MCNEILLIE: Is God calling you to be a deacon? Check with your wife first

March 26, 2019

While the Office of Vocations helps a lot of young people to discern their vocation (to marriage, priesthood and consecrated life), discerning to be a permanent deacon requires a different process. We say “permanent” deacon to distinguish these deacons from the seminarians who are ordained “transitional” deacons a year before they are ordained a priest.

According to Deacon Phillip Jackson, the Archdiocesan director of the Permanent Diaconate, “If you feel that the Lord is calling you to the diaconate, then you are encouraged to continue to pray, speak with your spouse if married and let your pastor know of your intentions.”

Although most people know that discerning any vocation requires prayer, many might be surprised at Deacon Phillip’s recommendation to dialogue with one’s wife and pastor. But this is because permanent deacons have a unique vocation.
First, married deacons have a combination of two vocations, marriage and diaconate, and their marriage comes first. It comes first chronologically; no man can ever get married after being ordained. And it comes first in importance; the diaconate vocation should not detract from the marriage.

This is why, according to Deacon Phillip, “if the man is married, he must have the support of his wife [in order to be a deacon].” In this way, the diaconate is often a secondary vocation. It’s a call that takes place within a marriage, and wives have a role. In fact, wives are even required to attend some of the formation classes.

Second, even though deacons are ordained by the bishop to serve with the bishop, deacons are tied to a local church community. For instance, even though there are some groups of religious priests who serve the needs of the Church globally and there are groups of diocesan priests who serve the needs of the Church locally, there aren’t similar groupings of deacons.

All deacons are diocesan; they all come from and stay in the diocese. In practical terms, this means that every deacon is sponsored by and connected to their parish pastor. Again, Deacon Phillip states that in order to be a deacon, “the man must have the support and recommendation from his pastor.”

As Deacon Phillip says, “Fundamentally, a deacon is a man of service who is called form the Church community to a lifelong and public commitment to service. Their lived faith is one of caring for others, helping where needed, and giving of themselves in the works of their parish community.”

There are around 450 deacons serving in parishes and special ministries throughout the Archdiocese, and we are grateful for them all.

But when encouraging men to become deacons, we should keep in mind the uniqueness of their vocation and uniqueness of their vocational discernment. Because their vocational discernment involves the support of their pastor and, most importantly, the support of their wife and family, it is probably not a good idea to encourage every man to think about the diaconate.

For instance, talking to a class of 10 year-olds about being a deacon is probably too early.

But helping your pastor identify and encourage the right men along with their families to consider a life of dedicated service as a deacon could be a big gain for the Archdiocese.

Father Richard McNeillie is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations.