There may be no accident or coincidence that you’re reading these words at this very moment. This message may very well have been written explicitly for you. Are you called to discern the ministry of the Permanent Diaconate in the Catholic Church?
The Permanent Diaconate is an ancient and sacred ministry of service dating back to the time of the apostles. Deacons are ministers of charity, the Word and the altar. They fulfill many functions within the Church, inside and outside of the liturgy. And the Church needs good and faithful men to step up today and ask themselves if they are being called by Almighty God to serve the Church through this commitment to holy orders.
First and foremost, a man must prayerfully listen, as St. Benedict said, “…with the ear of your heart” to figure out if the Eternal God Himself has designs on you from all eternity to respond affirmatively to this vocation in your life. The call is magnanimous and mysterious, deeply personal and curiously persistent. But there is also an abiding peace associated with it. Your pastor or diocesan vocations director will be able to steer you in the right direction regarding your qualifications, the application process and the formation process, none of which bind you to committing yourself to ordination. As a matter of fact, the entire process of up to five years of instruction, formation and spiritual direction is structured to initially answer the question, “Are you called to serve the Church?” and, as time goes on, “How are you called to serve the Church?” Deacons will tell you many of them didn’t receive a definitive answer to that question until their nose hit the marble and the bishop imposed his hands upon their heads.
Deacons bring the light and life and hope of Christ to a world full of broken people who live in the gloomy darkness of relativism, sin and secularism. They baptize, witness weddings and preside at funerals. They “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” and “…weep with those who weep” (Rm 12:15). They take Holy Communion to the sick, the elderly, the homebound, the hospitalized and those in nursing homes and assisted care facilities who would otherwise not be able to attend Mass. It’s overwhelming to be able to bring the Eucharist to those very important members of the Body of Christ and say something like, “Beatrice, the good Lord knows you aren’t able to come to receive Him at Mass, so He told me to bring Him to you here today. That’s how much He loves you.”
That’s essentially what deacons do. They bring people to Christ and Christ to people.
Men discerning this vocation to ordained ministry are also asked what their gifts, talents and charisms are, to best minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the many reasons deacons are so effective at service is that they have, as is often said about them, “one foot in the world and the other foot in the church.” They are often married men who work full-time jobs to help support themselves and their families, yet prove themselves wise stewards of their time, developing their unique skill sets for others. Always for others. And always with Christ at the heart of their ministries, their homes and families and, if married, within their vocations to marriage.
Deacons are men of prayer. They pray morning and evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours every day. They practice lectio divina (sacred reading), meditating on the Word of God with devotion and frequency. A fervent prayer life keeps deacons rooted in their ministry, like the “vine…planted…by abundant waters…” (Ez 7: 7-8).
Deacons cannot celebrate Mass, nor can they administer the Sacrament of the Sick or hear confessions in the Sacrament of Reconciliation like a priest. But they can do most everything else a priest can do. Given the fact that the vast majority of our priests are overburdened, overworked and overscheduled, often traveling between three and five parishes within their assigned cluster every week, deacons are the workhorses who support priests and bishops in their ministries and share in their mission.
The Permanent Diaconate is just that. Permanent. Meaning for life. If a Deacon’s wife precedes him in death, he understands he will not marry again. The Transitional Diaconate is conferred on men who are preparing to be ordained for the priesthood, usually about a year afterward. All bishops and priests begin as deacons in the Latin Rite.
This is a vocation, from the Latin word vocare meaning “call.” It is a selective invitation from the Lord God to serve him as his chosen representative on earth. We all have vocations, either to the single life, the married life and/or the religious life. The Author of Life doesn’t call every man to the Permanent Diaconate, but those he calls stand on the threshold of responding to a life of involvement and impact. It is a purpose-driven life of servant leadership and intentional discipleship. But it is, at the same time, an invitation, one which we can accept or reject.
Imagine being called to the bedside of someone dying in the middle of the night. Your parish pastor is out of town, the Sacrament of the Sick is not an option and time is a factor. Moments count. The child of God before you is about to meet the Lord face to face. The deacon is a comforting presence to the dying person and the family. Perhaps the deacon is the only one there. He brings viaticum, or “food for the journey,” and celebrates the last Holy Communion with the life he sees ebbing away before him. The deacon prays a Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the bedside for the eternal salvation of the person’s soul. Perhaps he reads aloud from the sacred scriptures. He offers prayers of mercy for his charge because the deacon is an agent of God’s mercy. Accompanying the dying as they breathe their last, the deacon’s prayers and supplications are powerful before the throne of God. A holy death is provided for someone who may have died alone.
Heartbreak wounds a family over the death of a loved one. A parishioner returns home to find themselves abandoned by their spouse. A diagnosis of inoperable cancer hits with unimaginable force. People are afraid, hurt, sorrowful and devastated. The deacon is there to listen, to console and to reassure those disaffected by the traumas and the tragedies of life that Holy Mother Church is present to them, concerned about them and filled with love for them. God accompanies the deacon and works through him, for The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob” (Ps 46:12).
You may not think you have the background or the ability to do these things, but the formation program provides men with the human, intellectual and spiritual instruction necessary to serve others in these capacities.
Could this be you? This could, quite possibly, be you. God may be calling you to this ministry. Think about it. Pray about it. And listen “with the ear of your heart.”
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