Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Aug. 3, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Late spring and early summer seems to be the culmination of many things during the school and academic year. Graduations are very important moments in students’ lives as they complete their programs and move on to new things. Years of formation in seminary and diaconal preparation also conclude. We celebrated our ordinations to the priesthood and transitional diaconate on the evening of July 7 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Three new priests and one deacon were ordained for service in the Diocese of Spokane. (Editor’s note: Photos of those ordinations are posted here.)
On July 21, we celebrated the ordinations of three Hispanic deacons in St. Patrick Parish in Pasco. In addition on the two successive Fridays, diaconal ordinations for three Hispanic men will be celebrated in St. Vincent Parish in Connell and in Sacred Heart Parish in Othello. Two will be ordained in Othello and one in Connell. This will conclude the present cycle of deacon formation. We are very pleased to have these new six deacons from a community that has such an important place in our local Church. They will add a sacramental presence of service and ministry in our faith communities.
As I write this reflection, I am returning from the NDICE (National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education) convocation in Cincinnati, where about 300 deacons and wives gathered for continuing education. This is the first contact I have had with the group in about 16 years, the time when I was associated with the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate. The NDICE convocation is impressive, as deacons come from all over the country for renewal and fraternity. I spoke last night to them about the need for personal prayer, continued learning, and taking care of our physical selves. That’s a balance for all of us to work on.
The role of the deacon is one of being a minister of charity, of the Word, and at the altar. Those roles are not exclusively theirs, but their witness is highlighted in their sacramental ministry as an animator and source of inspiration for the entire Church. In my own experience, I have observed that diaconal ministry has greatly enriched the Church, especially in our own country and in many other parts of the world as well.
The deacon provides a connection between the Church and the marketplace, so to speak. That connection is an important one, as deacons go about their regular lives as family, but also take on the added dimension of special service for and on behalf of the Church, especially for the poor and vulnerable. The Acts of the Apostles speaks of the selection of the first deacons who carried out the same mission. This sacramental sign has been present from the very beginning of the Church’s existence, and it has certainly become much more pronounced since the Second Vatican Council.
Perhaps it is good for all of us to reflect on the significance of the decision for a layman to become a deacon.
First of all, there is the screening process. Second, at least four years of preparation and formation for diaconal ministry are demanded. That preparation involves at least one weekend a month for 10 months each year.
Once a deacon is ordained, he commits his life to diaconal ministry, although there are priorities. Since most deacons do not work directly for the Church, they have their regular jobs. A deacon’s priorities should be arranged in this order: family/marriage, profession and/or job, and then diaconal ministry.
Again and again, I have been inspired about the tremendous generosity of time shared in ministry that is freely given in the spirit of Christ like service by men in diaconal ministry. I must also say that since almost all deacons are married, their wives have played a very important, supportive role in this ministry. They also need to be appreciated for that special sign and understanding.
Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”) is a call for all of us to combine in our lives the sacraments we celebrate, especially Eucharist, with our service of loving and being neighbor. We as Church have tremendous potential in both areas to grow and be more what God calls us to be. Celebrating Eucharist together brings us close in intimacy to God’s word and to the Bread of Life, food for the journey. The Lord Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, is always the one who takes initiative in our lives and brings us his love and care. The signs of the sacraments remind us of that constant Presence. May all of us live with that Presence in gratitude, fidelity and generous response.
Blessings and peace to all.
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