Discerning a call to the permanent diaconate

Hi all… this is my first post but I have found this site extremely valuable in helping me through my discernment.

About 10 years ago, I felt the urge to serve God in some way, and I expressed this interest with my wife. I also spoke with my pastor and two deacons about this and thought it best to explore the whole thing. I have been becoming more and more involved with my church over these past 10 years including being part of our Pre Cana team, Extraordinary Eucharist Ministers, Men’s Club Acolytes, Lector, Visiting the nursing homes and bringing them communion, as well as other items. I have also been praying the liturgy of the hours each day and also attending some retreats.

These past few months, some strange things have happened and the calling seems to be getting stronger so I have started to pray more about this and look for what God is asking me to do (or if he is asking me). I feel like I am not worthy to even consider being a deacon, but I also know that many of you have said that nobody who has walked this earth is perfect other than Jesus Christ.

The other day I came across something that really scared me and I just don’t know what to make of it. I’m not sure why I am scared as I know God would never do anything to hurt me. I came across some of the requirements that must be met to be a deacon… they all looked familiar… Age… check, can’t marry again… check, can’t have ever had a vasectomy… wait??? what?

I know having a vasectomy is against church teachings, but when I was 25, had three children that we could hardly support and my wife and I were looking for a way to ensure we didn’t bring extra lives into this world that we would not be able to support, we felt the only fair thing to do was for me to be fixed. At the time, we didn’t know that this was a sin. I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic Education, and I feel really stupid that I didn’t know this. My wife and I found out one day when we were helping with Pre Cana and the discussion of NFP came up. We really never discussed this or knew much about it. I’m sure they talked about NFP at our Pre Cana class when we were engaged, but honestly, neither my wife or I knew it was against church teaching and was a sin.

Anyhow, I went to confession and was really confused and worried. The priest who I saw was really nice and explained that God will never try and trick you with sin… He doesn’t work that way. He said it is a sin, asked me some questions about how I felt and he could see that I was truly remorseful. He then gave me my penance, and said God has forgiven me.

Over the years as my wife and I were able to be more stable in our lives, I have often wondered what it would have been like if we would have been blessed with a fourth or fifth child and it saddens me that I will never know.

What I am confused about though is it seems in some diocese, it is NOT permitted at all for a man to have ever had a vasectomy and also be a deacon EVEN if he has been forgiven through the sacrament of confession.

I understand, as a deacon, you are required to preach the gospel and the belief’s of the church, and some might think of you as a hypocrite if you had this procedure done, but none of us are perfect. I’m certain there are deacons out there who have done very sinful things in their past lives, but have lived good and clean lives since then.

So my question is this… since I can’t find a hard and fast answer anywhere… is this something that WILL disqualify me or is it something that will need to be discussed? I have a meeting with another deacon in a few weeks who is over the Diaconate in my area, so I know I will need to bring this up with him, but should I even be wasting his time if this will disqualify me.

I know I am a sinner, but I also know that God has forgiven me for this, and I AM remorseful for having done this. I just hope the church is as forgiving as our Father is.

Sorry for the long winded post… God bless…

  • John

I would call your diocesan Cannon Lawyer. I can’t imagine anyone holding a sin against you, especially one you’ve been forgiven for. I’m interested in reading responses to your post. I’ve been discerning the Diaconate as well. In the end I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Thanks, but I don’t think I need to call Cannon Lawyer on this. I’m not looking to see the legal parts of this, just more interested in what others are seeing. If it is a true impediment to me being called to the Diaconate, then that is God’s will and who am I to argue. I’m just curious as to what others are hearing or seeing, or if any Deacons on the list can comment on their thoughts.

I know God has forgiven me for what I have done, and I fully understand now why it was and is a sin. I also have regrets about this and it is a shame I didn’t fully think this through and consider this fully.

