The National Catholic Review

The weather was awful, and the forecast was grim: heavy snow, possibly as much as a foot, on one of the coldest and darkest nights of the winter. But inside St. Ephrem’s, a large church in Brooklyn, it was springtime. Something was beginning. Candles were lit, hymns were sung, and 65 men from the Diocese of Brooklyn rose to become candidates for ordination as deacons. I was one of them. In 2007, by the grace of Godand the endless prayers of friends and family who still cannot believe I’m actually doing thisI will be, at last, a deacon.

You hear much these days about the crisis in the church. They keep telling us we are in trouble. Scandals are everywhere. Lawyers are filing suits. The pope is dying. Vocations are drying up. The pews are emptying.

But not that night in Brooklyn.

The place was nearly fullclose to 1,000 people had gathered to mark the Rite of Candidacy. And vocations? Looking around the church, I would say that vocations are alive and well. They just are not where the church expected them. The call to serve is no longer confined to the single or the celibate. The 65 men who stood before the bishop that night to affirm their calling offered compelling proof.

We are a varied bunch. Two of us are single, the rest are married. The oldest is 70, the youngest 31. We are accountants, lawyers, doormen, retired cops. One of us works in the mayor’s office; another (me) works in network television. We have jobs, wives, children and, above all, an abiding love for the church and a desire to serve it.

Most of us did not decide to become deacons overnight. And that’s a good thing, because the church does not make it easy. Pursuing the diaconate is not like joining the Lion’s Club.

I was accepted into the Aspirancy Program for the Diaconate in the summer of 2002. For the next 18 months, my wife and I attended weekly classes at a Catholic high school in Queens. We listened to lectures; we prayed; we pondered. We made retreats with others who were also aspiring to become deacons. We took part in days of recollection.

I wrote short reflection papers. I had a medical check-up and submitted a doctor’s report. I took a psychological exam and described all the little animals I could discern in the inkblots. I was fingerprinted and investigated and interviewed. I gave the diocese my academic records, my baptismal certificate and letters of recommendation from both my employer and my pastor. My wife gave her formal, written consent to the bishop.

All this just to get a foot in the door.

Those first 18 months were a time of testing. Jesus could walk on water; we aspirants were trying to walk on ice. So we set out, tentatively, step by step, as if crossing a frozen pond, testing the ice to see if our vocations would hold, if they were strong enough to carry us to candidacy.

In the end, most of us made it, safe and dry.

Now the real work begins: classes two nights a week and one Saturday a month on subjects like liturgy, Christian anthropology and church history. It’s a daunting taskespecially since the last time I was in a classroom was during my final semester in college, to pick up two elective credits in bowling. It was a pass/fail course, and I passedbarely.

Did I mention that I have a lot of people praying for me?

As I swallow hard and sharpen my pencils and prepare to march into the Great Unknown, I’m comforted by one thought: I am not alone. The Holy Spirit, who hatched this scheme in the first place, has been thoughtfully checking in with me from time to time to reassure me that this is, indeed, doable.

My wife, who has accompanied me to lectures and retreatseven going to some classes when I couldn’thas been my biggest cheerleader, and most ardent dispenser of prayers. I’ve told friends that if they see her in church, on her knees, with her rosary, she’s probably praying for me. Please do not disturb her, Isay. She has important work to do.

I have also received abundant support and encouragement from the people in my parish, from my friends and from my classmates. I am beginning candidacy with a happy heart.

So, I suspect, are the 64 other men who braved a blizzard to stand before the bishop and proclaim, vigorously, their intention to serve the church. We are pioneers, in a waya small but growing band of believers marching into an unmapped frontier, the church of the 21st century.

There are nearly 14,000 permanent deacons in the United States. In some dioceses, in fact, there are now more deacons than priests. Deacons are becoming a formidable presence in parishes and, in the decades to come, could even become the most familiar faces of the Catholic clergy.

Soon enough, God willing, one of those faces will be mine.

On that blessed day, I will remember vividly how I got there and the moment I became a candidate for ordinationin the middle of a dark night and a bleak forecast, but with snow falling around me like grace.

Greg Kandra is a story producer for the CBS News program 60 Minutes II. His writing has appeared in U.S. Catholic, Catholic Digest and The Brooklyn Tablet.

