Dcn. Tom Kroll
St. Patrick Parish, Hudson

Acts 6: 3-4 “…Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word…”

This passage reminds me of a discussion I had with a Lutheran pastor who had a vision in which the numbers seven and 100 emanated in his sight. He thought the vision was in response to a concern of the shortage of pastoral staff their denomination was facing. He had interpreted the vision to mean that he was to recruit 100 men to become pastors within seven years. Several years later as I was preparing for my ordination to the permanent diaconate in the Catholic Church, I couldn’t help but think that he had misinterpreted the numbers. The seven in my mind obviously represented the diaconate as in the number originally ordained in Acts and, using the Book of Revelation symbolism, 100 or 10 times 10 seemed to represent a large group such as a parish. I am convinced that the refocus of the permanent diaconate in the last 50 years was implemented by God to help facilitate our overburdened pastors today, as it originally did.

The Lutheran pastor had been singling out Spirit-filled men as potential clergy. Years later, I have come to understand his approach. It seems the most effective criterion for those who fill church positions is their openness to the Spirit. Whether they have the exact personal attributes is less relevant. Having the correct spirit can make up for a multitude of deficiencies. In fact, in many cases, God often seems to call on us to fill a position in which we do not excel. It has been my experience that this forces one to rely on him to compensate for those deficiencies. As a common adage among deacons goes: “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies those he calls.”

The other key requirement for the original deacons was that they be filled with wisdom. I was recently in a conversation with a co-facilitator of Order of Christian Initiation of Adults about one of our candidates. We were talking about how the young man was filled with wisdom beyond his years and what a true gift that was. A crucial grace to be sure as wisdom is the only attribute noted of Jesus’ years between when he was lost in the temple and the start of his ministry. As Luke points out (Luke 2:52): “Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age.” Wisdom appears to be an essential gift that is given to deacons.

My call to the diaconate was a combination of a push and a pull. In the final discernment of my formation, I looked back at my Christian journey to observe how the Spirit had led me through continual formation. I was driven by a hunger to pursue the truth of Christianity, and God was filling me with wise insight. But there was no “being knocked to the ground” experience to confirm that I was on the right path. As I sat in the choir loft of a retreat center chapel one evening after four years of formation and another two years ahead of me, I was hoping for the lightning bolt of direction to hit. In contrast, I discerned that “light silent sound” as Elijah had heard (1 Kings 19:20) calling me forth. As I look back, the gentle sound has led me to seemingly the correct place in my journey.

While there have been many facets of my journey as an ordained permanent deacon, beyond the inexplicable joy of being present on the altar and sharing in the Eucharist, perhaps the most poignant have been my times with the shut-ins and the residents of the numerous aging and nursing facilities the parish serves. To watch the faces of those consuming the body of Christ, or saying the “Our Father,” or simply singing a song, becomes a precious memory. To share the love of God with those who are often bypassed in society is certainly a grace.

My specific ministry entails a catch-all of activities. I currently have a volunteer position as the coordinator of pastoral services in which I help facilitate the outreach to those on the fringe. I am also part of the diaconate team that provides vigil and burial services to help Fr. John Gerritts, who facilitates a funeral with a frequency of about one a week. In addition, in ministering the word, I serve as a team member of the OCIA and Evangelical Catholic (the parish’s Maintenance to Mission initiative); I am active as a participant in adult formation through a parish program called “Revived”; and a nationwide program, “That Man Is You”; an interdenominational Bible study; and book studies as they arise. When time allows, I have also been active in choir and the sister parish group, which facilitates a community in Guatemala.

In being ordained to the diaconate, deacons are entrusted to serve in the word, liturgy and in charity. These “Munera,” as they are called, are integrated into all aspects of a deacon’s ministry and may be expressed in the joy of sharing the Gospel, or in professing the truth of the Eucharistic miracle, or in living out the beauty of Catholic social teaching. The best way to know if your deacon is doing his job is to look for the smile on his face. It’s hard to hide God’s joy when the Spirit and the love of Jesus are an integrated part of his call.