The Sacramental Presence of Christ through Service
During this Year dedicated to the Mercy of God, the Diocese of Nelson is introducing the Permanent Diaconate as an integral part of enhancing a spirit of service and outreach in our Diocese.
Deacons: Who are they and what do they do?
Just as bishops and priests share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders by virtue of their participation in the priestly ministry of Christ; deacons share in the same sacrament by virtue of their participation in the ministry of Christ as servant. For Christ came to serve, not to serve and to be a ransom for the many, exemplified in his willingness to wash his disciples’ feet and to suffer and die on the cross (cf Mt. 20:28, Lk 22:27, Jn. 13:13-14).
First reference to this ancient Order dates back to the Acts of the Apostles, when “during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6: 1 NRSV). The twelve, not able to meet the increasing demands of the Christian community, urged the Hellenists to select seven men from among themselves who would be able to serve the community in charity. These men were asked to “stand before the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6: 6 NRSV). They were set aside for “Diakonia” or Christ-like Service.
Vatican II foresaw the restoration of the permanent diaconate as a key component of the Church’s mission in the world. Far from supplanting the active role of the laity, the diaconate is meant to facilitate it. Deacons are called to collaborate with the laity to open up new areas of service, education, charity and outreach --- works of the bishop, often crossing parish boundaries and extending beyond the day to day ministries typically found in parish life. The call of the deacon is to highlight and mobilize the ministry of service and to support and enhance existing ministries through ongoing reflection, coordination, education and formation.
Even today, only the bishop lays hands on the man to be ordained to the diaconate, a sign that the deacon serves in the name of the bishop, coordinating forms of ministry in the diocese that would otherwise be left undone. It is through the bishop that the Church calls a deacon to be a sacramental presence of Christ-like service to the community and it is in Christ-like service that he finds his call and his function at the heart of the Church.
The Deacon’s Three Mission of Service:
The deacon is first and foremost a servant of God’s Word. Those who aspire to this call show a deep love of God’s Word and a willingness to conform their lives to it. Through prayer, study and reflection the deacon develops an intimate relationship with Christ. His ministry of charity and his preaching and service in the liturgy gives voice to his attentiveness to God’s World.
The deacon’s love for the Word is made manifest through a life of service in the name of the Christian community. Just as he is called through the person of the bishop and promises obedience to him, so the bishop will appoint him to a particular ministry within the life of the diocese. Such ministry may include ministry of charity to the poor, service to the disenfranchised (imprisoned and migrant labourers), the elderly, the sick, school campuses, family life ministry, outreach to First Nations, spiritual development, renewal or evangelization.
The deacon is not meant to replace or compete with existing ministries, but is at the service of those who are called to work in collaboration with him. In this way, the deacon is both a facilitator and a promoter of ministries within the diocese. His is the task of calling forth the gifts of others and, by working alongside them, helping initiate and sustain those ministries that will advance the missionary work of the Church. Although all Christians are called to the ministry of charity by virtue of Baptism, the deacon brings greater attention to the Church’s call to service by his life.
The deacon’s call to serve in a particular area may well exceed parish boundaries and is, therefore, not to be understood as that of pastoral assistant or “priest helper”. Even so, the deacon receives a pastoral appointment to a particular parish where he celebrates his call to service at the heart of the liturgy, highlighting the link between the Church’s worship and her ministry of service.
As a servant of God’s Word, giving voice to it with his life, the deacon may be called upon to preach on Sundays, at funerals, weddings, baptism and/or at other occasions when the Christian community is gathered. He may be called upon to preside at funerals, weddings and baptisms in the absence of a priest. He may also be involved in sacramental preparation.
Qualities of the Deacon:
Before entering the program of formation an applicant must demonstrate that he is both a man of prayer and a man of service. By his employment and lifestyle, by his marital life or his commitment to the single Christian state, he must exemplify a life of Christian virtue and sound moral character.
He must also meet the following requirements:
- No younger than 31, no older than 60 at the time of application.
- Exercise good judgment and be able to complete undergraduate Studies.
- Open to undergo formation (growth): spiritual, human, academic and pastoral.
- Good physical and mental health.
- Able to balance his studies and formation with commitments to his family and work.
- Active in the life of his parish for a number of years.
- Leadership skills and the ability to collaborate with others in Ministry.
- Have adequate financial means or proven job security (the deacon’s service to the Church is unpaid in most cases).
- If married: be in a valid Catholic marriage, with proven stability for at least five years, a strong Catholic household and the enthusiastic support and involvement of his wife in a substantial part of formation. With the understanding that, once widowed, he can’t marry again.
10. If not married: demonstrate a stable commitment to chastity and be willing to accept a lifelong commitment to celibacy.
11. Free of any past scandal and impediments to ordination, a life lived in line with the teachings of the Church and able to represent the Church with intelligence, integrity, prayerfulness & Christian dignity.
12. A capacity for obedience and a simplicity of lifestyle.
13. Have the support of his pastor, who is able to attest to his qualifications.
Proper discernment involves both the Church and the applicant, both must be confident in the suitability of each applicant. Applicants must be willing to undergo proper screening and close scrutiny in all aspects of their lives. Past history together with present realities are good indicators of future performance.
Process for Admission:
The Permanent Diaconate is open to all men who reside in the diocese, who feel a deep call to Christ-like service and who meet the qualities of a deacon.
