Women who pray for the Church, and who are spouses of permanent deacons (or those in formation), are undoubtedly responding to a unique grace of personal mission that comes to them as a result of their baptism.
I was at a retreat in another diocese, when a man in formation for the permanent diaconate was sharing his recent experience with the Rite of Candidacy. His eyes glistened as he looked towards heaven and he said, “It was so moving to step up on the altar with the archbishop, leaving our women behind. Our women have to get used to letting us go so we can serve God.” His comments hit me flat and drew my own heart to Jesus to offer it up in silence. Is that what it means for a man (and a woman) when he enters formation for the permanent diaconate, “to leave his woman behind?” He motivated my prayer and reflections, in this Year of Faith in the commemoration of the start of Vatican II, about what it means to be a woman in the Church who is married to a permanent deacon or one in formation.
It is not just about staying in the pew and being quiet. Diaconal formation is a graced summons for the woman, too, to cultivate her baptismal gifts in service of her family, the world, and in her own distinct way, the Church. As I wrote to a priest friend, “The Lord knows that we are sitting out there, and will touch each woman uniquely and individually with his will, and the aspects of her baptismal vocation that synergizes with his desires and the call of her husband.
Most spiritual writers describe that when persons open their lives to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit integrates their gifts and energies into a synthesis of love in service of the Kingdom. In the mystery of God’s providence, God knows how to allure us into his preferences for our lives. He gifts us personally as we each possess distinct personal vocations, or as Hans Urs von Balthasar describes in Christian States of Life, a unique grace of personal mission associated with our baptisms. At confirmation, we each can give our assent, to voice our intention to live out the promptings more fully that were planted in us at baptism.
Von Balthasar insists that these graces are hard to overlook as they “open up for humans a field of activity” 1 and create in the heart “a center of gravity, an adhesion within the personality that draws all the forces of his (her) nature into a clear and definite pattern. They form in his (her) nature a task or station that he (she) undertakes that is pleasant and rewarding.” 2 God draws us to his will, which is distinct for each person.
Women who pray for the Church, and who are spouses of permanent deacons (or those in formation), are undoubtedly responding to a unique grace of personal mission that comes to them as a result of their baptism. It works in harmony with their state in life, and is impacted by their gifts and talents. The Holy Spirit guides us uniquely in a path towards holiness, and utilizes everything about us, and in us, to accomplish his will. His will for each of us is to follow his summons and utilize our gifts to serve others in response to him. In this, we see that the grace of personal mission has three parts, or involves a synthesis of three aspects, of a person’s life.
We describe the three parts of a personal vocation with the insights from Personal Vocation: God Calls Everyone by Name by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw. The grace of a personal vocation or mission is a movement of grace that draws us at three levels of our lives, like stackable cups from your childhood toy box, or as three gift boxes that fit one inside the other. Each aspect focuses and strengthens the others. The first aspect that we all share, as members of the Church, is the grace of our baptismal call that is further gifted through confirmation.
At the baptismal level of vocation, we each share a universal summons to follow Christ and form the community of his body on earth, the Church. He calls us to emulate him through the beatitudes, to make sense of our lives by embracing the Cross and to receiving his grace. He equips all of us at the baptismal level of our call with the sevenfold gifts of his Holy Spirit, the gifts of his virtues, and access to the sacraments of the Church. We learn, as mutual yet distinct colleagues in the Church, to follow him as disciples and avoid sin.
Next, as members of the Church, at the second level of our vocation, we each receive an invitation into a particular state in life, which sounds simple. Are we called to marriage, to consecrated religious life, to ordained life, or to a generous single life? God knows that, in this particular station in life, we can most effectively serve him and grow in holiness. He also equips us for service at this stage of vocation by making us either males or females, so that we can be equipped more specifically to serve him fruitfully with the receptivity of our feminine genius or the thrust of our male ingenuity. Femininity instills a particular capacity to respond to grace and an orientation towards people.
