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The Servant Heart of Christ

Sacrifice and Service, these two essences of Christ’s human nature are sacramentalied in our priests and deacons today. Our beloved priests make present the sacrificial heart of Jesus, while deacons embody His servant heart.

Through ordination to the priesthood, a man’s soul is imprinted with the character and united to the sacrificial heart of Christ. In this, he is called to live out Christ’s sacrificial love through the grace of Holy Orders. Not only by offering the sacrifice of the Mass in persona Christi capitis, but also by means of the total gift of himself to God and humanity through the love of Christ.
However, a man is not simply ordained first to the priesthood. Rather, he is first ordained to the transitional diaconate. That is, before being configured to the sacrificial heart of our Lord, his soul is constituted to the servant heart of Christ – the diakonia of the one who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). He does not lose this servant character upon priestly ordination. Rather, it becomes the foundation of his sacrificial ministry.

As James Keating put it, “There can be no sacrifice (priesthood) without service (diaconate). It was only through Christ’s service that sacrifice became his established priestly identity upon Calvary.” (The Heart of the Diaconate, pg. 2)

In contrast, some men are called, not to the priesthood, but to live out in an exclusive way the servant heart of Christ. These are our permanent deacons. Men who (through the grace of Holy Orders) open themselves fully and uniquely to Christ the servant. In so doing they are strengthened to act in persona Christi servi, becoming the deacon Jesus – servants to humanity. They become Christ to others just as Jesus described His own presence when He said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27).

Maybe you are a man (or know a man) who is naturally drawn to serve in such a unique ministry. If so, it could be a call to consider the permanent diaconate. That special and humble ministry, which allows one to serve at the altar and become permeated by the Word. Then so nourished, go out as Christ the servant in the everyday world.

It is a ministry only made possible through the gift of Holy Orders, wherein the deacon is configured to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” in a very remarkable way. As Keating writes, “Christ opens his heart to press its servant mysteries into the heart of the deacon, imbuing the man with a defining sacramental character.” (The Heart of the Diaconate, pg. 61).

I cannot encourage you enough to explore the possibility that Jesus wants this for you, or a man you know. The Diocese of Camden if preparing to form another class of men to enter diaconate formation. Check out the information posted on the website or call Deacon Michael J. Carter, Director of Formation, to learn more about the permanent diaconate and the formation program at 856-583-2813 or email michael.carter@camdendiocese.org.