Vocations: The Holy Spirit calls men to the diaconate
By Deacon Dan Lupo
“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom… They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them…” (Acts 6:3,6).
As this Scripture passage says, the Holy Spirit fills men’s hearts with a call to become deacons. The early church discerned its first deacons by the presence of that Spirit at work in these men in four ways.
First, the church discerned that the Spirit had marked these men with a strong human character: they were “dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience … [able to] manage their children and their households well” (1Tm 3:8-9,12).
Likewise today, the church’s “first step in discerning a diaconal vocation is [to assess] the character of the man … look[ing] to the foundation to see if ministry can be sustained by the human character” writes Deacon James Keating in the recently published “The Heart of the Diaconate.”
Second, the Spirit imbued the first deacons’ intellect with wisdom –– an extraordinary understanding of God’s presence in his life and in the world, gained through his close relationship with the Word made flesh.
Today’s church similarly seeks evidence that a man’s intellect is enlightened by the Spirit.
According to the “National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States,” deacons engage in ministry “not [out] of their own wisdom but [out] of the Word of God...”
Two additional characteristics of suitability for diaconal ministry are the “grace and power” that marked St. Stephen, the first deacon to serve the early church.
So, third, the Holy Spirit’s grace enabled St. Stephen to work “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). The word “deacon” means “servant” in Greek; it is his service to those in need, therefore, that reveals the Spirit’s grace at work.
This same grace must be evident in a man aspiring to today’s permanent diaconate; he must possess a natural inclination to service. The “Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons” states, “Christ’s spirit of service [which] imbues the will with a special grace [that inclines a man] … to serve his brothers and sisters.”
Fourth, because St. Stephen was “filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55) he had the extraordinary power to witness his faith, even unto death –– to live it and proclaim it boldly regardless of consequences (Acts 7). The Greek word for witness is “martyr.”
This ability to witness, and the capacity to forgive those who persecuted him, is a gift the Spirit gave Stephen. Today, the church discerns whether a man has a vibrant prayer life and the presence of a faith lived in community through regular participation in the sacraments – two sure signs he is cooperating with the Spirit moving in him and is willing to “die-to-self” for the faith.
Those four aspects of suitability for the diaconate revealed in Scripture –– strong human character, enlightened intellect, pastoral service, and spiritual wisdom and strength –– are the same characteristics today’s church seeks to discern in men when she invites them into her deacon formation program.
The next permanent diaconate class will begin in January 2017 (see box at left). A man (30 to 57 years old) who wishes to explore a possible call to the permanent diaconate should first discuss that call with his pastor. A pastor’s written consent is required to attend any session.
Further information is available at www.austindiocese.org/offices-ministries/offices/diaconal-ministry-office/diaconal-formation or by calling (512) 949-2459.
Sessions explore call to the diaconate
Information sessions exploring the vocational call, the qualities of a man suitable for formation, the church’s discernment process, the formation program, diaconal ministry, and implications on marriage will be offered from
2 to 5 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
Oct. 18 at the Pastoral Center in Austin
Nov. 15 at the Pastoral Center in Austin
Dec. 13 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls
Jan. 17 at St. Mary Parish in Brenham
Feb. 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Temple
March 13 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in San Marcos
April 10 at the Pastoral Center in Austin
Please note: A pastor’s written consent is required to attend any session.
For more information about diaconate formation, call (512) 949-2459.