Day 327: Origin of the Diaconate

Ch 6:1-7 Jews of the Diaspora-Greek for “dispersion”-who had lived for a long period of time in the Greek-speaking regions outside of Palestine but had resettled in Judea were said to be “Hellenized” Jews, or “Hellenists.” They spoke and worshiped in Greek, used a Greek translation of Scripture called the Septuagint, and were somewhat assimilated into Greek culture. For these reasons, there was some tension between Hellenist Christians and Hebrew Christians. An example of this strained relationship was reflected in the Hellenist’s accusation of the unfair treatment of Hellenist widows. (CCC 595, 1229-1230, 1829, 2247, 2632)

Ch 6:2-6 Deacons: The Greek diakonos means “servant,” or “minister.” These first seven deacons were to take over the charitable distribution of food and other material needs so as to allow the Apostles to preach and celebrate the Eucharist. All seven had Greek names and were probably Hellenist Christians. By the second century, deacons were also fulfilling liturgical function and apostolic endeavors. Today, men who are preparing for ordination to the priesthood are ordained transitional deacons for a period of time. Men of good standing can also be ordained as permanent deacons to serve in parish work or other ministries. Their liturgical functions include presiding at baptisms, witnessing marriages, distributing Holy Communion, reading the Gospel and preaching homilies at Mass, and officiating at burial rites. (CCC 1569-1571, 1578)

Ch 6:4 Devote ourselves to...the word: Prayer is a means of participation with the apostolic mission given to the Church by Christ. (CCC 2624-2625)

Ch 6:6-7 Laid their hands upon them: A symbol of consecration and transfer of power for a particular task. It is a sacramental sign of ordination and may have indicated the conferral of Holy Orders on these men. Laying on of hands is used in the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops as well as in the Sacrament of Confirmation; it is also a gesture used informally in other nonsacramental contexts, such as prayers for healing. (CCC 1288-1289)

Ch 6:8-15 Stephen, one of the first deacons, would become the first martyr for Christ. Luke tells his story here in such a way that it parallels in some respects the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. In this passage, for example, Stephen was reviled for his preaching, falsely accused as a blasphemer and of speaking against the Temple and the Law of Moses, and accused much as Christ was. He was arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin, and eventually stoned to death. Like Christ, he prayed for his executioners. (CCC 2473)

Ch 6:9 Freedmen: A community of Hellenist Jews who had heated disagreements with Stephen. 

Romans 9:1-5 Paul may have been accused of abandoning Israel in order to preach to the Gentiles. He denied this, stating that he ardently desired the salvation of Israel. His writings clearly manifest that he always sought out and preached to the Jews first in every city he visited.

My the Holy Spirit: In light of what was written in the previous chapter (cf. 8:26-27), the Holy Spirit knows Paul’s heart and attests to the truth of his words. The heart is where we encounter God. (CCC 1795, 2563)

Ch 9:4-5 The Jewish faith was a response to what God had revealed through the Law, patriarchs, and prophets of the Old Covenant. This pride of place linked the Jews with the Christians, who accepted Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel. (CCC 839-840, 449)

Ch 9:6-13 Paul argued on behalf of the Gentiles. He explained that not all who had descended from Jacob (also named Israel) and Abraham were automatically true sons of Israel, heirs of the promises of God. It was not the bloodlines that made them children of God but rather a living faith expressed in a holy life. Therefore, everyone who is willing to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his teachings will qualify as an heir to his kingdom. (CCC 2009)

Ch 9:11 Because of his call: It is by God’s invitation, not necessarily by merit, that some are chosen over others. (CCC 160, 1025)

Ch 9:13 Hated: This expression is not nearly as strong as it sounds. The sense is closer to “did not prefer” or “loved less.”

Ch 9:14-33 Paul again raised the issue of predestination. God knew and foresaw everything and created us knowing who would sin and who would be saved, even at times using our sins to carry out his will (e.g., the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the condemnation of Jesus to Death). These considerations may beg the question of human freedom: “To God, all moments of times are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination,’ he includes in it each person’s response to grace” (CCC 600). The distinction is between causing a person to sin and permitting that person to freely choose to sin. (CCC 600)

Ch 9:14-18 God’s love includes but at the same time goes beyond justice since it favors patience, mercy, and forgiveness over a strictly proportionate punishment for sin. It is certainly possible to choose to remain hardened by sin and resolute in rejecting the grace of God. (CCC 1431-1432)

Ch 9:21-24 God, while always respecting our freedom, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, molds us according to his own purposes. 

