In the Niccoline Chapel, located in the Vatican palace, there is a famous fresco that was painted by the great artist, Fra Angelico. This fresco portrays the consecrating of the first “seven deacons” chosen by the Apostles: St. Stephen (first martyr); St. Philip, (Evangelist); Prochorus; Nicanor; Timon; Parmenas; and Nicholas. The consecration was occasioned by the fact that the Church and followers of Jesus was growing rapidly. The Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews, were complaining because their widows were not sharing equally in the “daily distribution”, i.e., the sharing of food and other material needs overseen by the Twelve. Since the Apostles realized they needed help in order to continue to dedicate themselves to the proclamation of the Gospel — the task of evangelization we speak of so frequently today — it was decided that others should be enlisted to help so that the Apostles could continue to put the proclamation of the Gospel above all else. Our first reading today tells us, “Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Thus, we celebrate the beginning of the ministry of deacons in the Church, an ordained ministry and sharing in the priesthood that thankfully continues so vigorously in many parts of the Church today. I am sure that many of us are familiar with deacons in our home parish and are very grateful for their service of preaching and assistance at the altar during the celebration of the holy Eucharist. After this momentous event in the early Church the scriptures continue and tell us that “the word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly…” This is one of the reasons why we can continue to rejoice so heartily during this Easter season. Thank God for our good, wise, and reputable deacons!
But we can rejoice for another reason. Who can forget the scene portrayed in today’s Gospel from John, chapter 6? The disciples found themselves in rough and threatening waters. Suddenly Jesus appears, speaking unforgettable words: “It is I. Do not be afraid.” How frequently I need to take these words into my heart and allow them to dispel my own fears and anxiety. We all do! When we see the political chaos around us and the uncertainty of peace in our world — “It is I. Do not be afraid.” When we grieve the tragedy of young deaths in our growing opioid crisis — “It is I. Do not be afraid.” When we continue to see gun violence in schools and streets — “It is I. Do not be afraid.” We can change these things, we really can. All we have to do is to recognize the Lord, shed ourselves of fear, and respond with resurrection courage and joy.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.