The National Catholic Review
William T. Ditewig
The ministry of deacons
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I had been a deacon for about a year and was on active duty in the U.S. Navy as executive officer of the Security Group Activity at Hanza, Okinawa, Japan. My family lived on Kadena Air Base, where I served at the Kadena chapel—the only deacon on Okinawa. One day I received a call from the senior Catholic chaplain, a friend. Laughing, he told me of a conversation he had just had with a young Air Force man reporting to Kadena for duty. Father Mike explained the chapel programs, and the young man said he had been to Mass there. Father described the pastoral staff, including the participation of a Navy Commander (me) as deacon. “Oh, was he the tall man who preached last Sunday?” the young man asked. “That’s right,” Father replied. The young maån complimented my homily, but complained that he had seen me do something “just not right” after Mass: he saw me get into a car “with a woman and her children” and drive off! Father Mike explained that I was a married deacon, and that “the woman and her children” were my wife and our children. The young man said he knew deacons could be married, but that I should not have driven off with my family like that. Cognitively, he understood; affectively, he couldn’t imagine a married cleric.

In another story of confusion, a woman visiting our parish once asked my wife, “When you die, will Bill become a real priest?”

For more than a millennium, Latin Catholics saw an overwhelmingly celibate corps of ordained ministers, though for the last 40 years a new pattern has emerged that includes deacons who are both ordained and married. It is not surprising that confusion persists over the “double vocational sacramentality” of a married deacon.

Scholarship also lags behind current practice, with centuries of writing on the relationship of celibacy to ordained ministry, but nothing comparable on the relationship of matrimony and holy orders. One exception is Chapter Five of Sacrament of Service: A Vision of the Permanent Diaconate Today, by Patrick McCaslin and Michael G. Lawler (1986). This did not reverse the trend, but it does, I hope, offer food for conversation and understanding.

Just as the permanent diaconate is not only for celibates, neither is it a “married ministry,” though currently most deacons are married. Rather, the permanent diaconate is a major order of ecclesial ministry open to married and to unmarried men.

While much theological and pastoral work is needed to help the church recognize the blessings of a married ordained ministry, work is also needed on the celibate permanent deacon, who lives a significantly different state of life than do transitional deacons and priests.

A Theology of Marriage and Orders

Until the renewal of a permanent diaconate, most discussion of “vocation” presented an either-or approach: a man could either marry or enter religious life/priesthood; a woman could either marry or enter religious life. Those were the vocational choices in the Latin Church.

The Second Vatican Council reminded the church that the source and foundation of Christian vocation is sacramental initiation itself. In his homily to the bishops at the end of the council, Pope Paul VI declared that underlying the council’s work was the identity of the church as servant to the world. Vocations must be seen first through this lens: that all disciples are called to pour themselves out in service to others, following the kenotic example of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting conciliar teaching, describes the sacraments of matrimony and orders as having a mutuality of purpose. Both are “directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God” (No. 1534). The catechism goes on to describe both sacraments in terms of consecration: the ordained are consecrated “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God,” and Christian spouses are consecrated “for the duties and dignity of their state” (No. 1535). This mutual approach to both sacraments builds on the consecration to discipleship celebrated through the most basic sacraments of vocation: the rites of Christian initiation. The sacraments of matrimony and orders add a leadership responsibility and specificity to the baptismal vocation—a particular responsibility for another person in a covenant marriage, and particular pastoral responsibilities toward a portion of the people of God.

The two sacraments share a common foundation. Both make unique demands on the time and resources of the married deacon’s family. These demands must be carefully balanced, but the sacraments are relational, not conflictual. There is no point where the sacrament of matrimony is not graced by the sacrament of orders, and no point where the sacrament of orders is not graced by the sacrament of matrimony. At no point does one sacrament end and the other begin. The two sacraments become one in the person of the deacon and in the married state of life shared with spouse and family.

