More from that “bored to death” man in formation

You may remember this post from last month, from a man in formation who expressed his frustration over the classes he was taking. It generated a lot of comments — and now the man himself has added one to that post:

Wow! I think that I ignited a firestorm. I am the author of the post which prompted this particular discussion (A man in formation writes: “I’m quickly becoming frustrated…I’m bored to death”). Yep, that’s me.

Many of you have offered some great insight and words of encouragement, which I greatly appreciate. Others seem quick to judge, especially one who hopes that I will never be ordained. (Incredible that we have never met, and you are capable of determining my suitability for ministry.)

I’d like to point out that my post was itself a response to Deacon Norb’s January 6 comments on Greg Kendra’s [sic] “Now, about all those married Catholic priests…” blog. In his posting, Deacon Norb wrote that “we were told by our priest-advisors-theologians that whenever married men would be permitted into priestly orders, the applicants would come from within the pool of experienced married deacons.”

When I wrote, “I have often thought in the back of my mind that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, the door will open wider for a married priesthood in the Latin Rite, with permanent deacons an obvious source of potential candidates,” I was merely concurring with Deacon Norb’s observations about his own experience. For better or worse, I think that many of us were led to believe that a married priesthood was fast approaching.

Let’s also not forget that for centuries, the diaconate in the Latin Rite had, in practice, become nothing more than a stop on the way to priesthood. Little wonder that people still want to make that connection. I don’t think that the Church has really figured out what to do with permanent deacons yet; hence, my altar boy comment. As someone else had pointed out, permanent deacons seem trapped between clergy and laity, not really belonging, in practice, to either.

At any rate, to view my comments apart from Deacon Norb’s posting on the original January 6 blog entry regarding married priests is to view my comments out of context. They were a part of a different discussion.

I do not have any expectation that I will ever be ordained a priest. In fact, I don’t feel called to priesthood and wouldn’t pursue it even if I could. That having been said, I do truly believe that the time has come for married priests, for a variety of reasons. Yes, there are excellent celibate priests. No, allowing married priests won’t solve all of our problems and would likely create a few of its own.

Yes, I am bored with the academic classes in my formation program. Yes, I can help others in my class, “covertly” as one person wrote. I generally don’t say much in class, though, because I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all. As Ironic Catholic pointed out, it can make for awkward moments. The permanent deacon in charge of my formation does not have an academic back ground in theology. I do. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, either. The fact is, however, that he’s not the kind of guy who likes to be challenged, and any comments in class from me are likely perceived that way. In the meantime, I languish away in class.

Yes, the Holy Spirit guides us, but the Church is full of human beings and human politics. If you think otherwise, I’m afraid that you’re kidding yourself.

Let’s pray for one another and our Church. (And for the handful of you who have been able to ascertain from a blog posting that I’m not called to the diaconate, know that I’m praying for you too.)


  1. Its really sad that people do forget that Priests, Deacons, Religious etc are real people, who bleed if you cut them just like any one of us.. I am sorry some people were so cruel to you.. Please know there are more of us that are not cruel and unfeeling than those that are.. I wish you much success and fulfillment whatever direction God puts you in…

  2. You are not arrogant. You deserved better in your diaconate formation program.

  3. Deacon Norb says:

    I just got back from the class I teach (from 8–11pm) at our local public college and my mind is peanut butter. I’ve started four separate replies to this comment stream and have trashed them all. I have no idea what to say here.

    Deacon Bill Ditewig’s research, which suggests that the diaconate was intrinsically separated from the presbyterate by Vatican II, probably fits — but since the commentator himself has stated he really does not want to be a priest, maybe that issue is moot anyway.

    Then there is the reality of just how often this movement from the permanent diacponate to the priesthood actually happens/does not happen. I have met thousands of permanently ordained deacons — I have met TWO who went on at later dates to become priests — one a widower, the other a never married single.

    The assumption (at the time of that original conversation from the mid 1970′s) that successful married deacons with strong marriages could become successful married priests with strong marriages — I now believe is dangerously presumptive.

