January 20, 2006

Pastoral ministry assignments help
deacon candidates grow

By Sean Gallagher

The archdiocesan deacon formation program is designed to help the 25 deacon candidates come to know the sacramental identity that they will take on if they are ultimately ordained.

According to the Holy See’s 1998 Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, ordination to the diaconate conforms those ordained “to Christ who made himself the deacon, or servant, of all” ( 7).

Benedictine Father Bede Cisco, director of the archdiocesan Office of Deacon Formation, oversees the formation program in which the deacon candidates participate and thinks that it will help them gradually take on this identity.

The program has four interrelated components dealing with human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation.

In pastoral formation, the candidates participate in different ministries in archdiocesan parishes, agencies and other places, such as hospitals or jails.

“It begins to build a knowledge base for them in the practice of ministry,” Father Bede said. “They’re, by and large, practically oriented men so they want to know how to do different [ministries]. By doing them and having some help from their pastor or supervisor, they get some direction on how to do that.”

Deacon candidate Steve Hodges, a member of SS. Francis and Clare Parish in Greenwood, has experienced how his current pastoral ministry assignment at the Johnson County Jail in Franklin is related to his intellectual formation.

“It’s helped me take some of the things that we’ve been taught and apply it in a practical way instead of just repeating things back,” he said.

Father Bede also spoke about how the candidates’ ministry assignments are connected to their human formation, saying that it helps them to become more “compassionate and attentive ministers to people in different situations.”

Hodges said that his ministry of leading jail Communion services has helped him both appreciate those whom he is serving and grow in his own right.

“Sometimes I’m really humbled when I come out of that prayer service at the faith that these men have,” he said. “They’re kind of at wits’ end, and they’re kind of hanging on to the end of the rope. It’s amazing how many of these guys have hope, and they’re leaning on Christ to get them through it.”

Deacon candidate Tom Ward, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, said his ministry of taking Communion to group homes in the parish where disabled adults live has helped him grow spiritually.

“It enhances my appreciation for the Eucharist,” he said. “When I get to visit with [them], and I can see these people who are seriously disadvantaged and see them have even the slightest

appreciation for what I’m doing, I reap great benefits and great joy in bringing Christ to them.”

Hodges has been struck by how his jail ministry has helped him grow spiritually, noting that Jesus identified himself with prisoners and praised those who visited them in Matthew 25.

“It does draw me closer to Christ,” he said. “It makes me feel I’m responding to what he’s asking us to do.”

But when the deacon candidates face their various commitments to their families, jobs, formation classes and ministry assignments, finding a proper balance among them can be a challenge.

Hodges said he struggled with this during the program’s first year, but has since become convinced that if God led him to become a deacon candidate, he will give him the grace to be faithful in all the dimensions of his life.

Hodges has also come to wonder if his role in the business world, owning a marketing company, is intimately linked to his call to the diaconate.

“Perhaps the reason I was chosen for the deacon program was because of my business,” Hodges said. “Maybe God wants me out there because I do travel throughout the state and meet a lot of people.

“Maybe he wants a traveling deacon,” he said jokingly.

Ward, who retired shortly before the start of the deacon formation program, recently began working again part time in investment planning.

Despite his multiple commitments, he has found his involvement in his deacon formation ministry assignments a source of great happiness.

“It starts out as a service ministry,” Ward said. “But before long, it’s a joyous ministry and it is a great joy to do it.

“I think maybe that’s the joy of the deacon candidacy. It doesn’t take long in virtually anything that I do to find out what a thrill it is to be involved in it.” †


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