Discernment: Deacons restore hope through ministry of charity

By Deacon Dan Lupo
Guest Columnist

Variations of the Greek word diakonia (“ministry of charity” or “service”) occur 36 times in the New Testament to describe the early church’s care for those on society’s fringes: “the poor..., [the homeless,] the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned… [all who are] needy,” says the Compendium on the Diaconate.  
Today, the church ordains permanent deacons to help carry out its diakonia to the materially and spiritually poor. The deacon “as an ordained participant in the Church’s ministry of charity … puts on Christ” to help those in need encounter God and feel his love and mercy, according to the Basic Norms for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. 
At ordination, the Holy Spirit imbues graces to the deacon to “serve … the suffering and the sinful,” says the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons (38). Maintaining a vibrant prayer life and regular participation in the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the deacon relies on his “inherent intimacy with Christ the Servant” to embody Christ to those he ministers to” Thomas Keating writes in his book Heart of the Diaconate (7).
When Pope Francis highlighted the wounds of “those living on the outermost fringes of society … who have no voice because their cry is muffled ... [by] the barriers of indifference,” he urged the church to “heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15). 
It is the permanent deacon who the church sends to heal these wounds, as St. John Paul II stated in his 1987 Address to Deacons of the United States, “the very heart of the diaconate [is] to be a servant … of Christ, and … [of His] brothers and sisters.”
Because offering spiritual and corporal works of mercy is essential to the deacon’s ministerial identity, one way the church discerns a man’s call to the permanent diaconate is by the evidence of “a natural inclination for service” in his application for diaconal formation – his experiences of service to others in and beyond the parish, says Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem. 
Men 35 to 57 years old with such experience who sense the Holy Spirit’s call to serve as a permanent deacon are invited (along with their wives, if married) to attend one of the following information sessions from 2 to 5 p.m.: 
Dec. 13, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls
Jan. 17, St Mary Parish in Brenham
Feb. 14, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Temple
March 13, St. John the Evangelist Parish in San Marcos
April 10, Pastoral Center in Austin
These sessions will address the vocational call/discernment, diaconal character, applicant suitability, application requirements, formation expectations, and marriage implications.
The next five-year diaconal formation class begins in January 2017. A man wishing to attend an information session should first discuss his desire with his pastor. Then, e-mail diaconateformation@austindiocese.org to make a reservation for a specific session; the e-mail must confirm that his pastor has approved his attendance. 
Information is available at www.austindiocese.org/offices-ministries/offices/diaconal-ministry-office/diaconal-formation or by calling (512) 949-2459.