Saturday, September 2, 2023

“ I am a woman who serves like a deacon. Will I ever share St. Phoebe's title? “

St. Phoebe of Cenchreae is depicted in an icon by Eka Fragiadaki of the Angelicon workshop in Crete, Greece. (Angelicon/Eka Fragiadaki)


National Catholic Reporter article

By the age of 8, I was serving as a lector in our parish, and by the age of 18 was leading retreats for the Legion of Mary and speaking to groups of all ages. I felt welcomed to share who I was and bring forth my gifts….

I had a vision of Jesus when I was about 15 years old, seeing him as a handsome Black man who patiently asked me the same question he had asked Peter in John's Gospel: "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). I sensed then that Jesus was asking for my whole life.

Why are we afraid of this dream of women received as deacons? Women like me are already doing such work — just without the title.


But the biblical deacon Phoebe inspired and comforted me. St Paul describes her like this:

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, diakonos of the church of Cenchreae, so that you will receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and assist her in whatever way she may ask you, because she has been a benefactor of many and of me, too [Romans 16:1-2].

Phoebe's feast day is Sept. 3, and I have long found a devotion and sense of connection to this ancient woman of the early Christian church…

I visit families in their homes; offer bereavement and spiritual counseling and faith-sharing; I hear confessions on deathbeds without offering the ritual of absolution; I preside at funerals and wakes. I celebrate with people the joys and miracles of life.

I continue to actively welcome my Haitian brothers and sisters, many who come to Boston as refugees and seek out the church as a place of welcome and support. I help meet needs for housing, food, health and legal services — and I sit at the kitchen table, weeping as they share the harrowing journey they make, recalling the violence they have fled.

We each need a Paul in our life, commending us to be welcomed and received in new and strange places. We need those who will send us forth, giving us the authority to preach and minister in the name of Jesus' church.

My own prayer is that our church would be as courageous as Paul and Phoebe, trusting each other, walking in a dangerous world to bring forth the promise of good news, accompanying each other in the wake of our encounters with the risen Jesus who calls us to love him and tend his sheep. Let us welcome women, called deacons, as holy ones, co-equal in ministry to our brothers and as eager and ready to offer our gifts for the sake of the Gospel.“

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