which there is no status. St. Paul describes the experience of the baptized, "For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, their is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3: 27-28). As the Fathers in the ancient church never wearied in saying, Christians live in "a new home and a new family."
II. The Ideal Deacon.
The second text is from the Rite of Ordination of the Deacon. It articulates the Church’s faith in the Sacrament of the diaconate. From that flows the deacon’s spirituality.
The rite of ordination indicates that the bishop first lays his hands in silence upon the man. The gesture is an ancient sign of the transmission of a charge. In the Old Testament Moses lays his hands on Joshua, who thereby receives the Spirit to guide his people.
Subsequently in the Prayer of Consecration, the bishop asks the heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit: "By prayer and the laying on of hands the Apostles entrusted to those [seven] chosen men the ministry of serving at tables. Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon to minister at your holy altar. Lord, send upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out the work of the ministry."
These brief lines, leading to and including the sacramental epiclesis, employ the words ‘ministry’ or ‘servant’ or ‘minister’ five times. The prayer concludes with the eschatological petition that the deacon imitate Jesus, "who came to serve and not to be served, and one day reign with him in heaven."
The reference to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit not only repeats the number of the original deacons (seven) but also refers to the seven charisms of the Servant in Isaiah 11. The gift of the Spirit assures the strength and fidelity needed to fulfill the deacon’s ministry.
The word ‘servant’ specifies the deacon’s sacramental mystery and therefore his spirituality. The 1968 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Pontificalis Romani, underlines this. He writes that deacons, "strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and the presbyterium, .... serve the people of God in the diaconia of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity". The consecratory words likewise indicate that the hands of the bishop are imposed upon the deacon "not for priesthood but for ministry", a description dating back to the ancient Constitutions of the Egyptian Church and cited in Lumen gentium (28). The bishop alone, and not priests, imposes hands upon the deacon at his ordination, thus manifesting in a negative manner the difference between the ‘ministry’ of the deacon and the ‘priesthood’ of the priest.
The sacramental nature of the diaconate becomes clear. The deacon is a sacramentum-persona of Jesus the Servant of God. All the liturgical references - the 1968 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, the ordination homily, the prayers and signs - affirm not simply the deacon’s functions but, above all, his permanent diaconal essence through the imprint of the sacramental character. Though the lay baptized at times do what he does, it is in being a deacon, not just in doing diaconal things, that he is an enduring sacramental sign.
By sharing in the apostolic ministry of which the bishop alone is the total and permanent sign, the deacon himself sums up the servant character of the whole church. Indeed he makes the bishop present in the world of need and suffering. Through the deacon’s ministry to the poor and the outcast, the church, in a concrete, unique and personal way, is the sacrament of the suffering servant to the world.
Finally, both the homily of the bishop and one of the questions he asks in the ordination examination contain a command of St. Paul to Timothy upon whom he had imposed his hands. The bishop admonishes the deacon to "hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim 3: 9). Later the bishop asks the deacon-candidate , "Are you resolved to hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience?"
From ancient times commentators have discerned here a reference to the deacon’s ministry of the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Furthermore, by directing that "the deacon who assists the bishop ministers the cup," the rite reemphasizes the association of the deacon’s ministry with the mystery of the Blood of Christ. Some applications of this will be developed below.
III. The Regula Vitae (Rule of Life) of the Deacon.
What lessons for the deacon’s Regula Vitae can be drawn from the two texts cited from the Bible and from the Rite of Ordination? Since the principalities and powers are very powerful today, the deacon and his family beg access to the divine mercy and grace. The elements of the spirituality of the deacon are central in this struggle with the mysterium iniquitatis.
What are these elements? Pope John Paul II in his 1999 Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, defined ‘spirituality’ as "a mode or form of life in keeping with Christian demands" (29). A Regula Vitae then provides a practical guide for Christian living and for the cultivation of virtue. Its spiritual genre is related to the sapiential books of the Old Testament. It derives primarily from a reflection upon the Christian experience of faith. I will suggest eleven elements for a deacon’s Regula Vitae. They are complimentary to the instructions found in the 1998 Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.
1. The spirituality of the deacon is Trinitarian and Incarnational. In the beginning he was baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The baptized have a radically different experience and knowledge of God through the revelation of the Trinity and Incarnation. The one and unique God, in his essence, is love and self-surrender. Hans Urs von Balthasar approaches this mystery by reflecting on the self-awareness of the Word Incarnate: "Jesus knows and acknowledges himself to be the Word, Son, expression, and self-surrender - of that Origin prior to which no existence is thinkable and which he calls the ‘Father,’ who loves him and whom he loves in a common divine Spirit of love, a Spirit whom he bestows upon us so that we can be drawn into this abyss of love (vast beyond measure) and thus comprehend something of its superabundance: ‘to know the love which surpasses knowledge’"(Eph. 3: 19).
God gives all reality the form or logic of Trinitarian love. As a result, the deacon with the eyes of faith sees a real relation between the truths of the political order, the economic order, the intellectual life on the one hand, and what Von Balthasar calls the beauty of "the mysterious ray of Trinitarian and crucified love" on the other.
2. The deacon and his family heed the exhortation of Pope John Paul II: "Family, become what you are!" (Familiaris Consortio 17). The Pope elaborates on this element of nuptial spirituality. "Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ for the Church his bride" (17).
3. The Sunday Eucharist is the life-center of the deacon and his family. Pope John Paul II in his recent Apostolic Letter ascribes to Sunday a litany of ancient titles: Dies Domini, Dies Christi, Dies Ecclesiae, Dies Hominis, Dies Dierum. It is the day of the celebration of the Creator’s work; the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Holy Spirit; it is the day of joy, rest and solidarity, the primordial feast revealing the meaning of time.
The Pope recalls the astonishment and joy of the early Christians. "The Lord’s Day - as Sunday was called from Apostolic times - has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, the fulfilment in him of the first creation and the dawn of ‘new creation’ (cf. II Cor 5: 17). It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world’s first day and looks forward in active hope to ‘the last day’, when Christ will come in glory (cf. Acts 1: 11; I Th 4: 13 -17) and all things will be made new" (Rev. 21: 5) [Dies Domini, 1].
4. St. Benedict called "the books of the Old and New Testaments ‘rectissima norma vitae humanae’" (the truest norm of human life, Regula S. Benedicti 73. 3).
Each day the deacon contemplates, again with the eyes of faith, the form of Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. What does this mean? Daily the deacon practices Lectio divina. It is in the holy reading that the deacon discovers the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ.
I use the word ‘power’ advisedly. It is found throughout the New Testament to describe that "drama of freedom" first experienced by early Christians. Luke Timothy Johnson asserts that they knew "a power beyond any they had ever encountered, understood, or could measure" beforehand. He further points out that they "considered themselves caught up by, defined by, a power not in their control but controlling them, a power that derived from the crucified and raised Messiah Jesus." Here ‘control’ is analogous to Jesus’s ‘must’ in Mk. 8: 31, "The Son of Man must suffer many things."
5. The Sacrament of Baptism configures the deacon in his freedom to the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. Under the seal of this divine drama his whole past and future life has been set. He and his family respond in faith by observing the prescribed penitential days in which all the Christian faithful "in a special way pray, exercise works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their responsibilities more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence" (canon 1249). In accordance with the universal and particular laws of the Church, the deacon and, where appropriate, the members of his family, are to observe the penitential nature of all Fridays throughout the year and of the time of Lent.
Because of their baptismal renunciation the deacon and the members of his family also have an abhorrence of the very thought of evil. Such renunciation assumes their judgement in conscience on television, films and other entertainment. In other words, the deacon with his wife develops in their children a critical attitude toward the popular media. Neil Postman has put his finger on the phenomenon which the Christian conscience is called to assess critically. He writes in his Amusing Ourselves to Death: "What I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. .... the problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether."
6. The Vocation of a deacon is to be a "confessor’ of the faith. He seeks to revive this ancient title in democratic modernity. He searches for that sanctity which informs the inner life of the university, of politics, of economics, of marriage and family.
As we saw, during his ordination the deacon was entrusted with the Blood of Christ. Central to the deacon/confessor’s anthropology is his self-awareness in Christ crucified. "For in [our Lord Jesus Christ] all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the Blood of his cross" )Col. 1: 19-20). Undoubtedly, the Gospel should become for him a reality that informs everything from within - laws, customs, efforts, even pleasures.
