Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, Oh My!
Our Second Reading from The Letter to the Hebrews gives occasion for considering ordained ministry and its place in the Church. When The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the 7 Sacraments it calls 2, Sacraments at the Service of Communion: Marriage and Holy Orders. To say that these Sacraments help serve ‘communion’ is speaking about more than the Communion we receive at Eucharist. These two Sacraments build up the Church in the unity of a family founded on love and trust. Let’s focus on Holy Orders for now.
There are 3 Holy Orders: bishop, priest, deacon. Each of these Orders share in the vocation to be at the service of the People of God. It’s not that bishops, priests, and deacons aren’t called to witness to the Gospel in the wider world, but that, in fact, will never be their forté. It is not priests or deacons after all who are as involved in the affairs of the world. We mostly don’t hold down positions in public or civic life, mostly we don’t raise children. Our purpose is to help build up the family of the Church in the life of faith. It’s important to remember a few things about us clergy that are very clear in our reading from Hebrews: 1) we’re human, 2) we’re sinners, but 3) God calls us to love you like our family. That’s why it has become a tradition to call a priest, “Father”.
Deacons in a special way are drawn from a parish community by the Spirit to help lead that people in service. Deacons are often married men who help show the bond between the secular world and the life of the Church. They may hold down lay jobs, but when they become a deacon they receive a new call with their family to serve God’s People in a dedicated way. Deacons cannot offer all of the Sacraments, but they are not less than priests. For all clergy it is not as much about the things we do as the relationship we have with people. It’s like family. Specific jobs/services flow out of the foundational relationship.
While deacons help connect the People of God with the people in our world, priests help to keep all of us connected within Church. We lead whole communities, celebrating with them the holy mysteries that connect and give meaning to our lives. Deacons assist priests in their numerous tasks for encouraging God’s People, and the priests in turn are the helpers for the bishop.
Please pray for men of every age to listen to God’s call to ordained service, and for priests to respond to God’s call to service as a bishop. There are, in fact, shortages in every one of the Orders. Like my pastor growing up used to say, “Priests don’t grow in mystical cabbage patches, watered with holy water! They grow in you!” He would say this as he waved his hand out over all our families. He’s right. Family is the place where we learn how to love and serve, both in the world and the Church. Please pray that all bishops, priests, and deacons will (as our Ordination says) “excel in every virtue: in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline, and in holiness of life.”
Please do pray for vocations of bishops too. That is a way that the People of God help our Pope in his ministry. Pray for men to be chosen as bishop that you would trust as the head of our family of faith. Write to Bishop Callahan and let him know about priests that you think would be a good bishop! That’s how bishops are picked. The Pope asks for the advice of bishops. Let’s help with our feedback! To close, here’s a poem by Lacordaire that I have always loved about priesthood:
To live in the midst of the world
without wishing its pleasures.
To be a member of each family,
yet belonging to none.
To share all suffering,
to penetrate all secrets,
to heal all wounds.
To go from men to God
and offer Him their prayers;
to return from God to men
to bring pardon and hope.
To have a heart of fire for Charity,
and a heart of bronze for Chastity.
To teach and to pardon,
console and bless always.
My God, what a life!
And it is yours,
O priest of Jesus Christ.