Through the lens of prayer, deacons are formed for a lifetime of service, ministry

May 28, 2019

Members of the permanent diaconate process into the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston during a recent Mass. The Office of the Permanent Diaconate works to form men who seek to serve Christ and the Church in ordained ministry as a permanent deacon. File photo by James Ramos/Herald.

HOUSTON — Forming men who serve Christ and the Church in ordained ministry as a permanent deacon requires looking through the lens of prayer. Whether a man is currently in formation, recently ordained, or has been ordained for half his lifetime.

One of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), the Office of the Permanent Diaconate benefits greatly through the generous contributions of the faithful. 

“We are men, called, blessed and sent to serve God’s holy people, and it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are able to serve and minister as deacons,” said Deacon Phillip Jackson, director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate of the Archdiocese. “Everything we do as a deacon is part of our lifelong formation, and the Holy Spirit guides us in our ministry.”

Deacons are ordained for a three-fold ministry of word, Liturgy and charity. From proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing and leading the faithful in prayer, witnessing marriages, and conducting wake and funeral services, deacons are also committed to identifying the needs of others and finding the Church’s resources to meet whatever those needs may be.

Because the responsibilities of a deacon go beyond what the faithful experience at Mass, Deacon Jackson said it is not only essential to know what a deacon does, but who that man is, which requires a strong foundation rooted in prayer.

“We are men called by God to serve his holy people,” said Deacon Jackson. “Deacons serve in areas that many do not see, namely, nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and halfway houses. We teach Baptism classes to parents, confirmation classes to our youth and adults, we assist those who would like to petition the Church for declarations of nullity for a previous marriage, and we provide a listening ear to those who want someone to accompany them through a difficult period in their lives.”

Currently, there are 464 deacons in the Archdiocese and 55 additional men that are considered “Inquirers” and are discerning the call to this vocation. Approximately 50 percent of the permanent deacons have reached retirement age, but many continue to serve well into their 80s. Deacon Jackson said the Office of the Permanent Diaconate has one of the largest, if not the largest, formation program in the country, which continues to grow.

“Daniel Cardinal DiNardo has often referred to the Archdiocese as the ‘United Nations,’ meaning that Houston is a very diverse city and the Archdiocese is a reflection of this diversity,” said Deacon Jackson. “The Office of the Permanent Diaconate has recognized the need for more Spanish-speaking deacons, and we see this as a great opportunity for us, but at the same time one that presents one of our greatest challenges.”

As a result, Deacon Jackson said it is crucial to help those men whose first language is Spanish to answer the call to the diaconate. He said classes are taught in English and Spanish, and on those Saturdays when the men and their wives gather together, simultaneous Spanish translations are offered.

Deacon Jackson said it is also a goal to encourage more young men to answer the call to the diaconate, as well as those who are married. For the latter, these men are reminded that their first ministry is that of husband and father, and secondly, deacon. They must discern with their wives if the diaconate is right for their family. Permanent deacons must also abide by their commitment to live a celibate life should their wife pass away.

“The Office of the Permanent Diaconate assists the family in the entire discernment process, which sometimes includes individual or marriage and family counseling,” said Deacon Jackson. “Again, viewing the formation of these men through the lens of our mission calls us to this aspect of service to our first vocation — our families. The deacon who best knows himself and is supported by the family will be a better servant to the Church.”

Deacon Jackson said donations to the DSF fund help to pay for the costs of the diaconal formation courses offered, which is required for each man and optional for his wife. There are two tracks that the man can choose to travel.

“The first formation track is the Certificate program, which provides the candidate formation in areas of theology, Christology, philosophy, Church history, and several other academic classes,” said Deacon Jackson. “The second track is the masters in pastoral studies (MAPS) program, like that of the Certificate track. However, the student will receive a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Theology.”

Deacon Jackson said in addition to prayerful guidance of the Holy Spirit, this ministry could not accomplish its mission without the DSF or the hard work and dedication of its staff and volunteers.

One such volunteer is Ann Lutringer, who has served with the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for close to two years.
“I now realize how much time, money and effort are put into making sure our deacons are the right people to help our parishes these days when we need them so badly,” said Lutringer. “It makes me feel good to be a part of that process, however small that is. It’s also given me an appreciation of how many prayers are needed for these men.”

Lutringer agrees that the DSF is essential in helping the ministry fulfill its mission, which is why she contributes each month.

“This ministry is only the beginning of the programs our Archdiocese needs to minister to the people in need around us,” said Lutringer. “There’s no way each parish could begin to minister to all the people we know are in need. It’s good to know our Archdiocese through the DSF can help us organize and carry out this mission.”