Contemplating the mysteries of Christ will help deacons be spiritual leaders

To be a spiritual leader and not simply a “helper” in church ministries, permanent deacons must contemplate the mysteries of Christ. That was the message of Deacon James Keating, who led a retreat for the deacons of the Diocese of Nashville.

“He needs to be in touch with the mysteries of Christ in a contemplative way, that is in a way that is secured in his own heart,” Deacon Keating said. “Only in that way can a deacon truly preach and counsel in the service of healing.”

In leading the retreat, held Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, Deacon Keating addressed the spiritual interior life of the deacon and how prayer and ministry are related.

“The role of the deacon has always been one of envoy of Christ and the bishop. He is to deliver the Good News,” said Deacon Keating, a professor of spiritual theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. “What changes over each epoch is how that message is delivered. Sometimes the church has emphasized direct service to the poor, other times administration, other times parochial ministry. 

“Today I would say the diaconate is settling down into a ministry which focuses upon the Word of God,” he added. “In this way each individual deacon can discern with his bishop the ministries the bishop holds in his heart but have yet to be fulfilled in the diocese. The deacon should initiate those ministries.”

One of the challenges facing the permanent diaconate today, Deacon Keating said, “is many laity still do not know they can ‘use” the deacon for spiritual and pastoral matters. This communication of presence and identity should become a priority.”

Ongoing formation for deacons is also important “so they stay competent and agile as ministerial needs develop over time in any diocese,” he said.

Deacon Keating has been a deacon for 20 years and is a popular speaker at events around the country. He is the former Director of Deacon Formation for the Archdiocese of Omaha and a former professor of moral theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

The retreat drew about 60 people, including deacons, their spouses and several men in formation for the diaconate, said Deacon Tom Samoray, director of deacons for the diocese.

Normally, the annual deacon retreat is held at Montgomery Bell State Park and includes staying over two nights, but the venue was changed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deacon Samoray said the plan this year was to have a retreat that focused on spirituality.

Deacon Keating’s talks were “excellent,” Deacon Samoray said. “The guys all loved him.”