In marriage, spouses are called to give themselves totally to each other in love; this is nothing more or less than a kenotic diakonia: a self-emptying in service to another. The married deacon has a responsibility based on ordination to be a public and permanent ecclesial leader-in-service who not only speaks of such diakonia but who lives it within the sacramental covenant relationship of matrimony. Both sacraments call those who receive them to model Christ and, through their respective consecrations by the Spirit, to extend this model to the church and world at large. One could easily say that matrimony focuses on the domestic church while orders focuses on the broader community. But this would be far too facile a contrast, because both rites of initiation carry a leadership dimension within the family circle itself and to the wider world.

Priorities and Obligations

Deacons must be masters of balance. Married deacons must juggle the obligations of marriage, job and ministry. It became very popular in the early days of the renewal to speak of the “deacon’s priorities”: first in relationship to God, then to family, to job (because deacons are required to provide for themselves and their families by secular occupations) and to ecclesial ministry. Many people have come to see the list as impractical and theologically problematic. If approached incorrectly, the list tends to compartmentalize the Christian vocation of discipleship. Some people have used the list as a checklist, though its simplicity is a weakness: discipleship and the choices we must make are often messy.

A deacon must find balance between the obligations of matrimony and orders; he cannot routinely shirk one to attend to the other. It has been said that because matrimony precedes ordination, marriage has a fundamental priority over ordination. While I agree up to a point, I think it cannot be an absolute priority. Ordination carries its own obligations, which one freely accepts when requesting it. Married couples travel the formation journey together so that both have a sense of what they are undertaking. My family and I have worked hard at balancing the demands of public ministry with family privacy. The fact that I am a public minister does not mean the whole family wants to be that.

Shortly after my ordination and assignment to a new parish, the pastor approached my wife, Diann, and asked what he could expect her role to be there. We struggled with how to respond. Neither of us wanted to disappoint the pastor. But Diann did not want to take on a public role; she did not feel called to do so, and she felt she needed to stay focused on our home and children. Other couples might have reached a different conclusion.

Diann used to love to sing in the church choir. As we were assigned to different parishes, however, something began to change. Choir directors sometimes assumed she would want to sing solos or be a cantor because “she’s the deacon’s wife.”

One night I came home from work to find my youngest daughter very upset. A religion teacher had taken her to task for not knowing the names of the Twelve Apostles. “Why don’t you know that? Your dad’s a deacon!” My daughter didn’t understand. “Dad, you’re the deacon, not me!”

Then I took a job as associate principal and dean of students at a Catholic high school, where our oldest daughter was an incoming freshman. Not only did she have to make an adjustment from elementary school to high school, she had to do it with her dad as the school disciplinarian and a deacon.

Such pressures have made us careful to preserve and protect family privacy. But they have also helped me to understand other family dynamics better. When someone approaches me about a family situation, I appreciate not only the challenge, but the courage it takes to tell someone else about private matters. Being married with children and grandchildren gives me a solid grounding in something all families face: how to do what is good for each other. “Kenotic self-sacrifice” is not just a theological concept; it is, “Dad, please help that person out; we’ll go to the movies later.”

Concerns

Since this article focuses the discussions our church should be having on the relationship of matrimony and orders, I have set down four other issues that theologians, formation programs (for lay ecclesial ministers, deacons and priests) and anyone else interested in ministry in today’s church would do well to consider.

1) More theological attention should be paid to the relationship of the diaconate to the presbyterate and the episcopate. For half of the church’s history, deacons were understood as “priests-in-training” (or as a theologian once quipped, “priests junior grade”). Recently, however, theologians have begun to articulate areas in which deacons are not “priestly.” While there is a common foundation of ordination, each order is unique; the unique features of the diaconate need more theological and pastoral reflection.

2) Because deacons are not priests, the work of theologians and historians like Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano must be considered vis-à-vis the ordination of women as deacons. The history of the church is clear: women have been ordained to diaconal ministry in the past and they could be again. The entire church would benefit from a full and open conversation on this issue.

