For married deacons, his vocation impacts not only his life but the lives of his…
Selfless service is part of a deacon’s vocation
A permanent deacon will almost always volunteer his time if someone asks him to help out with something around the parish.
“If someone says, ‘Deacon, can you come do this?’ Our first reaction is gonna be, ‘Sure.’ By nature, none of us is going to say no to anything,” said Deacon William Ditewig, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
That spirit of selfless service is part of a deacon’s vocation, but it sometimes gets him in trouble, especially if he’s married.
“If you ask my wife, she would say one of the biggest problems I cause is that I do not set aside a day where I say, ‘Nope, this is our day,'” said Deacon Don Weigel, who was ordained a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Buffalo almost 10 years ago.
Family, job, ministry
Deacon Weigel, who is assigned to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Clarence, New York, told Our Sunday Visitor that he has tried to carve out a day off for himself and his family, but often slips back into the habit of saying “yes” to everything.
“It’s something I’m aware of. I owe that to our marriage,” Deacon Weigel said.
Balancing one’s responsibilities to his wife, children and a full-time job is not something the celibate priests in the Latin-rite Church have to worry about. But for permanent deacons, who are often married when they get ordained, carrying out their ministry and being an attentive husband and father can be a tough juggling act.
“When I was in formation, some people used to say that your priorities should go like, ‘Your family first, your job second and your ministry third,'” Deacon Weigel said. “Well, that’s just not true. That’s just not how it works.”
Deacon Greg Kandra, who is in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, recalls hearing similar advice when he was in formation about 15 years ago.
“Every deacon knows it doesn’t always work out that way,” Deacon Kandra said. “Very often that order gets shuffled, and it’s challenging to really find that balance. It takes a lot of prayer, a lot of understanding from your spouse, your family and sometimes your boss to make it all work.”
Service in charity, word and liturgy
Many Catholics may not understand the nature of the permanent diaconate. It’s possible that they may see the deacon as an exalted lay minister in robes, someone who is not “fully ordained” to celebrate Mass like a priest but wields a little more authority than a lector or and extraordinary minister of holy Communion.
However, joining the permanent diaconate is not to become a second-class clergyman. Permanent deacons are ordained into the Sacrament of Holy Orders. By virtue of their ordination, they are called to a threefold ministry of service in charity, word and liturgy. By being approachable men of prayer, they are called to be examples of Christlike service.
“It’s important for people to know that we are ordained, and not just for a particular parish, but for the entire diocese, for the entire local Church,” said Deacon Ditewig, 70, who was ordained a permanent deacon in 1990.
Deacon Ditewig, who headed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ diaconate office before retiring, said a permanent deacon at his ordination makes sacred, lifelong promises of obedience and respect to his bishop who decides how he will be of service to the local Church.
“People understand obedience from a secular point of view, but there is a much richer, deeper, theological understanding to it,” said Deacon Ditewig, who noted that “obey” is derived from the Latin phrase “to act because of what you hear.”
“Basically, what we’re saying is, ‘We’re hearing and listening for the word of God from you, Bishop, and I promise I will do the will of God,” Deacon Ditewig said.
“But it goes deeper even than that. It’s also establishing a new relationship between the deacon and the whole diocesan Church represented by the bishop,” Deacon Ditewig said. “The deacon is promising obedience to the bishop’s successors, to the whole local Church. You’re becoming part of the fabric of the local Church. It’s a very profound moment.”
Deacon Kandra, 60, a former editor for CBS News, who publishes a popular blog, “The Deacon’s Bench,” said his promise of obedience to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, and his successors, has so far not been that difficult because he has a good relationship with the bishop.
“However, if at some point, he wanted me to be transferred to another parish, I’d have to have a discussion about that and make sure it was OK with my wife,” said Deacon Kandra, who added that the bishop would also be within his rights to tell him to shut down his blog if he felt it harmed the Church.
“And I would have to do that. I’m fully cognizant of that,” Deacon Kandra said, adding that if he writes a book, he sends the unpublished manuscript first to the bishop for him to make sure that it contains nothing objectionable to the Faith.
“I haven’t had any problems,” Deacon Kandra said.
Men of prayer
Besides obedience, deacons promise to be men of prayer and to say morning and evening prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours. Carving out the time, especially if they have full-time jobs and young children to raise, is not always easy.
“I thank God for the New York City subway system, because that’s where I do a lot of my praying,” Deacon Kandra said.
“Personally, that’s always been one of my challenges,” Deacon Ditewig said. “When you come to the Liturgy of the Hours, it can feel like a personal devotion, especially if you’re praying by yourself. But the fact is, this is the official prayer of the Church. So when I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it’s not just so my own spiritual life will be enhanced. It’s for the good of the entire Church. And that’s what always helps me to get back on track.”
A notable promise that permanent deacons also make at their ordination is not to remarry if their wives die before them. That condition, mandated by the Code of Canon Law, helps explain why candidates for the permanent diaconate tend to be older. For many younger married men, making such a momentous promise can be an obstacle.
“That’s huge. A lot of guys struggle with that,” Deacon Kandra said. “I know a lot of guys who dropped out of formation because they just couldn’t imagine raising their kids without a mother.”
On a related note, married men who discern the permanent diaconate are required to have the support of their wives because of the demands that come with the vocation. Deacon Ditewig said it is necessary for the deacon, his wife and children to grow spiritually together as a family.
“It’s important the wife and the family somehow participate in his spiritual life to the greatest amount that they can,” Deacon Ditewig said, “Mainly so everybody’s growing together and having the same opportunity for growth.”
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.