Gallup Diaconate coordinator discusses vocation of deacon

Candidates now being accepted for Diocese of Gallup

By Suzanne Hammons
Voice of the Southwest
Diocese of Gallup

The diaconate formation program for the Diocese of Gallup is beginning a new cycle in Fall 2020 and will run for five years. If a candidate is unable to enroll in the program this fall, he will have to wait another five years in order to begin the program, said program coordinator Dcn. Timoteo Lujan.

Dcn. Lujan was born and raised in the Diocese of Gallup, coming from a large family in Grants and Milan, both in New Mexico. He still lives in Grants with his wife, Denise — who works in the finance office for the diocese — and runs the Diaconate Formation Program for the diocese, which trains and teaches men to serve as permanent deacons for parishes. Dcn. Lujan shared a little about the program, what it entails and why deacons are crucial for ministry in the Church.

Voice of the Southwest: So, in your own words, what is a deacon?

Dcn. Lujan: [During the Holocaust] in the Dachau prison camp, in Cell Block 26, there were priests there that would have theological discussions. There was this underground community that was existing among priests in the prison camps, and there were 144 dioceses represented from 25 different countries. What they were evaluating was: how did this horrible thing happen in Christian nations? Germany was a Catholic nation, Italy is a Catholic nation, France is a Catholic nation. Something went wrong. And one of the things they came up with was: whereas the priest is the image of Christ the Priest, there needs to be an icon — there needs to be an image of Christ the Servant. So, a man who is firmly rooted in the ministry of the Church … but also has this iconic presence in the marketplace, in the factory, in the school, in the family, where he can be this icon.

Diakonia,” where the word “deacon” comes from, is this Greek word that means “service,” and it’s an essential ministry of the Church. It has to occur in order for the Church to be valid, to have authenticity. Everybody is called to do it — all of the baptized are called to do it, but the deacon is like an icon of this service for the community, especially in outreach to those that are the most vulnerable and those that are in need.

The priest is the mediator between humans and God, and the deacon is the icon of the service that the love of God brings that we should show everyone — especially those that are in most need of this particular service.

Bishop [James S.] Wall, in a recent homily, said:

“Deacons are called to service, deacons are called to assist at the altar, deacons are called to make up what is lacking in other ministries of the Church. We have a priest to celebrate Mass, we have a priest to hear confessions, you have a priest to be the pastor and to be the principal teacher in the parish, but you have the deacon to make up these other things. Are the widows not getting fed? Are the prisoners not getting visited? Are the classes not being taught? Are families not being nourished?”

Permanent Diaconate

The diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. St. Paul VI restored the permanent diaconate in 1967. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy.

In his liturgical role, the deacon proclaims the Gospel, directs the prayers of the faithful, assists the celebrant at the altar and distributes Holy Communion. He may also preach homilies, celebrate Baptisms, witness marriages and preside over funerals.

In his teaching role, the deacon gives instruction for initiation into the Christian community.

In his charitable role, the deacon’s work consists of identifying the needs of the community and brings assistance to those in need and want.

Click one of the links below for more resources in discerning the diaconate:

Voice of the Southwest: How does the diaconate program work in our diocese?

Dcn. Lujan: We’re going to be making some major changes. In the past, we’ve had a four-year program that’s on a two-year cycle, which means that you could start every two years. One problem with that is it makes it difficult for academic continuity, but the other problem is to run a program like that, you have to have a lot more staff — a lot more teachers. We’re faced with the problem of finding competent teachers to teach the subjects that we need.

So, we’re going to go to the five-year, once-through program. We really want to emphasize theology, knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, also, traditional spirituality.

Displayed is a deacon’s stole made in Lima, Peru for the Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass in Santiago, Cuba in this March 27, 2012 file photo. (Courtesy of the Fraterna’s Marian Community of Reconciliation/CNA)

Voice of the Southwest: And if a candidate has a wife, she’s encouraged to be involved as well?

Dcn. Lujan explains that the wife has to give written consent to the husband’s continued participation in the program on two different occasions. If it seems as if being a deacon could put a strain on the marriage, the candidate is encouraged to not continue.

Dcn. Lujan: I can tell you from personal experience — it has an overwhelming effect on the entire family. And the wife especially, because the husband and the wife are partners, doing the work and raising the children. Also, the emotional partnership of being husband and wife…the husband gets ordained and then he’s all things to all people, and that can be difficult in a marriage.

Voice of the Southwest: Can you explain how the extended family of a deacon might be affected?

Dcn. Lujan: My mother lives in Grants, so my mother is the mother of the deacon, and then she hears “could he come by and talk to these people” or “why did he say that controversial thing at Mass the other day?” But at the same time, it’s also very positive, because you’re expected to have all the family funerals and visit all of the friends of the family and the sick people that they know. And then there are all of the questions you can answer about “why does the Church do this or that?”

Voice of the Southwest: What about the time commitment that comes after ordination?

Dcn. Lujan: It can be a wide variety, but the time commitment is very great. A deacon can be the chancellor for a diocese or have a professional career and family. A deacon fundamentally has to be a man of prayer, so there has to be time for his sacramental life, his spiritual life, his prayer life or he’s useless to anybody.

