Msgr. F.G. Gutierrez
In the midst of this pandemic crisis, how do you divide your time? Is it between physical and prayer or between emotional and contemplation? Does your spiritual life equally include the time spent with your significant other including God and other matters?
It is unfortunate that while the global community struggles to overcome the contagious virus, a few Filipinos continue show their selfish and self servient activities, such as certain baranggay officials are facing raps for allegedly anomalous distribution of SAP (Social Amelioration Program) to help the destitute citizens, and traffic enforcers who exact “tongs” from tricycle drivers. At the same time, it is fascinating and uplifting to learn about certain individuals, such as politicians, celebrities, ordinary citizens, lay and religious individuals who are undeterred by the virus but continue to serve the Filipinos compassionately and unselfishly.
Three stages of the Book of Psalms
Walter Brueggemann, a well-known Hebrew Scripture scholar, divides the Book of Psalms into three categories: Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation.
The Psalms of Orientation convey an initial sense of hope and confidence in a divine order. Psalm 145: 8, 9 exemplifies this perspective: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love …The Lord is good to all; the Lord’s compassion is over all creation.”
While the Psalms of Orientation present confidence in divine guidance, on the other hand, the Psalms of Disorientation are about confusions, trials, and crisis. Psalm 88: 1-5 reflects this feeling, “O Lord, God of my salvation, when at night, I cry in your presence … incline your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol … I am like those who have no help.”
In Reorientation. Psalms are filled with gratitude and praise for God’s greatness. These hymns express the psalmist’s experience of joy, hope, and trust in God’s profound love for his people. Psalm 30: 11-12 echoes this phase, “you have turned my mourning to dancing … you have taken my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
St. Paul had professed the characteristics of the life of Jesus Christ to be a movement from orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Jesus’ life moved from control (orientation), to loss of control (disorientation), to new control (reorientation). “Though he was God … He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form … Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave a name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2: 6-9). Following Brueggemann’s consideration of the Psalms.
Orientation: first phase before COVID19 arrives
We planned to observe our milestones with a bang and fanfare: our wedding anniversaries or wedding, birthday, baptism of first child, and early retirement. It was a joyful life we never envisioned of its ending.
A brief history of service
Since the beginning of their history (and even up to our time), Christians have taken certain words, phrases, and ideas from secular and pagan sources, reinterpreted them in the light of divine revelation through the person and message of Jesus Christ, and incorporated them in their beliefs and practices. One word that came into Christian usage is Diakonia (διακονια): to be an attendant, to wait upon, to serve, especially at table, to care for or to provide.
For the ancient Greeks, however, ruling not serving or Diakonia is man’s goal, because man exists for the perfect development of his own personality. Serving for the Greeks is unbecoming of a person. The phrase, “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?” sums up the Greek attitude toward service. In the Greco-Roman world service to another was considered a noble and a virtuous act only when it is rendered to the state.
The ancient Greeks would have difficulty in answering the question Jesus asks, who is greater, the one served or the one serving. The ancient Greeks would surely give the wrong answer.But Jesus, in describing his mission as that of serving rather than being served (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27), invites his followers to be of service to one another. Jesus sets a new pattern of relationship, love in action that covers not only service at table, but also washing the feet. To show them an example of humble service, he performs the servant role by washing the feet of his disciples (John 13: 1-15). The Lord’s example lays the groundwork for Christian service that became an important concept in the early years of Christianity.
Many theologians believe that we would not find any statement in the Bible that directly considers the Church per se to render Diakonia in the world. It never dawned in the minds of the New Testament writers that the Church has “a mandate to transform the existing social institutions, such as slavery, war or the Roman rule over Palestine” (Avery Dulles, Models of the Church). Though the modern idea of a Servant Church lacks any direct biblical foundation, yet we cannot discount connection with the Bible, because those mentioned in Servant Songs in Isaiah are applicable to Christ and to his Church.
