There seems to me to be three enticing temptations for the deacon in his life and ministry. I have been thinking of them in the context of an article I am writing about diaconal spirituality that I hope to have prepared by the end of the summer.
If you are aware of what has been written by others about kenosis in diaconal theology and spirituality (kenosis, to oversimplify but perhaps sufficient for this posting meaning self-emptying, descending into the human condition even to the point of martyrdom) and theosis (again oversimplifying but essentially meaning an ascent into divine life), then perhaps the following reflection will resonate.
There is a great temptation for the deacon to concupiscence, to a sensual focus on oneself for the sake of centralizing one’s own needs in ministry. This is a temptation largely arising out of our passions, and allowing those passions to dominate our lives rather than reinforce them. We are tempted to no longer focus on the object of our ministry, i.e., the human person and human condition with compassion, but rather focus on our own joys and sorrows and using ministry as a means of assuaging those sorrows or magnifying those joys. Of course, it doesn’t ever really work, but we easily convince ourselves otherwise. The temptation to concupiscence is opposed to diaconal kenosis which really means it is opposed to Christ.
There is the great temptation of egoism. We all know about this, at least from time to time. In this temptation, we measure ourselves against others so as to find in the other frailties, faults, and failures so that we may feel good about ourselves. Egoism is opposed to obedience and it is a false theosis. It leads us into criticism, stubbornness, subordination, conflicts and a disrespect for authority. It ultimately can be an assertion of ourselves as gods. Is it not true that many deacons are griping about their assignments, their brother priests and bishops? Isn’t it true that it is so easy to become dissatisfied because we think we deserve better, that our talents are not being appreciated? Obedience is listening and responding to what we have heard from those whom God has placed at our head to lead and shepherd the flock. When we get caught up in egoism, perhaps it would be best if we were to place ourselves at the feet of Jesus and took a look at how we measure up to him.
Finally, there is the great temptation to claim temporal or ecclesial power, which some would described as the worship of clericalism. Now, of course, every deacon is a cleric, but that is different from clericalism. Clericalism is a claim to power and privilege. A deacon is called to see his power as a cleric in his sacrificial love for God’s people. The ultimate expression of diaconal power is martyrdom. Yes, martyrdom. Look at St. Stephen and St. Lawrence if you need examples of this. Do we reflect on martyrdom each time we elevate the chalice at Mass? The claim to temporal or ecclesial power in the form of clericalism is opposed to humility. It is a capitulation to pride, the deadliest of sins.
We all easily see men in the diaconate who have succumbed to these temptations. What we don’t see as clearly is when we are falling for these temptations ourselves.
Deacons of the world, may we have clear vision, and may we always remain true to our identities as humble clerics prepared for martyrdom in whatever manner it comes to us, and to nurture the spirit of obedience in our lives. In this way we will have the authority to shape the world in which we live.
Maybe my next posting will be following up on all this. Until then, I welcome your responses.