by Leon Suprenant
Last August, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann admitted 19 men as candidates for the permanent diaconate.
These men had already completed one year of preliminary formation called “aspirancy,” yet those who persevere in the program won’t be ordained until 2017. What are they doing now to prepare for ordained ministry?
In a word, plenty.
The candidates’ demanding regimen includes one full weekend per month of classes at Savior Pastoral Center (with plenty of studying and paper-writing in between); an array of pastoral experiences (the men are currently volunteering with Catholic Charities); daily meditation and praying the Liturgy of the Hours; various forms of service in their respective parishes; and — oh, yeah — responsibilities at home (they’re all married with children) and work (they all have full-time “day jobs”).
Just balancing all these elements can be quite a challenge. Brad Sloan of Topeka describes a typical day in his life: 5:45 a.m., prayer with fellow candidate Tim Ruoff; 6 a.m., men’s group; 7:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., work; after work, ministry to needy; 6:45-9 p.m., family time; 9-10 p.m., study; 10:30 p.m., bed.
The candidates report a significant deepening of their prayer life as a result of their formation. Ron Zishka of Tonganoxie feels especially “part of the universal church” as he prays the Liturgy of the Hours. Dave Cresswell of Kansas City, Kan., reports that his day “usually begins with morning prayer with about 10 other early risers” at St. Patrick Parish. He says that this communal prayer “energizes [him] in the morning to pass on encouragement to others throughout the day.” Without exception, the candidates say that their life is different now than it was before they entered the program. Phillip Nguyen says that the combination of theological, spiritual, and service-oriented formation has made him “a humbler and more patient person.”
Steve Nguyen (no relation) of Overland Park strives to be a “man of the kingdom,” adding, “I am learning to trust Christ daily — for myself and for my family. And that is enough to keep me going.”
No doubt these men came to the program already dedicated to daily prayer, family life, and service in the church. Yet, as Joe Allen of Olathe recognizes, “becoming a deacon candidate takes that devotion to prayer, family, and service to a whole new level, all rooted in an intense love for Jesus.”
Marcos Navarro of Lenexa beautifully sums up the process: “My life has been transformed. My priorities are focused on loving the Lord and answering his call to service. I have become increasingly aware of the many needs of others, including the homeless, hungry, disabled, incarcerated, and those needing spiritual support. . . . It is reassuring to me that this is what I am called to do.”