Vocation and Discernment
The Mystery of Vocation
"The historyâ€¦of every Christian vocation, is the history of an inexpressible dialogue between God and human beings, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of individuals who respond lovingly to God. The calling forth from God is marked first in the reception of the sacraments of Christian initiation. From out of this body of believers Christ then calls some of his disciples, and the Church ordains them to a service of the whole Church" (National Directory, #165).
The foundation of the ministry of the Order of Deacon is a divine vocational call. A call to vocation is a grace from God. There are many ways in which this grace may present itself: through an invitation on the part of priests, deacons, and the faithful who suggest to you that you might consider entering the diaconate. Through a personal conviction that arises from your own personal prayer life or the pastoral activity you are already engaged in for the sake of building up the kingdom of God.
Men who seek to enter the Diaconate Formation Program in the hope of receiving the Order of Diaconate already feel themselves called by Christ to this particular ministry of service. The call to Diaconate is a call to a life dedicated to the service of God and the Church in fidelity, compassion and courage. The Deacon is especially called to make present, in the midst of the community, the image of Christ the servant. The deacon is especially to be identified by his witness to charity, his service to the bishop, and his love and concern for the poor, the outcast, and the weak. Before he can enter into the Order of deacon a man must feel called to a life of radical witness for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Formation and Discernment
Acceptance into the diaconate formation program is not a sign of the completion of a man's vocational discernment. Rather, it is the beginning of a more intense personal, family, communal, and ecclesial questioning, prayer and scrutiny of the call and vocation.
"Discernment is an essential spiritual process in determining the presence of a vocation to the diaconate, as well as the capacity to live it fully after ordinationâ€¦. A strong spiritual life and a realistic commitment to serve people converge in the continual transformation of the participant's mind and heart in harmony with Christ" (National Directory, #114).
Discernment of vocation has two major components:
- The candidate continues to discern his vocational call.
- The Church discerns the vocational call of the candidate.
Discernment is realized in the convergence of a number of aspects:
The initial stage of discernment is seen in the candidate's original sense of a calling to love and serve the Church, a sense of vocation. This is especially realized in his desire to serve his brothers and sisters, bring to them the message of the Gospel and in his deep desire to comfort and raise up the poor. At this stage the candidate feels a personal call which leads to the seeking of information and advice. This initial discernment should normally be confirmed by the positive response of the pastor and parish staff/community.
For those who are married the discernment of wife and family is essential. The support and consent of a wife is required before a man can enter into the formation process for diaconate. Support and consent should arise from an informed understanding of Diaconate and Holy Orders.
As the parish is the primary Church experience for most inquirers a discernment on the part of this community is also necessary. It is the local community, and in particular the pastor, who invites those who may be qualified to serve as Deacons in the Church.
Ecclesial discernment includes such elements as: admission recommendations from pastor and others, parish community recommendation, admission board scrutiny and acceptance, psychological evaluation and consultations, suitable academic background, participation in formation program. Those appointed by the [Arch]Bishop for the immediate formation of the Deacon, especially the President of the Athenaeum, the Director of Diaconate Formation, and Director of Diaconate, have the responsibility of discerning the authenticity of a vocation on behalf of the Church. While they do not have the final say in who is to be ordained, they do have the responsibility of recommending to the Archbishop, after suitable enquiry among the People of God and those responsible for their training, those they consider "worthy" of ordination.
"The history of every priestly vocation, as indeed of every Christian vocation, is the history of an inexpressible dialogue between God and human beings, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of individuals who respond lovingly to him." However, alongside God's call and the response of individuals, there is another element constitutive to a vocation, particularly a ministerial vocation: the public call of the Church. "Vocari a Deo dicuntur qui a legitimis Ecclesiae ministris vocantur" ("Those men are said to be called by God who are called by the legitimate ministers of the Church"). The expression should not be understood in a predominantly juridical sense, as if it were the authority that calls which determines the vocation, but in a sacramental sense, that considers the authority that calls as the sign and instrument for the personal intervention of God, which is realized with the laying on of hands. In this perspective, every proper election expresses an inspiration and represents a choice of God. The Church's discernment is therefore decisive for the choice of a vocation; how much more so, due to its ecclesial significance, is this true for the choice of a vocation to the ordained ministry.
This discernment must be conducted on the basis of objective criteria, which treasure the ancient tradition of the Church and take account of present day pastoral needs. For the discernment of vocations to the permanent diaconate, some requirements of a general nature and others responding to the particular state of life of those called should be taken into account" (Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, #29).
Personal Discernment During Formation:
During the period of Diaconate Formation, a candidate is called to an even more intense time of reflection, prayer, spiritual sacrifice, and spiritual direction so that he can more completely discern his vocational call. Aids to this discernment include a healthy spiritual and sacramental life, spiritual direction, meeting with mentor couples, retreats, days of recollection and an ability to participate and master the academic aspects of the program. A candidate is primarily responsible for his own personal discernment of his vocation. While a number of aids are provided and while positive advice is given, ultimately the depth to which an individual enters into the discernment process is an individual choice.