He has to have time to continue his studies — nobody likes it when you show up to preach on Sunday and you weren’t prepared. Now my situation is different — my wife and I are both engaged in Church work in our ministry, I have no kids at home, I have the freedom to do these types of things. My job is very flexible. But the thing about the time is, you have to be at the service of others.

Then there is everything you have to be flexible for, like funerals or emergencies that come up in peoples’ lives. I tell people all the time, the work of a parish is not what happens on Sundays — the work of a parish is the life of the parishioners between Sunday Masses.

A deacon sings the Exsultet during the Easter Vigil in Ołtarzew, Poland in this April 7, 2007 photo. (Creative Commons/Błażej Benisz)

Voice of the Southwest: What unique commitments are required in our diocese?

Dcn. Lujan: They can expect a lot of leadership roles that may not be the classic role of the deacon. In a mission diocese like Gallup, the presence of the Church is very important, and deacons are part of that. A burial at the cemetery, a prayer service at the funeral home, the blessing of peoples’ homes, the visiting of the sick … we do not bring the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, but we definitely visit the sick.

In our diocese, the men get a theological formation, and it’s not just for their personal edification — we need them to learn because they’re going to have to teach. They’re going to be very important parts of our sacrament formation, of support of our Catholic schools, the support of our catechetical programs and support of our adult formation programs. And [for] everyday conversations with people, to help them understand the theology and mind of the Church as we move through very difficult times. The great challenges we have in our society, and the great questioning or confusion about religion. And then visits to nursing homes, and people that are sick and visits to the hospital.

I think what’s unique in the Diocese of Gallup is you will find yourself in leadership roles representing the whole Church and not just a pure diaconate ministry like in another diocese with more resources.

Voice of the Southwest: Do you see a great need for deacons in this diocese?

Dcn. Lujan: I do see a great need, because there are never enough workers for the harvest. We have a very good congregation in the Diocese of Gallup, and they really deserve the best that we can offer them. Amongst those people are those with the call to come forward, to be part of that outreach. Something else Bishop Wall said in his homily — he said that this great need arose in the Church, and so the Apostles got together and prayed in the best pastoral way to meet this particular need, that as the Church was growing and it was being built up, there were more and more demands on it. So, they decided to establish this order of deacons in order to help them meet the demands on the Church. I like that as bookends — on one end we say deacons were brought about in the first place to help meet the demands and the needs of the Church, and on the other hand to fill in wherever the Church’s ministry is lacking.

Voice of the Southwest: What might an indication be that someone could be called to be a deacon?

Dcn. Lujan: I think the most important thing would be if they’re already in ministry in the parish, and they find themselves doing different things and enjoying it. Or being willing to do it. Sometimes it’s more direct — someone might say “have you ever thought about becoming a deacon?”

If men find themselves in a situation where they think they could offer more, and they’re drawn to the liturgy, and they’re drawn to the prayer life, they like teaching catechism, they like working with the youth group — all of those people are not necessarily called to the diaconate, but it’s a good start.

St. Stephen, considered the Church’s first deacon and first martyr, is depicted in this 1476 painting by Italian Renaissance artist Carlo Crivelli (c. 1430-1495). He is surrounded by stones, the means of his martyrdom, and is holding a Book of the Gospels, the symbol of the diaconate. When a deacon is ordained, the bishop presents him with a Book of the Gospels telling him to “Receive the Gospel of Christ, Whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” (Creative Commons)

Voice of the Southwest: And what has been your own personal experience as a deacon, both the blessings and the challenges?

Dcn. Lujan: I have been a deacon for over 25 years — I understand my role. It’s really caused me to open up. When you have to study because you’re going to preach to people … you really enhance your own spiritual life because you think about the word of God, and as you’re a servant of the word of God, you grow more into it.

There were a lot of struggles. My kids were young when I was ordained a deacon — I’d only been married 10 years. But I did learn balance — balance between family and Church. I learned to integrate — my marriage, my fatherhood, now I’m a grandfather. I think that integration is really the key thing for a deacon, all the different aspects of your life in a deep spiritual life that’s rooted in prayer and service. That’s true for everybody, but I think it’s especially true for deacons.

When you go around doing what you’re supposed to do, this can cause resentment from some people, and the real challenge is to turn the other cheek, to bear wrongs patiently. It’s very important to not be part of the problem. And also, the challenge of finding the best way to be Father’s helper, to not impose yourself on him but to be available to him at all times and to be the resource he needs.

At my own parish, we have a lot of challenges but we have wonderful people. We’re not really concerned about the perfection of how these people go about their business — my job is to serve them, not to judge them. To try to keep that at the top of your mind in working relationships with other deacons, with men and women religious, with lay people. They have very important things to do in the Church and have great gifts to offer the Church, and how to not stifle them but to encourage it.

Dcn. Lujan quotes a female professor who once gave an insight that has stuck with him:

“St. Steven was initially made a deacon so he could serve table, but he wasn’t stoned to death because he was giving people bread. He was stoned because he was proclaiming the Gospel with his life.”

That’s something I always think about with deacons.

Suzanne Hammons is the communications director for the Diocese of Gallup and the editor of the “Voice of the Southwest.”

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