As we approach the celebration of the birth of the infant Jesus this Christmas, I will reflect on marriage and family life from the perspective of the Permanent Deacon. Being married, the deacon lives in the space between the vocations of Holy Orders and Sacramental Marriage. In this sense, his basic baptismal call to follow Jesus as a missionary disciple is lived through these two vocational sacraments.
Being ordained for ministry in communion with his bishop, the deacon is sent to minister to the needs of the diocese. He is to stand at the margins of Church and society, in the messiness of life so well described by Pope Francis as a field hospital. At the same time, together with his wife, the deacon also lives a life devoted to servant leadership of his family, his domestic church.
It is the same Jesus who leads him and walks with him in both his marriage and in his diaconal ministry. Hence, there is to be no conflict, substitution of one sacrament for another, or neglect of one sacrament in preference to another. Neither is there to be some sort of ‘merger’ where there are no boundaries between ministry time and time for home life. Neither is there to be such a rigid boundary that he lives a compartmentalised life, with diaconate ministry in one compartment and married life in another compartment.
Theologically, in living at the intersection between these two sacraments, the deacon is in a unique position to view synodality as the fruit, and outcome of the communion between ordained ministry as a permanent deacon and sacramental marriage and servant leadership of his domestic church in communion with his wife. The deacon walks the synodal path together with his bishop in his ministry, just as he walks together with his wife in servant leadership of his domestic church.
We are currently preparing for the Synod of Bishops in 2023. The theme of the Synod is – for a synodal church: communion, participation and mission. For the Synod, Pope Francis is inviting us to reflect on how we as the People of God can journey together. How are we called to mission together to proclaim the Gospel in today’s world, at both local, regional, national and global levels? What steps is the Holy Spirit inviting us to take to grow into a synodal Church?
The deacon is called to be a herald of the Gospel by virtue of his ordination. He exercises his ministry by believing what he reads (i.e. the Gospel), teaching what he believes and practising what he teaches. In exercising his ministry, he walks synodally with both his bishop and the people that he is sent to minister to. Being sent and authorised, he ministers to the People of God in proclaiming the Gospel through Word, Sacrament and Service.
At the same time, while recognising that his marriage and servant leadership of his domestic church is not ministry, nevertheless, the diaconal call as a herald of the Gospel can still inspire the deacon to reflect on how his ordination call to ‘believe what he reads, teach what he believes and practise what he teaches’ can inspire, guide, inform and encourage him in his servant leadership of his family in communion with his wife. In this way, he exercises servant leadership of his domestic church synodally in the sense of walking with, and together with his wife and family.
The 2022 National Deacons Conference will be held at St. Joseph’s Retreat Centre, Baulkham Hills, from 13 to 16 October 2022. For more information about the 2022 National Deacons Conference, contact email@example.com.
Deacon Michael Tan is a recently ordained Permanent Deacon of the Diocese of Parramatta and the Conference Convenor for the 2022 National Deacons Conference. He is currently serving at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst.