Man heeded call to diaconate - Catholic Courier

Man heeded call to diaconate

I begin my account of my vocation to the permanent diaconate with a recollection of my Cursillo weekend in 1987. At the closing Mass of that retreat, while the congregation was singing, “Here I am Lord,” I thought, “I need to be and do more as a Catholic. I need to be a producer rather than just a consumer in the life of the community of faith!” I was not sure how I was going to become a “producer” at that time. In the months to come I thought, somewhat vaguely, that perhaps I could become a permanent deacon. I had seen a few deacons in church contexts, usually as participants in the liturgy. I knew they were usually married men. I did not know a great deal about their function in the community or the process involved in becoming a deacon. My wife, Patricia, encouraged me.

Eventually I contacted the diocesan director of the permanent diaconate, Al Wilson. We met. We talked. He sent me an application. I applied. I thought I was at least trying to do something to find a way of being a “producer” in the Christian community. Some months later I received a letter from Bishop Matthew H. Clark. I was shocked to hear that I had been accepted into the formation program! I was having cold feet.

We were requested to attend an overnight retreat to meet the other couples who were about to begin this process. We enjoyed the other people, but I really felt unsure about what I was getting myself into. There would be years of formation. This represented a “permanent” commitment. But as it happened, the Gospel reading at the eucharistic celebration on that retreat included the verse from Matthew 10:30, “As for you do not be afraid; every hair of your head has been counted.” Suddenly I was able to relax, to trust and to give it a try.

There followed four years of studies, of spiritual education, of some change of attitudes and seemingly endless meetings. I wonder if I could have gotten through it without the constant support of Patricia.

Then ordination day came, May 30, 1992. Through the invocation of the Spirit and the laying on of hands I received holy orders, a sacrament of service and was launched on my little career of Christian “productivity!” That was 13 years ago now.

I have served at St. Michael’s Parish in Penn Yan during these years. I have worked with and under many different priests. I have done most everything one can do as a parish deacon. There have been ups and downs. Pastors change. Their styles and their expectations differ. This community has changed by becoming part of a cluster of six churches. There are times of boredom and darkness. Through all of this I have enjoyed the treasure of relationships with the people of this community. When I am giving out holy Communion at Mass I am startled at times to realize how much I have been involved in the unfolding lives of so many to whom I am handing the Bread of Life. We have been together in times of great joy but also of loss, of illness, of doubt. The Lord has given me a life that is just a bit bigger than I would have had as a “private person.” I am grateful. Much has flowed to me and through me in this ministry of service.

Patricia and I got involved in ministry to prisoners. We have helped conduct more than 26 weekend retreats for men in state prisons. We have seen despair in the lives of people who are really in trouble but also the great courage of the human heart and the saving love of the Lord who is the light which shines in every darkness.

Three years ago I was asked to become diocesan director of deacon formation. A new path opened. Now we help others make their way through the discernment, the doubts, the joys, the struggles of becoming ready for ordination. Our beloved men and women in formation move forward, and we look backward over the path they are treading and we have walked.

I am not sure that I have been “productive” enough in this ministry of service. But I am certain that I have been richly blessed through it. The call was subtle. The way unfolded slowly. I often wondered where I was going and was apprehensive. But the living word of the Lord has guided me. “As for you do not be afraid; every hair of your head has been counted”!

Deacon Curtin, who works at St. Michael’s Church in Penn Yan and St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, is diocesan director of deacon formation.

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