In the early and medieval Church a confessor was one who suffered for confessing his faith, but was not called to martyrdom. The term was applied to markedly holy persons. St. Edward, the king of England, is known in history as Edward the Confessor. His reputation for holiness endured after his death; he was canonized in 1161 by Pope Alexander III.
On the threshold of the new millennium, a confessor is one who has been cast forth, handed over by God. Where has he been cast forth? On the road he has chosen, on the road he has hurled himself on. The deacon/confessor has cast himself forth into the heart of danger like a lamb among wolves. The road of the poor and outcast, not simply the altar, is his vocation. And at every curve and bend of that road he will find challenges and suffering. St. Paul would describe it as warfare. The deacon’s walk is an heroic one. For the cup of blessing which he ministers is a participation in the Blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10: 16).
The deacon/confessor becomes acutely aware of the fundamental law of post-Christian world history - the more Christ is proclaimed as the One out of whose heart flows rivers of living waters (Jn. 7: 38), as the One "who comes by water and blood" (1 Jn. 5: 6), as the good shepherd who "lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn. 8: 11), the more the deacon will meet determined opposition and the more extensive the satanic counter struggle will prove. The more the love of Jesus is manifested, the more it stiffens resistance. Then the deacon discovers that persecution constitutes the normal condition of the Church in her relation to the world.
That is why the deacon is cast forth in hope. Hope springs from the eternal love that pours forth from the pierced heart of the Crucified One. That is the key. And that is the only thing that matters. The deacon’s vocation on the road is the same as those "who conquer [the Devil and Satan] by the Blood of the Lamb" (Apoc. 12: 11).
Modern man is torn, dissatisfied and ironic. Only "the confessor", the pilgrim who loves the "road", moves beyond that model. In democratic modernity our temptation is to absolute human autonomy. It is at the core of original sin. Therein is the enormous danger of modernity and postmodernity. Only the deacon/confessor, who has come to the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12: 24), can keep alive the sense of man and make the world a place where love is gently at work.
The deacon/confessor understands within the context of a nuptial communion the worldly implications of a communio ecclesiology. The whole world, in and through the Church, is destined for a transfiguring espousal with Jesus Christ. He sees this logic of love in Mary of Nazareth, especially in her fiat at the foot of the Cross. He contemplates it above all in the eternal Son’s death and descent into hell. Jesus drank fully from the chalice of obedience.
7. The teaching of Gaudium et Spes 37 concerning the things of this world, especially of possessions, should inform the consciences of the deacon and of the members of his family. It speaks of human activity in a fallen creation and redeemed only in Christ. Having been renewed in the spirit of his mind, the deacon, like all the baptized, "has put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4: 24). According to the Council, the human person can and must love the things which God has created. In democratic modernity he receives them, guards them and honors them as they have come forth from God’s hands. Consequently, the baptized "in using and enjoying creation in poverty and freedom of spirit, attains to a true possession of the world as having nothing and yet possessing everything. ‘All things are yours, but you are Christ’s and Christ is of God’" (1 Cor. 3:22-23).
That little word, ‘enjoying’ (fruens in Latin), joined with the other classic word, ‘using’ (utens in Latin), opens the deacon to a new Christian spirituality - one might say a specifically modern spirituality. The way of holiness is no longer characterized by a prevailing flight and horror of the world, but by a responsibility in and for the world. It combines both a welcome to the love of God for oneself and the exercise of love toward God and the neighbor.
The accents of a new spirituality place emphasis upon both the Cross and Resurrection in the deacon’s approach to created things. Catholic spirituality is based on the ‘enjoyment’ and ‘use’ of the things of this world in poverty and liberty of spirit. Both are at the heart of the deacon’s life and mission in the new millennium.
8. The deacon will have a Spiritual Director and will make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least on a monthly basis.
9. The deacon and his family have a deep devotion to the Mother of God. "[This] is expressed in a special way precisely through this filial entrusting to the Mother of Christ, which began with the testament of the Redeemer on Golgotha" (Redemptoris Mater 45).
The deacon’s devotion to Blessed Mary is expressed in the daily rosary, preferably within the family. Special familial devotions should also take place in the two months dedicated to Mary, October and May.
