Each month, when the deacon candidates meet for our training, one of the candidates takes responsibility for leading the group in morning or evening prayer, from Friday evening to Sunday morning and to offer a reflection. We do this to practice our leadership in prayer and our preaching. (Hopefully, we are also practicing what we preach!) We get helpful feedback from Dcn Tim Elliott, our director, and comments from the other candidates as they see fit to share. This last Sunday morning was my turn, so I offer here my reflections for morning prayer for Sunday, the 28th Week in Ordinary Time. We had just been instituted as Lectors of the Church two weeks earlier.
My brothers, two weeks ago we each knelt before Bishop Stika with our hands on the Book of the Gospels. He prayed over us, “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow in the hearts of his people.”
What does it mean to be faithful in handing on the word of God? I think, first and foremost, it means to read the Scriptures with the heart of the Church so that we, as lectors, will hand on to the people the faith of the Church, the faith of the Apostles. No one is saved by the Gospel of Bob, so it would be of little use, and even an abandonment of my responsibility as a lector, to read and hand on my understanding of the Scriptures. As such, it is for each of us to know the Scriptures as the Church understands them, to continue the study of the Scriptures we have begun during our diaconal training, to develop within our own hearts what Pope Francis calls “a living and tender love for the written word of God.”
In light of our institution as lectors, I think it appropriate to call attention to another recent event. On September 30, the 1600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome, Pope Francis promulgated his Apostolic Letter, Devotion to Sacred Scripture. In his Letter, the Holy Father honors the contributions of St. Jerome, the Scripture scholar and Doctor of the Church.
Pope Francis offers St. Jerome as a model for all Christians in their approach to the Bible, but I would like to consider how St. Jerome is especially a model for us as future deacons. Pope Francis explains that the Scriptures are not always easily understood. “This shows the need,” he writes, “for the mediation of an interpreter, who can exercise a ‘diaconal’ function on behalf of the person who cannot understand the meaning of the prophetic message. Here we think of the deacon Philip, sent by the Lord to approach the chariot of the eunuch who was reading a passage from Isaiah. … ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ asked Philip, and the eunuch replied: ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’”
“Jerome,” Francis says, “can serve as our guide because, like Philip, he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus …” When we as deacons guide others in an understanding of the Scriptures, we do well to keep in mind that we are guiding them with the Church to Jesus.
As well, St. Jerome’s passion for the Scriptures was not limited to that of a scholar, pouring over the books for the sake only of his own edification. St. Jerome was also a preacher of and commentator on the word of God, and in his preaching and writing exhibited a prophet’s zeal for speaking the truth with passion. In our contemporary culture where truth is relative and tolerance the only virtue, it is easy to be tempted to accommodate the culture with an understanding of the Scriptures that is suited for those only interested in advice for a happy life, peaceful co-existence, or temporal success. It is easy to forget that the ultimate purpose for our preaching is to bring others to Christ for the sake of their salvation.
Again, Pope Francis writes, “Jerome’s complete devotion to Scripture is shown by his impassioned way of speaking and writing, similar to that of the ancient prophets. From them, this Doctor of the Church drew the inner fire that became a vehement and explosive word necessary for expressing the burning zeal of one who serves the cause of God. … Jerome thus emerges as an uncompromising witness to the truth.”
“An uncompromising witness to the truth.” No better description could be written for a deacon of the Church! As lectors announcing the word of God, as teachers guiding others in an understanding of the word of God, as preachers exhorting the faithful to live in the word of God, it is for us, inspired by the same Holy Spirit that enflamed Jerome, to take up the mantel of courage and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with fervor for the salvation of souls. Because on that great and terrible day, we will be called to account for the talents he gave us. On that great and terrible day, He will surely judge between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the damned. On that great and terrible day, the trumpet will sound and the hosts of heaven will shout, “This is Jesus! This is the King of kings and Lord of Lords! This is He Who is our salvation! Every knee shall bow!”
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.