The Deacon's Bench

More dioceses are helping men to discern a vocation to the diaconate, often with “nights of information” or Q&A sessions where those who feel called can hear speakers, listen and learn. It’s also a great opportunity for wives and families to hear, first-hand, what this ministry involves; my wife and I have attended a couple sessions over the years, answering questions and sharing our own experiences with inquirers, and it’s always fulfilling for all concerned.

So I was pleased to see a Texas newspaper writing about this part of the discernment process:

Representing 30 parishes from throughout the Diocese of Corpus Christi, with some traveling from as far away as Three Rivers and Falfurrias, 63 men gathered at the Kolbe Center on the campus of Our Lady of Corpus Christi on Sunday, Aug. 19 to learn more about the Permanent Diaconate program and begin the discernment process to discover if they have a calling to such a vocation.

During this time — the first year in a five-year program — these men, their wives or fiancees will have the opportunity to share their feelings about how they might be called to this ministry, learn more about the role of a deacon and what they do, and discern if this is right for them.

Getting closer to the Lord Jesus is essential, said Bishop Edmond Carmody when asked about his hopes for this new group of men. “They must have a deep prayer life, listen to the Lord, get to know and follow Him more.”

The role of the deacon is to be a servant and as a true servant they are called to wait on others. It comes from the Greek word diakonia, meaning service. Its beginning can be found in Acts 6:1-4 when the disciples commissioned seven men, among which was St. Stephen, the first Deacon, whose sole task it was to help minister to widows who were being overlooked and to help spread the Good News.

At this point in the process, in the inquiry phase, there is no official commitment, and no one is considered officially in formation.

That will come next year during the Aspirant phase, which begins in August 2008 once the bishop grants ones acceptance in the program. This is when the theological coursework begins. As the third year begins, the men become candidates, once again approved by the bishop to continue on in the program. Their studies are enhanced with practicums, they work with mentors and begin an internship.

Academics for the program are rigorous and include taking master’s degree level courses. The classes are taught “virtually,” via long-distance learning and offered through St. Thomas University’s School of Theology at St. Mary Seminary in Houston.

The first class of men to enter this five-year process began in 2003 and are scheduled to be ordained in the fall of 2008. Men entering the program now and following through to completion, will be ordained in 2012.

A deacon is considered to be a member of the clergy and receives the sacrament of Holy Orders, a gift of the Holy Spirit that is administered by the laying on of hands by the bishop. This empowers the deacon with faculties to be a productive member of the clergy who can make a difference in the lives of those he touches.

“The formation process does not happen overnight,” said Deacon Michael Mantz, director for Permanent Deacons. “It is something that takes a long time. It’s an icon of the servanthood of Jesus Christ, and includes all aspects of the whole individual including heart, mind and body.”

Photo: from South Texas Catholic

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