Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
(Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 14:1-6)
Paul’s opening sentence in the Letter to the Philippians gives us pause for reflection. He addresses the letter to “all the holy ones in Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Is it not odd that there would be more than one bishop at the primitive church in Philippi? And who are all the deacons? We might stir up the waters a bit by recalling that in his Letter to the Romans, Paul describes Phoebe, a woman, as having a diaconal function. Remembering also that Paul’s work in Philippi began with his encounter of Lydia and other women, it is not preposterous to ask if some of the deacons referred to here are women.
It is possible that Paul has women in mind when he writes to the Philippians. However, this does not mean that they are ordained ministers as we think of the diaconate today. When Paul writes “deacon,” he may intend what we think of when we say “lay ecclesial minister.” Likewise, almost certainly he is not addressing multiple bishops as we consider the term but rather the community’s leaders, a virtual parish council. Obviously, Paul is writing before the time when bishop and deacon carry the theological meanings which they have today.
The Church has never definitively ruled out ordaining women to the diaconate. The matter is under study. However, even if making women-deacons never happens, women still perform valuable ministry. In a short story titled “The Deacon,” Mary Gordon describes a woman religious performing all kinds of services in a busy, urban parish. The tale reflects what many of us realize well. The Church simply could not function without the ministry of women.