Saturday, June 16, 2012

A note on vocation with a diaconal twist

As Catholics we tend to speak a lot about vocation and discernment. At least in my experience this often means waiting for God to give us some kind of special, highly personal revelation, over and above what He has already given us. So, up-front, it is necessary for us always and in everything to recognize and then to realize, that is, make real by how we live, that the Father reveals everything there is to reveal in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

First off, by virtue of our baptism we received our call to holiness, which is the universal call, the one given by Jesus to His disciples at His Ascension when He said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:18-19 ESV). We are further strengthened and empowered to respond to Christ's call in the sacrament of confirmation and through the Eucharist. It is also renewed each time we take communion and when we participate in the sacrament of penance.

How do we concretely live out our baptismal vocation, our call to holiness, our call to be like Christ?. Our primary vocation is the way we live out our baptismal vocation. Marriage is one such vocation. There are various celibate vocations, to include priestly and religious life, as well as living as a single person in the world, either as a consecrated or non-consecrated person.

Then there is our secondary vocation, which is what we do for a living. This tiered way of looking at our vocation is what enables us to establish the priorities by which we are to live, to establish our rule of life.

One of the fundamental ways being a married permanent deacon differs from being a priest is that, along with my regular job, being a husband and a father comes before the service I perform at my parish. This does not render my diaconate a secondary, or even tertiary vocation, however. Being a deacon is all-pervasive, which is only to say that striving to be a good husband and father, as well as doing my job diligently, are part of my diaconate, thus helping me fulfill what theologian Herbert Vorgrimler wrote about the role of a deacon in the life of the Church: "In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension" (Sacramental Theology 270).

Along these same lines, Walter Cardinal Kasper, who, prior to being called to serve in the Roman Curia, served for ten years as the bishop of Rottenburg, Germany (where the International Diaconate Centre is located), observed in a speech he gave at the Centre on the permanent diaconate in 1997, that because most permanent deacons are married men who work in secular occupations it is often easier for people to relate to them than to priests. His Eminence insisted that the deacon’s ability to more easily relate to people is a very good thing, an important ministry, which is nothing other than a mode of service, of diakonia.

In his speech, Kasper went on to note that it is precisely because the deacon is married and lives with his family, while most often working in the world, that simply relating to people in the concrete circumstances of his daily life constitutes a major part of his diaconal ministry. Cardinal Kasper made the further point that because diaconal service is different from and complementary to presbyteral service, a deacon should not compete with the priest(s) in his parish by seeking to grab as large a slice of the pastoral pie as possible. After all, he went on to note, before parishes can gather around the altar of God to celebrate the Eucharist, the parish "must first be built into a collective community." Going all the way back to the seven men set apart by the apostles, in addition to bridging the gap between the church and the world, such community-building within the church has always been a necessary part of authentic diakonia.


  1. A timely post for me, Deacon Scott. My wife and I were just reflecting on all this today for various reasons.

    One deacon I respect a good deal, Deacon Joe Michalak from the archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, led the Winona diaconate community in a day of reflection last year during which he spoke of the need to integrate the diaconal and marital vocations, rather than split them as if one has priority over the other in some manner. On a practical level, we still are required to use prudence in making decisions as how to allocate time and energy, but in terms of the person of the deacon there is no splitting. The interesting thing about all that is the manner in which the person of the deacon, as an Icon of Jesus the Servant, impresses itself on his wife and family and workplace. Our wives often can speak eloquently about that.

    Thanks for your service to the church of Salt Lake City.

    Deacon Bob Yerhot

    Some one recently asked me when I was going to retire from the diaconate. It is a question that makes no sense to me, really, anymore than the question when am I retiring from marriage. I can't imagine myself other than deacon/husband/father.

  2. Deacon Bob:

    As always, I am happy to hear to from you and have you comment on this important topic. It sounds like Dcn Joe gave some great insights. As far as being an icon, all I can say is "Yes!" I am pretty unique in that I am significantly younger than the average age of a married permanent deacon in the U.S. (only slightly older than the average age of married permanent deacons in the rest of the world). I am married, work a regular job, and have six children who age from 18 down to 1. So, as I grow older, as my children grow older, etc., the balance will shift slightly.

    I have to say that how I conceptualize things matters. My marriage remains my primary vocation, that is, my primary path to beatitude along with Holly. As with all married permanent deacons, my marriage is a prior vow. Rather than relegate the diaconate to a secondary or tertiary vocation, I think of it as supervening. I think in our marriages and jobs deacons are not merely called to give witness, but to actively serve in a selfless manner and to lead by example.

    Just as by virtue of the sacrament of matrimony (i.e., by the grace of God) we will always be husbands to our lovely wives and fathers to our children, by virtue of our ordinations, we will always be deacons. If the permanent diaconate is to continue to develop and grow, I believe it will have to become more distinct both from being a layperson and from being a priest. Sometimes those distinctions get blurred, skewed one way or the other.

  3. I agree, Scott. I like your word "supervening." The distinctiveness of the diaconate needs to be better appreciated. How that distinctiveness includes marriage ( for many of us) is something with which many deacons struggle.
    Blessings to you and your family.