A Public Apology to Permanent Deacons Everywhere

A Public Apology to Permanent Deacons Everywhere October 16, 2012

This past weekend, I learned an important lesson while giving my keynote address at the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s Catholic Formation and Leadership Conference.

I’ll admit I was nervous going into the talk. I’ve spoken to crowds this size in the past, but there’s something about sticking the word “keynote” into the title of a talk that ups the ante. And this — probably unbeknownst to my hosts — was my very first “keynote”. So yes, I was nervous.

At some point later, I may share the content of my talk with you. But for now, all I need to say is that at the beginning of the talk I did my patented “Saintly Smackdown” whereby I ask different groups in the room to show themselves. I called for the converts, the youth ministers and catechists. I called for the priests and nuns — and we actually gave a rousing ovation to one precious Sister who was baptized in 1928. I called out the Bishop and thanked my hosts and moved along with the rest of my speech.

I forgot to call out the Deacons.

Immediately following the talk, after dismounting the stage with a sigh of relief, I turned to walk to my table and came face to face with a very frustrated gentleman.

“You forgot to mention the Permanent Deacons,” he said with a wag of his finger. My eyes went to the Deacon lapel pin on his collar and I stared like a deer caught in the headlights. “We’re always forgotten,” he scolded.

What could I say? I apologized profusely and, a bit rattled, promised to never let it happen again. I was busted, wrong, and culpable. There was no excuse.

Actually, some of my favorite Catholic guys serve in or are preparing for the Permanent Diaconate. There’s my dear friend Deacon Tom Fox and Patheos’ own Deacon Greg Kandra. I know another dear friend who is involved in studies for the diaconate — a multiyear commitment. And behind many awesome permanent deacons are their wives, who participate fully in the vocational process. So I should have known better.

And you know what, it’s true — many permanent deacons are forgotten. They serve valiantly with very little recognition and no compensation. They show up for sacraments, preach the gospel, serve on demand and live on-call. According the to USCCB website, there are 17,816 men who have been ordained as permanent deacons in the United States. A permanent deacon serves under his bishop and his assignment may be changed at any time at the bishop’s direction. And yes, celibacy does effect the life and service of a permanent deacon. According to the USCCB website:

May married men be ordained deacons?

Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to “mature married men,”later clarified to mean men over the age of 35. This is in keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, in which married men were ordained into ministry. Also in keeping with ancient practice is the expectation that while a married man may be ordained, an ordained man, if his wife should die, may not marry again without special permission.

“Celibacy Affects Every Deacon: In one way or another, celibacy affects every deacon,married or unmarried. Understanding the nature of celibacy —its value and its practice—are essential to the married deacon. Not only does this understanding strengthen and nurture his own commitment to marital chastity, but it also helps to prepare him for the possibility of living celibate chastity should his wife predecease him. This concern is particularly unique within the diaconate. Tragically, some deacons who were married at the time of ordination only begin to face the issues involved with celibacy upon the death of their wives. As difficult as this process is,all deacons need to appreciate the impact celibacy can have on their lives and ministry.” — National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, par. 72.

So now, having studied up on the importance and commitment level of those serving in the diaconate, rest assured that permanent deacons (and their wives!) will hereby never again be forgotten in my Saintly Smackdown. And as penance, I’m praying my Rosary today in honor of all you awesome deacons out there. Thank you for your service to our Church!

If you have a favorite deacon, please share his first name and place of service (and that of his wife) in the comments below along with a note of thanks and help me make amends!  

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