Thanks,

John

I can honestly say I was not asked that during any of the interviews that I had. I was asked about extramarital affairs, drinking, drugs, etc. But the question of the vasectomy never was brought up. I cannot see how this would disqualify you automatically, but stranger things have happened in the Church. If I were you, I would not be volunteering the information either. You have be forgiven of this sin, for it to be held against you after forgiveness would be unforgivable, in my opinion.

D2B

Agreed!!

I know you are reluctant to consider canon law, but that is where your answer lies:
IRREGULARITIES AND OTHER IMPEDIMENTS
Can. 1040 Those aVected by any impediment, whether perpetual, which is called an irregularity, or simple, are prevented from receiving orders. The only impediments incurred, however, are those contained in the following canons.
Can. 1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders:
1/ a person who labors under some form of amentia or other psychic illness due to which, after experts have been consulted, he is judged unqualified to fulfill the ministry properly;
2/ a person who has committed the delict of apostasy, heresy, or schism;
3/ a person who has attempted marriage, even only civilly, while either impeded personally from entering marriage by a matrimonial bond, sacred orders, or a public perpetual vow of chastity, or with a woman bound by a valid marriage or restricted by the same type of vow;
4/ a person who has committed voluntary homicide or procured a completed abortion and all those who positively cooperated in either;
5/ a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously or who has attemptedsuicide;
6/ a person who has placed an act of orders reserved to those in the order of episcopate or presbyterate while either lacking that order or prohibited from its exercise by some declared or imposed canonical penalty.

Canon 1041 (5) states that one who has “mutilated himself . . . gravely” is “irregular” for holy orders. Mutilation generally referred to the removal of a body part i.e. a hand, finger, toe, foot etc.

Canonists disagree whether a vasectomy constitutes “grave mutilation”. Many believe it does.

Irregularities can be dispensed under canon law. You really do need to talk to your deacon formation director about this one.

Deacon Jeff,

Thank you for your reply. I didn’t mean for it to appear that I wanted to disregard Canon Law, I was just responding to the other poster who said I should go see the Canon Lawyer.

If that is what the rules say, then I guess it best to just drop the discernment. No need to waste a lot of peoples time. I want to fight for this, but I don’t know… maybe this is the Holy Spirit telling me to stop.

What caught me thoughj in the text of your response was when you say the removal of a body part. I had to have a heart valve replaced since I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, so I guess that blows my chances even more.

Anyhow, thank you for your time and the response. I was afriad I would find the answer and it would be disapointing. I guess I can’t fault the church for wanting someone who can live the rules better.

John

John,
You really need to get clarification either way. The heart valve will not stop you at all. I really doubt the other issue would either. The a Holy Spirit would not want you to investigate to the end. Stay with it and find out, all it takes is a phone call to the Cannon Lawyer that’s what he is there for.

Please note that the canon says “one who has mutilated himself”. A heart valve replacement is in no way “mutilating yourself”. It is medical treatment to correct a problem. It absolutely does not constitute an “irregularity”. Please also note that even if your diocese considers a vasectomy to be violation of the canon, as I said, it is dispensible. Accordingly there are ways, if they are so inclined, to get around it.

You NEED to consult your deacon formation director to get better resolution of this issue. It would be error to assume you are automatically disqualified.

Okay all, I have reflected on this and you are right. Giving up just like that would be a mistake and I’m sure the Holy Spirit would not want me to do that. I don’t want to be a blemish to the Church, so I can understand if this is an issue.

Deacon Jeff, thank you for the clarification on my heart valve… that seems logical.

I do know someone who is an attorney and I believe he has specialized in Canon Law. I will talk with him first as I do not meet with the Deacon Formation Associate Director for a few weeks yet. I just don’t wish to be wasting anyone’s time.

I think you also answered one of my other questions that I did not ask. That question was should I even bring this up if it is not asked of me. Personally, it bothers me so I think something in me (the Holy Spirit possibly) wants me to bring this up and discuss it with someone in the program. I had someone tell me that I should tell the truth if asked (which I would do regardless) but don’t divulge information that isn’t asked. I had a hard time with that and the fact that it bothers me tells me that it is something that needs to be discussed regardless if I am asked or not.

