Parramatta Deacons’ formation weekend 2021
Members of the Permanent Diaconate community of the Diocese of Parramatta gathered at St. Joseph’s Baulkham Hills for their February formation weekend on 12-14 February, using the opportunity to get to know more about their historical role in the Church and deepening their understanding of human flourishing.
Organiser Dr Michael Tan, currently a candidate for the diaconate, was instituted as a lector for the diocese, as part of his journey to ordination. Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, also attended to celebrate Mass with the 17 deacons and their wives who attended.
Dr Tan outlines some of the highlights of the weekend and his own personal reflection below.
In his book published last year, Deacons Today, Deacon Anthony Gooley put forward the argument that there are misunderstandings on the true nature of the diaconate leading to today’s situation of not being fully received into the life of the Church.
In his presentation, Deacon Anthony led the Parramatta deacons through the various interpretations that have been put forward about the role of deacons.
Firstly, said Deacon Anthony, there is the historical (and unbiblical) understanding of the diaconate as social work or dispenser of charity. Alternatively, there is a more biblical-based understanding of diaconate as primarily that of being sent by an authority, the bishop, who has the fullness of Holy Orders in being “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood.”
Within the unity of holy orders (bishop, presbyter, deacon), the deacon exercises a ministry of the word, the altar and of charity. His ministry is the expression of his identity of being a herald of the gospel, called to proclaim the Word and being sent on a ministry of evangelisation by his bishop.
The Fundamentals of Caring
In a more light-hearted session, participants watched the 2016 American road-comedy The Fundamentals of Caring, in which Ben, an out-of-work writer takes a six-week course to become a registered caregiver. In this course, he learns a model of care based on the mnemonic ALOHA (Ask, Listen, Observe, Help, Ask again). He is then hired by Elsa, a bank office manager to care for her 18-year-old son Trevor. Trevor is in a wheelchair with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a rare genetic disorder. Ben and Trevor go on a road trip to visit the world’s “deepest pit”.
The movie in many ways illustrated the multifaceted nature of care – all the characters were wounded individuals in many ways. Yet, in attempting to care as best they could for others, the possibility of redemption and reconciliation was opened up to the characters. This possibility of reconciliation and redemption is always fragile, and cannot be taken for granted. I was left wondering about the adequacy of a six-week course on caring in preparing a person to care for someone with very complex medical and personal issues – the model of care that Ben learnt may be a start, but in some ways, his tasks of caring would need the backup and support of a professional disability service in order for him to care in a safe and professional manner.
Professor Anthony Maher led the group through a session on Human flourishing. This was based on Pope Francis’ latest book, Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. Professor Maher grounded his session on the four pillars of human flourishing – Philosophical, Biblical, Psychological and Theological. He made the important distinction between human flourishing as a secular notion, and human flourishing as grounded in a foundation of our relationship with God in Jesus, who has come that we may have human life to the full.
In terms of human flourishing as grounded in our relationship with Jesus, Professor Maher first asks the questions: “What is flourishing?” “Why is it important?” “How does it work?” “How does it relate to me, my family, community and ministry?” “What do I think and feel?”
Finally, he asks: “What am I going to do to enhance human flourishing through my ministry?”
Etymologically, says Professor Maher, human flourishing comes from a Greek word meaning “good spirit.” Aristotle considered human flourishing to be the highest human good, as ‘doing and living well.’ St. Thomas Aquinas understood that this means living a virtuous life, through which we discover that the purpose of our lies is to flourish, to become what we are, in the image of God. This means that we recognise the reality of the forces opposed to human flourishing, which is a way of thinking about sin. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the bonds that tie us to sin have been broken, and we have been redeemed in the blood of Jesus, so that our journey to human flourishing becomes a journey to faith, hope and love.
The deacons were led to consider the dispositions in relation to human flourishing. The transcendental precepts (‘be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible’) provided a framework for considering the ‘how’ of human flourishing. In this respect, Andrew Fuller, who has worked in building resilience with young people, sees flourishing as being faithful to the truth of who we are – this means loving relationships.
It is loving relationships that enables all of God’s people to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to be a People of Hope, who are able to write “a new page of history, a page full of hope” (Fratelli tutti 231). This hope is founded on the Cross – which is the ultimate statement of God’s love for us. It is divine “love that produces hope, and it is great hope that produces great love.” To this end, Pope Francis, in Fratelli tutti, calls all Christians to educate their hearts, so that “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” (Ft 56)
In creating the conditions for Human flourishing, said Professor Maher, we need to integrate critical, creative thinking (head) that engages with building strong, loving relationships (heart) and finally, to live the beatitudes (hands). Head, heart and hands work together in a unified in order to live our vocation well as intentional disciples of Jesus called to flourish as a People full of hope for today’s world.
2022 National Deacons Conference
The 2022 National Deacons Conference will be held at St. Joseph’s Retreat Centre, Baulkham Hills, from 13 to 16 October, 2022.
Focus topics include:
- Ministry and Family Life
- Ministering to a post-Plenary Council Church
- Ministering to a Church and community that is gradually emerging from the COVID19 pandemic.
For more information about the 2022 National Deacons Conference, contact [email protected].com.au.
View images from the Permanent Diaconate formation weekend here or below.
This article is an edited version of an original article by Michael Tan.