Comments

Elizabeth Thecla Mauro | 8/17/2004 - 6:17pm
Greg Kandra's essay, 'Of Other Things' betrayed a gentle spirit and a transparent thankfulness that is all too rare amongst us these days. As we humans have evolved into relentlessly self-concerned beings, breathing entitlement like dragon fire and embracing secular thought and values - ruling by the world's measure instead of God's - it is heartening and inspiring to share in this future-deacon's experience of excitement and awe as he takes his first formal step toward ordination.

So refreshed was I after finishing his essay that I was sorry and sad to immediately read Wendy Altobell's response to his article, which was simply exhausting.

Ms. Altobell's response to Kandra's gratitude was a searing rage taking umbrage at his seeming insensitivity at not interrupting his own reverie to discourse on women's ordination. Has it come to this? Must every writer be compelled in every piece, no matter how personal, to bring the politics of others into his or her own story, or risk being pierced by a sharp skewer of bitterness by a reader who feels ignored? Are our egos that out of control?

There are other, better, ways Ms. Altobell could have expressed herself without figuratively urinating on one man's recollection of a moment of joy. Ways that are more healing and uplifting to all, rather than divisive and bellicose.

As a woman who has looked long and hard at the issue of women in the diaconate I must say that letters like Ms. Altobell's are why I cannot, at this time, support the idea. Until women can approach the issue without this mindset of entitlement and ego, I fear they will not be as fully productive and pastoral as they might be - and the permanent diaconate is nothing if not a deeply pastoral calling. Foot stomping tantrums, while they might be evidence of a desire, and certainly of a deep frustration, only serve to make one wonder: can a call from God be accompanied by such viciousness?

There are no negatives in Christ; one cannot be in Christ and be resolutely negative, demonstrably bitter and - sadly - mocking. Ms. Altobell's sentiments seem to reside in nothing but negatives, which I find deeply troubling. She seems to me to be using the measurement of the world as her guide to God, and while - again and again - we find that the world and everything in it is 'good', the esteem and measure of the world is often what leads us into feelings of envy, anger, bitterness and disquiet.

It doesn't matter how many degrees one has, or how badly one desires to 'serve full time in ministry'. An apostolic ordination is more than mere 'ministry'. Heavens! Anyone can serve in full-time ministry if they really want to - without ever being ordained. I'm thinking of some of the great women of our 'sexist' church who managed, without ordination, to minister autonomously and so effectively that they renewed the face of the church. Catherine of Siena counseled not only the lay men and women around her but the pope as well - while writing extraordinary treatises. Theresa of Avila managed to reform an order, to build scores of monasteries for both men and women, without waiting around for someone to tell her she could, and without insisting that her own terms be met before she could give her all. It was the same with Hildegard of Bingen, who 'only' wrote music, plays, books on medicine and so much more, in an era where women – at least secular women - didn't aspire to such things because the secular world was not open to it, as the church was. And dare I point out - though none of these women spoke from a pulpit, their words still echo and reverberate - their voices were never silent. While it's easy to label the church 'sexist' I am not entirely certain she has earned the name. Since the dawn of Christianity, within the church, women were educating themselves and others, writing books, imagining and then building schools, hospitals, policies and procedures. These were women of unqualified bri

Wendy Altobell | 8/12/2004 - 1:43am
As I read Greg Kondra's reflection, "The Road to the Diaconate" (7/19), all I could feel was anger and resentment swell up inside me. Not because of what he said, but because of what he didn't say. So I will.

How nice for us to learn that he can have it all--a vocation of marriage and an ordination, too! A loving wife who supports him not only in prayer, but by attending his classes with him, and a bishop who accepts him because he has the correct genitals--this is marvelous. He can even keep his day job and do ministry "on the side" if he wishes.

But what about all the women who enroll in these very same graduate classes, obtain Master's degrees in theology, and desire to serve full-time in ministry? Our institutional church will not even allow these intelligent and capable women to proclaim the Gospel or preach a homily, let alone baptize, officiate weddings, or bury the dead. Why? Because it's a sexist institution intent on a theology of power and domination. In this system, we all lose--women as well as men.

