Support for Celibate Deacons

It seems as if there is little support for celibate men discerning a call to the diaconate or living out their celibacy as a deacon.

There was much discussion in the inquiry sessions about the married deacon, his wife, and their undersanding that she may pre-decease her husband and how he must consider that he may be asked to be celibate later on, after ordaination. As there were fifteen in the inquiry sessions and I was the only single celibate man present, I think the focus on married deacons and family life was appropriate.

In speaking to priests about the subject, I get the feeling that there is a certain support struture inherent in the priest’s lifestyle. Perhaps a priest lives with other priests in the rectory. The priests in my parish get together at the deanery level once a week for lunch, fellowship and support. There seems to be a certain esprit de corps among priests which helps them cope with such issues. The only real help I have recieved from priests however, are along the lines of comments such as “You get used to it” and “Age is our ally”.

I’m comfortable with celibacy now, having even embraced it. There are no particular challenges in my life right now other than the normal temptations, “That which is common to every man”.

It seems however, as if the unmarried celibate deacon or one in discernment (and maybe even at an equal level the unmarried celibate layman) are out there adrift in a life boat on their own, clinging to God and our Holy Mother for support as best as we can. There doesn’t seem to be much obvious support out there other than a few books. Holy friendships with other likeminded individuals are hard to find, and there certainly isn’t any support in the secular work world.

Am I alone in these feelings? Is there something I am missing?

I don’t wish to diminish anything the Church does for married deacons. Far from it. But my experience as a celibate layman so far, and every attempt I have made to speak about it with members of the clergy have left me wanting something more substantial and only served to confirm that I’ll continue to be on my own for the most part.

Have I missed something here?

-Tim-

There’s life as we wish it would be.
Then there’s life as it is.
:shrug:

This has long been part of the argument of the Eastern Churches in favor of married priesthood. A vow of celibacy is challenging when living and preaching in the secular world. Those in monastic communities enjoy not only some level of isolation, but also the mutual support of the members who have all committed to the same discipline and rule of life.

It is good to know that you have sensed a similar approach in discussions with the priests you have consulted. Indeed it is important to have a sense of brotherhood and community, easier said and done perhaps in Roman Catholicism, with many more priests and closer distances between parishes than is the case at times for Eastern Catholics here in the U.S.

That said, you have our prayers. If you are called to a celibate lifestyle as your are commiting to a diaconal vocation, who knows - your journey of discernment may just be beginning!

Blessings to you!

Maybe you are called to the priesthood - I dunno - just musing;)

OK musing over.

I’m doing a paper right now for my MTS on diakonia and the Franciscan Tradition.

I’s not specifically about the diaconate, rather service in the person of Christ - but sacramentally that is exactly what the diaconate is. It seems that the Franciscan spirit is very much that of a deacon.

Musing hat back on - maybe there is a form of apostolic life, or a society or community that you could connect to in order to get some community. While being a deacon.

I think Bro JR’s community has lay involvement and even a couple of permanent deacons.

I’ve been thinking along the same lines myself - except I am married.

I think celibate (from the start) permanent deacons are still a bit of a novel idea. Most people who are in such a situation are likely strongly encouraged to think about priesthood.

I guess the system is not really set up for celibate permanent deacons. Permanent deacons are often not paid a salary by the diocese as are priests. They usually have a secular job because they have a family to take care of.

I guess when we talk about why we should have celibate priests the argument is often that they can dedicate all their time to their vocation. Permanent deacons have a smaller role due to their need to take care of family/job. I guess it’s just a struggle for people to see where exactly a celibate permanent deacon fits in that puzzle. Do we treat them like a priest (have them live in a rectory, work full time at a parish, pay them a salary)? Or do we treat them like a permanent deacon (have them do their own thing outside of baptisms/weddings/eucharist and retreats and other diocesan things)?

Like I said, the push would probably be for that person to consider priesthood, but of course they might not be called to priesthood. It’ll be something that’ll have to be improved with time and experience; after all bringing back the married permanent diaconate is still pretty new.

