by Leon Suprenant
People are finding all kinds of ways to make the most of all the extra time we have at home these days.
I’m a little nerdier than most — plus, it’s my job — so I’ve spent the time rereading the voluminous 2002 report on the permanent diaconate by the International Theological Commission under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
This document reviewed the development of the permanent diaconate in recent decades and outlined paths for further growth as deacons become more established in local churches.
One recurrent theme that I detected in my reading is the idea that deacons exercise the role of “bridge or mediation between the hierarchy and the faithful.”
This doesn’t mean that deacons are some sort of hybrid entity within the church, as deacons have received the sacramental grace of holy orders. Still, they are uniquely poised as husbands, fathers and co-workers to help bring the Gospel to life in the midst of the world.
This idea of the deacon as a “bridge” or “mediator” fits in well with the idea from Vatican II (1962-65) that the church is a “communion” of all those who are alive in Christ. It is a relational model of the church that stresses our profound connectedness in the body of Christ.
As I’m reading all this, I’m acutely aware that we are living in this strange time of “social distancing,” where a premium is rightly put on the need for “disconnectedness” until the pandemic passes.
We experience this phenomenon all the time in public spaces — and even in the church, where Sunday Mass itself tragically has been relegated to a mere YouTube experience for most of us.
So, I’m wondering, how do we as Catholics foster communion during this time of universal separation? And how can deacons help bridge the “social distance” in appropriate, life-giving ways?
This is something all of us are learning on the fly, but I think we have realized a few things already.
First, it’s extremely important that we use this “quantity time” to spend “quality time” building up our community at home, which is known as the “domestic church.”
Second, I think we are all seeing the value of social media and staying connected with others without even leaving our living rooms.
And above all, third, we see the value of prayer as our anchor amid the uncertainty of these times. And we are finding creative ways, again often through social media, to pray with others throughout the world. After all, our communion in the church is not merely physical, or even flesh and blood, but the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, through whom nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.