3) The practical impact of diaconal service on a deacon’s family needs greater scrutiny. Yes, “only the husband is ordained.” But that truism ignores an adequate theology of matrimony in which “the two become one flesh.” Since a deacon’s spouse and children are all affected by ordination, any suggestion that attention need be paid only to the deacon is problematic. Experience gained in diaconate formation has made clear that if the spouses are to grow together, they need to share the personal, spiritual and intellectual growth offered through formation. If they do not, divisions can occur and problems result. This insight is often ignored after ordination, however, as pastors and others begin their new relationship with the deacon.

4) Attention must also be paid to the “role” of the deacon’s spouse. There is no singular role. Some wives share in a “couples’ ministry” with their husbands, giving retreats, teaching, sharing hospital or prison ministry and so on. Other wives prefer to minister in areas different from their husbands. Still others have no interest in or availability for participation in public ministry. Each response must be respected by pastors and parishioners, as well as by deacons and spouses themselves. A deacon’s spouse responds to God’s call to discipleship in ways as diverse as those of any other Christian, and ought not be “pressured” into ministry. Conversely, some spouses, highly educated and experienced ministers, are suddenly relegated to the sidelines “because they are the deacon’s wife.”

With more than four decades, since Vatican II, of a diaconate open to both married and single men, it is time for all the baptized to engage in a healthy, lively conversation about the opportunities and challenges that the renewed diaconate offers the church.

Deacon William T. Ditewig, ordained in 1990, was for five years executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for the Diaconate and the Secretariat for Evangelization. He is currently a professor

Comments

Bob Yerhot | 8/4/2009 - 9:08pm
In response to Anthony, I think a special theology cannot be invented for the diaconate, but rather derived from our faith experience of the diaconal life coupled with a good study of the overall history of the diaconate.  This faith experience is rooted in our prayer life, especially contemplating Jesus the Servant as depicted in the Gospels. There are many scriptural references to Jesus in this way. That, along with a rigorous study of how the Church has called men to the diaconate over the centuries form our theology.
Bob Yerhot | 8/1/2009 - 1:37pm
In response to Anthony's comment: "Inventing a special theology of diaconate founded on charitable service is a dead end.....shaky ground for building a theology solely for deacons when the whole church is called to charitable love.."
Any theology of the diaconate must be firmly founded on Jesus Christ the Servant. If we believe that Jesus instituted all the sacraments, then he instituted Holy Orders which by logical extension means he willed the diaconate.  
There certainly are ample Scriptural references to Jesus the Servant.  
A theology of the diaconate cannot be founded on any activity or ministry, but upon contemplating Jesus who served others.  We are formed into that "Icon" of Jesus when we do so.  Theology arises from faith and prayer bolstered with a lot of very good study.
What I find interesting is how the Spirit has formed men into Jesus the Servant over the centuries, given cultural contexts, social and ecclesial needs.
Bob Yerhot | 7/30/2009 - 2:25pm
Regarding the question of opening ordination of women to the diaconate, I always find it of interest to see how we tend to get so focused on our contemporary concerns. It is purported that women were ordained to the diaconate in the early Church. I would appreciate an extensive listing of citations of documents that support that position.  One comment is that only the scholars should debate this. I don't know about that, but I do know from my own study of the ancient languages that a good ability to translate documents is very important, as is the ability to know the context in which these documents were written.  It is very difficult to extricate ourselves from the biases of our own personal and cultural experiences. 
A coherent solid theology of the diaconate must rise from a thorough understanding of the entire history of the diaconate from its earliest years to the present.  This would include all those years from about 800AD to the Council of Trent and the presence or absence of women in the order. It also would include, I hope, an understanding of the diaconate in the Eastern Churches.
 