My heroes are the men who care enough about the low status of women in this church to reject the diaconate for themselves, and the bishops who refuse to ordain male deacons until they can also ordain women to the diaconate. (Are there any left??) With scriptural evidence of women deacons and the Spirit at work in our midst, I pray one day it will happen again. And soon.

Connie May | 8/11/2004 - 12:35pm
Please add my thanks to that of Deacon Eric Stoltz for Greg Kandra's gift of himself in offering his talents to us via the deaconate. The church is recognizing the need for ministers that can break open the word in ways that can invite wonder and gratitude. His weekly contribution to this can be found in the "View from the Pew" section of his parish newsletter, http://www.ourladyqueenofmartyrs.org/view.htm.I think you will find his offerings wonder filled. Connie May

Louise M. Nielsen | 7/16/2004 - 12:50am
I read the article by Greg Kandra, "The Road to the Diaconate," with deep gratitude for those who are willing to serve the people of God by responding to this vocation. Their dedication clearly helps build up the church. I recently attended the ordination of a dear friend along with 60 other good men from our Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Like Mr. Kandra, I also was excited to see so many participating in service to the church in this way. My hope for the future, however, is that all of us who are called to this vocation may respond. I am neither a political activist nor a feminist, but a woman wanting to serve. I have have studied with men in a master's degree program in Theology, and I participate in ministry with men. I have the very same desire for ordination to the diaconate. The Canon Law Society of America recommended ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for women in 1995. It is my hope that as we pray and support those in diaconate formation that we also remember all of God's people who are called and gifted to serve.

Deacon Eric Stoltz | 7/10/2004 - 11:20pm
Thanks to Greg Kandra for his reflection on the Rite of Candidacy for the permanent diaconate. Tomorrow will be one month since my ordination as deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and I can assure Mr. Kandra that upon his ordination, he will experience the same wonder that James Martin describes in his reflection in the same issue of America.

As I write I have just returned from preaching at the Vigil Mass on the parable of the Good Samaritan at my parish, St. Brendan in Los Angeles. You can't get any better material than this! My truck is filled with soft drinks for tomorrow's interfaith picinic honoring people who were recently homeless but now have homes and jobs. After Mass, I offered a little prayer for the gang members I visited yesterday in Men's Central Jail downtown as I pulled up to a home where I was bringing Communion to an elderly man with Parkinson's Disease, surrounded by loving family members. How his face brightened when I held the host before him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God..." And tomorrow I will celebrate my first baptisms. Come Monday I will continue the day-to-day business of earning my own living.

It doesn't get any better than this for a public-relations executive turned Web developer. Mr. Kandra has many wonderful things to look forward to, as do all those preparing for the diaconate in our church.

And God bless the wives of the deacons. These remarkable women of faith go through years of preparation with their husbands, fully qualified to offer just the kind of service they are forbidden by our Church from doing. They know the rites, some can preach better than their husbands, and they are humbly committed to a Church that all too often will not recognize their gifts.

In my class of 12 new deacons there were two physicians, a public-relations executive, a garment industry executive turned gardener, a vice president of a mechanical engineering company, an aerospace company executive, a parish business manager, a retired deputy sheriff, and other vocations. They ranged in age from one ordained at the minimum canonical age to one approaching the maximum age. Single and married; Latino, Anglo, African American amd Korean; gay and straight,we new deacons for Los Angeles are the new face of the clergy.

Each year, more parishes like St. Brendan get their first deacon. I can tell you the welcome and enthusiasm among these parishioners is overwhelming.

There is no vocations shortage in the Catholic Church. We have lay and diaconal vocations sprouting up everywhere, even more than my Archdiocese can handle. Our Diaconate Formation Office is faced with tough choices on whom they can accept given their limited resources. So where are the priestly vocations? God only knows. Let us not bemoan the loss of the status quo, but look gratefully to the future God is setting before us.

Welcome, Mr. Kandra. Your ordination day will be here before you know it, and the Church will welcome you with open arms.

