There are numerous accounts of the modern restoration of the permanent diaconate and most of these include the aftermath of World War II which the Church and many others pondered for years. Several Church leaders advocated that Vatican II place this on the agenda as part of a response to the brokenness seen through the time preceding, during and after the war; a visible sign of the Church reaching beyond its institutions to minister to many diverse needs in a rapidly changing world. All these decades later, Pope Francis is underscoring this mission in our day. This Jubilee Year of Mercy offers many opportunities to renew ourselves in God's mercy.
One of the first times I heard about the restoration was when the father of one of my best childhood friends was among the first to be ordained in the U.S. He is now in his 90s and is actively ministering to "older folks" in nursing homes. In my own life, Cursillo and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal were life-changing experiences and led me to consider the permanent diaconate. However, another significant life-changer was my marriage. My wife Denise and I had a year-old daughter and were caring for her sightless father in our home, at the time we began the application process. We received good counseling about the importance of balancing our life from Edmundite Father David Bryan, diocesan director of the permanent diaconate and members of the team, and of course Bishop John Marshall. It became quite evident that none of this would come about without Denise's support. She struggled with the promise that I would not re-marry if she were to die before me. Her mother died at age 43 and her father kept together the young family of four. She eventually came to support that promise. After 30 years in the diaconate, her support and that of our daughters has proven to be essential and fruitful. At the same time they have discerned their own ministries in building the Kingdom.
Last year as I hit a landmark birthday, observed our 43rd wedding anniversary and marked 30 years as a deacon, I went on retreat to consider all this. God was confirming the importance of the wholeness and holiness of this journey. No silos of married life, ministry, work, recreation and so on, are part of God's plan. There are times when the grace of ordination is drawn upon in our married life. There are times when the grace and experience of married life are called upon in ministry. There are times when both are called upon in work and other areas of life.
Brother deacons and their wives are nothing less than a huge blessing. In our diocese it is a joy to come together, for example at our annual retreat. We are spread over 9000 square rural miles and the comradery is spirit-filled, energizing, inspiring and memorable. They are a great resource for sharing ministry experiences, praying together and knitting a genuine community of love. It is the "boots on the ground ministry" which gives deacons the legitimacy to be in the sanctuary. When we lift the chalice at the elevation, we also lift all that we encounter in the lives of God's people.
I am thankful that early on as a deacon, I developed a deeper appreciation for the people of God. My own mother, who decided to become Catholic after the untimely death of my younger brother, typically did not beat around the bush as she declared "Don't let this go to your head, just because you are studying to become a Deacon!" She likely would have done this anyway, on her own journey. People to whom we minister (not only Catholics) are knowledgeable, informed and often appreciate our service. Thus it remains important to be humble and let God lead the way. For those who may not appreciate our efforts or even react unpleasantly, we say "Thank you Lord. I must have needed that. We will pray for them."
A few years ago one of our twin daughters died suddenly in her senior year at Franciscan University. When her Household sisters attended the funeral, they told several stories, one of which I cherish. She was very petite and was the leader of the "Ladies of Light." She was driving the group in a van (I imagine a bb in a box car) to a retreat house in the country. Upon entering the property, there was a muddy section of road and the van got stuck. She rocked the van back and forth and it wouldn't be free. Finally with a bit of temper, she slammed her hand several times on the dashboard and yelled "Come on Lord, my dad is a deacon, get us out of here!" She then carefully drove it out of the mud and the retreat was underway. I pray that I will eventually become the deacon she leveraged in her prayer that rainy night. If it's part of God's plan I would happily minister into my 90s to the older folks in the nursing home.
Deacon Daniel L. Pudvah and wife Denise are members of St. Monica Parish in Barre. Deacon Dan was ordained by Bishop John A. Marshall in 1985. His ministries include RCIA, nursing home, Men of St. Joseph, Parish Prayer Group, and chairing the Development Committee of the National Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the U. S.