    When the issue of married priests does come out in various conversations — not untypically in RCIA discussions — it usually is surfaced by the adult women RCIA sponsors — not the candidates/catechumens. My reply is always; “Are you ready to be married to a Catholic priest? Can you handle living your own life in a fishbowl ? Can you handle raising your children in a fish bowl ? Are you going to meekly follow your husband — like many of those long-suffering wives of evangelical pastors — as an un-paid, un-educated and un-recognized pastoral associate? Or are you already on your own professional path ?”

    Just some musings. I need to get to bed.

  4. Let’s hear it for the future deacon who has an insight to organizational life, human capabilities or the lack there of, and the role of the Holy Spirit in all of our lives. This is the right direction that the leadership of the Church needs to adopt. I am greatly encouraged that the Church will move in the right directions by the leadership of the deacons. This must be the balance to the “new” wave of clericalism that I see in new priests. I have been greatly motivated by the words and actions of the deacons in my life. I wonder to myself where I would be now if they did not exist. My growth in Christianity has been the result of their work. The future of the Church is in their hands.

  5. Fiergenholt says:

    An observation from the historian in me:

    The theological mind-set of the formation directors (and their supporting bishops) has gone through four waves of insights since the beginning of the ministry way back in the early 1970′s.

    –”The Deacon as a Glorified Altar Boy.” I think Deacon Norb’s description of all those conversations he participated in way back when he was in formation in the mid-1970′s fithere but it also demonstrates the fundamental weaknesses of this insight. Originally formation directors and bishops tried to revive a post-Trent idea that deacons were the lowest of the ordained clergy in the hierarchy of the church. There were deacons then who never made it to the priesthood but that was rarely their personal choice.

    –”The Era of the Specialist in Ministry.” The roots of this idea were just starting in the 1970′s but did not really catch on until much later. In the 1980′s — particularly — we found Campus Ministry Deacons; Marriage Encounter Deacons; Prison-Chaplain Deacons; Farm-Worker-Migrant-Stream Deacons; Cursillo Deacons; Charismatic Renewal Deacons. You get the picture. Priests were to be sacramental generalists but the deacons were to be pastoral ministry specialists.

    –”The Era of the Enabler in Ministry.” This notion started to really grow in the 1990′s. The idea parallels what was going on in American business and industry in a movement called “Train the Trainer.” The deacon was to be the primary motivator for the laity to grab hold of their rightful place in the church.

    –The Era of the Servant-Leader.” This is the current paradigm for the ministry of the deacon and it was developed by the Vatican Norms on the Diaconate that came out in 2004/2005. This movement toward competence and genuine professionalism now draws only the better educated who are comfortable about moving in circles of influence (and we certainly can see the Law of Unintended Consequences at work here). Today, the thought seems to be, more ordained deacons can move into Pastoral Leadership slots (parish pastors in all but name; diocesan chancellors; or even tribunal judges) because they would have the “proper credentials.”

    My point is this. We are now living in this fourth era — not the first. Reflecting back on the 1970′s to explain how far we have come is appropriate. Re-adopting that model — “Deacon as Glorified Altar Boy” — is totally inappropriate.

  6. Compared to lions in the arena, boredom is a very minor affliction. However, it is still one you can offer up if you so wish. God bless you for your service to the Church and your desire to be a servant. Realize that God has a plan for you, and His ways are not our ways.

  7. Holly in Nebraska says:

    You said: “Yes, the Holy Spirit guides us, but the Church is full of human beings and human politics. If you think otherwise, I’m afraid that you’re kidding yourself.”

    I read this as: “God is in charge, but not entirely” In my personal life, I can thwart God’s will (and usually suffer for it). But the church cannot teach error. Your statement seems to suggest that the church (not just human beings) can err because people are “human beings” which I take to mean sinners. But the church teaches without error even through sinful humans.

    It’s unfortunate if anyone was lead to believe that a married priesthood was on the way. I would hate for anyone to put their life on hold or make decisions based on that. Who can know? Many people thought contraception was a sure thing, but that didn’t happen. I don’t think the Holy Spirit is a follower.

    Good luck on your future endeavors.

