Q+A: What is the discernment process for the permanent deaconate?

A. While many of us are familiar with the process our priests go through when discerning the call to serve the Church, we are not as familiar with the discernment process our permanent deacons undergo. While there are similarities to that of the priesthood, there are some distinct differences.

The twofold call manifests itself both interiorly and exteriorly. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is to be in a special relationship with Christ and the Church, so a person may feel the call but the Church says “no” or the faith community thinks someone would be a good deacon, but he doesn’t feel the call himself. This is similar to marriage where you need a yes from both parties before the sacrament can be celebrated.

Married men who feel the call to the deaconate are typically active members of the parish. Being characterized as men of good character and deep faith, they often serve as lectors and acolytes, and participate in various church ministries such as marriage preparation and RCIA. Some may have discerned the call to the priesthood when younger, but have ultimately chosen the Sacrament of Marriage. (Note: while most permanent deacons are married men, celibate single men can be ordained permanent deacons as well.)

As they participate in the various ministries, they feel the desire to serve the Church more fully. Just as not every single man is called to the priesthood, not every married man is called to be a deacon. God calls each of us to serve in our own unique way. For those feeling a particular call towards the deaconate, this will result in discussions with his wife and children. This is the area most different from those who become priests. To be successful, the discernment must include the man’s wife AND children. The time commitment of the deacon’s threefold ministry is significant, and permanent deacons are not paid by the parish. They must balance their clerical duties with work, wife, and children. Maintaining this healthy balance is likely the biggest challenge deacons face, and is one of the reasons the average deacon in Canada is 60+ years of age!

When the man has received the consent and blessing of his family, he will typically express his interest to his parish priest. This is the “exterior” part of the discernment process. The recommendation of the parish priest is an important part in the process. The parish priest can assist the man in the prayer and practical aspects of his discernment, which results in a formal meeting with the Bishop. The Bishop considers the character and history of the man, the recommendation of his parish priest, the benefit to the parish and Church as a whole, and various other factors.

Ultimately, the Bishop must ensure both the interior and exterior calling are in sync and determine if the man is to be admitted into the 4 year deaconate formation program.

Ryan Sales and Fr. Andrew

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