Deacons pray during a Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Brookville, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Recruiting for the Diaconate?

A developed prayer life and interest in spiritual reading are a necessary foundation for formation

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Deacon James KeatingIt is the joy of deacons to encounter men within whom they see a potential vocation to the diaconate. This “seeing” may occur within casual relationships, within sustained friendships or even within professional relationships. Being enthusiastic about our own vocation naturally leads to promoting it to others as the good thing it is. Encouraging others to consider the diaconate enables them to understand our vocation better and, perhaps, even to increase our ranks, where needed.

As positive as vocation promotion can be, though, we need to have prudence when inviting others to consider the clerical vocation. Not every good man has prepared himself well to enter diaconal formation because of the circumstances of his life or personality. Over the years of my being a deacon formation director, I have noticed two areas where many men are ill prepared to enter formation despite their goodness and advance age: prayer and study.

This element, a deep prayer life, is often lacking in men despite their commitment to Church and public worship. Despite these good and necessary traits — regular worship at Mass and service around the parish — many men have no commitment to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, no prayerful lectio divina of Scripture and no family prayer. Some men say they pray the Rosary “while driving on the way to work.” Most report no shared prayer of any kind with their wives.

The second area of weakness in potential deacons is a noticeable lack of interest in reading the Scriptures or spiritual books. Many men who present themselves to apply for formation have little or no history of reading. Deacons are spiritual leaders, preachers of God’s word, counselors in the ways of Catholic wisdom. Does a man who never read a spiritual book or regularly engaged the Scriptures during his adult life truly believe he can make up in four years what he neglected over 40?

It is vital that the Church ordain men with Catholic minds. To develop such a mind, one indicative of a spiritual leader, usually takes years of study and, more importantly, a desire to read. Neither his current state of prayer nor his lack of interest in the mind of the Church condemns a man, in any way, regarding his moral character. But the diaconate is not simply a gathering of good men; it is a gathering of potential spiritual leaders. And this gathering happens at midlife, not in one’s early 20s when time and pliable brain matter are at the optimum!

What should we do when we know a man whom we wish to recommend for formation? Perhaps the first course of action would be to enter a conversation with him about these two areas, prayer and reading. If you sense these areas are not developed, then you can give encouragement to deepen his commitment to them before seeking application to clerical formation.

Since we are looking for spiritual leaders, the areas of prayer and study are germane to any conversation right from the beginning. Some deacons follow this old saying as their standard when encountering a man who balks at his readiness to consider holy orders, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” Maybe. But we can help God out a bit by recommending those who, out of love for him, have better equipped themselves in interiority over their many years of life.

DEACON JAMES KEATING, Ph.D., is the directory of theological formation with the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University.

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