The repsonses so far only serve to confirm what I stated in my original post, that with the exception of the priesthood and consecrated religious life, there is a lack of support within the structure of the Church for celibacy in general and for celibate deacons in particular.

That the secular world is hostile to celibacy is no surprise, but the attitude expressed here, that a man who is has embraced celibacy as a way of life is somehow better off as a priest or that he should be considering the priesthood is quite frankly, a little disturbing. Not every man who is called to celibacy is better off as a priest, or has a vocation to the priesthood.

Since having sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin, one would think that the Church would provide some support for those who have embraced celibacy as a means to holiness yet who are not called to the priesthood or religious life. A homily on the subject, or something. I would have supsected that the Church would do this even more so for her own clergy, but am quickly drawing the conclusion that as the celibate secular layman is on his own with regard to celibacy, the celibate deacon is even more so.

It seems to me that the Church has done an excellent job of supporting the married deacon who live and works in the secular world, but not so much so the single deacon. It took me by surprise at what seems to be a lack of attention paid to the deacon who willingly embraces a celibate way of life out of love for God and for the sake of the kingdom, just as any layman might embrace that same way of life. Maybe those support structures inherent to the prieshood and religious life will find their way into the diaconate, and eventually into the life of the celibate layman. Who knows? Maybe I just don’t have enough exposure to formation yet. I hope I am wrong.

I realize that you guys trying to help, and I appreciate those who have took the time to respond in a serious and thoughtful way.

Perhaps I’ll begin looking to the lives of the saints, to see how they delt with it.

-Tim-

Well, we tried, and you still have our prayers!

I’m not sure married deacons get any “support” per se. And also, any support they do get would be just as helpful for a celibate person as a married person.

There are no real community aspects to the diaconate. My brother is the only English speaking deacon in his diocese in Quebec and has had probably an hour of “fellowship” per year, and any on-going formation he has had he has found himself.

I’m not really convinced that single men are ignored in favour of married deacons - I think many fly “solo”.

What married deacons do have of course have is a wife. Which is a “private” relationship, or rather not “organized” by the diocese, which is why I was suggesting connecting with other communities for some kind of support. And even with a wife I think a community is very important.

It may be possible to build that community “off your own bat” in a parish, but that might depend on the parish too.

Bottom line, I think, is that the diaconate is a sacramental sign of service in the person of Christ. I think it benefits the deacon to find the kind of service they wish to pursue and then find some kind of community in and around that service.

I agree with you there. Besides a strong suggestion to have a spiritual director, people who are celibate (non-priests non-religious) are largely left to look after themselves.

If you’ve paid attention to this particular sub-forum, you’d have noticed that there is a little bit of hostility even to the idea of a single vocation (just an unmarried layman). It’s a cultural thing, even in Catholicism, that if you’re not become a priest and not joining a religious order that you’re going to get married; it’s just sort of assumed as a default. Before I decided to enter the Seminary, I assumed that I myself would get married only because “that’s what people normally do”.

It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed.

See, this is why these forums are so valuable. I keep forgetting about spiritual direction.

Cloud lifts, vision clears, sips coffee…

I’ve actually been told by several deacons that it is the one thing they regret not doing sooner, getting a spiritual director, and I have a list of spiritual directors recommended by the Archdioces within arms reach of where I sit now. Duh.

There was and continues to be great joy in surrendering my sexuality to God and willingly living as He intends a single man to live. When I came to terms with it, and willingly surrendered, there was an amazing feeling of peace which has rarely left since, and serving God with an undivided heart as a deacon is a thought which I’m also rarely without.

But still, it is lonely sometimes, and the cultural pressure to be married which you mentioned isn’t limited just to CAF. If you are in seminary or entering then none of this is new to you. It can be lonely, and I do envy anyone in the seminary, monastery or other community which has some level of support, even if it is just the knowledge that those around you have the same burden in common.

Maybe God used this thread to kick me in the pants to get a spiritual director. Whether he did or not, I thank you for caring enough about the subject to reply, and for mentioning it to me.

