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Diaconate Faith Formation Guest Posts Vocations

The Deacon’s Wife: Part 3: Navigating the Formation Process

[This is part 3 of The Deacon’s Wife. Don’t forget to check out part one and part two.]

He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ~Matthew 18: 2-4

Deacon Cross
(c)Diocese of Lexington

Four years of formation sounds daunting as you approach it, but the time surprisingly flew by and I would not trade it for anything!

As we went into the program, I realized that I was one of the few in the room that did not have any formal education past high school (and with my attitude at that time it is surprising I even graduated!). My higher learning has been done in the School of Hard Knocks and as of yet, I haven’t graduated!  At first this made me feel like I was way behind and would have a hard time comprehending the courses, but I actually think it may have been just the opposite.

My trade is as an electrician, although now I use that experience in sales of electrical distribution, control, and lighting. All of my training has been on-the-job, whether it be on the construction site or in the sales office, and I treasure that type of learning.

It’s hard for me not to second guess myself due to my level of education. I will never forget one women’s retreat I was on and it came time to choose a table leader, the first question asked was “what is your degree?” – my lack of a degree it seems, automatically excluded me from being capable of leading a table discussion and set the tone of the weekend for me. Can you tell that still bothers me?

Our formation weekends consisted of Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday until about two in the afternoon. For those of us with full-time jobs, it was a challenge to be alert and on game. Almost every Saturday night one generous couple in our class opened their home to the entire class to come unwind and get to know each other. This, I believe, was as important as any of the formation.

The course list we had to look forward to included Systematic Theology, Church History, Spirituality of the Deacon, Old Testament, Canon Law,  just to name a few. I wondered if anyone else was as overwhelmed as I was looking at the list. The thought kept going through my mind – “at least I won’t be graded….”

The Saint Meinrad formation program provided us with top notch instructors for the most part. The deacon who taught us Systematic Theology is a person I will never forget. One of the first things he said to us was “If your mind and heart are not in the mind and heart of the Church, you don’t belong here,” and he repeated this on a regular basis throughout the weekend.  Such truth in that one little statement!

What I observed throughout the weekends was that many of those in the class with the highest level of education actually had the hardest time understanding and accepting much of the Church’s teachings.  To listen to couples in a Catholic deacon formation class try to defend population control, artificial contraception, the ordination of women, and other issues that go against the mind and heart of the Church was pretty mind-boggling for me. I had to wonder, and did out loud a few times, why they were there. Of course, there were times that I was written off as a simpleton. But that’s okay, I do think it’s pretty simple – God is in control, no one else! And there is no amount of knowledge that can take the place of the faith of knowing that it is God that is in control!

Spending this formation time with my husband was one of the best decisions of my life. Each of us were growing, blossoming and discovering more and more about our faith, and since we were making these discoveries together, it was only natural that our faith life as a couple grew. We were able to discuss and point out to each other what we heard and how we interpreted those things. It is only natural, because of that Venus & Mars thing, that many times we each keyed in on things the other did not. Those discussions and exchanges just rounded out the formation for us both.

One thing I truly appreciate about not having formal advanced education is I do believe it allowed me to look at the teachings of the Church very simply. Once I turned my back on the pressures of society and their push for the Church to keep up with the times, it became easy to trust 2000 years of history and experience. I would love to share a few of those things.

In twelve years of Catholic education I would have a hard time coming up with how many times I heard “it’s a mystery” – but no one ever explained what “mystery” meant. Of course as a child, I heard the word mystery and thought of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; as I got older I heard mystery meaning “it’s none of your business.” Now I know a mystery in our faith is like peeling an onion – the more you peel, the more you learn, but you will never be able to grasp the mystery in its entirety.  (And it may cause some tears as you peel it away!)

Concerning the ordination of women: I told you that, by trade, I am an electrician, and this leads many to believe that I am a feminist in the sense of N.O.W. feminism. And nothing could be further from the truth. I do believe that women should be given equal opportunity in jobs that they are capable of performing, but there are jobs or vocations that women were not meant for. Much like there are jobs and vocations that men are not capable of. Women cannot be fathers. I can look at my experience as a single parent and how I tried to be (and was convinced I could be) the best mother and father my kids ever had. What a load of crap! I could be the best mother I was capable of but there is no way I could ever be a father to my kids; much in the same way a woman cannot be a father in the Church. She just doesn’t have what it takes!

Even more simply though, I believe if Jesus wanted women priests, the first person he would have ordained – and the one most eminently qualified – would have been his mother and she would have been our first pope. And then there’s that little thing called “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ) – we know Christ was a man so shouldn’t it be a man that represents Him and repeats His words? Not to mention that He is the Bridegroom of the Church. What message would we be sending if the bridegroom was a woman and the Church is the bride?

So many other takes I have I would love to share, such as why I think holding hands during the Our Father is detrimental to the priesthood and the liturgy, the prayer I say at the offertory,  why we should consider “ad orientem”, but alas, my word count has come to an end.

So I sign off in prayer for the conclave and our cardinals – Come Holy Spirit!

*Cindy, although a cradle Catholic, is a revert to the Catholic faith. She is the middle child from a family of 15 children, is the mother of three and a very proud grandma of three. She is active with the Diocese of Lexington RCIA Commission, writes a ongoing series for the Crossroads Catholic bi-monthly newspaper and has been in the construction field for over thirty years. She and her husband of almost 11 years, Deacon Skip, live in a historic house in downtown Lexington with their three dogs.*

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Diaconate Faith Formation Guest Posts Marriage Reversion Series Vocations

The Deacon’s Wife: Part 2: God Turns All Things Good

[This is part 2 of The Deacon’s Wife. Follow this link to check out part 1.]

