Formation and Change
by Linda Hilton | May 31, 2017
A wise deacon once said to me that the success of the formation process for the deacon candidate is not so much about where he starts out, but rather the candidate’s openness to and ability to change – to be “formed.” I was taken by his comment, because for my husband and myself, the formation process has been so very much about change, good change, and unexpected change, but truly radical change.
Going into the process, meeting the other couples in my husband’s cohort, it seemed to me that our colleagues were so much more accomplished, more prayerful, more involved in their parishes, than were we. Our commitment to our faith was and remains strong, but our professional schedules made close involvement with a parish difficult. We knew we wanted to serve God and his people, and the professional work we did made that possible to some extent, but when my husband answered his call, we knew that a commitment to the diaconate would bring more serious change – and we were ready to do that.
On our long drive home from classes, we usually talk about what we’ve learned that evening. More often than not, we marvel at how little we really knew about the Church, how beautiful our learning is, and how *all* adult Catholics (and really, anyone) should have the opportunities that we’ve had throughout the formation process. There’s so much to know, such a richness and depth and wisdom to Catholicism that we want everyone we know to know how good it is! And of course, that’s exactly the call to all followers of Christ – to go forth and share the Good News.
The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States identifies four dimensions of formation for the deacon: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Formation is not just about learning Church history, or liturgical norms – the process seeks to form the whole, balanced individual. And isn’t this also the call to all Christians – transformation of life, putting on the new person that St. Paul speaks about; being the “best version of yourself” that contemporary author Matthew Kelly proposes to us; answering the call to sainthood that Augustine gives us when he writes of getting our priorities straight?
It hardly seems possible after 40+ years of marriage, but the profound privilege of participating in my husband’s formation process, and being open to change, has drawn us into new meanings for our commitment to each other. We’ve found a new kind of care and compassion for each other, and a renewed, shared mission to those around us. When I first gave my consent for my husband to pursue this vocation, I had no idea how transforming and rich and good it would be for me personally, for us as a couple, and for our family.
Since the beginning of the deacon application process, we’ve lost parents, moved, retired, started new jobs, downsized, worked on our house – all external changes, some of them big ones. At the same time, and more significantly, we have been changed – formed – by this deeper relationship with God, his Church, his people, our instructors and guides, and the other candidates and wives. We’re still flawed, far-from-perfect human beings, but we’ve been given a great gift, and one that we are meant to share.
This blog post was contributed by Linda Hilton, Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, Alton, NH