- Contact the director of the permanent diaconate.
- Phone call: initial information gathering.
- Pastor’s recommendation (based on Qualities of the Deacon).
- Initial interview with the applicant (and his wife). Enthusiastic support of spouse must be evident (if married).
- Deacon Perceiver interview: 54 questions, recorded and sent away for proper analysis of gifts and talents.
- Formal application process which involves a detailed Application form, medical examination, psychological screening, a detailed account of the spiritual journey that has led to his point, a criminal record check, recent copy of sacramental records, proof of age, official transcripts of all post-secondary studies, a written report from the rector of any former formation program (if applicable) and a signed statement from his wife (if married) indicating her support and her willingness to participate in the formation program as required.
- Confidential references from 2 eligible referees mailed directly to the director of the permanent diaconate (priests, pastoral staff, employers, teachers, professors, professionals who know them well). Permission must be obtained for direct contact.
- A Home visit following the reception of all documentation to deal with possible questions raised and to provide a formal report to the diocesan director of the permanent diaconate.
- Formal interview: The applicant and the formation committee.\
10. Formation committee provides recommendation to bishop.
11. Bishop conveys his decision to the applicant by letter.
Process of Formation:
The program of formation is separated into two stages: aspirancy and candidacy.
During the initial year of formation the aspirant will be introduced into the program of formation. It is a time when both he (and his wife) have an initial taste of formation, its demands and impact on their lives. It is a time for the aspirant, together with the Church, to discern his suitability for candidacy.
At the end of the first year, when an aspirant decides to petition for candidacy, those in charge of his formation will confer in regards to his readiness and suitability. Based on their recommendation and the aspirant’s own discernment, the bishop will select those who will be admitted to candidacy. The call to candidacy will take place in the context of a liturgy.
The candidate will continue his formation for no less than three years. This is a time for learning, ongoing discernment, human formation and pastoral work. Annual assessments will be made both by the candidate (with input from his wife), his formators, his peers and the community he serves. Emphasis is placed on growth and development, especially in areas of concern.
A candidate will be able to apply for the ministry of lector at the beginning of the second year of candidacy and for the ministry of acolyte at the beginning of the third year of candidacy. A day of recollection will precede the reception of each ministry.
At the end of three years of candidacy, after receiving a written request from the candidate, the formal written consent of his wife (if applicable) and the recommendation of those in charge of formation, the bishop selects those candidates to be ordained and informs them in writing. An approved five-day retreat is required before ordination.
The Formation Program:
- A. Human Formation:
Human formation will address the ongoing development of traits that must be present from the outset. These traits include healthy boundaries, an ability to empathize with others, a servant’s heart, self-awareness and self-reflection, a mature sexuality, a clear understanding of chastity and an interior freedom that is free from compulsion. They also include organization and communication skills and an ability to work collaboratively.
- B. Spiritual Formation:
Much has already been said about the deacon as a man of prayer. Without it, the call to service falters into vainglory. Patterning his day on the Liturgy of the Hours, regular times spent with Scripture and frequent celebration of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the aspirant/candidate is expected to demonstrate a true love that will sustain him in ministry. All activities will be organized with this primary goal in mind, including an annual weekend retreat, which wives are also encouraged to attend.
Aspirants and candidates are expected to seek out regular spiritual direction as part of their own internal discernment process. The program director must be notified in regards to the person chosen and will have the last say in regards to his/her suitability. Because of the strict confidentiality of the relationship between spiritual director and directee, the spiritual director will not be a part of the external evaluation of that particular aspirant or candidate.
- C. Theological Formation:
The academic portion of the formation program will largely consist of the four year diaconate studies offered on-line by Newman Theological College in Edmonton. Regular discussion evenings will ensure that materials are understood and summary reflections at weekend get-togethers will enable the aspirant/candidate an opportunity to develop his skills in processing and presenting materials. Questions and concerns raised in the study group will also be given due consideration during weekend get-togethers.
- D. Pastoral Formation:
Aspirants/candidates will be asked to carry out some form of outreach to the larger community during their time of formation. As part of that time commitment candidates will be mentored and expected to engage in written pastoral reflections. By contributing to evening sessions and formation weekends, in the sharing of their insights and learning as well as in regular opportunities to preach to their peers, aspirants/candidates will receive experience, confidence and feedback in the pastoral art of homiletics.
Those in formation, both aspirants and candidates, will come together on seven separate weekends per year. They will be asked to participate in 8 five week on-line courses/per year, requiring approximately 7 hours of course work per week (which will include gathering with other participants on a regular basis). Aspirants and candidates will also be expected to perform five hours a week in pastoral ministry and to foster a strong commitment to daily prayer.
Because of the time commitment of the program and its effect on marriages, wives of aspirants and candidates are to play an active part in the formation program. They are encouraged to come to formation weekends and evening gatherings. They will be able to draw on the support of other wives and accompany their husbands throughout their time of formation. Wives are free to participate in the on-line course work and pastoral ministry aspect of the program as they see fit.
The costs of the program will be incurred by the diocese (this is also extended to wives). Participants will be expected to pay for their own texts (around $30 / course), their own travel and any stipend to their spiritual director.
To inquire, please contact Fr. Cerlouie Jimenez, Permanent Diaconate Program Director. He may be contacted by email or by phone 250-762-3910