When Christianity assimilated the concept of Diakonia after the example of Jesus, it signified a variety of services. Diakonia covers abroad range of services: financial support and hospitality, as well as Christian ministries: nurturing the community’s life of faith through preaching, teaching and leadership, and building up the body of Christ. St. Paul considers Diakonia as grounded on and expressive of charisms given to all baptized. In the Pauline ecclesial model, while authority rests in the community, its members are ministers and all are ministered to or all are servants and serve one another. In Pauline perspective, Diakonia has its raison d’etre in charisms that are given to the baptized and are put into service of others.
For St. Paul, the differences among the members of the community arise from the various charisms of the Holy Spirit and diverse applications of these gifts to different areas of life. Diakonia is a service of services; it originates from Christian life and community and continues into various Christian presentations of the Word and power of God’s saving action. There is no special group yet of ministerial or hierarchical orders. Diakonos, denoting a church office, is only used a few times in the NT (Phil. 1:1; 1Tim. 3: 8, 12; Rom. 16:1). Even though there is a developing structure of leadership in the early Church, consisting of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, yet the emphasis is not on authority or leadership, but on everyone’s responsibilities to serve after the example of Jesus Christ: the greatest should serve the least. For the first Christian communities it is clear that Diakonia and other words connected with it are words of loving service, not of honor and authority.
Disorientation: second phase – COVID-19 stays
Change is a fact of life. Change can be disruptive and threatening as well as constructive and developmental. Change is closely linked with crisis. There are neurotic crisis and developmental crisis. Neurotic crisis results into passivity and negativism, whereas developmental crisis leads to growth. No matter what kind of crisis or change there is in life, one of the main characteristics of crisis is disorientation. For example, sudden loss of job could either be neurotically or developmentally disorienting according to the way a person reacts to it. There are equally different responses to the COVID- 19. From a gamut of fearful, emotional reactions to a variety of stronger faith in God and more empathic service of neighbors
From its initial concept as a ministry of all the baptized, Diakonia has undergone a considerable change in meaning and practice that led not only to confusion among the faithful, but also a paramount distinction between the ordained and the laity.
Gradually, the concept and role of service begins to be transformed into the context and function of consecrated or ordained ministry, especially when seven men were chosen to replace the apostles in table service at community meals so that the apostles can dedicate themselves more fully at the service of the gospel (Acts 6: 2-6).
During the early years of Christianity, the Holy Spirit’s spiritual gifts were sufficient authentication for service, for sharing in the ecclesial mission of proclaiming the gospel, and for church governance. This time, the identification of the church with hierarchical model and service or ministry with ordination contributed to the assumption that the laity are the passive recipients of service and ministry through the power of teaching, sanctifying and governance of the ordained. The three leadership roles: bishop, presbyter, and deacon, gained special emphasis and leadership importance in the Christian community since the second century. Service started to become a privileged responsibility of a few members.
By the third century, when influential and well-intentioned leaders, such as Cyprian of Carthage and Hippolytus, began to identify priesthood with those who preside at the Eucharist, the way was prepared to consider the ordained and their ministry as “superior” and other forms of ministries and service, especially those of the laity as “inferior.” Thus the term laos (person) that was used to refer to all members of the church came to be applied since that time to those who are not leaders of the community, who have no official or cultic function or those who are not priest, deacon or cleric. Laos came to identify one who is not consecrated for service in divine worship or who is of the profane. The pejorative meaning of laity connotes the exclusion of the non-ordained to speak publicly in behalf of the church. Once ministries in behalf of the sacred are identified only with the ordained, it is not difficult anymore to consider not only that Diakonia is their monopoly, but also that authentic holiness is flight from and conquest of the world. The world is viewed with suspicion and disgust. Within such context, the world, the flesh, and the devil became almost synonymous.
