Deacons are called to remind the Church to serve the poor and marginalized in our midst, bishop says

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Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tenn., lays his hand on Seth Reed as he ordains him as a transitional deacon at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, April 1, 2023. Deacon Reed will become a priest next year. Bishop Spalding ordained 12 permanent deacons the same day. (OSV News photo/Katie Peterson, Tennessee Register)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSV News) — The ordination of 12 permanent deacons for the Diocese of Nashville “signifies a new chapter and a new beginning,” said Father Luke Wilgenbusch, the diocese’s director of vocations.

“It’s the start of an exciting new adventure for each of them and their ability to serve God’s people in our diocese,” he told the Tennessee Register, the diocesan newspaper.

Their assignments to parishes all around the diocese are now in effect with an expected start date of May 1.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding ordained the deacons April 1, and the group included a 13th deacon: Seth Reed, who is now one step closer to the ultimate goal of priesthood. He is scheduled to be ordained a priest in May 2024.

“After seven and a half years of formation, it’s very good to finally make that next step,” Deacon Reed said. “We always say in seminary, ‘We’re living in the now, but not yet.’ So, it’s the now, but not yet of that priesthood promise.”

Deacon Reed will return to St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana, to complete his studies. While in Nashville, he is assigned to St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro. While at the seminary, he will be assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Ireland, Indiana.

Wherever he is serving over the next year, Deacon Reed hopes to serve the people best “through preaching,” he said, adding that he also would love “to go out and visit the homebound and sick” if the pastor to whom he is assigned allows him to do that. If he’s asked “to focus more on liturgy and helping around the parish then that’s what I’ll do. However the pastor wants me to serve the people of God, I’ll be glad to do it,” he said.

During his homily at the ordination Mass, Bishop Spalding told the deacon candidates that their “yes” to the call to serve the Catholic Church as a deacon is the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.

“Each of us, when we open ourselves up and allow the Spirit in, it’s amazing what happens. Our dreams become God’s dreams when we say, ‘Yes’ to his will,” Bishop Spalding said. “You said, ‘Yes’ to allowing the Spirit to work with you, and there have been good times and challenging times, and the Holy Spirit has led you to this moment, and we as church, as your family and friends, we are so thankful.”

“The Blessed Mother was invited by the angel Gabriel,” he said, “and the Spirit came upon her, and look what’s happened ever since. May the Spirit be at work in you, bringing forth Christ in the world constantly.”

As deacons, their responsibility is to remind the Church of the importance of charity work, the bishop said.

“You remind us that what we do around (the altar) sends us out into the world to change it for the better, especially for the weak and the wounded and the marginalized. You help us see them and hear them, and we as a Church need that constant reminder,” Bishop Spalding said. “The voice of the poor has to be heard by the Church. Always the deacons are the ones that tell the Church, ‘Go out to the poor.’ The deacon’s role is also to the poor, ‘Come to the Church.’ May that always be in your life and the constant reminder over and over to us as a people.”

Their ministry also is to “bring people ever nearer to Jesus, ever nearer to his mother,” the bishop continued. “If there is anything that our city and our state needs … how good it is to know the Lord and to know the people who believe and follow him. And we need to reach out, especially to those who may be in dark and difficult situations.

“Weak, wounded, frustrated, angry, whatever state you find them in, bring them to Christ because when we isolate ourselves, we can become dark and lose our way.”

Bishop Spalding’s message in the homily served as a déjà vu for Deacon Mayer as he reflected on the first meeting he and his wife, Aimee, had with the bishop as he discerned entering the diaconate process four-and-a-half years ago.

“Bishop Spalding said the deacons are, in a particular way, the ones who remind the church to be a Church of the poor, to go out to the margins and to welcome those most in need, to be Christ the servant to them, to lift them up,” Deacon Mayer said. “It was that image of being configured to Christ, the servant and going out to the margins to serve the poor that really impacted my desire to be a deacon. That image and metaphor really drew me in.”

A deacon “brings the joy of the Gospel, but also helps mend the community’s wounds, whether they are the wounds of poverty, loneliness, or sickness,” he added.

Noting that Pope Francis “calls the Church a field hospital,” Deacon Mayer said he sees “the deacons as being the front lines of the field hospital welcoming people that may feel estranged and bringing the love of Christ, the servant to everybody, so all persons know that the Church is a place where all are welcome to come and be fed by word and sacrament.”

Aimee Mayer said she and her husband “have so much joy and excitement” and “gratitude to everyone that has helped make this possible for us. When we started the diaconate, we had no children,” Mayer said. “Now, we have three, so it took a lot of support to make it possible.

“We’ve been doing ministry together our whole marriage, so we’ve been looking forward to the next season of being able to do ministry together,” she said. “What’s next for me is just to support him in his role of deacon and to explore as a family how we’re called to serve the Church. We’re really excited.”

According to the results of a May 2021-22 study on the permanent diaconate it conducted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington estimated there are 14,586 deacons active in ministry in the United States, or about 70% of all permanent deacons worldwide.

Katie Peterson is a reporter with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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