I struggle with how much to write about deacon formation. One might think the process would be a wellspring of theological reflection, ripe for blogging. It actually is. I did write about my initial call that led me down this direction. And reflection assignments I’ve written for deacon formation have inspired a few posts here, too. There is also our burgeoning perinatal loss ministry, which has found its way into pixels a few times. However, these aren’t really about the formation process itself.
Am I Neglecting a Responsibility?
We often get asked about diaconate formation. Naturally, people are curious; after all, not everybody does this. Interestingly, the most curious people tend to be somewhat like us — our age, often with young children. It seems they are discerning the diaconate, too.
- What’s the formation process like?
- How much time does it take?
- Are you gone a lot?
- How does that work with your children?
In the United States, the average age of permanent deacons is now nearly 64 years of age. In nearly every other region of the world, the average age of permanent deacons is in the mid-40s. Maybe I have a responsibility to write about the process to encourage younger couples like us that they can totally do this. But, I haven’t.
At the recent Catholic New Media Conference, Lisa and I had the opportunity to sit on an otherwise distinguished panel of bloggers. One person asked about our respective “official” relationships with the Church, our local parishes and dioceses. Most panelists didn’t have one, aside from being a parishioner. However, through the diaconate formation process, we do. We discussed how that relationship impacts the topics about which we write. In that moment I realized not only that I don’t write about diaconate formation but also why I don’t write about it.
The formation process is an intimate exercise in ongoing discernment. Some days we feel more called than others. A weekend with the monks at Conception Abbey is often spiritually energizing. I could go on and on about how beautiful the liturgies in the Basilica are, how brilliant and inspiring the monks are, and how enriching the classwork is. On the other hand, the logistical challenges of meeting the demands of the formation process while caring for small children is often spiritually draining. I could go on and on about the stresses of that, too.
We could simply choose to write about the positives, of which there are many. However, our site is The Practicing Catholic, not The Perfect Catholic. It would be disingenuous to present the sunshine while neglecting the storms. While we have been showered with blessings in the process, it’s been a real spiritual battle. “You know the devil doesn’t want you to be a deacon,” a wise-beyond-his-years priest friend once noted to me. Everyone in our class can point to specific ways they have been challenged — family, job, health, anything and everything. I read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis for the first time last year, and it really resonated with me.
Yet, publicly airing our occasional struggles with the process would display a profound lack of humility, gratitude, and charity. Indeed, diaconate formation is a process. We shouldn’t pretend that the wisdom of every step is immediately crystal clear. Chronicling the whole thing online would seem disrespectful to that dynamic. Our thoughts about the first year, for example, might be quite different now than they were then. Also, our diocese makes a significant investment in us, and our bishop has been extremely supportive of our involvement. We wouldn’t want anything we might write in ignorance to reflect negatively on our diocese.
What Do You Think?
Then again, maybe I’m just copping out, afraid of making us the “young couple” poster children for diaconate formation out of some false sense of humility. If writing about the process could give encouragement to others who might also be sensing a call to the diaconate, perhaps I just need to get over myself. Maybe I should I write more about the diaconate? Thoughts?