The emphasis on the importance of ordained ministry over the role of the laity was further enhanced in the fourth century when bishops took over the civic rights and privileges accorded to the order of pagan priests in the Roman Empire. Later on, with the collapse of the Roman Empire from the fifth to the eighth century, there came about the feudal system in Europe. Feudal system afforded civil rulers with ecclesiastical power similar to that of the ordained. Invariably, the ordained were also vested with civil authority. There is a kind of accommodating exchange that took place between the rites and symbols of ecclesiastical authority and those of the temporal-civil power. Even though Christianity did not assimilate the original civil meaning of service: subjugation of an inferior to the superior, yet Christian service somewhat connotes a privileged responsibility of the ordained in helping others. For example, the sixth-century collection of prayers, applies the word “servant” to all worshipers, yet its usage when applied to the ordained conveys an air of triumphalism and superiority. Even though Diakonia is closely identified with the ordained, several forms of ministries still persisted during the medieval and in the post-reformation period. Unfortunately, these ministries were considered not what they used to be: the responsibilities of all baptized persons but as sharing in the ministry of the ordained. Today, there are still a few lay people who believe that their ministry is “to help out the priest.”
Reorientation: third phase – new normal
After citing the problems that confront the Church and the urgency of solving them by resorting to the sacred patrimony of the Fathers, John xxııı at the opening of the Second Ecumenical Council says, “She must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.” The disorientation history of Diakonia must have been upsetting to many Christians, because of what it did to the Body of Christ. But David who cried out, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck, I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold” (Psalm 69: 1) is the same person who uttered words of trust and praise, “Let heavens and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves therein” (Psalm 69: 34). When disorientation is positively accepted with the light of faith, it leads to a renewed vision, a new vigor, and reorientation. “If one accepts that our troubles fall within the providence of God, one is more likely to see them as potentially beneficial, and not necessarily destructive” (Michael Casey, Toward God).
Rightly considered, the changes in practice and concept of Diakonia open to the Catholic apostolate new opportunities and avenues.
God has sent his only Son to redeem us by sharing in our concrete and historical condition. He continues to be with us through the Holy Spirit who does not breathe on us in a vacuum, but comes to us amidst our joys and sorrows. Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx believes that an analysis of the human condition is necessary for Christians so that they can fully grasp the meaning of Christ as Savior (Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord). In like manner, an analysis of the world’s concrete condition is important for us to understand Jesus as the One who came to serve and not to be served.
Our concrete and historical human condition is characterized both by lights and shadows. People’s alienation from one another, isolation, loneliness, violence and hatred are some of the markings of these shadows that can only be attributed to the presence of sin. Unless Diakonia shares the world’s lights and shadows, it is not an authentic Christian ministry.
The teachings of Jesus prove that Christians should serve all as well as show empathy/solidarity with those who suffer. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “…To know almost instantly about the needs of others challenges us to share their situation and their difficulties” (God is love – Deus Caritas Est). Authentic Christian spirituality automatically leads to solidarity with others. God did not wish to enter our world without experiencing its joys and sorrows. He assumed our human nature in complete solidarity with our sinful life. This is the mystery of Christ’s love. He came not just to take away our pains and sorrows, but he also shared them with us. By his empathy/solidarity with us, he gained earned our salvation.One of the important figures of our century that can help us understand empathy is Sis. Teresa of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein. She was a Jewish philosopher, who converted to Catholicism, became a Discalced Carmelite nun, was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz on August 11, 1942, and on October 11, 1998 was canonized by John Paul 11. In her doctoral dissertation, On The Problem of Empathy, at Albert-Ludwig University, she explained that emphatic understanding is an altruistic response to address the problems of society and a visible representation of God’s love for his people.
Her religious and professional life exemplifies what truly is empathy. Empathy came from the Greek word empatheia, passion. Empathy is direct and complete identification with another person’s feelings, motives, and situations. God is so passionately in love with us that he sent his only Son who became like us in all things, except in sin. Empathy requires us to be weak with the weak, to hurt with the vulnerable, and to suffer with the wounded. In empathy we are one with our sisters and brothers, we also make God embedded and incarnated again in our lives.
Diakonia in Constant Interrelatedness with Kerygma, Koinonia, and Eucharistia
To help us minister in the spirit of Diakonia, the Lord provides us with Kerygma, Koinonia, and Eucharistia. Diakonia is not an island. Without kerygma, Koinonia, and Eucharistia, Diakonia is not a Christian service.