-Tim-

Spiritual Direction is the best! :thumbsup:

I’m not clear whether you want specific support in living chastely or more general friendship with people in a similar situation so this may or may not be useful:

I’m a member of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity and I think it’s amazing. You may want to consider it. It’s not specifically for celibates so there are married couples (and individual married people, and pretty much everyone else) involved, but a lot of the members are celibate.

I am a newly ordained deacon. While married, my wife is disabled and we are no longer able to have sacramental conjugation. This has included most of my years of Formation. So, in reality I am celibate.

I have found a clearer connection with our Lord and His mom during this time. For example, when the temptations of our society infultrate my consciouse world, I struggle. What I have found is when I reject the temptation, my relationship with our Lord brings me a peace, a joy. He let’s me know that I am on the right path and I am humbled in the thought of His presence. Homilies come easier. I just did my first Baptism yesterday—piece of cake. I do it all for Him. I am His servant. Saying, “Yes, Lord” simplifies my life. I pray for simplicity and humility.

One of the ways I may discribe it is through a blessing I started to give the day of my Ordination. It goes like this “May the Lord bless you all the days of your life, and the grace to recognize it.”

I pray this for you.

If you are looking for support, you may be searching for an excuse.

If you are looking to serve (diakonia), get busy. Start with what draws you to the Lord. Open the Bulletin at your parish and see what you like. Sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and simply be with the Lord. He will speak to your heart. Pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit. Answers will come.
Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy until you are called to sing it. You will feel the Lord in song.
Praise Him and bless Him and He will fill your heart.

Start your journey. You are not alone. Seek an you WILL find Him.

Get seeking.

In Christ, His humble servant
Blessing!

I think this is the voice of Christ. Thank you for saying it.

-Tim-

Um, I think it is quite natural for people to want to have some kind of support system. Consecrated virgins are in the same boat as single permanent deacons (the original permanent deacons were single). We’re in the consecrated state, the only ones who have the right to share in the Church’s title of bride of Christ, and we live individually. There is no support. Some virgins get together formally like where a diocese might have an annual luncheon or something. Otherwise, we are completely on our own even though we do meet with our spiritual father, the Bishop, ideally at least once/twice a year. Yes, we do things in the name of the Church as we do represent the Church in a very special way. However, there is very little in the way of support.

Hey Tim,

I think one of the reasons why celibate Deacons may not get much in the way of support is because some people might subconsciously (or even overtly consciously) start thinking; if he ain’t going to get married, why not become a priest?

I’ve heard similar statements regarding those who become Brothers, however at least Brothers have their communities. Celibate Deacons, on the other hand, sadly do not.

That said, support structures can be built. As you know, the aposolate I serve with is fairly draining (youth ministry). I have a few different support structures in place to help with this, not even including the other volunteers;

  • My “brotherhood”. One was my best man at my wedding (I was a groomsman at his wedding), another was a groomsman at both of ours (he’s a seminarian who is becoming a Deacon this summer, so no wedding party for him).

  • I have two other friends who I am close with, they help in many ways.

  • SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. Yes, even I have one. Tim, come on my friend. You know this will only aid you.

  • Family. Yeah, I’m married, but I have other family.

The last part might prove difficult, but the first one can be built with time and effort. Regardless of where you go, those are the kind of men you want with you. My “brothers” are real brothers to me in all respects but blood, they have been there at my lowest and my highest. We are a fellowship.

Build fellowship with others and you will find support.

And if I may make a suggestion regarding spiritual direction…see if any of the Cistercians do it.

I called the Cistercians this week and left a message. They are close to my heart, and I had a seriously profound conversion from a doctrine/dogma/intellectual based faith to a spiritual faith rooted in experiencing God from spending time at the monastery. I hope to hear back soon. I know several of the Brother’s do it, and have been praying that God sends someone into my life.

What you say about celibate deacons and becomming priests is true. Even deacons talk about it. In his book “The Emerging Diaconate”, William T. Ditewig discusses the idea of cursus honorum, or “Rising throug the ranks” as one would in business or the military. Vocations, on the other hand, are a calling, and the Church begain adopting the idea of cursus honorum, especially from the Roman military, as the Church became more widespread and culture became Christianized. One is really called to be a priest or a deacon. Dr. Ditewig recommends eliminating the idea of cursus honorum in the Church, most especially in terms of the diaconate, returning it to it’s own rightful vocation instead of how many see it today, as a stepping stone to the priesthood or a booby prize for those who realized too late.

