Often, one of the first questions a newly ordained deacon hears from people in the parish he serves is, ‘what do we call you now?’
In 2nd Corinthians, we read, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ Perhaps this is a good place to start in explaining what happens to a man at ordination to the diaconate – as well as at ordination to the priesthood. That man receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders (deacon, priest or bishop), and as in all the other Sacraments, we believe Christ is present and grants grace; something is changed, made new, made ‘a new creation’.
Think about it this way; in Baptism we are changed into an adopted son or daughter of God; in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. In much the same way, at the very core of his being, in Holy Orders a man is changed – configured to Christ. He is no longer, ‘his own man’; as long as he is open to the graces of the Sacrament, he is configured, transformed interiorly, to Christ. A priest or bishop is configured to Christ the head; the deacon, to Christ the suffering servant. This is emphasized in that, not only is a deacon an ordinary minister of baptism and celebrant at weddings; not only is he to proclaim the Gospel and preach; but he is to be a minister of service to the poor – wherever the poor may be found (materially, socially, spiritually, etc.).
This ‘newness of creation’ is a reason why a priest is no longer ‘Joe’ but rather, ‘Father Joe’ or a deacon is no longer ‘Bob’, but rather ‘Deacon Bob’. It is a recognition that he is no longer who he was before ordination (and it actually helps in holding himself to account in that new reality).
In my own journey to this vocation, my own life took many twists and turns; married with five children, I have been an army reservist, factory labourer, forest firefighter, journalist, and police officer. Through all of that, there was a calling, very quiet at first, which drew me deeper into a life marked by wanting to serve others, and deeper into a desire to serve God in a permanent way. It hasn’t been smooth, and it hasn’t always been easy; it required a lot of discernment, patience and trust – it required an openness to following God’s call and the teaching of the Church – and a willingness to accept whatever decision those responsible for my formation came to – whether to recommend the bishop ordain me or not.
But through all of this, there developed an understanding that this is not about a ‘job’ or a volunteer ‘opportunity’ or a liturgical ‘function’. Responding to God’s call to service is really all about relationship; a relationship of love with God expressed in a relationship of love and service to others.
The canonical title may be ‘Reverend Mr. …’ ; this may sound somewhat formal and wordy for deacons you may know. Quite simply, you can’t go wrong with ‘Deacon Chuck’ – whatever your deacon’s name might be.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!