Lisa Maechling Debbeler | 7/29/2009 - 10:05am
I have a nagging feeling in my gut that the diaconate subtly supports an ordination practice that is painfully broken in our church. I know wonderful people who are deacons. Deacons do good work. Still, I feel an instinctual resentment at the ways the diaconate 1) stillexcludes women, and 2) enables the current ordination policy. Deacons fill some staffing shortages, and they reinforce the clericalism that chokes lively faith

in action.

 

The discussion about the role of wives seems silly to me. The wives are put in a publicly and structurally subordinate position, no matter how personally supportive or ministerially active they are. What are we doing when we hold them up as models? And, speaking of subordinate women, it could be said that we offer ordination as “bonus,” if
you will, for men in the deaconate formation programs, while (mostly) women in the lay pastoral ministry programs study much the same material, undergo similar faith formation, and end up doing similar work without the sacramental privileges. Would many of these men be willing to study for pastoral certification and work in parishes if they were not offered the prestige of ordination at the conclusion of their studies?

 

I am a little afraid of my reactions on this topic because they are not informed by research or even much experience. They seem, well, small and angry. But my reactions persist even upon
reflection. So, I wonder, what reactions are my peers in the pew having? Are there any theologians or scholars out there writing about whether the diaconate ministry perpetuates harm?

 

Lisa Maechling Debbeler

adriano | 7/24/2009 - 7:40am
When we will see a jesuit permanent deacon?
Edison Woods | 7/23/2009 - 7:45pm
I for one am disturbed by an ever growing tendency in the Catholic Church to forget what it means to be universal in one's approach to worship. And yet I am equally disturbed by the idea that a person has to wear a priest's vestments to serve God and one's fellow human beings. Therefore, those who complain about the lack of a female priesthood in the Catholic Church should remember that the point of any Christian ministry is to serve not merely to be seen to serve!
Dcn Bob DeLuca | 7/23/2009 - 11:50am
A thoughtful, substantive  and insightful essay on the permanent diaconate.  Thank you Deacon Bill!
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Anthony Gooley | 7/20/2009 - 2:15am

Perhaps one of the most significant starting points for reflection on the diaconate is found in Lumen gentium 29 which tells us that the deacon is not ordained  to the priesthood (sacerdos) but to the the ministry of service (to or of the bishop).  Unfortuntely in the text of Vatican II the part with reference to the bishop is left out but it may be found in the Egyptian text to which LG 29 refers in the footnotes. We need to start with the ministry of bishop then look at deacon and presbyter in relaitionto the ministry of the bishop which is simply described as a diakonia (LG 24).

Bill is correct to note that we are unlikely to receive the ministry of deacon without a more compete understanding of the sacrament of orders and the relationship between each ministry. Our practice is still to regard the priestly ministry as the pinnacle and source of all ministry (not the episcopate as Vat II taught). Bishops still regard themselves as priests with a pointy hat, as we did in the theology of orders immediately prior to Vatican II. How many bishops celebrate the anniversary of diaconal ordination? For those ordianed post '69 diaconale ordination marks entry into the clerical state. How many priests (I include bishops) see themselves as acting in persona Christi, (hopelly in capitas) but do not know that all those who are ordianed act in persona Christi capitas (deacons, presbyters and bishops) (Cat 1581)? Our practice and langauge belies our true beliefs.

Inventing a special theology of diaconate founded on charitable service is a dead end. It is not scriptural (which John N Collin's and Anni Hentschel have cleary demonstrated) and is shaky ground for building a theology solely for deacons when the whole church is called to charitable love (which is not diakonia) in any case. Kenosis is not going to get us any closer either. Not text in Scripture which uses kenosis referes to deacons or to ministry. (For that matter forget towels, bowls and jugs, care of John 13, as embles and images for deacons since the diakon words do not appear in this story either)

Renewed Diaconate opens up the Church to fresh thinking about ministry, clerical life, marriage and orders, ministry in communion/koinonia, ordination of women as deacons and the sacrament of orders. Engaging with it can be fruitful for the Church but it is not easy for us to embrace.
We seem to have rather tentatively, perhaps even fearfully, accpeted that the diaconate is a fruit of the Council which the Spirit gives the Church. But one cannot help think that out very confused and timid practice around appointment, formation and remuneration of deacons has something to do with an "Arian heresy" of the diaconate.  Somehow we regard deacons as not quiet clergy and not quite laity, a special one off production much as Arius thought of Jesus' humanity and divinity.  Unles we challenge the "heresy" we will not fully receive the ministry of deacons in the Church.

Shannon | 7/18/2009 - 11:53pm
I found it interesting to be on interview panels for potential deacon candidates more than 20 years ago. Wives were always asked whether or not they supported their husband's call to ministry. Husbands were never asked if they supported their wives' call to ministry-until I started asking. It was a jolt for most men, both potential candidates and those panel members, clergy and lay.
We have done a dismal job talking about vocation springing from baptism.
Leonard SCLAFANI | 7/17/2009 - 2:36am
          (Correction of previous comment)
           All people of God are called to diakonia. We are all called to live a life of service by virtue of our creation and our continuing creation.
          The intellectual realm of our lives looks to satisify our need to fix, ameliorate conflict, deal with the ever present tensions of life, and mediate those forces in this world that we some how alow to have power over us and our lives, and in some ways make "a god" or even in some instances "the god".
          In the contemplative realm of life, none of this really matters. All answers lie in the creator and only the creator. Once we settle into that realm, all division really disappears and we live life out of the creative love that draws us to the life of service institutional diakonia tries to emulate.
          Married or celebate truly does not in the eyes of God make a difference. Only in institution and the dualistic thinking of the human ego is married or celebate  given life and power. 
          Of course it is not strange to the contemplative seeing humanity do what humanity does so well; that is trying to be in God while we look for the worldly answers rather than being in God truly and implementing the Godly answers, all simply taught to us by Jesus, the Christ. 
Deacon Phillip | 7/16/2009 - 1:22am
Cognitive expressions of what is to be and what was keep us from the actual call to justice in the Church. Positioning and power plays are the human responses to insecurity and selfishness. What is in it for me must be placed aside and we must without question welcome all to be Priest, Deacons and religious. The calling must come from God and not from the disecting of people into categories as is the human condition of prejudice and inequality. Justice cannot be led by injustice. Each calling has a character that is given to the person receiving the vow. Why is this character not shared with all.  Jesus said to them,"allow her to wipe my feet with her tears".
 I had the honor of holding Mother Teresa in my arms and I hold the dying in my arms with the same love Mother had for the discarded. As a Hospice Chaplain we all die and we all decide to be with God or without God. Let us speak to each other as Jesus spoke to the least of us, promote one another to the highest potential.
There are those waiting to serve.
Cheri Hall | 7/15/2009 - 9:55pm
Thank you Bill for the article. As Church there is still so much formation and education to be "done" as to the sacrament of Holy Orders- to/for bishop, diaconate & priesthood. Those who have be formed in the Diaconate know that it is about "being a deacon" not " doing deacon things", if married "being a deacon couple" and hopefully experiencing a "Diaconate community". As I have lived this journey with my husband I am more and more humbled that we often are seen as models/mentors/Icons for others in our Church.
Out of reverence to the sacrament of matrimony every Diaconiate formation process should offer, facilliate & encourage full participation of the spouse during the formation process- If not the Church opens herself to the possibility of causing strife within the spousal relationship.    
Also, weither we accept it or not there are married clergy (priest & deacons); unordained diaconate women;and almost all wives have NO desire to be ordained. "One deacon in the family is enough!"
          
deacon gordon kenny | 7/15/2009 - 3:06pm
It's probably unkind to say a large married presbyterate could be financially unsound because with their large families (no artificial birth control) their need of sound housing, food, education, etc....etc.... many parishes would be unable to have a married priesthood.
Joseph Owen | 7/15/2009 - 1:46pm
We all must realize that the potential for female deacons is a mute point.  We need to forget about what good it may do for the people we serve and just serve the people and perform our ministerial duties with the gifts God has given us. Only God knows if it will be for the good of the Church.  If God so desires the restoration of a female inclusive deaconate, it shall happen.  Until then, get to work. 
Deacon Leo | 7/15/2009 - 12:06pm
          All people of God are called to diakonia; we are all called to live a life of service by virtue of our creation and our continuing creation.
          The intelledtual realm of our lives looks to satisify our need to fix, ameliorate conflict, deal with the ever present tensions of life, and mediate thoses forces in this world that we some how give power over us and our lives, and in some ways make "a god" or even "the god".
          In the contemplative realm of life, none of this really matters. All answers lie in the creator and only the creator. Once we settle into that realm, all division really disappears and we live life out of the creative love that draws us to the life of service institutional diakonia to be.
          Married or celebate truly does not in the eyes of God make a difference. Only in institution is that given life and power. 
          Of course it is not strange to the contemplative seeing humanity do what humanity does so well, that is not be in God while we look for the worldly answers rather than be in God and implementing the Godly answers. 
THOMAS EVRARD | 7/15/2009 - 10:08am
In May, 2000 at the parish reception for my ordination to the Diaconate, my wife Gwen and I were conversing with two women both of whom were very active in the Church. "Gwen", said one of the ladies, "How does it feel to be married to a saint? Without a wink or a breath, my wife replied:
"Well, it took awhile but I think that Tom is finally getting used to it."
With gratitude and grace for Saint Gwen by my side we celebrate 40 years of marriage and 9 years of humble service as a deacon.
Deacon Tom and Gwen Evrard
William Ditewig | 7/15/2009 - 8:31am
Since several readers have already commented on my statement regarding the possible ordination of women as deacons, perhaps the following expansion will be helpful.
1) On several occasions, the Holy See was approached with the question, "Does the teaching of "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" and similar documents - which restrict presbyteral ordination to men - was applicable to deacons as well.  On every occasion, the response was that this restriction had NOT been extended to the diaconate.  Then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave the topic of the diaconate over to the International Theological Commission, and its conclusion was that the Church not yet spoken definitively on this subject.
2) Those who are interested in the historical record on this matter would do well to consult the historian-theologians I mention in the article.  Both Drs. Macy and Zagano (as well as others, of course) have examined medieval ordinals and other texts and in well-documented studies, and their research offer most interesting insights which need to be discussed and debated.  It is quite common popularly for some to say, "Women were never ordained", but that does not at all seem to be the case when one examines that actual historical documents.  As Dr. Macy notes, the Church's description of what "ordination" means went through a radical redefinition in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Of course, one is completely free to disagree with the conclusions reached by these scholars, and that is why I called for a full and complete conversation on the issue.
I hope this helps a bit!
God bless,
Bill Ditewig
Phyllis Zagano | 7/15/2009 - 6:31am
Mere mention of the restoration of the female diaconate in the Latin Church raises hysterical hackels across the board and diverts the discussion from the needs of the Church to some imagined line that cannot be crossed. Those opposed as well as those in favor of the restoration of women to the order of deacon need to consder several points: 1) Whether women were sacramentally ordained in the past or not is not determinative of the current needs of and possibilities for today's Church; 2) The diaconate is a creation of the Church (Acts 6:1-6) and as such is not bound by the argument from authority (Christ chose only male apostles) regarding priesthood; 3) While there is a modern Instruction from Rome telling bishops not to train women for the diaconate because Rome does not want to ordain women deacons, there are no higher authoritative statements on the matter than those Conciliar and Papal documents of the early Church that state at what age and under what conditions a woman is to be ordained to the diaconate. Let the conversation continue, in charity.
deacon Mike Evans | 7/15/2009 - 4:32am
