Despite feeling unworthy of the call, 14 men took another step forward in discerning their place in the diaconate. Their steps came a week apart during special Masses celebrated with their family, parishioners and priests who have supported them along the way.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted received six men as official candidates for the diaconate Sept. 13 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. It signaled the start of two years of intense formation alongside practicums in the parish.
The bishop instituted another eight to the ministry of acolyte for the Diocese of Phoenix Sept. 20 at St. Mary’s Basilica. Their new role means they are wholly trained altar servers who can also purify vessels during Mass. God-willing, the cohort of eight will join the diocese’s more than 240 deacons for a lifetime of service to the Church after their ordination next fall.
For now, the acolytes can start working more closely with ordained deacons by assisting them at baptisms, weddings and funerals. They can also expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament.
It’s that physical closeness to the Eucharist that strengthens a person’s love for Christ, the bishop said. A college student in Flagstaff had told him as much a day earlier during a hike. The young man had never been so close to the altar until a priest invited him to be an altar server.
“When he heard the Lamb of God, a whole new world opened before him,” the bishop said.
A similar thing happened to Dennis Lambert after the bishop instituted him to the ministry of acolyte. One by one, the bishop told each acolyte to make their life worthy of service at the table of the Lord and His Church.
Lambert, a St. Timothy parishioner and pharmaceutical sales manager, was in awe after Communion. He kept looking at the vessels.
“This is who I am. I’m called to be close to the altar. Now all the pieces connect,” Lambert said.
He had always been involved in the Church, but felt most of his life he was called to something more. At one point while at a crossroads with a family member, God put the diaconate on his mind.
Deacon candidates and their spouses go through formation together. They complete the diocesan Prepare the Way program through the Kino Institute and apply Church teaching during formation.
Lambert now embraces the opportunity to be God’s hand and feet in a deeper way.
“I’ve learned the joy of being obedient and submitting to the Church and God’s will. There’s such a beauty in submission,” Lambert said.
Chris Georges, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale, found that as well. He long had an “I could probably do that” attitude toward the diaconate. He continued with service in marriage ministry, however, and launched his own business.
Then, as he approached the upper age limit to apply to the diaconate, Georges again discerned his call, this time during a Cursillo weekend. Everything he heard said, “Keep going. Don’t stop.”
He is eager to continue. Georges, a woodworker by trade, finds the hands-on approach comes naturally. So now that he has a foundation in Church teaching, he has even more confidence to start homiletics classes when he can apply teaching to daily life.
Deacon Doug Bogart, associate director of education and formation for the diaconate in the Diocese of Phoenix, said men emerge with a sense of ownership of their call and a commitment to service and personal holiness.
“I get to be a part of forming these men and see the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and in their families,” Deacon Bogart said.
Frank Nevarez found formation to be an unbelievable experience so far. It started seven years ago in the adoration chapel. The St. Bernadette parishioner was there in the wee hours of the morning — his regular adoration time slot — when God put the call to the diaconate on his heart.
“I’m not a perfect person. I’m a sinner just like everyone else,” Nevarez said noting his faith in Christ. “He has my plan and He reveals it one day at a time.”