by Leon Suprenant
In recent columns, I have been sharing a vision of the permanent diaconate as “married clergy” that does justice to both vocations — marriage and holy orders.
Last month, I stressed the basic truth that our identity as married men and/or deacons (who we are) is more fundamental than our activity (what we do) — that, in fact, our actions flow from our identity, and not the other way around.
One implication of this truth is that married couples are married 24/7 and deacons are deacons 24/7. How does that work?
Further, we may agree that one’s identity, in a sense, comes before our activity. But it is still fair and abundantly obvious that both marriage and holy orders are vocations that entail an endless stream of actions and responsibilities. At first glance, balancing the two can seem daunting, if not impossible.
Of course, there are various ways of approaching this balance. Some may be tempted to “compartmentalize” — that they are a husband and father at home and a deacon when they are at the parish or ministry. There is some truth to that, but since both vocations are 24/7, this results in an impoverished view of both, and ultimately the two vocations are set against each other, vying for “turf.”
A related approach might be to create some sort of hierarchy between the two. Some might say that “family comes first” (which is correct, when it comes to priorities) and push the diaconate back to something he does “only at church on Sunday” or “in his spare time.”
Or, perhaps the husband wants to maximize his service to the church. He may be recently retired or otherwise motivated to give more time to an array of activities at the parish. However, if the reality or even perception is that his marriage must take a back seat to church ministry, his family life will suffer greatly.
So how does the married permanent deacon balance these two vocations so that it doesn’t become a zero-sum game? Is it even possible to do this?
I think the mind of the church, borne out in practice by many effective, happy deacons, is that they must integrate rather than compartmentalize the two vocations. The man is a deacon even when he’s at home with a sick kid or celebrating an anniversary with his wife; he is a married man even when he’s proclaiming the Gospel at Mass.
The diaconate is not about overextending the married man. Instead, it brings about a new deepening of his life in Christ, empowering him to give more fully of himself to family, friends, co-workers and parish as part of a beautiful, integrated life —in docility and obedience to the Holy Spirit.