By Ryan LeBlanc
This fall, three men from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and three from the Archdiocese of Regina will together begin formal preparation for ordination to the Permanent Diaconate. I am one of these men.
How did I hear the call to the Permanent Diaconate?
My baptism involved me in Christ’s mission as Priest, King and Prophet, the same as all Christians. The particular ways in which I have experienced my baptismal call unfolding in liturgy, charity and teaching have led me to consider ordained life. While my life as a lay Catholic has been blessedly fruitful – as a husband, father, Catholic teacher, parishioner and Canadian citizen – I have discerned charisms in myself which I believe would best advance my salvation and my neighbours’, if they were expressed through the lifelong commitment of the Permanent Diaconate. I believe I was created with a diaconal spirituality, for a diaconal ministry. In entering formation towards the Permanent Diaconate this fall, I surrender myself to Jesus, and ask him to take care of everything.
Love for liturgy
I became aware of my love for liturgy in high school, while serving as an acolyte at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, with Monsignor Len Morand. Quite unexpectedly, the word and gesture, music and silence, vestment and vessels, clicked in my mind as I realized this was the stuff that could bring people together and open up for them an interiority that could transform their lives. I served as best I could, and one person one time said that they appreciated how I did so. With that feedback, I realized that through the service of the liturgy, my interior experience of God could become manifest in the world outside myself, and thus convey the same grace and peace I had received from the Holy Spirit. All of a sudden, those private moments when the Church’s public worship of God had consoled, inspired and nourished me came to the forefront of my awareness. In God’s own mystery, I had received grace through the faithful gift of liturgical ministers who were unaware of my specific need; that same mystery, if I were humble enough not to stand in the way, might transmit to those God only knows that same grace and presence. I’ve served the liturgy ever since. As a deacon, I believe God has given me the capacity to confidently and selflessly gather his people to give God the glory our hearts burn to give him and to call down the transforming love he aches to give us.
“I see the purpose of the ordained ministry of the diaconate as to invite all people to a greater wholeness and deeper communion that the Gospel makes possible.”
Call to service
My earliest memory of what I now recognize as God’s special concern for the poor and marginalized is my mother welcoming and nourishing another boy my age whose family was hurting really badly. Since that experience, I have harboured an attraction in my heart to serving those in need. My lack of understanding and trust, however, left me thinking that this attraction was in tension with what benefitted me. It wasn’t until I discerned and participated in the Justice and Outreach Year of Formation (diocesan JOY program) that God was able to transform my thinking on this.
Until JOY, I noticed that I was unhappy and my prayer life was filled with anguish: worry about my own concerns, my own insecurities, my own frustrated desires. As I began to encounter the men in the correctional system, supported by the JOY community, I found my own happiness unfolding, and a sense of peace taking up residence within my heart. Somehow, as I carried Christ into a dehumanizing environment, and journeyed with men struggling in violence, addiction, trauma and incarceration, our mutual brokenness was recognized and accepted. I brought to prison things that I had received but didn’t deserve: education, stability, faith, respect, attention. But I received even more: healing, friendship, courage, inspiration.
I believe this is such a profound paradox of the service of charity, what I also call mercy: On the one hand, the poor, hungry, imprisoned, and sorrowing need the mercy of those with strength, privilege and wealth – this is a great gift, but also an obligation of true faith. On the other hand, especially in the time and place we live, it is the strong, privileged and wealthy who are in dire need of mercy: the mercy of forgiveness and acceptance after participating in and tolerating such profound injustice which benefits some and dispossesses others; the mercy of freedom from the inordinate attachments that enslave us to perpetuate social sin; the mercy to be opened up to a communion of love and unlocked from the isolation of obsessive self-interest.
Whose need for mercy is greater? Whose suffering crushes the soul with greater weight? Those aren’t the questions that matter. The important question is: when and where can the flow of mercy start in this world? And the answer from a God who humbled himself to become a servant, to die on a cross, is that mercy starts with acknowledging our deep need for God. I see the purpose of the ordained ministry of the diaconate as to invite all people to a greater wholeness and deeper communion that the Gospel makes possible.
Prophetic ministry of the Word
The prophetic ministry of the Word brings all people the life-giving message of the Gospel, the unconditional love and mercy God pours out for his beloved children. In some ways, announcing the Good News comes first, but I wish to see teaching as necessarily rising from the prayer and service of the priestly and kingly roles serving liturgy and charity. In spite of myself, I have come to realize God has created me to be a teacher, and I have found life in sharing and growing knowledge with my students and my colleagues. I feel that the ministry of the Word, such a ‘teacherly’ ministry, will use the natural gifts I have received and developed through the generosity of the Holy Spirit.
My experience in a classroom, both as a student and a teacher, will enable me to preach competently and confidently. My formation, in some ways begun already, will be to realize and accept that any preaching in sacred liturgy is effective if and only if the sacred minister has laid down his ego to invite the ever-mysterious Spirit of Christ to inspire. The ministry of the Word, like the profession of teaching, is not a matter of one person speaking the fullness of wisdom while others sit passively receptive.
Beyond preaching in liturgy, I believe the ministry of the Word involves teaching and exploring God’s definitive revelation of himself in the midst of his people. As a classroom teacher, I sometimes act as facilitator, mediator, motivational speaker, evaluator, counselor, coach, devil’s advocate, questioner, content strategist, resource consultant and creator, and on occasion direct instructor. Certainly in catechetics, but not limited to that endeavor, I delight in participating with the faithful to explore and unfold the full meaning of Christ present in our midst, bringing understanding into alignment with Truth and into integrity with our experience and will. As a deacon, I would look and ask for those graces to activate a thinking faith in God’s people.
Pray for those in formation
The men being formed for the Permanent Diaconate are both blessed and broken – we are in need of many prayers and much mercy. With God’s grace, though, the life-giving communions of our Diocese and Archdiocese can receive from and give to the Permanent Diaconate the loving gaze of the Father, the healing hands of Christ, and the ardent zeal of the Holy Spirit.
Ryan is the Teacher Chaplain and Catholic Studies Department Head at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School, and he blogs and offers online courses at ThinkCatholic.ca
To find more information about the Permanent Diaconate: Click HERE