Brothers in Christ,
A colleague of mine from Rome, Bishop Anthony Taylor of the diocese of Little Rock, wrote the following:
But [Jesus’] best friend, John, did stay with him all the way to the end. And notice, John was the only apostle who ended up dying later of natural causes. Why? Maybe because he had already experienced a type of martyrdom — spiritual martyrdom — by risking his life to stay with Jesus at the foot of the cross.
One of the themes in my own spirituality and in my recent writings has been that a sort of spiritual martyrdom is part and parcel of the diaconal vocation. The early Fathers of the Church spoke of how each Christian, by virtue of their baptisms, were called to be a witness (i.e., martyr). All are called to die for their faith; for most of us a spiritual martyrdom.
I want you to know that increasingly I am coming to see how you, in your ministries and in your families, stand by the cross of Christ. Ministry can be difficult. Personalities can be irritating or discouraging. People, even within the Church, can be unforgiving and inconsiderate. The suffering of humanity is always before us as deacons. If it is not, we are not living out our vocations.
For deacons, to stay at the foot of the Cross is to remain completely committed to and identified with the People of God, the Church, to remain faithful to them in their need, to never reject the cross as it is experienced in the common man or woman. To stay at the foot of the Cross means we nuture within us the virtues of patience rather than anger, mercy rather than judgment, charity rather than injustice, and chastity rather than selfishness. In a way unlike other vocations, ours is a call to a spiritual martyrdom requiring great virtue, intimate knowledge of the Gospel, and a participation in the Blood of Christ. We are, after all, custodians of the chalice, which we elevate at Mass, and proclaimers and preachers of the Gospel. To suffer this kind of spiritual martyrdom requires we become very intimate with Jesus, as Bishop Taylor tells us.
Brother deacons, keep up your fine work. Keep each other in prayer. I pray for you.