Made for destruction: God does not predestine anyone for damnation; rather, he allows people, after many invitations and overtures to repent, to reject him freely and face the consequences of that choice. (CCC 600)

Ch 9:25-29 Even though the people of Israel repeatedly violated their covenant with God, he nevertheless set aside a remnant of the Jews to form a new people along with those of the Gentiles who responded to his call. (CCC 710-711, 1081)

Ch 9:30-32 The Jews who sought righteousness through keeping the Law alone failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. It then followed that they deprived themselves of the gifts of faith, which is primarily manifested in loving as Christ loved. This New Commandment of Love implicitly includes the entire body of Christ’s teachings. (CCC 16, 577, 1983)

Ch 10:1-21 God can bring good even out of the evil choices. When Israel was unfaithful, God, who shows mercy to all, invited the Gentiles to salvation. The Gentiles who were receptive to the Word of God needed to hear it preached, hence the mission of Paul and others to take the Gospel to the entire world. Though the Mosaic Law was revealed by God, only in Christ does it reach its perfection. Living in Christ by reproducing his life through the infusion of grace is the heart of the New Covenant. (CCC 702, 1961, 1965-1966, 1972)

Ch 10:1-4 Brethren, my heart’ saved: In Christian prayer, intercessory prayer is offered for virtually everyone and for every good, including the salvation of those who reject the message of Christ.

They have a zeal...enlightened: Paul was aware of the effects of excessive ignorance and casuistic practice of every facet of Jewish tradition. Observance of the Law was emphasized by the Pharisees to such an extreme that it obscured the spirit behind the Law. 

The end of the law: “End” is used here in the sense of purpose, or goal. Christ came not to repeal the Law but to fulfill and perfect it. (CCC 579, 1953, 1977, 2632, 2636)

Ch 10:5-8 Since recognition of Jesus as Messiah requires faith expressed in a willing acceptance of his teaching, it was certainly not obvious to everyone that he is the Christ. Nevertheless, it is at least a partial mystery that many of the Jewish people failed to accept Christ as their Savior since Scripture prophesied his coming; he lived, ministered, and died in their own land; and his Word continued to be preached through his Apostles and disciples everywhere. 

Who will descend into the abyss?: Christ descended into the abode of the dead after his Death, where he preached the news of salvation to all who had died and were awaiting redemption in order to enter Heaven. (CCC 635)

Ch 10:9 If you confess...saved: Baptized Christians have an obligation to witness their faith and to practice it courageously. The Creed, or Profession of Faith, summarizes a number of points of doctrine that are essential to the Faith of the Church. (CCC 13-14, 186-187, 209, 449)

Ch 10:12 No distinction between Jew and Greek: Whether Jew or Gentile, everyone is called to salvation and knowledge of the truths taught by Christ. (CCC 791)

Ch 10:13 To pray in the name of Jesus, which means “YHWH saves,” is to invoke him as Savior, to welcome him, and carry on a dialogue with him. (CCC 2666, 2739)

Ch 10:14-21 Paul stressed the importance of his mission to preach the Gospel to all nations. Salvation presupposes knowledge of Christ and his doctrine. The vehicle for an introduction to Christ is through those who preach the Gospel by their example and word. Furthermore, sanctifying grace is bestowed through the administration of the Sacraments through Christ’s ordained ministers. 

Jealous: The verse from Deuteronomy was a prophecy referring to the Jews’ anger over the Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s plan of salvation (cf. Dt 32:31). 

I have been found...ask for me: The Gentiles accepted the Gospel without seeking it, while many in Israel who sought the Messiah in the wrong manner did not recognize him (cf. Is 65:1). (CCC 875)

Ch 10:17 This verse describes the evangelical mission. Christ communicates his truth to the Church, who receives it in faith and proclaims it to the world. The Apostles and the early Church faithfully transmitted the Deposit of Faith first by word of mouth and later in writing. The oral tradition preceded the inspired books of the New Testament. (CCC 75-77)

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

Key Event 66b: Choosing of the Seven (Diaconate) (Acts 6:1-7)

To enable the apostles to preach the Word of God freely, seven deacons are ordained to serve the poor, a ministry that empowers the growth of the Church (Acts 6:7).

Key Event 66c: Stephen Martyred (Acts 6:8-7:60)

Stephen, one of the deacons ordained in Acts 6, becomes the Church's first martyr.  His death has numerous parallels with that of Jesus, showing that Christian life is a recapitulation of Christ's life in us.

Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and thank you always everyday. Gosh, Lord, we thank you so much. Thank you for having chosen us to be your beloved. Thank you for choosing us to make us yours. Thank you for sending your Spirit that transforms our hearts and thank you for giving us the gift of faith. We make this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.”