(Still) dreaming dreams about the diaconate

“Dear Pope Franc[i]s, I [would] like for [deacons] to be [able] to have women [deacons] because women can have new [ideas] and different [perspectives]. Also it will be closer to the [parousia]. There are more [reasons] but those are some of [mine]. From Lucy, age 8 and a half.”
By Lucy, member of an intergenerational Phoebe Circle, Durham, NC.

A few months ago I authored a reflection titled, “The Pope is “…very much in favor of a female diaconate.”

So imagine my surprise (shock/sadness/anger) as I watched Pope Francis seem to undermine his own synodal process when he indicated in an interview with 60 Minutes reporter Norah O’Donnell – that “no” a girl cannot dream to one day be a deacon in the Church. 

When Lucy, age 8 and a half, heard a summary of what Pope Francis had said – she burst into tears.

A few hours later she asked her mother if she could write to the pope. 

Dear Pope Francis, I would like for deacons to be able to have women deacons because women can have new ideas and different perspectives. Also it will be closer to the parousia. There are more reasons but those are some of mine. From Lucy, age 8 and a half.”* 

Lucy made her First Communion this May, and when asked by the priest “why do you wear a white dress?” she responded without missing a beat: “to recall our baptism.” And yes, she used the word “parousia” –  the Greek word which literally means “physical presence” and marks the time in which Christ will return and be “all in all.”  

I share her letter here – with parental permission – because her mother Hilary is a Discerning Deacon. Hilary, like so many, is in the movement not primarily for herself (she happens to be a very gifted preacher, recently awakening to this call). Hilary wants to continue raising a daughter who knows she is beloved of God, and she doesn’t want that truth to come into collision with a Church that won’t receive the fullness of women’s gifts. She doesn’t want her daughter to feel she has to go outside the Church to find a community to journey with her as a disciple. 

So of course, Hilary encouraged her daughter to write to the pope. And, she got on the phone to help rally the local Phoebe circle to gather for potluck, prayer, and discernment. 

~

Through the calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages over the last week, I know many who have been walking with us on the synod path are feeling betrayed. Not because the Church might ultimately discern not to ordain women as deacons, but because the pope’s statement seems to indicate a closed mind, a closed Church – even while there is a visible, active and alive discernment on the table. 

I am heartened by the community who has been gathering – and who is committed to continue to gather. To pray, to read Scripture, to break open the Word, to pray for our Church, to discern where the Holy Spirit seems to be directing our steps, and to participate in the mission of Jesus. 

I am also aware that there are girls and young women hearing this interview or reading reports about it – and crying alone. Feeling some part of their own dream diminished in the wake of the Pope’s words, words which can function to reinforce notions that do not lead to the fullness of life for women in the Catholic Church. 

You need not sit alone in this experience. Whether you are new to Discerning Deacons or have been engaging over the past few years, I invite you to join us this Thursday from 6–7 p.m. ET for a Community Huddle & Welcome Call (register here). This is a place to gather in community, share what’s on our hearts, and continue walking together in this moment of uncertainty. We are also launching a new container for community in this season, Companion Circles, specifically for those considering planning St. Phoebe Day celebrations this September. To learn more and join a Companion Circle, submit this form by tomorrow, Thursday, May 30.

Now – here is what I know: An interview is not a change in doctrine or an authoritative teaching. 

Here is what I hope: that before Pope Francis (or his successor) decides about including women in the diaconate, that we have an opportunity to share our dream. 

Rooted in today’s Gospel which proclaims, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mk 10:45) we dream of a prophetic diaconate for a synodal Church – which makes visible the God who came to serve humanity, not to be served. 

This dream is articulated in the interim stage report we submitted to the Secretariat of the Synod on May 15.  From the conclusion of our proposal: 

This dream for a collaborative approach to ministry, for a renewed, prophetic and synodal permanent diaconate that includes men and women could perhaps be one of the most meaningful, most tangible, most impactful fruits of this beautiful synodal journey on which we have been so courageously led and to which we have so hopefully given ourselves. It may be a primary way that the People of God “taste and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

I hope, as participants in this discernment through DD, that you find your voice and vision echoed here. I would invite you to read the proposal, to share it with others, and to meet and discuss prayerfully – perhaps utilizing the Conversation in the Spirit (an adapted guide & agenda is here) as a method to give room for various voices to be heard. I especially encourage conversation with priests, deacons, women in ministry, young adults, and those who might be more hesitant about opening a path for women to be ordained as deacons. 

Together may we continue to serve the discernment:

  • How does a vision for a prophetic, synodal diaconate that includes women and men resonate for you?
  • What would it look like? Is this too fantastical? Or is this a vision, rooted in Tradition, that can guide our steps over the long haul?
  • What difference does ordination make or not for the exercise of ministry in our communities? 
  • Why would it matter for women to be ordained as deacons? What are the pitfalls that perhaps Pope Francis is looking to avoid? 
  • How can we, today, nurture the gifts of preaching, and the call to serve all of humanity, as we walk together as a community of witnesses? 

The Church is still convoked in SYNOD – which means we each are called to attend to the movement of the Holy Spirit, who seeks a renewal of our church through encounter, listening, discerning, and then deciding.

This moment invites us to continue to be co-responsible for the Gospel mission, journeying with one another ever more faithfully in love and active hope.

It also is a time to lift each other up in word, prayers, and presence. That’s why we’ve shared a heart-wrenching prayer-poem by Allison Beyer, who puts to words some of what I have been feeling as a mother, absorbing the news of the world and the week.

A Holy Mother’s Response to the Holy Father

By Allison Beyer

Here’s the thing, Holy Father.
I am enraged, truly,
And yet I can make dinner
Giving food to the hungry, a work of mercy

I am able to prepare a homemade meal of three balanced parts,
A holy trinity, if you will, of mutuality, measured right relationships,
That together form our cena, lo que nos alimenta
A mi familia
My husband, like you, from Argentina
My children, café con leche, just how we like it–with a little honey mixed in

You have devastated me. You have said clearly what we did not want to think
–always giving the worn-out benefit of the doubt to the men, the doubters!–
You have said, “We have listened to you. But we do not believe you.”

I am devastated. And yet
I can go to the community meeting
To advocate with my presence and my word
Support for sheltering the homeless, a work of mercy 

I can come home to
Sing my children to sleep
Nurse the baby on my breast,
Giving drink to the thirsty, a work of mercy

And then, speak quietly with my Lord.
Jesus. And what he says to me,
Is quite different than what it seems to be that you are saying.
You see, I saw His risen body. I was there at the tomb.
I am coming now, to you, to the upper room, the upper echelons of power
To tell you–
He is alive.
He showed himself to me.

You see, I went into the tomb.
I wasn’t up in a safe space, talking it out, pondering and studying.
I was on the ground.
I was  burying the dead, a work of mercy
Following my Jesus
even in death.

He saw me, in my body. He called to me
By name.
He sent me out
By name.
To you, Holy Father, in the body of Peter
And the others cowering,
Hiding from death–their own and His.
I knocked at the door.
What was harder for Peter to believe,
The resurrection of the Body,
Or the shape and taste and sound
Of my name
On his lips
The shape of my body
Held in the pupil of his eyes
Seen
Named
Called
Sent.

This has always been the hardest part:

That a woman might be
The one to bring the Good News
–to you, to all.

Allison Beyer is a multidisciplinary artist, retreat facilitator and minister based in South Bend, IN. Allison is the mother of 4 children, three living and one stillborn.

*Original spelling in photo, edited for clarity here

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Organization
“This was such a great learning experience for all of us, and even more so, a chance to build momentum and connection.”
St. Basil's Catholic Parish
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Organization
“We are proud to stand on the shoulders of the many women who have ministered to the people of God throughout time!”
Holy Name of Jesus Parish
New Orleans, LA
Organization
“Learning about the history of women in the diaconate gave context to efforts to enable women’s participation in the diaconate today, and it was powerful to celebrate St. Phoebe and uplift the ministry of women in our own community.”
St. John Fisher Parish
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

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