The Seven Deacons

ActsChapter 6
1 At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
2 So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. 3
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. 4
The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

As I ponder about the role of the priests or for that matter parish priests in our Catholic Church today, I cannot help but think about this passage from the Acts.

What is the original role of our priests? Is it just a managerial role, to be concerned with the profit and loss and fund-raising? Or to provide sacraments to the people?

A priest can do the job of a 'deacon' but certainly, a group of 'deacons' cannot administer any sacraments like a priest.

With all due respect to priests and their vocation, by controlling everything in their little 'kingdom', it would take very little for the power to get into their head. Such that they lose focus in the taking care of parishioners and offering them spiritual food but instead be overly concerned about their physical aspects such as fund raising, rebuilding and renovations.

I wonder why there are so little spiritual programs offered on a local basis, or community services offered to the less fortunate.

But yet there are so many "fund-raising activities" going on in all churches.

Am I missing anything here?

Is there any reason behind this lack of empowerment? The cynical me questions if it's because they want to hold on to the power, so there is a lack of oppurtunities for lay people to be involved in church. So by keeping us at bay, they will keep that power of spiritual knowledge and we will continue to hold them with respect because we would not know what is the spiritual truth.

Jesus said. "No one should be called teacher". So power and prestige should be secondary for religious.

Does anyone have a different view or am I myopic?


Daniel said...

I once met an assistant priest who said that his parish priest "runs this place like a command centre, and we're only guests here".

I've often wondered why the archdiocese doesn't have any full-time deacons. They would certainly be able to help the priests in areas such as forming and maintaining small Christian communities, and giving courses on scripture and spirituality.

If I'm not wrong, married men can become deacons, but deacons cannot get married.

Incidentally, about fundraising, in most parishes this is carried out by the parishioners themselves. The parish priests merely lend their voice every now and then to rally the parishioners' efforts and to gather more funds, but the real work is being done by the parishioners themselves. At least that's how it should be, and how it is carried out in some parishes.

I can empathise with some priests who seem that they are "holding on to power". They have a big responsibility on the shoulders; running a parish is not easy. If they were to get help, who should they ask? Many people say they want to help, but it's usually to further their own agendas. How is a parish priest able to tell whether a person volunteering to help is genuine or merely wants to use the priest for ulterior motives?

It is true that some priests do hold on to power, but that power is no less safe in the hands of other power-hungry laypeople.

ChrisYeo said...

Thank you Nicholas, for having the courage to ask if power is the reason that is preventing the lay from entering church ministries.

Daniel, I think you are mistaken about fund-raising. At least with regards to the church building funds, the parish priests were definitely put in charge or coordinating the fund raising and in fact the whole rebuilding effort. The relevant point here is that priests are expected to fulfil so many roles when in fact they should not.

I also think that you are being too cynical when it comes to lay people and their "own agendas". To be fair, I think it happens, but it seems that church responsibilities are so few that only the "political-minded" ones end up fighting for them. Thus, the parish priest might end up being saddled with more than his fair share of power-hungry lay.

There needs to be concerted effort by both the clergy and the laity to change the current situation, but the first step needs to begin with the clergy.

Ironically, priests must learn to become more powerful and more secure with themselves before they can relinquish some of that power.

ChrisYeo said...

Daniel, please read your own response and tell me, how is it relevant to the original question which is, in your own words, "why the archdiocese doesn't have any full-time deacons"?

Although we take your point, how is empathising with the priests over power-hungry lay people any kind of a solution? In fact, it is argument for putting all the power into the priests hands. If lay people are always power hungry, why should we trust any of them? That, in essense, is your response.

I believe that you just wanted to point out the difficulties that a parish priest faces, but I think it is unhelpful without a further clarification of what then a parish priest, or the church, should do.

Daniel said...

Well, Chris, you're right there. I was pointing out the difficulties that parish priests face. And yes, it probably is unhelpful, because I do not have a solution of what a parish priest or the church should do. I suppose the reason for this is that it isn't an entirely clergical problem.

The laity always expects the clergy to do something about things without considering the difficulties that the clergy faces. How often have you heard the words, or even said the words: "The church should..." without realising that both the laity and the clergy are the church?

The laity expects the clergy to empower them, to train them, to give them jobs, to "give them the power". Is that not a vicious cycle that make the laity even more dependent on the clergy?

Rather than coming up with suggestions on what the church (read: the clergy) should do, maybe there should be more emphasis on what the laity should do to help the clergy. Instead of wrestling control and power from the hands of the clergy, should not the laity work towards maximising the full potential of their priests?

Are the laity carrying out their vocation as lay faithful of the church? 98% of the Catholic Church comprises the laity. It is from the laity that come priests and deacons. If there were no laity, there were no priests or deacons either, for priests and deacons exist to serve the laity.

What can the laity do to help take the burden off their priests' shoulders so that the priests can better function in their roles as priests? Firstly, the laity have to be someone that the priests can trust. When the priests ask for help, respond, even in the littlest of ways like cleaning the church or maintaining the parish website. If a person cannot be trusted in even the littlest of things, how can he be trusted with bigger responsibilities?

Secondly, the laity can be someone that their priest can trust enough to talk to, or maybe even complain to. The laity can listen to what their priest is saying and what he needs, instead of being focused on their own needs all the time.

Thirdly, the laity can serve the church (read: both the clergy and the laity) without expecting anything in return. How many times have you heard volunteers quit because the priest chose someone else to do an important job, even though they have put so much time and effort into it?

Finally, the laity can dialogue with their priests and bishop more frequently. The priests and bishop are often so busy carrying out their jobs that they don't hear the complaints and thus the needs of the people.

One good example was the parish of the Holy Trinity. At a time when there were only three priests there, the laity gathered to meet with the bishop where they voiced out their problems. A representative of the laity in that parish did a study on the parish numbers and worked out that there were about 3000 parishioners to 1 priest in the parish, which meant that some parishioners never got the chance to speak to their priests at all.

If the bishop never heard from the laity, he would never have known about their problems, and it would have remained as complaints among the laity against the clergy. Having heard from the laity, and examined the fruits of their study, the bishop was therefore informed and was able to make suitable responses, one of which was to send them a fourth priest.

In the passage that Nick gave us, we see that it is the people who first informed the apostles about their needs i.e. they dialogued with their leaders. In today's context, and especially in Singapore, it would be the Parish Pastoral Council, where the laity presents to their leaders their needs for the community.

Having heard from the laity, the apostles were able to respond, but again response had to come from the laity, who presented seven trustworthy men to lighten the load from the shoulders of the leaders, so that the apostles could do what they were originally called to do.

In conclusion, the clergy needs to hear from the people, but not in individual complaints or calls for action, but a united voice to make the jobs of the bishop and priests lighter. Instead of simply suggesting, conduct full studies, highlight the problem to your leaders and suggest practical, well-thought-out solutions, and even steps to carry them out, including recommendations of trustworthy laypersons.

That would be my solution. What do the rest of you think?