Along with the 22 other members of the Diocese of Knoxville diaconate formation class, I have returned from our annual retreat weekend, which was led this year by Father Andreas Hoeck, the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. Many of the men love Father Andreas, as he has instructed us before on the writings of St. John and of St. Paul, and most of us have come to appreciate the reality that Father has all of this knowledge and understanding that he is able to impart from his many years of Scriptural and Patristic study, but he does so with such a prayerful spirit and joyful demeanor that his example has caused me to reflect on my own future diaconal ministry.
Much of the focus and subject matter of this weekend’s retreat had to do with service in the biblical sense, namely the many appearances of the word diakonia, which is Greek for servant or slave, in the New Testament. It appears in some context over 90 times in the New Testament. It doesn’t always show up in the context of sacramental service, but it does often enough, and the frequent use of that word underscores the importance of self-sacrificing service to others in the Christian life. I was reminded repeatedly while listening to Father Andreas’ reflections this past weekend of something that Deacon Tim Elliott had told me privately some time ago, and I have heard him repeat before the Brethren, and that is that the diaconate is “service that has been sacramentalized.” I was also pleased that my wife Nicole was able to join me for part of the retreat (she could not stay for all of it, as most of the wives did), as she very much enjoyed Father’s reflections.
Her presence there was important for another reason. As I (and the other men in the class) continue to prepare for a sacramental diakonia, she has really rendered diakonia to me in the service of my own vocation. While two of my confreres, Steve Helmbrecht and Don Griffith, regularly allow me the grace of accompanying them on their way to our formation classes, it is Nicole who drives me to our workshops every other month or so because I do not drive myself, and it is she who is willingly in tow at RCIA and at parish functions such as the dinner for catechists and religious instructors we are having tonight. There are times when I have to be somewhere and it wouldn’t otherwise require her presence, but she is there in support of me. She is a living example of diakonia.
There is an even more important reason why diakonia was discussed at length (in terms of the exegetical meaning of that word), and that is that next weekend Bishop Stika will formally invest all of us as Lectors. This is, of course, a critical step on the road to ordination. When someone is invested as Lector by the local Ordinary, it does more than just give someone the right to read the Scriptures at Mass and other liturgical celebrations. It means that they are quite literally invested as people who hand on the Word of God as teachers of that Word to God’s people. Hence, from Saturday onward we will all be invested with a critical part of our future ministry as deacons-we will be servants-diakonia-of the Word. Father Andreas portrayed that quite accurately to all of us.
As for Father Andreas, he isn’t on our formation schedule for the remainder of our time, but I have a very strong feeling that it will not be the last time that we see him, and that we may see him again even before we are finished with formation. He is a blessing to many of us, and I know that he will either be acting as an instructor or a retreat master for us again in the future. Speaking of the schedule, I just looked at it, and it is amazing to me how the time has flown. We began diaconate formation in the fall of 2011. We are entering upon the fall of 2014, and there really isn’t much time left. The reality of a life of service to the Church seems very close at hand indeed, and I am blessed that I have a peace about the prospect of that life that I cannot describe, one that I know comes from the Holy Spirit. I also know that I am not the only man among the 23 who now has that peace.