For well over a year, a group within the Diocese of Cheyenne has been planning for the next round of discernment and formation of a new group of men to serve the Diocese of Cheyenne as Permanent Deacons. I am very grateful to Deacon Joe Sandrini for taking the lead in this effort on my behalf. I am also grateful to the deacons presently serving in the Diocese. They perform important ministries in many of our parishes. But, many will soon retire, and the formation process is long and demanding, so the time has come to call the next class to order!
Scriptural reference to the role of deacons can be found in Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles:
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ (Acts 6:1-4)
It is clear from this text that a central role of the deacon is service, or as the Church likes to say, the ministry of charity. Too often, because of the more public role of deacons, people think that liturgical functions are the primary role of the deacon. Most people are aware that deacons can proclaim the Gospel, preach, baptize, and preside at weddings and funerals. Please note, preside does not mean celebrate Mass. Deacons preside in ceremonies outside of Mass. I’m always surprised when I hear well-intentioned people say things like: “The deacon had Mass this morning.” When in reality, the deacon led a Communion Service. But I digress …
Clearly, the liturgical role of deacons is important, but it too often overshadows the heart of diaconal ministry; the ministry of charity. Even though deacons share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Deacon, Priest, Bishop) they have the unique calling to live their vocation as deacons with a foot in both worlds, so to speak. Many, if not most permanent deacons are also married men; husbands and fathers. They continue to work in their chosen career path. Thus, they live with and among the lay faithful, in families, at home and at work.
This is a part of the unique gift of the deacon, which complimented by his ministry of charity, allows him to bring the needs and demands of everyday people to the prayer of the Church. For instance, a deacon is the ordinary minister to offer the prayers of the faithful during Mass. Ideally, that means he is also the one who prepares those prayers, which means his daily ministry and worldly experience is at the heart of those prayers. Thus, the ‘reality and needs of the people’ are truly the prayer of the Church. Deacons upon ordination also make a promise to pray for the Church, so those same needs and prayers will always be brought to the Lord on a daily basis.
Living with his feet in both worlds also allows the deacon to build bridges of trust with God’s people. The work of evangelization is ultimately about building relationships. The deacon is not separated in any fashion from the People of God. He lives among them and cares for them. He is capable of encountering them in their daily life, and through common interest and consciencious concern, to build a relationship which at some point allows him the opportunity to invite individuals to share their lived relationship with God. This then opens the pathway to lead people to a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ and with His Church.
Beyond his family and work and liturgical responsibilities, the deacon is called to exercise his role as a servant of God’s family. Often this is done within the parish, as a catechist in faith formation classes or in other parish roles. But it also includes going out of the parish, serving the poor of the local community, visiting shut ins or the elderly, visiting those who are in prison or jail, finding the homeless.
Depending on his own personal background and areas of interest, he may have a special gift of working with those who have addictions. To a large extent, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy could serve as a job description for deacons.
Corporal Works of Mercy
o Feed the Hungry, o Give drink to the thirsty, o Clothe the naked, o Shelter the homeless, o Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, o Bury the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy
o Counsel the doubtful, o Instruct the ignorant
o Admonish sinners, o Comfort the afflicted
o Forgive offenses, o Bear wrongs patiently
o Pray for the living and the dead
Deacons, in conjunction with their pastors, are to clearly define their ministry of charity and the concrete manner in which they will serve the poor and less fortunate.
A deacon is to be a man of integrity with a good reputation, who is well regarded by the Church.
During these days and coming months, we are inviting men to prayerfully discern whether God is calling them to serve the Diocese of Cheyenne as a permanent deacon. It is important to realize that discernment is not just the work of the individual. The Church also must discern with those considering a call to the permanent deaconate, because it is ultimately the Church who ‘calls’ individuals to service.
The application deadline to be considered for membership in the next class of formation for the Permanent Deaconate is May 1, 2016.
To learn more about the life and ministry of permanent deacons in the Diocese of Cheyenne, please visit our diocesan webpage for permanent deacons.
Information Sessions are now underway in each deanery of the Diocese. Two are now past, those in Cheyenne and Gillette. However, three more are on the schedule:
All meetings run from 10:00 am – 1200 Noon followed by a light, conversational lunch