Chicago Studies Fall/Winter 2023

Page 38

The Interior Life of the Deacon and Those to Whom He Ministers By David W. Fagerberg, Ph.D.

You have invited a retired professor to say something about the interior life of a deacon, 1 so I suppose a warning is in order, and there are many in the spiritual tradition from which I could choose. I have selected this one from Louis Lallemant: In vain do we practise so much spiritual reading, and consult so many books, in order to acquire the science of the interior life: the unction and the light which teaches come from above. A pure soul will learn more in one month by the infusion of grace, than others in several years by the labour of study. More beyond all comparison is learnt by the practice of virtues, than by all the spiritual books and all the speculations in the world. 2 So there’s that, then. Nevertheless, I am going to turn for help to some books out of habit. They come from a group of spiritual writers whom I previously neglected, but began reading recently. They wrote between 1500 and 1900, and since they all deal with the command Christ gave to “deny yourself and follow me,” I call them theologians of abnegation. On the one hand, they are well-known; on the other hand, they are ignored. I am enlisting their aid to describe the interior life. The Deacon as Herald of Christ As often happens (to me, at least) this talk was fully composed in my mind before I got around to writing it down. It was composed while I was seated in a pew last January at the ordination of eighteen men to the permanent diaconate in my home diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend. Out of all the words in the ordination rite, one stepped up to present itself to me. Here is the text and its rubric: Vested as deacons, the newly Ordained go to the Bishop and kneel before him. He places the Book of Gospels in the hands of each one and says: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” 3 The deacon becomes a herald. The deacon is made a herald at his ordination. He isn’t made the bishop’s herald; rather, the reception of the Book of Gospels indicates he will be heralding Christ. With this word ricocheting around my mind I went to check the etymology and synonyms of the word—I like to do that—and as I expected, this thickened the word for me. As a noun, herald means a messenger or an envoy, but as a verb it means “to sound the praises of.” 4 A perfect description! The deacon is ordained a cleric who sounds the praises of Christ in the Church and to the world. Here are some more definitions from various dictionaries. Listen for descriptions of the deacon’s heraldic ministry. First, it means a sign that something is about to happen; something that


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