Lastly, and most particularly, God forms a specific service for us to render to him, and a unique way to live out the grace of our mission. He gives us each unique gifts, training, experiences, and charisms to apply to our state of life. Here, in our inmost being, he conforms us to his heart with a specific imprint of his love for others. We are drawn deeply from our cores by his heartstrings. Like the stackable gift boxes, at this intimate level, we have unwrapped the inmost box of the gift of our personal vocation and opened it to discover our personal attributes. He pulls together our life experiences, and our human and spiritual gifts, into a living synthesis of love and service that is in concert with our state in life, our baptism, and the power of the sacraments.
With inspiration, and the graced stroke of the pen, the Fathers of Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (29), and subsequently, Pope Paul VI in his “Apostolic Letter Containing Norms for the Order of the Diaconate” (30), 3 reinstated the ordained permanent diaconate. This begs the question: how do married men and their wives bring the sacrament of their state in life, matrimony, together with the grace and sacrament of their service to the Church—for the men, the sacrament of holy orders, for the women, the sacraments of baptism and confirmation? How does the Holy Spirit prompt each of us as deacon couples, and as sacramentally married people, to live and form this integration of grace in the concrete, particularly for the wives?
As true prophets today, men and women are “explicitly called to bear witness to spousal and procreative love” 4 according to Blessed John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, and through their faithfulness, become agents of redemption of others. Through their reciprocal union, man and wife are to relish their state in life as a gratuitous sign and a model of holiness, as a sign of “Christ’s spousal love of the Church.” 5 Sacramentally married couples, and most especially deacon couples, are encouraged to allow their love for each other to become a springboard into a primary union with God alone, that will animate their relationship with each other and their service to others. John Paul II encouraged them to “break away from a (simple emphasis on the here and now),” to the very nucleus of the gifts of person to person (to God), and allow their love for each other to draw them “to love and communion on a deeper level, to a love called agape.” 6
The experiences of the families of the newly ordained permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, this summer, seem to confirm the wisdom of John Paul II. Laura Wagner, at the ordination to the permanent diaconate on June 29, 2012, of her father, Rick Wagner, said, “Seeing the relationship of my mom and dad grow (through the deacon formation program) has inspired my fiancé and myself to make sure that our relationship is Christ-centered.” 7 Her fiancé added, “With him just being ordained, it’s a tremendous witness. It sort of sets the bar for us who are trying to be witnesses to other people through our marriage.” In fact, earlier that same day, before the ceremony at the cathedral, Deacon Wagner and his wife, Carol, spent time in prayer, during which, she gave him a new wedding band. “It has three braids on it because God’s always been a part of our marriage,” Carol said, holding back tears after the ordination. “But now, we are really braided together.” 8added, in response to her husband’s ordination the same day, “Although we have been married for more than half a century, my husband, becoming a deacon, has given us new blessings. It’s broadened our interest in Christ, and brought us closer together in prayer, (a closeness) that we didn’t have before.” 9 And in celebration of this occasion, Bishop Coyne thanked the wives of the new deacons in his homily, and called them “partners in their husband’s ministry.” 10
As partners in our husbands’ ministry as well as agents of our own, how do we understand the personal vocation of the wife of a permanent deacon, as women and baptized persons? Sometimes, our practice of the faith has to be unpacked for awhile, so the Lord can lead us into his heart and mind over time. The work of theologian, Cardinal Yves Congar, whose work made a huge contribution to Vatican II and the role of the laity, helps us explore the energizing and complementary vocational states for permanent deacons and their wives. Their unity and distinct differences are willed by God to energize their witness in the world and Church.
Congar states that, in every age of the Church, the Holy Spirit presents Christ and his Church with new efficacy. The Holy Spirit brings together, like the reagents in a vast chemical reaction, the interaction of the hierarchical gifts of holy orders, and the charismatic gifts from baptism and confirmation, as a duality of gifts and graces that can catalyze the new evangelization. Collaborating together closely, the clergy and the laity form “the new and basic cell of evangelization,” 11 with the proper give and take. According to Congar, “the clergy have a way of learning and correlatively, the laity, a way of teaching.” 12
Ordained permanent deacons and their wives show the power of this complementary witness, and the framework of a new holiness forged at the level of ordinary life in the concrete, between clergy and laity. The wife, as a lay person, as leaven from within, and the deacon, as “the bishop’s ear, mouth, heart and soul” 13 form a spiritually procreative union in service of the Church. All that is necessary is to recognize and encourage their mutual growth in mission and holiness.
