The book is “The Heart of the Diaconate,” by esteemed deacon and teacher James Keating. This slim volume is a quick read, but I recommend that you keep a pen nearby. My copy has scribblings, asterisks, underlinings and ink marks on nearly every page. You don’t want to miss a word.
The book has a deceptively simple structure—walking the reader through “Calling,” “Formation and Ordination” and “Ministry”—but each section offers a meditation on the deacon at various stages of life, with each chapter offering gleaming pearls of wisdom. (Full disclosure: Jim Keating is a longtime friend and acquaintance, so I don’t exactly come to his work without some bias. But trust me: I’d be recommending this even if I didn’t know Jim personally. It’s just that good.)
Some samples from “The Heart of the Diaconate”:
In order to discern a call to the diaconate, a man must first listen to what he truly loves. He does this by paying attention to the fruit of his life. Does he have a real and deepening prayer life? Does he love the Catholic Church and participate in it as his primary community of identity? Does he have a marital life of intimate and trusting communication? … Do his actions reveal a desire to help those who carry emotional, spiritual or economic wounds? The first question that is raised in diaconal discernment is what or whom do I love?
A wife knows when her husband has received a call because she is ready to “send him.” She is ready to send him because the man has been such a good husband that his presence has become internalized in her heart, thereby establishing the marriage in security…If the marriage has been mature, affectively vulnerable and based upon the truth that Christ is giving himself as one to the other, then a wife usually sees the diaconate as the next step to an already beautiful story of her husband’s presence to her and God’s love for them.
Obedience is the virtue/gift that orders a man to raptly listen to God out of love…When Christ inflicts the “wound” of diaconal ordination upon a man, it is to make him vulnerable to the mystery of this obedient service. The desire to serve the Father’s will defines the heart of Christ. Is the deacon aware that Christ is now speaking to him about this desire, about the love of the Father he wishes to dispense upon is church? … There are few virtues more necessary to a deacon than the capacity to listen to Christ in prayer within the context of listening to both the bishop and the needs of the diocese.
I could go on, but you get the idea. There is a lot here to absorb, ponder, pray over — and pray over again and again. James Keating has done a masterful job of turning his thoughts on the diaconal vocation into a meditation on service, sacrifice and, most of all, love. There is something here for any man discerning a vocation, approaching ordination, or living out his ministry at the altar, in the ambo, and in the world.
In the forward, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles notes a sentiment that will be familiar to every deacon:
The ministry of the deacon is far more than “functional.” The deacon is neither a glorified layman nor a “junior priest.” In the mystery of God’s saving plan, the deacon is called to minister in persona Christi Servi—in the person of Christ the Servant. He is configured to a deep identification with Christ, his sacred character and identity conferred by the apostles’ successors, the bishops, in the sacrament of Holy Orders….Ordained to serve both in the world and alongside the priest at the altar, the deacon is uniquely positioned to call us to live the mysteries we celebrate and also to witness to how we glorify God with our lives and serve our neighbors in love.
“The Heart of the Diaconate” is a challenge to us all to delve more deeply, serve more passionately, and love more completely. It invites us to spend time reflecting on the deacon’s heart and, ultimately, Christ’s heart, too.
Take and read. You can thank me later. The book is available from Paulist Press and through Amazon, as well.
Photo with Deacon James Keating at NADD in 2011, from Deacon Greg Kandra