This last Saturday I had the unique opportunity to address the “permanent deacons” at a morning prayer service in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and later that morning I had the privilege of ordaining four men for the transitional diaconate – those men who will be ordained priests in a year. When a man approaches sacred orders, his first ordination is to the diaconate.
In the early church, the apostles and their successors, the episcopoi (bishops), designated men to assist them in the task of service to the community. The apostles, as leaders of prayer, along with the presbyteroi (priests) discovered that the demands of the poor increased. The essential tasks of charity and good works were being neglected and the apostles needed assistance in the distribution of the shared resources:
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered together all the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayers and the ministry of the world.’” (Acts: 6:1-5)
Now, nearly 2,000 years later, the diaconate exists to continue that dedicated service to the church in relationship and collaboration with the bishop and priests. As I celebrated Morning Prayer, my eyes looked around at the deacons with their wives, and I marveled at the collective years of ministry present.
Many chose to pursue this vocational call of the diaconate at personal sacrifice because they loved Christ and his church. These are men who had helped fashion the diaconate that we know today. They were trained in this renewed order of ministry. Many are married and their wives share in their ministry. It was a new experience for the Roman Catholic Church and its congregations to have married clergy and their children would have to adjust to being the deacon’s kids.
In the frank exchange during the question-and-answer period, I quickly perceived that the zeal for service to the church was stronger than ever. After my meeting with the permanent deacons I rushed to St. Matthias Parish. I was the celebrant, assisted by Bishop Richard J. Sklba, priests and deacons, at the ordination Mass of four of our transitional deacons. (See related photos, Page 10.)
These men – Javier Guativa, Christopher Klusman, Hugo Londoño, and Kevin Mc Manaman – were ordained to the order of deacon and will spend approximately a year serving the church. But, they are “transitional” because their ultimate vocational call is to the ordained priesthood.
They have varied backgrounds. Two, Javier and Hugo, who are from Columbia, are choosing to serve in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; Javier is from the community of St. Paul and Hugo did his theological studies in Washington, D.C.; Kevin, from Cudahy, was a teacher and Chris, who grew up in the city of St. Francis, is part of our community of deaf and hard of hearing Catholics.
These are men who bring their lives to the church. The service had a deep intensity as one might expect from the type of commitment being made. In the homily, I attempted to emphasize the freedom that they exercised in making this decision. Although the world may view their commitment as a restraint on their freedom, their freedom, as well as all true freedom, comes from following the will of God.
One very touching moment was during the offertory procession. As the gifts to be used at the sacrifice of the Mass were presented by the deacons’ mothers, I thanked them not only for the gifts that were in their hands, but for the gifts of their sons to the church. Needless to say, as the mothers hugged their sons during the presentation of gifts, tears flowed. They were tears of joy, gratitude and love.
It is interesting to note that vocations usually emerge from a collective source of encounters with family, priests, religious and friends, but vocations are ultimately the call of God.
The new deacon stands as a testimony to the hand of God in their lives. At the recessional, the new deacons beamed with happiness. As I left the church I felt grateful to be an archbishop who can look forward to working with the permanent and transitional deacons who have dedicated themselves to the service of God’s people. I know that our parishes will be well served and loved.