Mountain West deacons at conference urged to ‘Go Deep’ to reach the faithful, the lost

Because a deacon is ordained as Christ the Servant, permanent deacons from throughout the region were challenged to go so much further than the functions of the role during the Region XIII Deacon Conference Aug. 19.

Dcn. James Keating, an award-winning author and director of theological formation at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, reminds deacons of the country’s western region to be “men in the Word” to better impact the people they serve. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Go deep,” Dcn. James Keating told the gathering of around 300 deacons at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, adding that the life of a truly effective deacon is marked by being led by the Holy Spirit, having an intimate marriage, and “a deep, spousal love for God in contemplative prayer.”

The Diocese of Phoenix hosted the Aug. 18-20 conference for permanent deacons from Catholic dioceses in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Dcn. Keating, an award-winning author and director of theological formation in the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, urged the men, many of whom were accompanied by their wives, to be “men in the Word.” But, just as important, he continued, is having a relationship to Jesus on such a deep and personal level that one is able to have a true and lasting effect on the people he ministers to.

“Be open and vulnerable, so you are taken up into Jesus’ own life. This includes identifying with his suffering. Then you will be able to be sensitive to the suffering of others. Go back periodically to your anniversary of your ordination. Regularly remember that day you were lacerated, wounded and opened … complete surrender — submission; availability in a permanent state until eternity.”

Many deacons appreciated their brother’s words to them as men seeking to serve the Church at a time when self-centeredness and worldliness cause distractions for deacons and for those whom they serve.

Dcn. Rick Valencia, left, talks with a fellow deacon during the western regional conference in Phoenix Aug. 19. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

“It’s about having the mind of Christ. The more you enter into that, your eyes are opened to what’s needed; the people who are hurting, who need help. It gives you a sense of humility; that we’re called to serve,” said Dcn. Rick Valencia, who serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Benson and as Vicar for Deacons for the Diocese of Tucson.

Dcn. David Runyon of St. Steven’s Parish in Sun Lakes agreed.

“This is an awesome opportunity for deacons to go deeper into their own communion of faith with Jesus and to be able to share that with their brothers in Christ. This refocuses us from the outside world to our real vocational calling. We’re not there until we’re inside the core of the gospel.”

Dcn. Doug Bogart briefly addresses 300 fellow deacons and their wives during a Phoenix conference for deacons in the western region Aug. 19. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Dcn. Doug Bogart, associate director of education and formation for the Diocese of Phoenix Permanent Diaconate Office, said while Dcn. Keating’s message applies to “every Christian,” its relevance to deacons is greater because of their role. “Our mission … flows from our interior life, which flows from our communion with Christ. So often, we get it backwards. We think of what we do instead of who we are.”

At an Aug. 18 Mass kicking off the conference at St. Mary’s Basilica, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted touched on some of the very themes Dcn. Keating would mention, namely that one of the foundational pillars of an effective deacon is living out the example of Christ through his relationship to his spouse.

“When God’s plan for marriage is embraced, when husband and wife intentionally decide, each morning, to make a total gift of self to their spouse, and to be faithful in marriage until death, they become an uncomfortable sign of contradiction that God uses to wake up the world. When married couples simply live their vocation, generously and responsibly, this is itself a form of evangelization, a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that our world desperately needs!”

On Saturday afternoon, the wives of two Phoenix deacons addressed their counterparts across the western region during the “Daughters of the King,” and “Living Your Queenship” sessions. Meanwhile, the clerics heard from Fr. Paul Sullivan, diocesan director of vocations and chaplain to men of the Diocese of Phoenix about the deacon as a model Christian man plus Fr. Eugene Florea, director of the Merciful Heart Hermitage retreat center for priests, about the importance of having a spiritual director.

Referencing the words of St. John of the Cross, Fr. Florea said that a person without a competent guide is like a blind person. “He’ll get lost along the way. If we don’t have someone to walk with us, we as blind people, will listen to the wrong voice. We’ll listen to the voice of the enemy, or to our own egos.”

In addition to gaining knowledge, several deacons said they came away spiritually energized. Dcn. Steve Vallero of the Archdiocese of Denver, said being an effective deacon is vitally important to the church.

“We can bring Christ into the world absolutely differently than a priest. A priest can go into my workplace, and he won’t have the same effect. I have a family, a wife. Most deacons are married men, they have a mortgage, they’re married, they raise kids,” Dcn. Vallero said.

“It was definitely challenging,” offered Dcn. Arthur Gutierrez of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the Infant Jesus Shrine Parish in the small mining town of Hurley. Dcn. Gutierrez said he was inspired to take a more active role in helping the Church address one of his town’s biggest issues.

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“There is a problem with teen suicide. I would like to talk more to youth. We want to try to get youth to start taking more of a role in the church and conduct outreach to non-Church youth.

Valencia, who has served as Vicar for the Deacons in the Tucson Diocese for two years and serves a very diverse area, said he felt a sense of renewal toward the role.

“Oh, absolutely. This is a good jump-start to help refocus ourselves. To continue in that call, you need to be re-energized. You need to have your mind, your heart, your inner self revitalized. Sometimes it’s that external intervention that helps you.”

Diocesan directors of the diaconate across the western region met Aug. 18 prior to the Aug. 18-20 regional conference for all deacons and their wives. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)