Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dixie's Deacon Deluge

It wasn't all that long ago when the sight at left -- ordination candidates so numerous that their prostrations swelled beyond a cathedral sanctuary -- was a leading sign of the "golden age"... well, for those who'd measure the church's health through the prism of priesthood.

Nowadays, the image reinforces the coming of a new springtime: that of the permanent diaconate -- a vocation which, as often as not, gets embarrassingly short shrift in comparison to the money, time, attention and energy poured into seminary recruitment... yet still ends up reaping a much bigger yield anyway.

Isn't it rich? (...and, no, the secret doesn't lie in the "they can get married" bit.)

Pope Benedict recently praised permanent deacons for the "visibility" of their ministry. Along those lines, now numbering 17,000 in the States, the order of clerics keeps growing by leaps and bounds, including the 20 ordained earlier this month by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta:
Archbishop Gregory reminded the deacons that after the pomp of the ceremony ended, they must find people living on the margins of society.

“As deacons, you must devote yourselves to the care of the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised, and the forgotten. These people can be found in every community. They are members of every race. As deacons you must make it your highest calling always to seek them out, to welcome them to the church, to offer them the same compassionate care that they would find from Christ Jesus himself,” he said.

The diaconate is “an obligation to work for charity and justice in the tradition of the Catholic Church,” he said.

He offered some advice: Never be harsh or short. Treat Catholics with the respect they deserve. Offer the Catholic faith undiluted. Be reverent at baptisms, weddings and funerals. Work cooperatively with pastors. Develop a deep prayer life.

However, the archbishop told them their first priority is their families, the “noble women” who are their wives, and their work outside of the church.

Their new service as deacons will be more successful only if they keep those priorities in order, he said.

Deacon Loris Sinanian, director of formation for the diaconate, said the men represent four ethnic groups “and Alabama,” a joke which brought the house down. They are to serve in 17 parishes.

More of the deacons’ wives participated in the program than ever with nine earning a designation as a master catechist, he said. The men grew into a community.

“They struggled with the illness of their brothers in formation, the loss of others, and yet became a cohesive team,” said Deacon Sinanian. “They will be missed, and may their formation be an asset to their parishes.”

A deacon is ordained by the archbishop to minister in the Catholic Church. A deacon serves by proclaiming Scripture, preaching, and performing charity for others. Deacons also baptize, assist at marriages, preside at funerals and burial rites and lead Communion and prayer services.

The program prepares men with academic, spiritual and pastoral experiences. Men are either single or married. If single, they take a vow of celibacy. Most deacons hold full-time jobs in addition to serving the church in ministry. Some become deacons after retiring from the work force.

The new deacons’ age runs from 46 to 66. All are married. They work in a variety of professions, from the IT world and the steel fabrication business to court translator and the global travel industry.
Tip to Greg Kandra -- an Emmy-winning producer and writer for CBS News ordained last year as one of 52 new deacons for the diocese of Brooklyn.

PHOTO: Michael Alexander/Georgia Bulletin