Back on February 19, 2000, J. Francis Cardinal Stafford, then President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke on the “Ideal Family of the Permanent Deacon.” He said a lot but I would like to underscore one small piece.
“Vocation of the deacon is to be a ‘confessor’ of the faith. He seeks to revive this ancient title in democratic modernity….. Central to the deacon/confessor’s anthropology is his self-awareness in Christ crucified…. a confessor is one who has been cast forth, handed over by God…. into the heart of danger like a lamb among wolves. 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…the deacon will meet determined opposition and … extensive satanic counter struggle…the deacon discovers that persecution constitutes the normal condition of the Church in her relation to the world…. Only deacon/confessor.. can keep alive the sense of man and make the world a place where love is gently at work.”
All of this makes me think of an article I recently read on St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr of Rome, the deacon of Pope Sixtus II. You recall, Lawrence was martyred some three days after Sixtus, by being grilled on the gridiron. Lawrence’s diaconate was a call to martyrdom, in service to his bishop and the “treasures of the Church” whom he identified as the poor of his diocese. Lawrence is not officially called a confessor, yet in fact he was, and he serves as a model for diaconate ministry even today. His life as deacon vividly portrays all the Cardinal Stafford was saying some 12 years ago.
Deacons of the world, are we ready to be confessors of the faith? Even in the face of stiff opposition, even persecution and martyrdom? We in the United States, numerous though we are, have in many ways the easier task. Our brothers in areas of the world where martyrdom continues are daily called to confess the faith, even as St. Lawrence.