  8. I had the same reaction, you said it perfectly.

  9. Deacon Norb says:


    “It’s unfortunate if anyone was lead to believe that a married priesthood was on the way.”

    It’s not just “on the way” — it is here in the Eastern Rites in complete unity with Rome. I have a Byzantine/Reuthenian Rite Catholic Parish that is fairly close by. The priest/pastor there is married; his tradition is in complete union with Rome and his priesthood is absolutely not in question.

    And, yes, you can attend there and meet your Sunday obligations; and yes you can receive communion there (it is rather odd in its own way) and yes you can go to confession there.

    We have a lot of Eastern Catholics who reply to these BLOG ARTICLES of Deacon Greg’s. They have a LOT to teach us about a LOT of things!

  10. Wondering... says:

    Fiergenholt hits the nail on the head and provides a great overview of the diaconate in the last few decades. Likewise, in spite of what any of us may have once thought, Deacon Norb is correct in saying that it is “dangerously presumptive” to view the permanent diaconate as a pool from which candidates for a married priesthood could be drawn. That ship, I’m afraid, has sailed. Indeed, there have been several recent instances where the Holy See seems to have reasserted that celibacy will remain the norm for Latin Rite priests.

    For example, after Cardinal Schönborn stated that it might be time for an end to mandatory celibacy, he was pressured to backpedal, and it was announced that the Cardinal’s comments had been misinterpreted. I don’t think that the good Cardinal’s comments were “misinterpreted.” He said what he thought. Schönborn isn’t the pope, however, and he made the mistake of stepping out of line in public. That, my friends, is politics. There are other influential priests and bishops who, like Cardinal Schönborn, have called for a a serious examination of the topic. He is not a lone voice in the wilderness.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that every priest and bishop who disagrees with the Holy See should publicly speak out. I don’t think that anything good would come of it. My point here is that Benedict XVI has made it clear that he is not willing to entertain a discussion on priestly celibacy.

    I have to respectfully disagree with Holly in Nebraska, who believes that I suggested that the “church (not just human beings) can err because people are ‘human beings’…. But the church teaches without error even through sinful humans.” Holly, celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. The Church doesn’t “teach” celibacy. There are many Catholic priests, some in the Latin Rite, who are both married and validly ordained. Priestly celibacy simply isn’t dogma, only normative practice in the Latin Rite. Let’s not forget our brothers and sisters in the East who are in union with Rome. Those folks are just as Catholic as you or I, but priestly celibacy is not the norm in their tradition.

    Indeed, the manner in which the practice of priestly celibacy is enforced sometimes seems arbitrary. Many years ago, I left the seminary to get married. That was my choice. I discerned a call to marriage, not priesthood. At the same time that I left, a married, former Protestant entered. He is now an active Latin Rite priest in my diocese. He doesn’t live in the parish rectory but in a subdivision with his wife and kids. I’m happy for the man, and I think that he brings a richness to the Church and a perspective that celibate priests simply can’t have. Where, though, is the logic in this? The only difference between us is that I was raised Catholic, and he wasn’t.

    Additionally, the Church seems to take little meaningful action against those “celibate” priests who are, in fact, sexually active. I once had a diocesan priest that I knew very well tell me that he had promised his bishop that he would be celibate (unmarried) but not chaste. The only thing that made that statement more absurd was the seriousness with which he said it. He wasn’t joking. Only when a situation blows up in some public way does the Church ever seem to act.

    It is a sad commentary indeed that we’d rather have priestless parishes as opposed to increasing the number of priests by admitting well-screened and qualified married men to the priesthood.

    My fear is that the Church is losing its credibility, and people view it as increasingly irrelevant in our society. I love the Catholic Church, but it seems like the house is on fire, and we’re busy discussing whether or not we should call the fire department.

  11. Wondering…

    Response to your words:
    “I love the Catholic Church, but it seems like the house is on fire, and we’re busy discussing whether or not we should call the fire department.”