(Rev.) Cyril D. Edwards | 2/9/2007 - 4:06pm
It is interesting that the articles “Lessons From Evangelicals” and “The Road to the Diaconate” are on consecutive pages in your issue of July 19. The article on evangelicals notes how success is rooted in simple and successful programming that requires relatively short preparation. Mr. Greg Kandra’s formation for the diaconate requires lengthy years of study and courses on anthropology, among other topics. While no one would deny that careful screening of candidates is important—indeed essential—it seems that we continue to demand years of study, when our competition is highly successful using simple and practical means of preparation.

Elizabeth Thecla Mauro | 8/17/2004 - 6:17pm
Greg Kandra's essay, 'Of Other Things' betrayed a gentle spirit and a transparent thankfulness that is all too rare amongst us these days. As we humans have evolved into relentlessly self-concerned beings, breathing entitlement like dragon fire and embracing secular thought and values - ruling by the world's measure instead of God's - it is heartening and inspiring to share in this future-deacon's experience of excitement and awe as he takes his first formal step toward ordination.

So refreshed was I after finishing his essay that I was sorry and sad to immediately read Wendy Altobell's response to his article, which was simply exhausting.

Ms. Altobell's response to Kandra's gratitude was a searing rage taking umbrage at his seeming insensitivity at not interrupting his own reverie to discourse on women's ordination. Has it come to this? Must every writer be compelled in every piece, no matter how personal, to bring the politics of others into his or her own story, or risk being pierced by a sharp skewer of bitterness by a reader who feels ignored? Are our egos that out of control?

There are other, better, ways Ms. Altobell could have expressed herself without figuratively urinating on one man's recollection of a moment of joy. Ways that are more healing and uplifting to all, rather than divisive and bellicose.

As a woman who has looked long and hard at the issue of women in the diaconate I must say that letters like Ms. Altobell's are why I cannot, at this time, support the idea. Until women can approach the issue without this mindset of entitlement and ego, I fear they will not be as fully productive and pastoral as they might be - and the permanent diaconate is nothing if not a deeply pastoral calling. Foot stomping tantrums, while they might be evidence of a desire, and certainly of a deep frustration, only serve to make one wonder: can a call from God be accompanied by such viciousness?

There are no negatives in Christ; one cannot be in Christ and be resolutely negative, demonstrably bitter and - sadly - mocking. Ms. Altobell's sentiments seem to reside in nothing but negatives, which I find deeply troubling. She seems to me to be using the measurement of the world as her guide to God, and while - again and again - we find that the world and everything in it is 'good', the esteem and measure of the world is often what leads us into feelings of envy, anger, bitterness and disquiet.

It doesn't matter how many degrees one has, or how badly one desires to 'serve full time in ministry'. An apostolic ordination is more than mere 'ministry'. Heavens! Anyone can serve in full-time ministry if they really want to - without ever being ordained. I'm thinking of some of the great women of our 'sexist' church who managed, without ordination, to minister autonomously and so effectively that they renewed the face of the church. Catherine of Siena counseled not only the lay men and women around her but the pope as well - while writing extraordinary treatises. Theresa of Avila managed to reform an order, to build scores of monasteries for both men and women, without waiting around for someone to tell her she could, and without insisting that her own terms be met before she could give her all. It was the same with Hildegard of Bingen, who 'only' wrote music, plays, books on medicine and so much more, in an era where women – at least secular women - didn't aspire to such things because the secular world was not open to it, as the church was. And dare I point out - though none of these women spoke from a pulpit, their words still echo and reverberate - their voices were never silent. While it's easy to label the church 'sexist' I am not entirely certain she has earned the name. Since the dawn of Christianity, within the church, women were educating themselves and others, writing books, imagining and then building schools, hospitals, policies and procedures. These were women of unqualified bri

Wendy Altobell | 8/12/2004 - 1:43am
As I read Greg Kondra's reflection, "The Road to the Diaconate" (7/19), all I could feel was anger and resentment swell up inside me. Not because of what he said, but because of what he didn't say. So I will.

How nice for us to learn that he can have it all--a vocation of marriage and an ordination, too! A loving wife who supports him not only in prayer, but by attending his classes with him, and a bishop who accepts him because he has the correct genitals--this is marvelous. He can even keep his day job and do ministry "on the side" if he wishes.

