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Editorial: Permanent deacons are a gift to the Church; here are two resources to support them
There are more than 19,000 permanent deacons in the United States today. Do you know one? If so, take a moment to thank him for his service and dedication. Are you one? Please know you are a gift to the Church.
Formally reestablished in the life of the Latin Church by Pope St. Paul VI following the close of the Second Vatican Council (deacons always have been active in the Eastern churches), the permanent diaconate is the first of three ranks of ordained ministry that include the priesthood and the episcopacy. Deacons, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (‘character’) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (No. 1570).
The primary way in which deacons serve the Church is during the celebration of the Eucharist, and they are often seen proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, distributing holy Communion, witnessing marriages or presiding at funerals. But they also are active in much more — especially in ministries of charity and service through the parish and the community.
In July, an annual survey of permanent deacons indicated that 587 new permanent deacons had been ordained across the country in 2020. While the number of newly ordained is not enough to offset the number of deacons who are retiring and/or dying each year, the permanent diaconate continues to grow in awareness and in popularity around the world.
Many permanent deacons, though, struggle with balancing busy lives, families and full-time careers. They are in search of more: more time, more prayer, more formation, more of Jesus Christ. In his book “Encountering Christ the Servant: A Spirituality of the Diaconate,” Deacon Dominic Cerrato writes about how to fill the void.
“Ours is not so much an outward search for God but a desire to discover Him from within. The God who created us, who loved us into being, who died for us while we were still sinners, is already present in our interior lives, waiting patiently to be encountered and reencountered,” he writes. “While He is certainly present in the world around us — in the people we meet, in the situations we confront — that outward presence goes largely unnoticed and unappreciated without an inward recognition. Our ability to see Christ in those we serve begins with an interior life attuned to His Divine Presence.”
Two exciting opportunities exist this fall to help permanent deacons in their quest to live their ordained ministry to the fullest. The first is The Deacon, a bimonthly magazine published by OSV and edited by Deacon Cerrato, that, according to its mission statement, “serves permanent deacons and deacon candidates as they serve the Church by helping them foster intimate communion with Christ the Servant.”
“Through a cultivation of the interior life, which leads to effective ministry, The Deacon contributes to the mission of the Church by making present the totus Christus (the ‘whole Christ’) to the world,” the editors say. Subscriptions to The Deacon, for individuals and in bulk, are available at the-deacon.com.
The second opportunity comes in the form of a virtual event being held Nov. 5-6. Hosted by Virtual Catholic Conference and sponsored by The Deacon and OSV, this deacon conference is “about being renewed as Catholic deacons through a deepening interior life,” organizers say. The event, open to deacons, deacon candidates and deacon wives, aims to reenergize permanent deacons in their ministries — especially through a renewal of the interior life, by helping deacons grow in knowledge and understanding of their vocation, and by helping bring a balance to the many demands facing them in today’s world. Deacons won’t want to miss this unique event. Register at go.virtualcatholicconference.com/deacon.
Upon the release of the most recent diaconal survey, Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, noted that permanent deacons “provide an encouraging witness to the love and mercy of Christ” even and especially during difficult times. Consider offering a prayer of thanksgiving for all they do. And, if you are a permanent deacon yourself, consider making time to renew and rededicate yourself in your vocation. It could make all the difference.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young