Ready to Serve

Deacon Digest will respond to an evolving diaconate

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A few months ago, I received a call from Gretchen Crowe, editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. She told me they were rebooting Deacon Digest magazine and asked if I was willing to contribute a few articles. I was pleased to learn that the magazine was going back into publication, as the diaconate lacks a national voice. After some conversation about the nature of the diaconate and where it was going, Gretchen, quite surprisingly, asked me to apply for the position of editor. The rest, as they say, is history; at least in the sense that it’s part of a much longer story.

When the call to the diaconate came, I was a young man and newly married. According to the discipline of the Church, I had well over a decade to wait before I reached the canonical age of ordination. It was at that time, convinced of my vocation, that I set myself on a rather long and arduous path of preparation. After some self-study, I pursued a 13-year journey that would see undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate studies in theology. I would see lay work on both the parish and diocesan levels. I would see a remarkable marriage and seven children. Finally, on the solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, 1995, by the grace of God, I was ordained the first permanent deacon of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio.

Although I never set out to become a theologian, I was swept up by my studies to a place I could scarcely imagine. I began to appreciate more and more that theology is, as St. Anselm of Canterbury so succinctly put it, “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding). As I advanced further, the words of the Swiss theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar became evermore relevant. Echoing the tradition, he noted that authentic theology is properly done on our knees.

From this perspective, I could see that the teachings I studied were not cold, dispassionate doctrines, but truths that mediated the Truth. Theology, for me, was not simply the search for something, but the discovery of Someone. It was about falling in love with God. Consequently, the heart of the diaconate, for me, is deep, intimate communion with Christ the Servant. This is the source of my diaconate in my marriage, my family and my ministry. It inspires me to serve as Christ served, to live as Christ lived and to touch as Christ touched. Understood this way, diaconal ministry is nothing less than divine acts of love expressed through human hands, imperfect though they are. Thus, in the end, it’s not me who serves, but Christ who serves in me.

Now, many years later, on the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the diaconate, I find myself with the daunting task of editing Deacon Digest. As I reflect upon my new position, it seems to me that the rebooted publication must respond to an evolving diaconate, one in which the order continually is discovering its own unique contribution to the Church in light of her ancient tradition.

To that end, I look forward to the ability to select quality writers who convey the heart of the diaconate in terms of the primacy of the interior life and the inherent relationship between diaconal theology and pastoral ministry. The contributing writers must navigate a middle road between a theological journal and a publication focused on best practices. I’m convinced that these key elements deeply resonate in the heart of every deacon and, because of this, will find a home in the new Deacon Digest.

DEACON DOMINIC CERRATO, Ph.D., is editor of Deacon Digest and currently the director of Diaconal Formation for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. He provides spiritual direction through the Pastoral Solutions Institute and is founder of Diaconal Ministries, where he gives national presentations and retreats to deacons and diaconal candidates.

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