The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently published its 2013-14 study of permanent deacons. Given my husband Joel is scheduled to be ordained later this summer --- precisely on August 16 at 11:00 A.M. at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa, but who’s keeping track --- I probably pay more attention to these kinds of studies than most Catholics. A few stats especially caught my attention:
- 24% of permanent deacons are in their 50s.
- 42% are in their 60s.
- 28% are 70 or older.
And these stats really hit home:
- 6% are in their 40s.
- Less than 1% are under 40.
Joel is in his early 40s. When we started the diaconate journey four years ago, we had one child, a toddler. Come ordination day, we’ll have three children under the age of six. In the Des Moines Diocese, the wives of deacon candidates accompany their husbands to all formation classes, meetings, retreats, special events, lunch outings, and bathroom breaks. Okay, not that last one, but hopefully my point is clear. It’s an extremely demanding journey. Without reservation, it’s also been a most edifying one. It’s clear we have persevered through something that most people our age don’t even attempt.
A deacon friend who was ordained years ago when his children were still at home recently commented to Joe and me that his parents used to move in his house when he and his wife had to go away for a formation weekend. He can’t imagine how they would have gotten through otherwise and wondered how we’ve gotten through it.
Good question, since neither Joel’s nor my family lives within an hour of us, let alone next door. The logistics of securing childcare for weekend retreats and weeklong summer school has been a major stressor during these past four years. My constant prayer has been, “Lord, please send me Mary Poppins,” to help us manage the family-diaconate formation requirement balance.
Ask and you shall receive! Mary Poppins has indeed helped us out a lot these past four years. Sometimes she looks like the next-door neighbor, other times Mary Poppins takes on the form of a family of nine, and then there are the times she resembles a high school student from the parish. Oh, I certainly can’t forget about the time Mary Poppins resembled a farmer named Frank.
They have become special people in our lives who we didn’t even know existed four years ago. We’ve had to build community to get through this. Not just a community, but a framily. Our biological family has been augmented with some spiritual friends who have become like family to us. Many of these people showed up in our life at just the right times, totally unsolicited in many cases, and offered to help. It takes a framily to raise a deacon … at least in our case.
Perhaps God has been preparing us for this journey longer than we may have realized. A few months ago I stumbled upon this article about how birth order affects personality. Granted, many other factors beyond birth order affect personalities and family dynamics, but I still enjoyed reading the article to see if any patterns play out in my life.
I’m a middle child. Joel is a middle child, too. I’m sure we could make an interesting case study on what happens when two middles marry. But one point from the article about middle children rang true for us.
“In fact, as a middle child, you are likely to pick an intimate circle of friends to represent your extended family. It is here that you will find the attention likely lacking in your family of origin. As a middle child, you receive the least amount of attention from family and as a result, this family of your choice is your compensation.”
I’m certainly not suggesting my family of origin didn’t pay enough attention to me. But I absolutely identify with having the ability to hand-select a group of people. Maybe middle children are community builders after all. Well, at least my husband and I are, and that personality trait has greatly helped us get through this experience.
Four years ago, Joel came home one evening after a chance meeting with a couple of deacons and gave me his “just hear me out” pitch about applying to the diaconate. I might have resisted more if not for something he didn’t know at the time. I had spent my lunch hour in Eucharistic Adoration and received a very strong message. Jesus told me, “I will bring people into your life to help you.”
At the time, we thought maybe those special people were those deacons who prompted Joel to consider applying to the diaconate. Looking back, God's been bringing people --- framily --- into our life throughout the entire formation process. That is precisely the thread that has run through our little four-year exercise in trusting in God’s Divine Providence.
When God asks you to do something, He gives you what, or who, you need. That has never been more true for us as we inch closer to ordination.
Copyright 2014 Lisa Schmidt
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