February 27, 2020
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A Misguided Search for Power

A Misguided Search for Power

I often check in with Deacon Greg Kandra’s “The Deacon Bench.” I am sure it is by far the most read blog in the American diaconate. Greg often has a mix of stories that I like, dislike, and challenge me. On October 25th of this year, I actually smiled and applauded him after reading his posting.

The topic of his blog was “Amazon Synod update: what about women deacons?” It wasn’t the same tired stories about women in the diaconate that got my attention. In this blog, Deacon Kandra highlighted another important issue. That is, a view that ordination of women to the diaconate “brings with it some sort of power or influence or importance.” Want to make a permanent deacon laugh? Tell him that he has “power, influence or importance” in the Catholic Church. More importantly, if he doesn’t laugh, consider asking why he sought Holy Orders. Deacons are ordained to serve, not be served.  

Deacon Kandra highlights the experience of most deacons. Rather than yielding any sort of power, deacons are seldom part of the management team. We are “labor, not management.” He notes that many parishes have pastors who don’t let deacons preach, baptize or witness marriages. Some protest that deacons are not “really ordained.” My favorite example from this blog was of a monsignor who after learning that a deacon would be assisting at his Mass laughed. “A deacon?,” he said. “Hell, if I wanted a potted plant I would have called FTD.” There is your “influence.” 

 A vast majority of the deacons I know have stories such as these. In my own experience, I had a pastor who would not give me a key to the church. So, on nights when I led RCIA, he paid a sacristan to sit there to open the church and lock it again when we left. I guess, somehow, he learned of my ultimate plan to open an E-bay store for selling used church candles.   

As a father of three daughters, I am all for promoting women. Yet, I remind them, “If you want to be great, be great as women, not men.  Never let society diminish the importance of the feminine.” The Imago Dei in Genesis is not complete until both the man and the woman are both present and united. Our society tries to diminish to role of Mother. In the Catholic Church, we exalt motherhood over all humanity. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!

Gender equality in the Church is not defining the same role to each gender. Biology does not do that either. Ask a farmer if you must. Our misinformed society is making this mistake over and over these days. No wonder so many of us are unfulfilled. We are living a life that society tells us we should live, not being the creation God meant us to be. Gendered equality is cherishing the unique and wonderful roles God created in the Imago Dei. Equal in contribution, unique in the character God designed. I’ve learned from my wife and daughters that I don’t speak “feminine” any more than they can speak “masculine.” The differences are real – not just in explaining that “hit” did not really hurt each Sunday when the Chicago Bears are on. Our viewpoints, and therefore our proposed solutions, are insufficient when we forget to include both the masculine and feminine perspectives. Just as the team in business needs the contributions of the sixteen personality types of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Church equally needs the wisdom of both the masculine and feminine perspective. Again, it is the inclusion of both perspectives that resembles the Imago Dei.

How do we get to true equality? By teaching Genesis and JP II’s Theology of the Body properly. By recognizing that the Church today exists because women lead our future being the majority of our catechists and religious education administrators and take a lead role in ministries throughout the Church. Most parishes are successful due to the ministries of lay women and men, not simply the man in the Roman collar. It is also by a full and open review of the theology and doctrines used in ordination and moving forward along with the Holy Spirit, not political agendas.

If one needs “power, influence or importance,” ordination is the wrong path. Deacons, priests or bishops who see/need this role do great harm to the teachings of Christ. Jesus said when serving to make yourself last, not first. Has this always been the case? No, God uses imperfect instruments to work his Church. Yet, when a minister’s holiness gets it right, it is extraordinary. Those who serve in humility preach the Gospel as it was intended. Ministry should be modeled by Francis and Claire, not the Kardashians.

In a perfect Church, holiness would be the only path to “power, influence or importance.” It is in God’s Kingdom. In our earthly kingdom, we learned from the Watergate scandal that the key is to “follow the money.” If you want to rule in the earthly kingdom, money speaks. It is no secret that in many instances that if one wants attention, withhold the money or, donate more. Money is not a currency in God’s Kingdom. “Ordination” and titles are not needed either. In God’s Kingdom, we move ahead through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Loving our neighbor replaces our love for self. If our discernment leads us to anywhere else, we are talking to the wrong Spirit.

My Vicar continually reminds us that “a Deacon is defined by who he is, not what he does.” Ignatius would remind us that if we are looking for “power, influence or importance” we need to do some serious discernment not only on our egos but, his teachings on the Two Kingdoms. Which one are we serving? I know when I experience clericalism, and if I can focus on service rather than bruised ego, I can again move forward in a positive light.

Take note the prophesy of Deacon Kandra:

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: whatever one may think about the theology of women clergy, the lived reality of this vocation is something altogether different. If the Church is serious about considering women deacons, I’d encourage all concerned to get male deacons right first.”

Amen!

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster