The deacon is a “man on the threshold”, sacramentally ordained and totally immersed in society.

Deacon Laurent Szymczak is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Rennes in the Brittany region of northwest France.

He offers this insight today in La Croix: 

During the Synod on Synodality’s long reflection on the Church, and the conclusions and proposals drawn from it, not a word was said about permanent deacons! At least not here in France. As a deacon myself, I feel we lost a great opportunity to highlight our role as key players in the Church.

Key players? I admit the expression is a bit strong, when you consider the limited role permanent deacons are usually given in France. Just observe the way they are “used” or, worse still, made invisible at the behest of the clergy themselves, despite – it must be acknowledged and applauded – the bishop’s paternal benevolence and concern for them. Of course, you will always find happy deacons who are very much at home in their Church. But there are many, far too many, who suffer from a crisis of existence, despite the fact that, ordained by the bishop, they are clerics in their own right. They are a unique and incredibly rich link between the bishop and the priests, on the one hand, and the People of God and people in general, on the other.

Often married and fathers, these men have or have had professional activities, as well as commitments to associations, sports, politics, trade unions and charity work, all of which help them to live squarely in today’s increasingly secularized society. They are thus, by this very fact, witnesses that the other members of the clergy, often confined in their religious world, should constantly question in order to move our Church forward, as the pope asks us to do.

I’ve noticed, for example, that in the presentation of a particular diocese, the emphasis is on its vital forces, citing the number of priests, lay people on ecclesial mission, etc., but not at all the deacons! Elsewhere, I’ve noted with amazement that newly ordained priests had never heard of permanent deacons while at the seminary!

And what can we say about a parish which, believing itself to have too many priests, lives in an enclosed clericalism, politely accepting the deacon without truly integrating him, i.e. without involving him in the life of the parish, its strategic meetings and, above all, without living a true fraternity with him. At France’s Mission Congress in 2021, I was struck by the figure of the priest, which was highlighted on several occasions – with a special meal or specific prayer placing the priest so high that some were embarrassed – while totally omitting deacons. And the list goes on.

It could be argued that this attitude runs counter to the current movement to involve the laity more in action and decision-making at all levels of the Church. No, the one does not prevent the other and, better still, the one leads to the other, is its complement. The deacon is a “man on the threshold”, sacramentally ordained and totally immersed in society. He can much more easily collaborate with the laity and provide the indispensable link between Catholics and their priests or bishops, who are all too often far removed from the realities of most lay people.

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