A second question I have is this. Over 10 years ago, I almost died from a brain hemorrhage. The doctors told my wife that I would not make it though the night and if I did, I would not last 48 hours. They suggested to her that I just be made comfortable. She fought this fiercely… she told them that she believed in miracles and that God did want them to try and save me and He needed them to use their gifts that He had given them. She and a lot of other people prayed for me and I came though all this. After about a month, I was able to go home and I will never forget the doctor telling me that he didn’t have any “medical” explanation as to how I survived those two days and how I was not vegetative or paralyzed. He said he has never seen someone come back from such situation that I was in. He then stated that he truly believed it was a miracle from God that pulled me though… I have to agree.

That said though, I had a really rough time after all this. A very dear Priest at our parish died just before all this from brain cancer and I felt it really unfair that a good man like this priest died and I lived. I started to really struggle in life and I turned to the bottle and started drinking really bad. I turned into an alcoholic! I was drinking non stop and making life in my home very difficult. I was making really good money at the time, and I was not paying our bills, I eventually lost my job (although a bunch of others lost their job at the same time so I don’t know if the drinking was the cause, but I’m sure it didn’t help), and we almost lost our house. I was a horrible person and finally my wife laid down an ultimatum and said I needed to admit I was an alcoholic and get into AA or she was going to leave me.

I am thankful to say that I did enter AA that night, got a sponsor, worked the steps and see how I had excluded God from my life in those years and how by bringing Him back into my life, I could turn all my difficulties over to Him and He would get me though them. I am grateful to say, that today I have been sober for 4 years, 7 months and 22 days, but really, all I have is today.

Now, some will say I WAS an alcoholic, but I like to take the stand that I AM an alcoholic… I will always be one, but I am choosing to not suffer form alcoholism at this point. I am not drinking, and I am living a clean life and allowing God to run my life and not booze or myself… I always put myself third in everything (God is first, you - and everyone else comes second, and I come third), but I could return to that life at any time if I wanted to… I know God doesn’t want me to, and I know I don’t want to. I work with other alcoholics and people who think they are alcoholics to try and get them back to their spiritual center.

Anyhow, I am/was an alcoholic who has restored his life to God and sanity… would this be something that could preclude me from being a deacon? I think it shouldn’t and my Pastor has been very instrumental in helping me though much of this. He saw me at my worst and now sees me how I am today. He has told me that my wife and myself are a role model for him… I don’t know how that can be, but he tells me that we are. I feel honored that he would think like that of us. Anyhow, he knows all about my past with drinking and he was the first one that I asked after my wife on what he thought about me and the diaconate. He said he thought I would be a wonderful deacon who could reach a lot of people. I am thinking that he believes that this would not be a hindrance, but just curious what others think.

On one part, I could see someone saying “Oh there is that drunk”, but others might see the glory is how God helped me.

Anyway… sorry for the long rambling post. I’m sure this will be part of my discussion with the formation director as I see it as a huge turning point in my life… one of those “Pssst… John, follow me. I’ll keep you safe, but you must follow me” moments from Jesus.

Peace,

John

John, I don’t know what the deacon board in your diocese will do with the recovering alcholic issue, but I can tell you that I personally know a few priests and at least one deacon who are in the same boat. By all means discuss it. My theory with formation was “full disclosure”. I don’t buy into the Don’t tell if not asked idea. If you think they might want to know, raise it. I found that to be especially true during the psychological examinations, which got very detailed and personal. Be ready for that…

As an aside, may I ask what part of Ohio you are in? I grew up near Toledo.

God bless and good luck.

I live in NE Ohio… about an hour east of Cleveland.

