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TODAY’S FIRST SCRIPTURE EXTRACT [ACTS 8: 5 – 8. 14 – 17] we are told that “Philip went down to a city of Samaria.” His visit was an enormous success, and “so there was much joy in that city.” We are then told that “when the apostles at Jerusalem heard … they sent to them Peter and John … (who)laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

So, a few little puzzles and teasers are presented to you readers and reflectors! Firstly, which ‘Philip’ was it that went off to Samaria and preached? Was it the Philip who was one of The Twelve named in Matthew 10: 2 – 4 or was it the Philip named as one of the first deacons in some verses from

Acts 6: 4 & 5 which were a part of last Sunday’s first reading? The appointment of the first deacons was motivated by the pressing need felt by the Twelve to delegate the ministry of food distribution to the widows and free themselves for other important areas of ministry.

Secondly

, had Deacon Philip baptised those people in Samaria? If the apostle Philip had gone to preach in Samaria surely there would have been no need for Peter and John to travel there in order to lay hands on them in order that the new converts receive the Holy Spirit? We know that a mirror image of this event is recorded in Acts 8: 14 – 17 where Philip, Peter and John are also involved. This time we know for certain that the Samaritans “had been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus.”We also know from some earlier verses of the same chapter that the Philip involved in this expedition was not the apostle because we are told that as a result of “violent persecution” (v 1),“all except the apostles were scattered all over” while the apostles remained in Jerusalem (v 14).

Thirdly

, the Acts of the Apostles make it clear that the seven men appointed as deacons were very soon involved not only in the distribution of food to widows but also in the preaching of the Good News – accompanied by great miracles and signs – as well as celebrating Baptism {see 6: 8 & 34 – 39}.The deacons were involved in the day-to-day ministry of the Church. In fact let us not forget that the very first martyrdom recorded was that of Deacon Stephen {see ACTS 7: 54 – 60}.

Finally

, a careful reading of the chapters in ACTS to which we have referred reveals that it was in these early days of the Church that The Twelve quite definitely progressed from being disciples to The Twelve and then to APOSTLES. In addition we should also make ourselves aware that after the violent persecution the various scattered and believing communities were cared for and nourished by the ministry of the first deacons. “ALL except the apostles were scattered over the country districts of Judaea and Samaria …. Philip came down to a city in Samaria and began proclaiming the Messiah to them” {see 8: 1b & 4}.

So, how do we explain the frequent and regular hesitation (not to mention antipathy and ignorance) of so many Catholics regarding the ministry of deacons? The last twenty and a few more years of my ministry as a priest was profoundly blessed and enriched by the deacons of the parishes in which I served. Some people did everything in attempts to have ‘a priest’ and not ‘a deacon’ conduct baptisms, funerals (not Requiems), weddings and provide blessings of homes and even rosaries. These are folk who have, quite simply, never been truly evangelised. The deaconate ministry is given all of authenticity, validity and effectiveness by the certain link to the apostolic succession. The person I baptise, bury or marry (to say nothing of those whose rosaries I bless!) do not receive any bonus points absent from the deacon’s ministry. In fact, neither does a Pope’s blessing add anything of faith value – sentiment perhaps, value, no. Too often it is forgotten that thousands of good and faithful Catholic communities all over the world (and even here in South Africa there are a few hundred) have funeral services and burials celebrated by properly delegated lay men and women. The only thing needed is the sure and certain link to the apostolic succession. There is no priest or deacon available.

This week we have concentrated on the first reading because next week the focus will be on our responsibilities as disciples. We have to progress from being passive participants or spectators in the ministry of the Church. We are not members in order to receive but to give, share and grow. Recall that last week we mentioned the need for us to really grow-up. We have to become DISCIPLES – men and women who minister – people who are involved, reach out, make things happen, and bring the Church to life. In TODAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 14: 15 – 21] Jesus reminds us that he “will not leave (us) desolate.” He loves us and manifest himself to us. This promise is worthless unless we change from being spectators, and become DOERS.

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