Deacons from across the country met July 22-26 in New Orleans for the 2018 National Diaconate Congress.
Among those representing the Diocese of Cleveland was Deacon Dave Kushner, who heads the permanent diaconate formation program for the diocese.
Attendees heard Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, talk about how the ministry of the deacon has changed during Church history. He said today deacons are a sign of what Christians are called to be in their service of God and neighbor. The diaconate is crucial to the Church’s life, he said, emphasizing the deacons’ threefold ministry of word, sacrament and charity, “permeated by a commitment to charity and justice.”
“The deacon brings the church’s ordained ministry to every dimension of human life — from workplace, marketplace to home, to school, to hospital, nursing home and prison,” the cardinal told deacons attending the event.
The permanent diaconate was reinstated in the Church in 1967 by Pope Paul VI.
Cardinal Tobin said deacons are necessary in today’s Church, “And, not simply as a steppingstone to the priesthood or as a remedy to the shortage of priests. The Second Vatican Council and all the popes that have followed agree that ‘diakonia’ or service is a (fundamental) element of the Church,” he said. “Without forms of the diakonia, the Church is no longer the Church; it becomes something else.”
Cardinal Tobin thanked the deacons for their service and their wives for their continued support. He said the deacon’s life of action, charity and service is modeled after Jesus’ life and was written about by St. Mark: “For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
He believes that permanent deacons have a second gift: to close the chasm between faith and love, a chasm that divides the Eucharist from daily life. By their “deceivingly simple gesture” at the Eucharistic table — dismissing the assembly when Mass ends — he believes deacons can close this gap.
“It is the deacon who has the final word: ‘The Mass has ended, go in peace,'” Cardinal Tobin said.