Without Kerygma, Diakonia will fall prey to temptations of unchristian ideologies. Without Diakonia, Kerygma will lack the power of Christian witness and transformation. Diakonia without Koinonia becomes self-centered apostolate. Koinonia without Diakonia becomes socialism. Finally, Diakonia without Eucharistia will lose its source of strength, while Eucharistia without Diakonia will turn into worship that is divorced from life.
Diakonia without Kerygma (message of true hope) = activism/secularism.
Diakonia without Koinonia (community) = individualism.
Diakonia without Eucharistia (sacrament of true Love) = triumphalism
1. Diakonia must be enlightened by Kerygma toward maturity in faith, otherwise it falls prey to parties and ideologies. Christian service, according to the pope, is not a means “of changing the world ideologically, and is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs” (God is Love – Deus Caritas Est). Christian service helps fulfill the deepest desire of man’s heart: to encounter the God of love, not to bring about social change. Christian service makes visible a loving God in our broken and wounded world.
Without the light of the Gospel that is proclaimed in the Kerygma, Diakonia becomes an instrument to serve narrowly ideological purposes and parties. This attitude makes the Gospel subservient to economic, political, and ideological interests. I have known a number of former priests and nuns who in spite of their lofty intention, i.e. to transform an unjust and oppressive regime through the Gospel, became militant and radical revolutionaries who took up arms and waged guerilla warfare against their government. The power of the world over the Gospel increases when the Gospel power over the world decreases, and vice versa.
2. Without Koinonia, Diakonia slides down to individualism. It belongs to human nature to seek honor, praise, and recognition. But Christian service could turn into our outlet to express our own desires and to fulfill our own dreams. “Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism.” If Diakonia cannot be made subservient to further the interests of politics and ideologies, it should not be used either for one’s personal glorification. The ones who serve must always remember, “We are useless servants” (Luke 17: 10). Unless this is kept in mind as we serve, we might fall in false assumption that we alone are personally capable of changing the world for Christ. This is false piety. We are God’s instruments; we are the clay. He is the potter. Diakonia is serving God through service in the community.
Competitiveness and burnout in ministry are rooted in individualism. When ministry becomes one’s personal possession, the minister will do every means within his power to excel in it and to compete with other ministries and ministers. Excellence in numbers of converts, profound changes in people’s lives through one’s apostolate and witnessing, and hours spent in serving others become one’s main preoccupation. At the end of the day, such minister would feel exhausted and frustrated because things did not work out the way he planned.
3. Isolated from the Eucharistia, Diakonia becomes triumphalist. Again, the pope warns Christians, “The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however, miserable his situation at the moment may be” (God is Love – Deus Caritas Est). Seeing the pain and suffering of others should not make us think that God loves us more. The wretched condition of others is not the occasion for us to rejoice over our good fortune. It is rather an opportunity to manifest by our service to the less fortunate our God who loves all of us no matter what. Authentic Diakonia sees the face of Christ in those we serve and through them leads the ministers back to God and Christ. True Diakonia moves in a circular motion: from Christ to others, and from them back to Christ. “Time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service” (God is Love – Deus Caritas Est).
It is worthwhile noting that in Mark 3: 12 Jesus “appointed twelve that they might be with him and he might send them.” True ministry, such as Diakonia, comes second after one has intimately rooted himself in the Lord (Wil Hernandez, Henri Nouwen, A Spirituality of Imperfection). One is first a worshiper of God and secondarily his worker, not the reverse.
Conclusion: Greek krísis “decision, interpretation,” equivalent to kri- variant stem of krīnein “to decide, separate, judge” + -sis
It’s the point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death. a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change. The crisis we are going trough in the presence of menacing COVID-19 can either lead us to fullness or brokenness. If we choose the former, we will experience a better way to handle future crises. Come what may, but as a renewed, courageous and wiser person, we can face all the adversities.