To Deacons: A Special Invitation to “Deacons in the Service of Life”
Deacon Keith Fournier
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (1 Tim. : 6 and 7)
Dear Brother Deacons:
I write to you on a matter of great urgency. On Nov 4, 2008, citizens of the United States of America will once again have the opportunity to exercise the right which comes to them by virtue of their citizenship, the right to vote. This election will help determine whether the United States and, due to her huge global influence the rest of much of the Western world, continues down the path of expanding what the late Servant of God John Paul II sadly called a “culture of death” or enshrine the primacy of life in our laws by recognizing the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception, through every age and stage of life, until natural death. The stakes have never been higher. I write to you as your brother Deacon, a fellow member of the body of clergy ordained to be configured to Jesus Christ the Servant. We were ordained not unto the priesthood but unto the ministry, of Word, Service and Sacrament. As Deacons, when we serve at the Eucharistic Liturgy, we symbolically express our vocation to spend our days going from the world, to the Ambo, to the Altar and back again into the world, carrying with us the fullness of truth, the Incarnate Word of the Father, Jesus the Savior, whose Gospel is a Gospel of Life.
Thirteen years ago, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, I was invited by the Lord, through His Bishop, to offer myself to Jesus Christ in His Church and for the sake of the world. Like you, I was ordained to serve alongside of and under His Priests, and in a special way connected to His Bishops, in the ongoing redemptive mission of the Church in and for the world. I vividly remember lying prostrate on the floor during the Liturgy of Ordination. Spontaneously, two expressions welled up inside of me. The first was a deep “FIAT”, which I quietly but vocally expressed. I knew it was the Holy Spirit calling me to emulate and imitate the Mother of the Lord by giving my own yes to bringing Jesus into the world. The second, disturbing but prophetic, was the expression “UH OH!” I did not verbalize that one, but it has proven prophetic. My life was shaken to its roots. Like you, I received from my Bishop this charge: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose Herald you now are, Believe what you read, teach what you believe and Practice what you teach”. Like you, I have tried to faithfully discharge that commission. When I was in the process of discernment for ordination after serving for many years as a Lay Leader, my Bishop asked me to write him a letter and set forth how I thought that my Pro-Life, Pro-Family, evangelistic and ecumenical work, would in his words, “be enhanced by the grace of orders”. He believed that in calling men to the Order of Deacon he was to look for men who were already what he called “anonymous deacons”, pouring themselves out for the Lord, in the Church and for the World. Then he was to help them discern whether they should continue in that important task as lay leaders or were being called to ordination.
At the time I was serving as the Executive Director of a National Public Interest law Firm dedicated to the defense of Life, family and religious freedom. That was one of several missionary assignments I had accepted over many years as I sought to live out my Baptismal vocation as a lay leader. Like some of you, the process of recovering my Catholic faith as a young man, serving the Lord, discerning my vocation to marriage and family and then saying my “yes” to ordered service as a member of the clergy has all been connected to my deep convictions concerning the fundamental human rights issue of our age, the right to life. I have spent my entire adult life seeking to respond to the call of the Church to build a new “culture of life” and “civilization of love”. That has placed me in the trenches of the Pro-life cause for decades. In those trenches, I met some giants, like Fr. Frank Pavone. My ordered service as a deacon has certainly enhanced that work. It also now makes me even more accountable, given the ministry entrusted to me by the “laying on of hands”. That is why I said “yes” to the invitation of Fr. Frank Pavone to help build Deacons in the Service of Life, the Diaconal outreach of “Priests for Life”.
The mission of Deacons in the Service of Life is to unite, encourage, and provide ongoing training to deacons who give a special emphasis to the "life issues", especially abortion and euthanasia, in their ministries. I have long believed that it was prophetic, not accidental, that the restoration of the order of Deacon as a permanent service in the Western Church was connected to the fight for life from its inception. Included among those who called for the restoration of the Diaconate at the Second Vatican Council were priest survivors of "The Deacons Circle." The Deacons Circle was comprised of priests who suffered at the dreadful Dachau death camp during World War II. Those dear priests prayed intensely for the Church and her mission in the world. They also offered their suffering for her authentic renewal. They believed that the Holy Spirit was calling for a re-institution of the order of Deacons in the Western Church to serve the Church in this vital missionary task. Of course, in the Church of the East, the Order of deacon has continued in an unbroken succession since its institution. As members of Deacons for Life, we are a part of the fruit of that prayer uttered by those heroic priests and we stand in the line of deacons who include the Proto-Martyr Stephen, Lawrence and so many others who have poured their lives, and in some cases, their very blood, for the sake of the mission. "The Deacon Circle," continued to meet after that war’s end, especially dedicated to authentic social justice through service. We carry on that mission in this Third Millennium. We are a “New Deacon’s Circle” Without the right to life there are no other rights and the very structure of human rights is placed in peril. Without the freedom to be born, there is no true and authentic freedom. Instead there evolves what John Paul called a “counterfeit notion of freedom” as a raw power of the strong over the weak. This is what his beloved successor Benedict XVI has called “anarchic freedom”. We must be freedom fighters in our own day, proclaiming the truth about freedom as revealed in the One who alone can set all captives free.
Most of us have worked in the world of business, law, commerce, industry and the marketplace. Our experience in that world has now been elevated by virtue of our ordination. It can inform our efforts to evangelize and transform the social order. The majority of us are also married men, fathers and grandfathers. That experience has become the backdrop for our pastoral and ministerial service. We are older and, as they say, “comfortable in our skin”. Finally, we know that the work we do for the Church, in the world, is the only real hope for exposing and opposing the culture of death and replacing it with an authentically human culture of life. We work closely with lay men and women, forming a bridge to and for them and empowering their vital role as leaven in the midst of the contemporary culture. Deacons for Life can become a powerful force in the pro-life mission of the Church in the contemporary age, with your help. Together we can be a “New Deacons Circle”. Again, the pattern of our service in the sanctuary lights the way and instructs our mission. We proclaim the Gospel which is a “Gospel of Life”. We break it open for the faithful in homilies, giving us an opportunity to instruct them concerning the implications of their own baptismal vocation to live as what our Bishops have called “faithful citizens” by serving the authentic social justice mission of the Church. We announce the intentions of the “Prayers of the Faithful”, where we should pray for an end to abortion and all of the sins against life and for the building of a new culture of life. We can be living Intercessors in the contemporary culture calling for heaven to break into the hell of the current culture of death and shed the light of truth. We are Ordinary ministers of the Body and the Blood of Christ, bringing the Bread of Life to the Faithful. We must now become bread for others and unapologetically defend those who have no voice but ours.
We were ordained to be servants of charity and authentic social justice, to proclaim and become a living Gospel in the midst of a world gripped by the darkness of the contemporary culture of death. By fully presenting the fullness of the truths of the faith to a world consumed by lies, we help resuscitate an age that is dying. By intervening to protect our neighbors, children in the first home of the whole human race, the womb, and the elderly who, rather than being esteemed are slowly being disdained, and the weak, disabled and vulnerable whose lives are now at risk in a culture which has elevated the strong over the weak and failed to hear the cry of the all the poor, we live our Diaconate to the full! All of this can be done by responding to the invitation to join in the Mission of Priests for Life and Deacons for Life. We invite every Deacon to join this New Deacons Circle, coming together to empower all of God’s people to build a new culture of life. With our brothers in Priests for Life we can hold off the enemies of life long enough to educate and train a new people of life who will build the new culture of life. Between now and this crucial election, we invite you to use every opportunity you have, at the ambo, in your ministry and in your life in the world to unapologetically stand up for the full teaching of the Catholic Church concerning Life. We will do all we can to assist you in your vital work by providing prayer, teaching, educational resources and a community of support. We ask of you what the Apostle Paul asked of Timothy, “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” Join us in mission.
Your Deacon and Brother for Life,
Deacon Keith Fournier
Deacons for Life