Vocations: Steps in the spirituality of a deacon
By Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez
Two documents from the Holy See give deacons a map to follow and enter into the spiritual life into which deacons are called. The "Basic Norms for the Formation of the Permanent Deacons" and "The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons" give unity of direction, clarification of concepts, encouragement and defined pastoral objectives. They have magisterial teaching authority from which the bishops’ conferences around the world create their national directories for the life and formation of deacons.
Praying the rosary
The Directory speaks of Mary as the model for all deacons and describes her as the handmaid of the Lord (57). The document instructs us to let Mary be our guide by the daily recitation of the rosary, which will help "deacons to imitate her life." Mary is close to the deacon’s vocation because "she was the selfless helper of her divine Son’s diakonia." The Basic Norms also mention the daily rosary, and adds that we invoke Mary as our mother and helper (72).
Attend daily Mass
The Directory says that a deacon should attend daily Mass because it is in the Eucharist where the deacon encounters Christ who will give him the strength for evangelization and in which "the whole spiritual good of the church is contained" (54). It mentions the words "source and summit" to convey how the Lord in the Eucharist has no equal or substitute.
The Basic Norms also encourage deacons to attend daily Mass to attain a Eucharistic Spirituality that will give them a new capacity to love the weakest and most vulnerable (73). This is accomplished within the limits of his family and professional commitments.
Liturgy of the Hours
The Basic Norms and the Directory speak of the Liturgy of the Hours as being the Prayer of the Church (75). In 1967, Pope Paul VI stated that deacons should pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. At ordination, deacons vow to their bishop to pray it daily, and most deacons renew this vow annually. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours states, "Those taking part in the liturgy of the hours have access to holiness of the richest kind…" (14) and that "those taking part in the liturgy of the hours bring growth to God’s people in a hidden but fruitful apostolate" (18).
The Basic Norms speak of "the daily exercise of Lectio Divina" as another characteristic of diaconal spirituality to make him an authoritative preacher of which he is called to be (74). "Lectio Divina" means divine reading. Pope Benedict XVI’s "Verbum Domini" explains that one of the best ways of praying Lectio Divina is to use the daily Mass readings, but one can also use Lectio Divina after praying the Liturgy of the Hours by rereading and reflecting on the Psalms or Scriptures encountered there or with other spiritual writings of the church. Pope Francis’ "Evangelii Gaudium" explains that Lectio Divina, done properly, is one of the ways in which God speaks to man.
The Directory and Canon 276 of the Code of Canon Law speak of the deacon entering into mental prayer (56). A good way to enter into mental prayer is to visit the Blessed Sacrament where one can gaze at our Lord or enter into interior silence, which leads to contemplation or mental prayer. By including a regular Holy Hour in our daily routines one can fulfill most of the steps in a deacon’s spiritual life. The documents mention other spiritual practices, such as frequent confession and having a spiritual director. Of course this takes time, discipline and balance ensuring one’s duties, obligations and family life are not ignored. Achieving balance between one’s spiritual health and worldly responsibilities is tough, as Blessed Pope John Paul II said when speaking of the deacon’s spirituality, attending to his spiritual life "deeply affects the deacon’s heart, spurring him to offer, to give his whole self to serving the kingdom of God in the church."
Although the church sets the bar high with these five steps that, at times, may seem hard to fulfill, she has given us this path to holiness that we too may be men like St. Stephen, "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 6:3) and like "Christ, who made himself the deacon and servant of all" (CCC, 1570). The bar is high so that we may have, "simplicity of heart, total giving of self and disinterest for self, humble and helpful love for the brothers and sisters, especially the poorest, the suffering and the most needy, the choice of a life-style of sharing and poverty." (72 Basic Norms)