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards.” —Pope Benedict XVI

Deacon Cross
(c)Diocese of Lexington

I truly believe God has a way of taking what we see as “bad” and making it not only redeemable, but good. That’s what He has done in my life, but I had to allow Him to take charge, and if you know anything about me, you know that is difficult for me because I love to be in control!

I will spend my life in contrition for the harm that my actions and beliefs have had in the degradation of our society and especially to my family. Looking back at what I bought into and then argued – many times passionately – for others to also buy into, I must take responsibility for where we are. Thank God, that He is a merciful Father that will grant forgiveness and grace to return!

My two youngest children, (my oldest had no interest – another story that we don’t have time for), and I were attending Saint Peter Claver on a regular, every Sunday, basis. My daughter has a wonderful voice and I encouraged her to join the choir, which she did until a youth choir was formed. Our every Sunday led to adding the Wednesday Mass, as well as involvement in various committees and outreach. This was filling some hole in me I did not even realize was there.

Saint Peter Claver is a small, predominantly African-American, Catholic congregation. Between the size and the friendliness of the parishioners, it was easy to get involved. It was the type of congregation that, like Cheers, everybody knows your name. There was a lot of comfort in that.

The religious sister who was the parish administrator at the time knew that I wanted to learn more about the Faith and was always looking for more ways to get me involved. She asked if I would sponsor a woman in the RCIA program. RCIA – that was a new term to me, but I agreed and what that opened to me still just blows my mind! I am still quite thankful for this first request from Sister that has opened so wide a door for me!

The first year I was a sponsor and got my feet wet. The next year, Sister asked if I would be willing to be a part of the team. The three downtown parishes were combining to one RCIA program to facilitate speakers, fellowship, resources, etc. Here we go! God definitely has a plan!

As my involvement in RCIA progressed, I took on the challenge of presenting various topics to the group which naturally led to hours of research in the Catechism, Bible and Church documents. What a treasure trove we have in our Faith!

There was this new guy that had recently started playing piano at Saint Peter Claver and soon was a sponsor for a gentleman coming into the church. Our paths kept crossing at church, RCIA and the youth choir he helped start, and we became friends. This was my future husband, Skip. We worked together on different projects and committees for a few years and my youngest son, Glenn, was enamored with him, and I do believe the feeling was mutual.

One Sunday after Mass, Glenn told Skip he thought it was time that his mom (ME) had a boyfriend. I imagine I turned plenty of shades of red, but outta the mouths of babes! It wasn’t right away, but we did start dating not too much longer after.

Skip and I had a lot in common. He too had left the church for several years and had a pretty colorful past – but that’s his story to tell. We were both on our journeys back and both had the same attitude that we needed to embrace the church fully if we were going to embrace it at all. We were, and still are, good for each other. My husband had also been discerning for the priesthood but he just didn’t think that was where God was calling him. He shared this discerning with me and I do believe he discerned all the way to the wedding aisle!

The discernment process for the permanent diaconate, if the man is married, is a discernment of both spouses. It must be since the two have become one in the sacrament of marriage. The direct call to the diaconate is to the husband, but there must be a complimentary call to the wife.  This is a mission that they embark on together.

This does not mean that the two will be involved in every ministry together and it does not mean that the wife is called to perform each and every task or ministry requested of her. This discernment process means that together, the spouses decide what roles each of them are called to, whether it be in a ministry together or individual ministries or in some cases, the wife is not called into a ministry role and instead is called to take care of the family and household. Every couple is different and each couple needs the freedom to discern their roles on their own. The main part of this discernment is: can you accept, share and support what the other is called to?

Our first year was called the aspirancy year. This is a year of introduction to the ministry of the deacon, to deacon couples, interviews with a board made up of clergy and lay persons, psychological assessments, personality assessments and a “getting to know you” phase. It is a process to let you know if you have the “right stuff” to continue on to the four years of formation.

Looking back on that first year and how the majority of the couples were strangers, to five years later when twenty-two of the men were ordained to the permanent diaconate, to see the bond that was formed in those weekends together, I would not trade that for the world! This doesn’t mean we all necessarily like each other, but we all do love each other!

There are so many things I can look back on now and laugh about but remember just how nervous I was that I may screw this all up for Skip. Like the interviews in front of the board. What if I answered wrong? What if they didn’t like me or didn’t think I was worthy? The questions that go through your mind are endless but actually unwarranted. I think what they are really looking for is if you, the wife, just absolutely hate the road your husband is going down and refuse to support him. The wife actually has the power to keep her husband from being ordained – she is the last to agree and assent to this before ordination. So you can see how important it is for her to be on board and support this journey they are both embarking on.

Yet that first year was a breeze in comparison to the next four years of formation, and I didn’t even have the homework to do!

*Cindy, although a cradle Catholic, is a revert to the Catholic faith. She is the middle child from a family of 15 children, is the mother of three and a very proud grandma of three. She is active with the Diocese of Lexington RCIA Commission, writes a ongoing series for the Crossroads Catholic bi-monthly newspaper and has been in the construction field for over thirty years. She and her husband of almost 11 years, Deacon Skip, live in a historic house in downtown Lexington with their three dogs.*