A woman, accompanying her husband to diaconal formation, or who ministers both alongside him, and sometimes independently from him in the parish, is developing and exercising the gifts of her baptism. Like all the baptized, she receives gifts of service for the community, or charisms, that can synergize with her husband’s, and extend both their contribution to the Church and world as a couple—and hers as an individual.
The focus and impact of charisms are varied and numerous, and the dynamic of discerning them the focus of another article. In brief, according to the proceedings honoring Leon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens, a key player in Vatican II: “Charisms are a power God’s spirit imbues to humans that enable them to do better what nature or training or practice has equipped them to do, by enhancing what is already there with the power of grace.” 14 “Every charism is a call to serve others in a particular way.” 15
The hierarchical gifts, or the graces of the sacrament of holy orders, and the charisms of baptism are complementary and mutually empowering gifts of grace, although they are distinct from each other. Hierarchical gifts keep the organism of the Church orderly, and in concert with the common good. Charisms keep the Church vital and alive. Charisms and holy orders must exist in a state of holy tension, so each can make a contribution and allow the Church to address pressing needs in the world today in an orderly way consistent with Truth. “When the tension relaxes in favor of order alone, there is no passion and vitality to the faith.” 16 Without the order of the hierarchical gifts, there is chaos. This complementary gifting and tension is key to the witness and impact of deacon couples as a “new and basic evangelizing unit.”
A woman married to an ordained permanent deacon, or to a man in formation, lives a particular synthesis, or grace, of personal mission as a baptized person, as a married person in a close and complementary relationship with the clergy. Her charisms, or baptismal gifts of service, impact the Church and world around her, and allow her to augment her husband’s call in distinct and individual ways.
She must address her calling, and be encouraged during formation, and later spiritual enrichment, to read the promptings of grace through Ignatian discernment. Because her role can vary, and her life in the world is complex, she needs to learn how to recognize the sting of desolation, and how to move forward in response to the consolations of God. By taking her calling seriously, she can develop her baptismal charisms with encouragement, and learn how she can be most faithful to God, whether behind the scenes, or working alongside her husband, or independently as a public, yet docile, ministering person.
In this role, she forms an often visible “cell of evangelization” that is given momentum by the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, confession, and particularly matrimony. The wife of a permanent deacon, through her feminine genius and savvy in the world and the Church, is equipped to make a particular and important contribution in support of the Church, as well as her husband. She is not simply a woman left behind, as the man suggested. The Lord uses all the crumbs from her table, her prayers, charisms, and simple daily sacrifices as an offering for his Church.
Starting in January, 2013, Mary Gannon Kaufmann, M.A., M.S., is offering an online, interactive, live retreat for the wives of ordained permanent deacons called, “Revive Deacon Wives.” Information can be found at www.incarnateinstitute.org on the registration page.
- Urs von Balthasar, Hans, The Christian States of Life, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1983, p. 72. ↩
- Urs von Balthasar, Hans, p. 72. ↩
- Pope Paul VI, August 15, 1972. ↩
- John Paul II, Blessed, Man and Woman he Created Them:Theology of the Body, Pauline Books, Boston, 2006, 102:8. ↩
- Theology of the Body, 101:3. ↩
- Theology of the Body, 113:3. ↩
- Gallagher, Sean, The Criterion Online Edition, “Christ’s Hands in the World,” Archdiocese of Indianapolis, June 29, 2012, http://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2012/06-29/deacons.html ↩
- Gallagher, Sean, June 29, 2012. ↩
- Gallagher, Sean, June 29, 2012. ↩
- Gallagher, Sean, June 29, 2012. ↩
- Congar, Cardinal Yves, Laity, Church and the World: Three Addresses by Yves Congar, Helicon Press, 1960, p. 71. ↩
- Congar, p. 85. ↩
- Pope Paul VI, Ad Pascendum, August 15, 1972. ↩
- Haughey, John, S.J. Retrieving Charisms for the Twenty-first Century, Doris Donnelly, editor, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN,1999, p. 2. ↩
- Haughey, John, S.J., p. 6. ↩
- Haughey, John, S.J., p. 9. ↩