Formation: A Gift of the Holy Spirit
Cultivating our responsibility for deeper growth
Deacon Matt Coriale Comments Off on Formation: A Gift of the Holy Spirit
I was recently speaking with some deacon directors from around the country about ongoing formation. One common theme emerged: Many deacons do not embrace opportunities for ongoing formation. The reasons vary, but the results are the same — ongoing formation is often overlooked in our priorities.
As servants of the Lord and his people, we must not neglect the gift of our ordination. St. Paul writes, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands. … Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tm 4:14-16).
When we receive a gift, a certain responsibility comes with it. The greater the gift, the greater the responsibility. As deacons and disciples of the Lord, we have been entrusted with the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit. At our baptism, we receive our universal call to holiness (cf. Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5), and at our ordination, we are configured in a special way to Christ the Servant. These gifts of baptism and holy orders are meant to be embraced, nurtured and shared with the People of God to whom we are sent to serve.
Participating in ongoing formation is one way in which we cultivate the gifts of baptism and holy orders. We must trust that the Lord is always calling us to encounter him in our ministry, drawing us into an ever-deeper relationship with him through our diakonia. However, if we neglect to nurture these gifts, it is as if we are putting our talent under a rock for safekeeping (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
Ministry provides the environment and motivation for ongoing formation. The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States reminds us that the primary source for post-ordination formation is ministry itself (cf. 2nd ed., No. 251). This does not mean that we are only formed by ministry, but rather that the Holy Spirit will guide us through our ministry in ways that both lead to unplanned growth and provide opportunities to intentionally grow deeper.
Some of us may feel like we have been in ministry as deacons long enough that formation is no longer required or useful. However, no matter how experienced we are, formation is still integral to our ministry. Ongoing formation prepares us for what the Lord calls us to do. In the early years after ordination, formation might be focused on solidifying our skills and learning about new ministry opportunities. As our diaconal ministries become more defined over time, formation strengthens existing ministries and motivates us to try something new.
Deacons in retirement may find new ways to give back to the community of deacons, continue to serve the faithful in many ways and witness to the gift of aging. Widowed deacons may focus their formation on the gift of celibacy and on learning to live in a new state of life.
Ministry will guide our formation, but we should occasionally reflect on our lives through the lens of ministry to create an intentional plan for formation — for example, a yearly exercise of reflection to detail opportunities for growth. Working with a spiritual director, pastor, wife or others might provide valuable insight. The plan may build upon strengths or address weaknesses. A good formation plan should include a combination of experiential learning, workshops, classes and spiritual readings. It should also address all four dimensions: human, pastoral, spiritual and intellectual.
Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through our ministry is a great gift. As deacons ordained to serve the Church, we owe it to the Lord to embrace our formation, nurture our gifts and attend to our teaching. Why? Because the People of God are worth it!
DEACON MATT CORIALE was ordained in 2008, has served as the director of formation for the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, and is currently the executive director of the Josephinum Diaconate Institute at the Pontifical College Josephinum. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org