A Key Element of Ministerial Development: Spiritual Formation
“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” [NIV] (Micah 6:8b). The element which most characterizes Diaconal spirituality is the discovery of and sharing in the love of Christ the servant, who came not to be served but to serve. The aspirant / candidate must therefore be helped progressively to acquire those attitudes which are specifically diaconal, though not exclusively so, such as, simplicity of heart, total giving of self and disinterest for self, humble and helpful love for the brothers and sisters, especially the poorest, the suffering and the most needy, the choice of a life-style of sharing and poverty. Let Mary, handmaid of the Lord, be present on this journey and be invoked as mother and auxiliatrix in the daily recitation of the Rosary. [Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium].
The goal of Christian spiritual formation is union with God in Christ. As with all other Christians, the aspirant or candidate’s spiritual life, founded on his baptism, should be centered in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. His faith should be constantly nourished by reading and meditating on the Scriptures. His activity should be enlivened and strengthened by regular participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Spiritual formation is the keystone of the diaconate formation program. The diaconate is meant to enhance the Church to which the aspirant or candidate is committed for life, the parish for which he provides a visible sign of service, and the person of the deacon and his family. Spiritual growth of the aspirant / candidate, his wife, and family is integrated into the total formation program. Theological knowledge and pastoral experience will naturally enter into the aspirant or candidate’s prayer life.
Aspirants and candidates bring to the formation program a spirituality reflective of their age, and the culture in which they were raised and in which they now live and work. The formation program builds upon the individual’s spiritual foundation, and fosters a realistic spirituality of Christian service and liturgical life.
For the married aspirants and candidates, their experience of the Sacrament of Matrimony is central to their spirituality. The commitment to their union and the conviction of the sacrament’s sacred character are fundamental to an appreciation of a covenant relationship with God. The concern is not to propose or to teach a standard spirituality, but to encourage reflection on the shared spiritual journey of husband and wife that has already flowered in a rich mutual relationship and a healthy family life, and has nurtured the impulse toward and the talent for the ministry of Christian service.
The demands of ministry will require a shared spiritual perspective as well as good communication skills. An aspirant and a candidate soon recognize that the marriage relationship will be the source of a deacon’s strongest support. Likewise it is important that both husband and wife demonstrate a commitment to ongoing spiritual growth.
The goals of the spiritual formation program are:
- to deepen his prayer-life;
- to deepen his commitment to Christ and the Church;
- to assist the aspirant / candidate, with the help of his Spiritual Director, in discerning his call to the diaconate;
- to prepare him for the challenges of spiritual leadership that his ministry will entail;
- to integrate ministerial commitment with commitments to family and to work;
- to develop personal qualities and abilities that will be needed in ministry.
The spiritual formation program requires:
1. Spiritual Direction
Each aspirant and candidate has as his Spiritual Director a priest, with whom he will meet on a regular basis to assess and encourage his growth in the spiritual life. He will be asked to keep a journal which will contain his daily thoughts and meditations on his life as a Christian. This will help the aspirant or candidate to realize where he is spiritually and to share this with his spiritual director. It is suggested that the Spiritual Director meet with the aspirant or candidate’s wife and family as often as possible or necessary.
The spiritual director’s task is that of discerning the workings of the Spirit in the soul of those called and, at the same time, of accompanying and supporting their ongoing conversion; he must also give concrete suggestions to help bring about an authentic diaconal spirituality and offer effective incentives for acquiring the associated virtues. Because of all this, aspirants and candidates are invited to entrust themselves for spiritual direction only to priests of proven virtue, equipped with a good theological culture, of profound spiritual experience, of marked pedagogical sense, of strong and refined ministerial sensibility. [Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium]
2. An Annual Retreat / Evenings for Reflection and Reconciliation
An annual retreat is scheduled each year for aspirants, candidates, and their wives. In addition, holy hours are scheduled throughout the year. Sitting before the Lord provides the aspirant and candidate with an opportunity to reflect on the gift of his call and help to develop an ongoing relationship with the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available during each holy hour.
3. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours
Indeed praying in the name of the Church and for the Church is part of the ministry of the deacon. [Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium, 75].
Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer are introduced to the aspirants and candidates in the early stages of their formation. Aspirants and candidates pray Evening and Night Prayer as a community on Mondays and Wednesdays. The men are strongly encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours privately as part of their daily spiritual exercise.
4. Frequent reception of the sacraments
Aspirants and candidates are encouraged to receive the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. These sacraments enrich and strengthen their spiritual lives so that they can go about doing the Lord’s work among His people.
. . . The source of this new capacity to love is the Eucharist, which, not by chance, characterizes the ministry of the deacon. In fact, service of the poor is the logical consequence of service of the altar. . . Within the context of this Eucharistic spirituality, care will be taken to give adequate appreciation to the sacrament of Penance. [Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Diaconorum Permanentium]