But you are absolutely right. The vast majority of the laity do not understand who the deacon is or what he does, and there is a cultural mindset which automatically associates celibacy with the priesthood.

Deacon abgaz1’s words were extremely important to me re looking for excuse and get busy. I really needed to hear that.

I am also meeting during the week of the 13th with a Deacon who has been celibate for some time. He is a new deacon’s mentor for the Archdioces.

Thanks melch for your kind words. And thanks SerraSemper for your words of support.

-Tim-

I remembered your tale about time visiting them, which is why I fielded the suggestion. I’m glad you contacted them, they will be a wealth of riches in several respects.

I need to work on this as well. As soon as the Secular Franciscans start up their meetings again post summer, I need to attend. Perhaps you and I should hold each other accountable in this area.

-Tim-

Turns out that the Cistercian monks near me only do spiritual direction in the context of retreats. Sounds more like one-off visits with an older monk as part of a larger retreat experience rather than classic spiritual direction.

I’m a little disappointed, but am going to look at the list of directors from the Archdioces Formation website and ask some newly ordained deacons for any first hand experience with those on the list. The list is fairly long and includes priests, deacons, lay and even Jesuits.

We shall see.

-Tim-

As a single celibate person under private vows, there is no support in The Church for us either, in fact very often it is suspicion is my experience. I should either be married or in a convent it seems and choosing to be single and embrace private vows entirely suspicious.

In embracing this way of life as my call from God (under spiritual direction - ongoing), I could either anticipate all the problems which are only pure imagination, or I could set out on the road of lay single celibacy and private vows trusting myself to God, in each moment and each day, absolutely as my journey unfolded. When problems do come along and as challenges, The Grace of God is there with one in every way. Perfection is a journey and is a lifelong journey and one needs to be able to see oneself with some clarity and to accept onself as imperfect with potential for growth with Grace and in Grace. An ex spiritual director of mine once told me that God grants His Grace at the actual time for absolutely sure, most often however, He may not grant The Grace to deal with our imagination other than His Spirit informs one it is all one’s imagination and to let go and trust confidently in Him. One of the first moves I made, however, before embracing the private vows for life (initially one year only and a review at the end of each year) was to also check out with a Jesuit Theologian that Grace would be with me to help me to be faithful to private vows lifelong. He replied in the affirmative. My journey in this call and vocation is now over 30 years and I would do it all over again even if I knew for sure all the problems (and considerable) that would come along as my journey unfolded. It has been entirely rewarding, a great adventure, and longstanding established in Peace, fulfillment and happiness - and just for some color, problems and hurdles, challenges.

Spiritual direction, sound spiritual direction is absolute gold in the spiritual life. It is a treasure - and probably very especially in discerning God’s call and vocation for the rest of one’s life. Commitment is exactly what it states and come good times or bad - blessings or tribulation. I did speak in the early years of discerning with a nun who was then director of vocations in our diocese and she told me once I had my mind made up, made an actual decision - to go with it and with absolute commitment. I think it very important where vocation is concerned to have an investment in God and His Grace and less in ourselves and our imagination. My grand aunty was professed over 60 years when she died and it is recorded that on arriving very young to officially enter and a convent far from her home, very far, she went to the Chapel and prayed “I am here Lord, and I am here for life”…commitment.

Truth of the matter is that the problems that one’s imagination may present may never exist at all, while unanticipated problems will. And even if one’s imagination has presented the actual problems that will come along, at the actual time of the problem, Grace will be present.

For example, those who entered pre V2 had no notions whatsoever of the dramatic changes with which they would be faced in their future. Dramatic changes, dramatic challenges. Hence the life one does anticipate in a particular voation may be present initially and then totally change quite dramatically at some point. Life and very often will not match our expectations, hopes and dreams, life may entirely turn upside down our plans, but Grace is with us all the way in every day and is forever equal to any challenge whatsoever, come whatever may.

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