As I sit down to write this blog post it is September 28 and the 18th anniversary of my ordination as a Permanent Deacon by Archbishop Harry Flynn. A few months ago I ran across a digital copy of a paper I had to write in my final year before ordination that was supposedly an answer to the question “Why Ordination”. Looking at the paper, it is interesting that many of my reasons and concerns about ordination continued beyond ordination. Reading this paper after so many years there are some things I wrote that cause me to cringe a bit and I can see some influence of the conservatism and clericalism that was beginning in the seminary during my formation. I had thought about editing out parts of the paper but figured I would copy it whole and trust that you know which parts of the paper cause me some discomfort.
December 28, 2001
Why ordination? This is a question that has run through my mind since I started to discern my call to the Diaconate. It would be so much easier to have stayed in those ministries I was involved in and enjoying. With the laity being so involved in ministry and performing many of the roles Priest and Deacons did in the years past it seems ordination may not be as important. I could participate in many ministries; communion services, prayer services, RCIA, baptismal prep, prison ministry, and service to the sick and poor without being ordained. But, I truly feel that something would be missing and unfulfilled in my ministry, vocation, and life.
Why should anybody be ordained to the Diaconate? I believe that the Holy Spirit had something very important in mind when the permanent Diaconate was restored during Vatican II. Many people talk of what Deacons can and cannot do, some have no exposure to Deacons in their parish, or refer to Deacons as junior Priests. This misperception is due to the role people see Deacons performing in public, and this role has been in large part a response to the shortage of Priests for sacramental duties. The service ministry of a Deacon is not as public, which is unfortunate because this service ministry to the poor should be the emphasis of Diaconate ordination, which then enriches the sacramental and preaching/teaching roles of a Deacon. Ordination is important so that the laity will see men that are married, fathers, and in the workplace formally committing their life in service of the Church and to Jesus Christ. This adds a new dimension to the sacrament of Holy Orders that a celibate priesthood cannot. I think that the Catechism does a good job of describing why Diaconal ordination.
“This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church's mission. Indeed it is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should "be strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate.”” CCC 1571
This paragraph points out that indeed the graces given by the Holy Spirit through ordination will empower a Deacon in ways that would not happen without ordination. During formation, I have had conversations with people, which have shown me that many would much rather have an ordained minister preside at functions. They feel that it sends a message of validation from the Church to whatever occasion is being celebrated. This may not be right but seems to be what people perceive. An ordained Diaconate can supplement and support the priesthood now and in the future in ways only known to the Holy Spirit. I do not see the Diaconate being a proving ground for a married priesthood but as a way of bringing the service of Christ more fully into the world. Finally, I believe that it is important for homiletics that only ordained ministers that have taken an oath of obedience to the Church and its teachings preach. This assures that what is preached is in accordance with the Church’s teachings for the salvation of the Church’s membership.
All this may be good information for why there should be an ordained Diaconate, but does not address why I feel ordination is appropriate for myself. During formation, I have oscillated between a feeling of being ready for ordination and at times not being so sure. These oscillations have disappeared this year, and at the Deacon ordination last September I felt God was indeed calling me to ordination. This was the first ordination I have felt this way, and I came away very much at peace with ordination. My main stumbling block to being comfortable with ordination had been the oath of obedience to the Bishop and Church. This oath of obedience has become a non-issue for me during formation last spring and this summer. My perception has become one of seeing obedience as a source of freedom and strength for my ministry as a Deacon. Freedom will come by allowing me to truly proclaim the Church’s teachings and the gift of salvation Jesus proclaimed and handed on to the Apostles. I have come to understand the importance of obedience and how the Church needs to safeguard the salvation of souls entrusted to it by God. Having ministers obeying such an oath provides a good set of checks and balances to maintain proper dissemination of scripture interpretation and teaching.
Where will ordination lead and what ministries will I be involved in? A passion of mine is to work with the homeless and poor. This passion led me towards the Diaconate and it’s ministry of service to the poor. During our Pastoral education section of formation last year I discovered a desire to work with the sick and dying. My field experience has exposed me to the tremendous need for ordained ministers to cover the magnitude of sacramental duties that our larger parish communities have. In working with Father Jim Smith, I have uncovered areas within the parish that seem to be good matches to my abilities and calling to spread the good news of Jesus and the Catholic faith to people. During this year I have seen how draining and near burnout, our priests are from the constant demands placed on them. While I applaud Archbishop Flynn on wanting Deacons to be heavily involved in service ministry to prisons, the sick, and the poor my parish experience makes me wonder who will fill the void left for sacramental ministry. Many of the sacraments Deacons are involved in, especially Baptism and Weddings, are ministries of welcoming and evangelization since many times people are returning to the Church for these sacraments. After ordination, I will need to strike a balance between service and parish ministries. I am not sure where ordination will lead, but believe that God through the Holy Spirit will give me strength and empower me for ministry in ways unknown to me now.
I find it very interesting to read this paper years later and realize that the Holy Spirit has led my ministry as a Deacon in ways I never imagined 18 years ago. For the first 6 years after ordination, I continued to struggle and pray about what God wanted me to do as a Deacon. After those years of struggle, God provided me with a very clear and simple answer to the question “Why Ordination”. It was “let people know that I love them”. Hopefully, my ministry as a Deacon has let those that encounter me know that they are deeply and unconditionally loved by God. If that is true, then I feel that my ordination has been for the glory of God and fulfilled the call God put in my heart over 20 years ago.
Peace, love, and blessings