ORLANDO | I thought it was about what I wanted. I learned it was about what God wanted.
My first inkling that I might have a vocation to the permanent diaconate occurred in my early 30s. My wife and I had happily settled into our vocation of marriage, but there was a tug on my heart that God was calling me to something more. I was aware of the permanent diaconate, so I researched this possible vocation.
When I saw the minimum age to be ordained was 35, I set my sights on that target age, unaware that the steps towards realizing this vocation were lengthy and not fully within my control.
While a diaconal vocation must be grounded in an internal call that a man feels he has received from God, that alone is not enough to automatically result in an invitation to enter the six-year formation program, much less a clear sign that one is called to Ordination. Many men express this call as a desire to serve God and the Church in a greater way. However, the call to service is not exclusive to the diaconate, as it is constitutive of our Baptism.
As in the early Church, being called forth by the community is a more profound sign of the vocational call, greater than simply a man’s desire. The Church, through the man’s pastor, the formation team, and the bishop, ultimately makes that discernment.
When I first expressed interest in the diaconate, my pastor encouraged me to get more involved in serving my parish and the community outside the walls of my parish so they could assist in discerning my call. It was five more years before the pastor recommended me for formation.
The formation process is long and rigorous, challenging a man to grow in the human, spiritual, and pastoral dimensions of his character. There is also a necessary academic component to ensure the man is well grounded in the teachings of the faith. There were times during this process that challenged my understanding of how God was calling me to serve. To paraphrase St. Paul, I needed to surrender my will wholly to God, so it was no longer me, but Christ the Servant within me, who served.
Ultimately, my call to Ordination only resulted from that surrender of self, of ego, and of my desires. The deacon is called to be grounded in humility, obedience, and docility of spirit, offering all he is back to God. None of us do so perfectly, but that humble surrender is at the heart of formation and ministry.
“Be it done to me according to your will.”
Are you or someone you know being called to become a deacon? The Diocese of Orlando, Office of the permanent diaconate is calling on the Church community to bring forth reputable men, servants, filled with the Spirit, to discern a call to the permanent diaconate. Men seeking to discern this call are encouraged to attend a Diaconate Discernment Night. Six discernment sessions will be held throughout the diocese in September and October. For information, visit www.orlandodiocese.org/diaconate-discernment/