10. In applying Canon 1174 # 1 to permanent deacons, the majority of Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world have prescribed Lauds and Vespers. The living out of this obligation should be informed with the spirit of Canon 1173: "In fulfilment of the priestly office of Christ, the Church celebrates the liturgy of hours, wherein it listens to God speaking to his people and recalls the mystery of salvation. In this way, the Church praises God without ceasing, in song and prayer, and it intercedes with him for the salvation of the whole world." In this context of the deacon’s intercessory mission, itis iimportant to recall that deacons must observe conjugal chastity (Humanae Vitae,21-22). As a member of the sacramental, three-ordered hierarchy, I always have before me the teaching of the ancient Council of Carthage (390 AD). It best summarizes the reason why all clerics in major Orders were obliged at that time to perfect continence: "so that they may attain in all simplicity what they are asking from God." Even today, deacons, priests and bishops are ordained primarily for intercessory prayer beginning with their ministry of the altar.
11. The deacon and his family have religious symbols in their home which are integrated into their personal and communal prayer.
IV. Conclusion. Some concrete examples of the Ideal Christian Family.
To illustrate the family spirituality of the deacon, I will cite two examples.
Louis and Zelie Martin founded a family on their sacramental marriage celebrated on July 13, 1858. They became the parents of nine children, the youngest of whom is known as St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. From the first day of their marriage the husband and wife desired, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, to "carry each other to God." In her own writings St. Theresa says of her parents, "God gave me a mother and father more worthy of heaven than of earth."
Their biographer describes "the spirit of the home." Louis Martin had a shop for the sale and repair of watches and clocks. He was a skilled craftsman. But he insisted that his shop be closed on Sunday despite pleas of convenience. He replied, "It is the Lord’s Day; God only must be served." The point is clear. For the deacon and his family the Sabbath should bring everyday work to a halt and provide a respite (CCC 2172).
Other household practices included the devotion of the Martin children to the Holy Family. One of them later described the family’s practice, "[To please our Lady] how gladly the youngest (Theresa) gathered the best roses from the Pavilion, the cornflowers and marguerites growing beside the country lanes! She kept some for St. Joseph’s statue, before which her mother loved to pray. It was thus that, quite spontaneously, she felt enveloping her a love for the things of heaven" (111). Many of us could cite such experiences from our own families.
I wish to cite one last example of elements in family spirituality. It is drawn from my experience as Archbishop of Denver. I noticed that many Hispanic families coming from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado had a profound faith in the Holy Family of Nazareth and in the Most Holy Trinity.
Their art reflected their faith. Several years ago a priest of the Archdiocese gave me a New Mexican retablo, La Sagrada Familia. It had been painted on pine wood by a contemporary santero. In a short time I became aware of the popularity of family devotion to La Sagrada Familia. It is even centuries-old. Jesus is depicted as a boy raised on a small, blue platform between Joseph and Mary. They hold his hands. The deep blue base on which Jesus stands reminds me of one of the Old Testament visions of God, "And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness" (Ex. 14: 10).
The Holy Spirit hovers in the form of a dove above Jesus, and in the highest heaven the Father blesses the communion of the three persons in Nazareth with an all-embracing gesture. Mary and Joseph are depicted as caring for and loving Jesus. For many Hispanic-American families, the Holy Family of Nazareth is clearly a model of the communio of husband, wife and child. It enters deeply into the life of the family. And like La Sagrada Familia these families know themselves to be sealed with the sign of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It is clear from the retablos, bultos, and reredoses that for hundreds of years the Hispanic families of New Mexico and southern Colorado have been formed by two central Christian mysteries: the Incarnation and the Most Holy Trinity. And we are aware that these two mysteries form the essential structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The retablo depicting the Holy Family of Nazareth and the Most Holy Trinity is now in my chapel at S. Calisto. This constant reminder of the faith of the Christian families of southwestern United States challenges my Roman friends and myself to pray for holy simplicity. The latter is another phrase for spiritual childhood or "the second naivetè."
In a beautiful way both the Martin family and the portrayal of the La Sagrada Familia indicate some practical elements of the spirituality of the deacon and his family. The pattern of married disciples is found in the constellation of persons around Jesus in the household of Nazareth, Mary and Joseph in the communio of life and love of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
St. Ignatius of Antioch saw and was overjoyed by the mutual harmony of the Orders of "the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry" (LG 28). With his reference to the beauty of this harmony in the Letter to the Trallians, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I will conclude. "Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the Apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church" (1554).
J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
February 19, 2000