    That would be calling in the civil authorities, you know, and we can handle these issues ourselves. (Sarcasm)

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There seems to have been a lot of crazy talk going around in the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties, and even in the Fifties, about all the things that were going to happen. Part of why things got so crazy after Vatican II was that everybody seemed to think it was a mandate to put every crazy notion into practice. But in the end, very little of the crazy talk came to pass.

    The moral of the story is not to believe Church futurists or take them as a guide for life, any more than you’d take Dune as an investment guide or The Black Stallion series as your copy of Racing Weekly.

    Meanwhile, St. Isidore of Seville’s “De Ecclesiasticis Officiis” is still pretty darned good info about the role of a deacon. “Deacons are the seven angels sounding trumpets which we read about in Revelation; they are the seven gold lampstands; they are the voices of the thunders. For with a clear voice like heralds, deacons admonish all: whether in praying, genuflecting, singing psalms, or hearing the readings… deacons also evangelize… As consecration of the Sacraments is of the priest, so dispensation is of the deacons….”

    There’s a lot more, some less applicable to today than other bits, but being “the voices of the thunders” isn’t a bad gig.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Didn’t notice before this — there’s a nice correlation between Isidore seeing deacons as the seven pillars of the Church (in a passage just before what I quoted above), and St. Beatus of Liebana (who read and quoted Isidore extensively) seeing deacons as “the feet of the Church” that “run around” doing the Church’s work and helping the priests. Because feet steady the Body when standing, and carry the Body when deacons “run around.”

  14. I commented in the previous thread to say that RCIA is also usually “one size fits all” whether one is a candidate or a catechumen. At Easter I was out of town and visited another parish, St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Lexington, KY., where I found this in the bulletin I received.

    “Preparation of Adults to Become Catholic
    The RCIA process provides an opportunity for adults who are seeking initiation (Unbaptized) or full Communion (BaptizedChristian) with the Church to learn about the Catholic faith. Inquiry sessions will be held Monday night 6:30-7:30 in the backroom of church. You may join any time. Just call the office for an appointment to register. When you are ready you will move to the catechumenate session on Sunday Mornings after the 9:00 AM Mass. Those already one with us in baptism will be able to move through the sessions according to their need to be brought into Full communion with the Catholic Church.”

    I was glad to see this and hope that it becomes more common for candidates and catechumens to be treated differently and for there to be flexibility in the length of the program based on the needs and experiences of the individuals involved.

  15. Fiergenholt says:

    Anita — thanks for your insights here. I always had the thought that Kentucky Catholics were extraordinarily sensible in their approach to the faith.

  16. Fiergenholt says:

    Suburban . . . .

    You said:

    “There seems to have been a lot of crazy talk going around in the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties, and even in the Fifties, about all the things that were going to happen. Part of why things got so crazy after Vatican II was that everybody seemed to think it was a mandate to put every crazy notion into practice. But in the end, very little of the crazy talk came to pass.’

    My friend “hms” and I are regular contributors to this blog, we were both born in the early 1940′s, graduated from high-school before Vatican II, we both have masters degrees from major Catholic universities, and we are both experienced teachers of church history.

    I agree, there was a lot of “crazy talk” that went on in the immediate aftermath of the Council. In fact, in all my classes, I identify the era from 1965-1972 as the “Crazy Years.”

    BUT also note that a lot of even “crazier talk” continues to appear on this blog about what it was like in the era when VII was in session. A lot of that nonsense appears to be posted by folks who are so young their parents may not have been born until after the Council even started !

    What I find really fascinating about Deacon Norb’s 1970′s memories here is that the teachings he remembered were rooted in a core Pre-Vatican/ Tridentine value: married priesthood would have to be a natural extension of the married diaconate because celibate priesthood was a natural extension of the celibate diaconate.

    Deacon Bill Ditewig (who comments regularly on this BLOG), in several of his published writings, has pretty much proved that Vatican II fundamentally changed that connection. Paulist Press is his publisher — you may want to check his insights out.

  17. Frustrated are we ? Hang in there my old son. There will continue to be times when you want to scream and pull your hair out, I know ,I was ordained just a short time ago.
    When you get to do your first wedding and then baptize the couple’s first child MAN it’s all worth it. Stay strong … PAX

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