The church continues to treat the married state as if it is a second class way to live. It assumes that the spirituality of celibacy is superior in every way and sees the married state as a limitation and distraction to true spiritual development. This arcane theology deprecates fully 95% of the membership of the church and ignores the vast accumulated wisdom of the past and present host of married people in the world. It also ignores the example of unionate, orthodox and protestant clergy who are routinely married persons and happily and successfully ministering to a wide flock. Instead, we could focus on the vast amount of pastoral work accomplished by deacons that would not even exist without them (and their families).
Deacon Mike Ryan | 7/14/2009 - 9:43pm
An  article opening up very significant points which must be  recognised particularly by those  involved in Diaconal formation programmes. The points raised  should also be  widely studied and  debated. viz:the diaconal order in its own right:  relationship between diaconate and  presbyterate: role of the deacon's spouse. Her freedom to discern this  in ways that are most comfortable to her. Addressing the difficult queries   "Is the church taking my husband away from me?" : impact of diaconate upon family. While this does bring burdens and expectations it also brings revelation to family members: the ordination of women as deacons discussed from the theological  and historical -not political- point of view.
Deacon Jim | 7/14/2009 - 8:49pm
Deacon Ditewig says, "The history of the church is clear: women have been ordained to diaconal ministry in the past and they could be again."  This is a misrepresentation of Church History.  I would hope that an individual tasked with teaching in a Catholic University and responsible for diaconal formation would be more careful. 
Deacon Timothy Good | 7/14/2009 - 8:41pm
   Another great explanation and insight by Deacon Ditewig.  As married deacons, we are on the forefront of educating the church about the duality of deacon life.  The blend of sacramentality of marriage and holy orders is one that the Latin Church needs to fully plumb, but with the help of those who live the life.  We as married deacons are becoming proficient in living a life in liminality, that space where we hold the tension of marriage, occupation and pastoral care together.  It is one of our greatest blessings in life and it is one of our greatest failures in life.  Success in diaconal service depends on how well we learned the lesson of discernment, and a good lesson on juggling chainsaws is also helpful. 
   There continues to be a learning gap between the presbyterate and the diaconate in respect to the importance of the domus ecclesia.  My current view is that the home church is being overshadowed by other ecclesial tasks that are more public.  But the true strength of the deacon (married or celibate) is the home church from which he comes.  It is from this home church that the deacon has been formed fully in the faith and from which the outward ministry into the greater church is extended.  It is from this formation and the subsequent ministry that it generates that the deacon is called forth.  The community itself then recognizes this service and calls the couple on to further service and as an example to the greater church.  It is not necessarily the formal theological academic training that forms the deacon, that training only compliments and hones what is already present in the diaconal couple, the vast theology of the domus ecclesia. 
   It is imperative that the greater church places at the top of its agenda for discussion the aspect of ordained female ministry.  In my opinion, the church is not fully functional until ordained women leaders are present and participating in the life of the church.  We do our early deaconesses and deacons a great disservice to their memories by not pursuing this important matter immediately.  It would bring to the greater church a fullness in its sacramentality, a more focused participation in ministry, and a healing presence for those who have been discriminated against in the modern church.  Let us all move on to this discussion.
Cecilia Lopez | 7/14/2009 - 10:53am
You write:
historians like Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano must be considered vis-à-vis the ordination of women as deacons. The history of the church is clear: women have been ordained to diaconal ministry in the past and they could be again. The entire church would benefit from a full and open conversation on this issue.
The scholarship cited here omits the important work of Aime Georges Martimort, "Deaconesses: An Historical Study" Ignatius Press. This work in particular shows that while a "full and open conversation" might well benefit the entire Church, that conversation needs to take place among those with the education to examine the texts and evidence in the original languages. It will also require a firm grasp of how the disciplines surrounding Holy Orders have historically differed in the East and West. In a popular magazine such as this, it's a serious oversight to suggest "a full and open conversation" without being clear that such a conversation will need to be largely conducted by specialists.