Editor’s Note: In honor of National Vocations Awareness Week, we will be sharing a handful of posts focusing on vocations. Our diocese poses the following: “Through our baptism, each of us receives a special vocational calling from God. What is God calling you to?” My husband Joel, who is in diaconate formation, provides today’s post and shares how he heard his call. What is God calling you to? — Lisa
How do I know you’re a man of God if you don’t go to church anywhere?” my then-girlfriend Lisa asked me. Seems like a fair question now, but it didn’t at the time. Fair or not, it was a good question. I had grown up in a congregational protestant denomination that I had drifted in and out of ever since high school. I was two years into grad school and usually worked straight through the weekends; I was definitely “out”.
Unaware how secular my thinking had become, I defensively barked, “If you can’t tell I’m a man of God, that’s your problem, not mine!” That ratcheted up the tension exponentially. After a few minutes of rather heated discussion, I blurted out, “Fine! I’ll go to YOUR church with YOU!” (I think sometimes I actually manipulate myself.) Shortly thereafter, I attended my first Mass.
To make a long story short, we got engaged, and I began RCIA classes, albeit two months late. I did my catch-up sessions one-on-one with Deacon John McCully, and I loved him almost instantly. He was a retired Medieval Literature professor, but he was no ivory-tower academic drone. Deacon John radiated something, but it was more than just joy or kindness or peace. It was all those things but in such a way that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. It was holiness, and I had never encountered anything like it before. It/he was positively magnetic. He was a man of God.
Early on in our friendship, Deacon John said to me, “I see you being ordained a deacon. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve only said this couple times, and I’ve never been wrong.” The seed was planted right there. I thought about it and prayed about it countless times since then. Every time Lisa and I discussed applying to the diaconate, we always talked more about when than if.
During summer 2010 after a Knights of Columbus meeting, I was assisting with Benediction (which I never did before). I encountered two diaconate candidates from our parish (whom I had never met before). I discussed the diaconate with them, and they strongly encouraged us to apply since the deadline was coming soon. When I discussed this at home with Lisa, she told me she had been praying at her Holy Hour, asking God to put people in our life to lead us closer to Him. We put two and two together and started the application process.
We were accepted and are currently in the second year of a four-year formation process. I keep writing we, because Lisa is required to attend every session of the four-year program along with me. Regardless, I couldn’t possibly do this without her. Needless to say, this is an ongoing mutual discernment process.
During one of our formation sessions, Deacon James Keating, Director of the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University said, “The permanent character, the mark, imparted by the Sacrament of Holy Orders is more accurately translated as a wound, a sharing in the wounds of Christ.” Now, there’s something to discern! Consider sharing in the wounds that saved the world, that redeem us from our sins. Consider the power that pours forth from them, as did blood and water from Jesus’ side. The resurrected Jesus retained His wounds; He was recognized by them.
How do I want to be recognized? As a man of God? Am I willing to be wounded? St. Paul writes to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (8:18). If I surrender to Jesus, give Him my whole heart intimately in prayer, He will ensure I am prepared through the formation process to do whatever He will ask of me as a deacon. I have to trust Him that the pain involved is necessary and the reward will be great.
The process isn’t about becoming a deacon; it’s about being formed as a man of God, undergoing a transfiguration in Christ. Becoming a deacon is simply the natural result. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). Remaining in Him means total surrender to God, which is easier to accept in my head than in my heart, because it involves dying to everything that separates me from Him. Everything. Good thing the formation process lasts four years. He has a lot of work to do on me and in me.