St. Stephen is considered to be the first person called to serve as a Deacon. St. Stephen was a man of great faith who met his martyrdom by being stoned to death as he prayed for those who stoned him.
I certainly didn’t hope for that same fate as St. Steven but I prayed for that devout faith. Historically, we know that from the time of St. Stephen through the next 1000 years or so the diaconate grew to be a vital part of the church with three distinct levels of clergy; Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, but after that the office of deacon disappeared except as a step towards the priesthood. The Second Vatican Council restored the Permanent Diaconate to men only, who were over 35 years of age.
There are presently over 10,000 deacons in the U.S. alone. And the Diaconate is continuing to evolve by expanding the curriculum and broadening the requirements to better prepare each candidate.
As a Deacon, the question I am asked most often is, “What can you do compared to a priest?” It is the wrong question, because we are not in competition, through we both receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, allowing deacons to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, officiate at funerals, and proclaim and preach the Gospel. Presently, deacons cannot anoint the sick, hear confessions, or consecrate the Eucharist.
I think the greatest gift the diaconate brings to the church community is their many different life experiences. The deacons of our diocese come from all different backgrounds, teachers, police officers, business men, Doctors, social workers, engineers, accountants, military and laborers; we are black, Hispanic and white serving in parishes, yes, but also in a wide variety of ministries. We minister first in the work place, hospitals, prisons, soup kitchens, convalescent homes, help with drug and alcoholic rehabilitation, and many other unique ministries.
The needs of our communities are many and varied, many yet to be identified. Besides my involvement at Nativity which consisted of assisting at Mass, weddings, baptisms, and funerals when I was asked. My wife has worked with me in marriage preparation and assisted with baptisms and weddings.
I have become aware of another important aspect of the diaconate. We Deacons all make our living, like you do, in the workplace; wearing clothing appropriate for the job.
Is serving as a Deacon always a bed of roses? No, like anything in life it has its ups and downs, with conflicts at times. With my wife and family, a full time job, and my ministry setting priorities was often difficult. As a husband and father of three children, my family was always my number one priority; without their love and support I could never have served as Deacon.
Many have said to me, “It’s wonderful of you to make so many sacrifices to serve others,” That is not true; the greatest gift of the diaconate to me has been the discovery that life has its deepest meaning when we share, it’s in giving that we receive, those I have served truly helped me to come out of myself and live life to the fullest, yes, so that when serving as a Deacon because difficult I was able to think of the positives.
Thank you Nativity of Mary and May God Bless You and Yours,
Deacon Jim McLaughlin
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl