Since 1994, Catholics have gathered every few years for the World Meeting of Families. This…
How a deacon’s vocation impacts the family
What exactly is a deacon called to do — and how much of it?
To a greater extent than with a man called to the priesthood, this is a question with potentially as many answers as there are deacons (or even more, since the answer for a particular deacon can change over time).
While there are obviously are things a deacon can’t do and things he can do, what a particular deacon’s day-to-day ministry consists of hinges on several factors, especially his work status and home life as well as his relationship with his pastor.
For a number of years our parish has had two deacons. Jerry is a bachelor and a retiree who once lived in a monastery. I’m a husband and father with a number of young children (our youngest was born just as I was beginning formation) and a 9-to-5 day job — not to mention my film writing apostolate! As you can imagine, Jerry’s ministry and mine look very different.
While many deacons find that their calling has positive effects on their marriage and family life, this doesn’t happen automatically — and there’s a real danger of the opposite. A family man called to the diaconate must be clear (and so must his pastor!) that his calling as a husband and/or father is his first vocation and top priority.
Thankfully, my relationship with Suzanne has provided the firmest possible foundation for everything else I do, including my diaconal vocation and my film writing.
For any married man discerning a vocation to the diaconate, his wife’s firm support is an indispensable element in his discernment process. That support can take many forms: Some deacon wives prefer to stay in the background; others work side by side with their husbands.
Suzanne’s Baptist mother was one of those formidable church ladies who arrived first, left last and made things run smoothly. Suz likewise wears many hats in our parish, from running the adoration chapel to co-teaching CCD with me. She also does whatever she can at home to free me for other things. Without her heroic support and advocacy, there’s no way I could even think of doing what I do.
Children, too, may share in service. A father’s diaconal service isn’t simply a privation for his family: By serving the Church, parents model service for their children, instilling in them an ethic of service. Our kids have been active in our parish for years as altar servers, lectors and choir singers.
At the same time, the demands of pastoral ministry can strain married and family life, even becoming a contributing factor to alienation and divorce. Discernment and care are needed to find — and maintain — a healthy balance.
Finding that healthy balance is a struggle. I’ve learned to start small and add things slowly. It’s easier to add new duties later on than to back out of things after taking on too much. My deacon mentor has told me more than once about the importance of saying no (I still struggle with that one).
Family prayer is crucial. In our house we pray together every evening: the Rosary; the Divine Mercy chaplet; the Jesus prayer.
Finally, prayer and discernment are foundational, along with spiritual direction and communication. More often than not, I think, the voice of God comes to a married deacon through his wife.
Deacon Steven Greydanus writes from New Jersey.