But what about all the women who enroll in these very same graduate classes, obtain Master's degrees in theology, and desire to serve full-time in ministry? Our institutional church will not even allow these intelligent and capable women to proclaim the Gospel or preach a homily, let alone baptize, officiate weddings, or bury the dead. Why? Because it's a sexist institution intent on a theology of power and domination. In this system, we all lose--women as well as men.

My heroes are the men who care enough about the low status of women in this church to reject the diaconate for themselves, and the bishops who refuse to ordain male deacons until they can also ordain women to the diaconate. (Are there any left??) With scriptural evidence of women deacons and the Spirit at work in our midst, I pray one day it will happen again. And soon.

Connie May | 8/11/2004 - 12:35pm
Please add my thanks to that of Deacon Eric Stoltz for Greg Kandra's gift of himself in offering his talents to us via the deaconate. The church is recognizing the need for ministers that can break open the word in ways that can invite wonder and gratitude. His weekly contribution to this can be found in the "View from the Pew" section of his parish newsletter, http://www.ourladyqueenofmartyrs.org/view.htm.I think you will find his offerings wonder filled. Connie May

Louise M. Nielsen | 7/16/2004 - 12:50am
I read the article by Greg Kandra, "The Road to the Diaconate," with deep gratitude for those who are willing to serve the people of God by responding to this vocation. Their dedication clearly helps build up the church. I recently attended the ordination of a dear friend along with 60 other good men from our Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Like Mr. Kandra, I also was excited to see so many participating in service to the church in this way. My hope for the future, however, is that all of us who are called to this vocation may respond. I am neither a political activist nor a feminist, but a woman wanting to serve. I have have studied with men in a master's degree program in Theology, and I participate in ministry with men. I have the very same desire for ordination to the diaconate. The Canon Law Society of America recommended ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for women in 1995. It is my hope that as we pray and support those in diaconate formation that we also remember all of God's people who are called and gifted to serve.

Deacon Eric Stoltz | 7/10/2004 - 11:20pm
Thanks to Greg Kandra for his reflection on the Rite of Candidacy for the permanent diaconate. Tomorrow will be one month since my ordination as deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and I can assure Mr. Kandra that upon his ordination, he will experience the same wonder that James Martin describes in his reflection in the same issue of America.

As I write I have just returned from preaching at the Vigil Mass on the parable of the Good Samaritan at my parish, St. Brendan in Los Angeles. You can't get any better material than this! My truck is filled with soft drinks for tomorrow's interfaith picinic honoring people who were recently homeless but now have homes and jobs. After Mass, I offered a little prayer for the gang members I visited yesterday in Men's Central Jail downtown as I pulled up to a home where I was bringing Communion to an elderly man with Parkinson's Disease, surrounded by loving family members. How his face brightened when I held the host before him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God..." And tomorrow I will celebrate my first baptisms. Come Monday I will continue the day-to-day business of earning my own living.

It doesn't get any better than this for a public-relations executive turned Web developer. Mr. Kandra has many wonderful things to look forward to, as do all those preparing for the diaconate in our church.

And God bless the wives of the deacons. These remarkable women of faith go through years of preparation with their husbands, fully qualified to offer just the kind of service they are forbidden by our Church from doing. They know the rites, some can preach better than their husbands, and they are humbly committed to a Church that all too often will not recognize their gifts.

In my class of 12 new deacons there were two physicians, a public-relations executive, a garment industry executive turned gardener, a vice president of a mechanical engineering company, an aerospace company executive, a parish business manager, a retired deputy sheriff, and other vocations. They ranged in age from one ordained at the minimum canonical age to one approaching the maximum age. Single and married; Latino, Anglo, African American amd Korean; gay and straight,we new deacons for Los Angeles are the new face of the clergy.

Each year, more parishes like St. Brendan get their first deacon. I can tell you the welcome and enthusiasm among these parishioners is overwhelming.

There is no vocations shortage in the Catholic Church. We have lay and diaconal vocations sprouting up everywhere, even more than my Archdiocese can handle. Our Diaconate Formation Office is faced with tough choices on whom they can accept given their limited resources. So where are the priestly vocations? God only knows. Let us not bemoan the loss of the status quo, but look gratefully to the future God is setting before us.

Welcome, Mr. Kandra. Your ordination day will be here before you know it, and the Church will welcome you with open arms.