I agree with the full disclosure. Granted, if someone doesn’t remember something or doesn’t think much of it and it’s brought up that’s one thing, but if it is something that I think is important, then it should be brought up… for no other reason to keep my conscious clear.

So tell me about this psychological eval? What types of things to they look at or ask? I have nothing to hide, so I am not too worried about this if I make it that far. I know I am a sinner and we all are, so that is not the issue, but just curious what they ask and what they are looking for.

Thanks,

John

It varies from person to person and from psychologist to psychologist. I know that this isn’t what you are looking for, but the easiest way to answer your question about the psych evaluation is to say that they are looking for:

affective maturity: definition

major indicator: “healthy, balanced SELF-GIVING that includes the ability to receive from God and from others …”

related indicator: “ability to address the most emotional stresses; i.e., anxiety, weak confidence, anger, loneliness and sadness.”

Thanks Deacon Jeff… Is it a standardized test that you answer or is it more of a discussion with someone? I know I have had to take psyc tests for different jobs in the past and for various other things and I’m just curious if they follow the same format which was basically a list of a number of question (sometimes 100+) and you just answer those on a scantron piece of paper or something similar. I find those funny at times because it only allows you to pick one of the two extremes, and not something in between or the ability to explain your answer.

Oh well, I’m not going to worry about it. I may not even make it that far so why concern myself. I’m sure they’ll say I’m nuts anyhow… I must be a little if I am willing to put myself though this whole process. :slight_smile:

Both

Standarized test and an in person interview with the psyche. Mine took about 1 1/2 hours. At least he didn’t ask me to “lie down on the couch”.:smiley:

Okay, so just an update on where I am with the discernment.

I met with the assistant director of the diaconate (a fellow deacon) last week with my wife and we had a wonderful discussion. I will have to wait until the information night this coming fall and then start all the paperwork. I don’t think he would have invited me to that if he felt I had any serious impediments, and he also told me to call him every so often so we can chat and he can see how I am doing and answer any questions I may have.

One of the things we did talk about though was getting a spiritual director. He said that I would need one if I decided and if I was admitted into the aspirant group, so it would be good to get one now. I do have a priest in mind that I plan on talking with and seeing if he would be my spiritual director. The way we met was really strange, and I think God may have put him in my life for a reason. I met him a few weeks back at the Catholic Book store in town, when we were checking out and he and my wife and myself got into a really nice conversation. I then bumped into him about 30 minutes later at another store, and we had another great talk. He gave us his card and told us to call him sometime so we can get together.

The assistant director also pointed out that have a lot of good qualities of what I do with the church, but one area that I don’t have much is with helping others. He suggested administering communion to the shut-in’s, nursing homes; working soup kitchen’s; prison out reach; and he also suggested working with either the Pre-Cana teams again (we used to some years ago, but our parish no longer does Pre-Cana) and/or helping with RCIA and/or PSR.

So, lots to do… the funny thing about some of the things that I need to add to my list of things I do is the prison outreach. The priest that my wife and I bumped into that I want to ask if he will be my spiritual director does just that. We had a discussion with him about it and found out that he does this with another deacon who we know, so again, I have a strong feeling that God put him in my life that day for a reason.

The one thing that I am unsure about though is how do I ask him to be my spiritual director? So I just call him up, let him know who I am, and that I am discerning the call to the permanent Diaconate, and ask him if he will be my spiritual director or is there more that I should say?

One other question I had is about what the work load is like in the Diaconate? I mean, I have a masters degree, so I am comfortable with studying, but when I did my masters degree, I did it one class at a time and worked full time. It was really competitive when I was working on it, and more than one class was just too much with work. I have a feeling that the diaconate is not quite the same way (people not trying to embarrass you, trick you, take advantage of your mistakes, etc) but what is the work load like? Is there a lot of reading? What about written projects? What are the tests like, and how is this all graded (pass/fail or is there a grade system)? I’m sure each diocese is different in some ways, but I would think that they follow somewhat of a similar path.

Thanks all…YBIC… John

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