A Reflection on the Diaconate

by Deacon Bill Roche

I was one of 18 men who were ordained to the permanent diaconate on May 7, 2005, by Bishop William Friend for the Diocese of Shreveport.  Our ordination followed four years of formation which included a year of aspirancy and three years of candidacy. During formation we were instructed in sacred scripture, pastoral ministry, theology, Church history, spirituality, canon law, homiletics, and other specific topics which were intended to prepare us for ministry in the Church as permanent deacons.  Everything we learned was relevant. Our preparation, however, paled in comparison to the actual practice of ministry.

All of the men with whom I was ordained were willing and anxious to serve the people of God and the Bishop of Shreveport but we had no real idea of what to expect. For most of us there had been no practical experience at our home parishes of a functioning deacon. We had no one’s example to follow, except the deacons to which we were exposed during formation. The people of our parishes had no particular expectation of what it was the deacons were going to do. It was new territory all around.

Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I was still surprised!  At St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport my brother deacon and I were received with open arms and the support of the parish. The gracious welcome wasn’t what was so surprising, but rather that the people were so open to the possibility that having deacons in our parish was going to be a good and positive thing.  I think the people had more confidence in our ministry than we ourselves had at that time. This reception was replicated throughout the diocese in the parishes to which the new deacons were assigned.

The first months of diaconal ministry were a gradual exposure to the workings of the parish and inclusion in the ministerial life of the parish. Summer vacations, a change of pastors and getting acquainted with a parish ministerial team stretched the process of orientation for me, but it all started to take shape. Those of us who had been active in our parishes were now able to be more involved. For some of us it was our first active involvement.  My experience was similar to the other men of my class: we assisted the priest at Mass, we were assigned to preach occasionally, we were beginning to perform some of the baptisms in our parishes, some of us officiated at those weddings which did not include Mass and we presided at some funerals.  As a group of newly ordained deacons, in addition to the ministries we had already been doing, we found ourselves engaged in ministries that we may not have anticipated, or to an extent greater than we had anticipated, whether it was prison ministry, campus ministry, hospital ministry, RCIA, or even in some cases, parish administration.

When I look back on the preparation for ministry during our formation there is one area of preparation which has served me better than others. During every year at least one of the courses we took was on Sacred Scripture.  We studied the Old and New Testaments and each of the four Gospels. We studied the Letters of Paul and the others.  We learned that everything we do as Church is based on the foundation of Scripture.  Everything we do as deacons is in service to the Church, which is the people of God. When we studied homiletics, which is how to form and deliver a homily that made sense, we were being prepared to express what we had learned when we studied the Bible.

During the Rite of Ordination there are several things that stand out spiritually and emotionally. One, of course, is lying prostrate on the floor of the church as a litany is sung.  Another is when the bishop lays hands on the head of each candidate for ordination.  Another is when the candidate is vested in stole and dalmatic by his wife and by a brother deacon. Of all that is said and that occurs during the Rite, the one part that has meant the most to me is when the bishop handed each one of us the Book of Gospels and said the words, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are: believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”  Those words resonate with me, and through the grace of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit I hope that each of my brother deacons and I have been able to measure up in some small way to the charge of Bishop Friend that day.

It is a time of great joy for the local Church as we prepare to receive the active ministry of 16 men who are being ordained to the Order of Deacon. I am confident that they are well prepared and will be welcomed with love by the People of God. We all need to pray for these men and their families, as they are thrust into a new and exciting role in their lives and the life of the Church.

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