by Father Mike Stubbs
A number of churches in the Kansas City area cooperate to provide a hot meal for those who are needy every day of the year at what once was called the St. Mary’s Food Kitchen. It began in the basement of that former church, but now is located in the Wilhelmina Gill Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Those who participate in this worthy ministry are following in the footsteps of the first deacons. We hear about them in Sunday’s first reading, Acts 6:1-7. Because of complaints that the widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution,” the Twelve Apostles pick seven men to assist in that task.
The “daily distribution” mentioned in the reading involves the distribution of food. That becomes clear in the statement by the apostles that these assistants are needed “to serve at table.”
Similarly, the widows in question are needy, without a regular income, since they are without a breadwinner. Widows figured prominently in the ranks of the poor 2,000 years ago. Whenever the Scriptures mention widows, they have the poor in mind. In other words, the situation envisioned in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles closely resembles that of the food kitchen in Kansas City, Kan., which seeks to provide food on a daily basis to the needy.
These first deacons of the church devoted themselves to ministry to the poor. As a consequence, the deacons also took on the responsibility of administering the material goods of the church, since those goods would often go to address the needs of the poor.
The ordinary Catholic in the pew may see a deacon serving at the altar during Mass, or hear a deacon preaching. At the same time, those liturgical functions do not represent the most important part of the deacon’s ministry.
The word “deacon” means “servant.” A deacon is ordained to provide an example of service for the whole church. Above all, that service is aimed at those most in need. When ministering at the altar, the deacon can bring that spirit of service to the liturgy and witness to the importance of service for all those who follow Christ.
Christ calls all of us to become servants: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). That holds true for all of us, even though we may not all be ordained as deacons. Those ordained as deacons are called to provide us with an example of the service that is meant to be the mark of every Christian.