Monday, August 10, 2015

A Ministry of Care and Service

Deacons, today we pray especially for you on this, the Feast of Saint Laurence, deacon and martyr. 

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word, “diakonia” which means “care” or “service.” 

Saint Ambrose describes a deacon as having three characteristics: 

First, a deacon having been sacramentally constituted in the service of self-giving, lives his diaconal ministry giving witness to Christ in martyrdom, the service of charity by acceptance of that greater love which is martyrdom. 

Second, in virtue of the link which binds him to the bishop, the deacon lives ecclesial communion by specific service to the bishop, beginning with the Eucharist and in reference to the Eucharist. 

Third, in virtue of the Sacrament, the deacon devotes himself fully to the service of a constituent charity and not merely to a human or social fellowship, and thus manifests the most characteristic element of the diakonia. 

In De Officiis, Saint Ambrose describes a very heartfelt but intense moment between Laurence and Sixtus II, the pope who was being led to execution. Here is the exchange according to the Ambrosian text: 

Saint Laurence wept when he saw his bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: “Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy bishop, without your deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's Blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment.” 

Sixtus replied: “I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you.” 

Saint Ambrose continues his text by telling us that Laurence’s longing for martyrdom was due to his desire to be a holocaust for Jesus Christ. 

It has been said that Laurence was roasted to death on a grid-iron three days after the death of Sixtus. 

Sancte Laurenti, ora pro nobis!