Sharing each other’s pain 
A brief reflection of my (nearly) 10 years as a deacon

This is part of an ongoing series providing information and personal reflections about the permanent diaconate in anticipation of accepting applications for the 10th diaconate class this fall.

In the film, “Diethrich Bonhoeffer — Agent of Grace,” there is a very moving scene where, in a bombed out church in the German countryside, the great Lutheran clergyman, theologian and writer is ruminating aloud, in front of a small group of prisoners of war, about the future of Christianity in a world that had apparently rejected God. It is a kind of soliloquy, offered by a man soon to be executed for his involvement in a plot to murder Adolf Hitler and, at one point, Bonhoeffer offers that “real” Christianity, with Christ at its center, “means sharing each other’s pain.”

I am reminded of that scene as I reflect upon my diaconal journey of nearly 10 years. There are so many wonderful dimensions to this ministry. Administering the Sacrament of Baptism is a pure joy; proclaiming the Gospel at Mass, offering homilies, witnessing weddings and performing wakes and committals and Communion services — a more profound appreciation for the inherent beauty of our Liturgies flows from the fulfillment of one’s diaconal duties. And then there are the relationships which one develops with one’s pastor and other members of the clergy, lay ministers and parishioners, those involved in Faith Formation, or who assist at Liturgies or in the administration of the parish.

There are anxious moments and challenges, to be sure. Singing the Exsultet, the achingly beautiful Easter Proclamation that is typically chanted by the deacon at the Easter Vigil Mass (eight-and-a-half minutes long!) is a kind of peculiar high wire act, especially if one has never learned how to read music (my pastor and I have discussed that, perhaps, the collection should be taken before I sing). But even in those challenging moments, there is an abundance of God’s grace to be found in the love and encouragement and support (and patience!) offered by one’s spouse, pastor and parishioners.

I have found, however, that perhaps the most profound dimension of the diaconal ministry is that in which another’s pain is shared. Those moments, for example, when the Eucharist is brought to the sick or the dying, or those who perhaps are marginalized due to a disability, are truly grace-filled because they offer the opportunity to be in communion with another, to be present to and walk with, in a Spiritual sense, those who may find themselves in the shadow of the cross. When I first began my diaconal ministry and found myself in the presence of those who were suffering, I was obsessed about saying just the right thing, but I have come to understand that one’s presence and attentiveness, coupled with the Eucharist, serves as a more powerful antidote than any words one could conjure.

I will let my bishop and pastor, my parishioners and the Church and, ultimately, God judge what my ministry means to those I serve — but those times when I have walked with someone through the dark shadows of their life, and shared in their pain and fears as they stood beneath the foot of the cross, those times have provided a depth and texture to my diaconal ministry that I never could have anticipated and for which I am profoundly grateful.

Deacon McGinley is a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Fall River and currently ministers at St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham.

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