The call to the diaconate is a call to a life of prayer and service of both the Word and of the People. It is a disctinct vocation. The following are some important considerations about discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate.
Women will need to meet the same prerequisites as men. While these can and do differ slightly from diocese to diocese, here are some common requirements to consider:
Vocation comes from both without and within, and the individual who finds the prompting of God in her heart toward this ministry does well to seek expert assistance and advice. That means spiritual direction. Not drop-in-every-three-months spiritual direction, but regular spiritual direction from a competent director. The point of spiritual direction is to discover the work of the Spirit in one’s life and heart. There are many women and men, including priests out there who practice as spiritual directors. Some have degrees and experience, some do not. A good director will support the action of the Spirit already at work in a person’s life. Occasionally he or she may challenge the person to stretch in different ways. While this can be painful, the goal is always to learn what God wants here and now and to respond aware that God’s love and support makes all things possible. Good spiritual directors encourage their clients to evaluate whether the director-directee relationship is helpful. A good director is comfortable with a directee to seeking another director if the relationship isn’t working.
One’s prayer life encompasses everything—and the person thinking about the diaconate will be seeking a deeper life of prayer in whatever way he or she can. A life of prayer helps the diaconal candidate identify his or her life with Christ’s, and enter into that self emptying love so necessary to uncovering the true self, the fullness of life, that began with baptism. Such love and growth are necessary in the diaconal vocation, indeed in all vocations whether lay or ordained. This is not to present today’s diaconal vocations as cloistered calls. But there is a significant time commitment to a life of prayer that will develop and support vocation, ordination, and work as a deacon. The deacon is so imbued by the Gospel that he—and now one hopes she—lives it with every breath.
Deacons and deacon candidates will probably be expected to: spend time in daily prayer and reflection on the Scriptures, attend Mass regularly where it is available, participate in the Church’s social ministries: prayer leads to concrete service so the candidate will become familiar with Catholic social teaching and give concrete evidence of participation in the Church’s social ministries.
Permanent Deacons are called to a ministry of Charity and Justice, to the ministry of the Word as preachers, teachers and evangelizers, and to the ministry of Liturgy in assisting at Mass and some sacraments. Any discernment process conducted by the faith community will ideally involve recognition that some of these gifts are already at work in the woman/women under consideration. Does the woman have a heart for the poor and for justice? Is she involved in the parish social justice ministry? Is she teaching children or catechumens or in other parish programs? Does she have a gift for articulating the faith and explaining the scripture in a compelling and inspiring way? The presence of these gifts could indicate a call to the permanent diaconate.
The first discernment is always on a local level, generally at the parish level. The Pastor and Parish Community have an important role to play. Candidates are put forward by the people, called forth by the pastor, and eventually asked to enter into a further discernment at the diocesan level. The US bishops National Directory on Permanent Deacons has this to say about male candidates aspiring to the diaconate: The inquirer who seeks consideration for ordination to the diaconate needs to enter into dialogue with his parish community. It is the pastor who initially presents [the candidate] for consideration into diaconal formation through a letter that confirms [the candidate] is a practicing Catholic of good repute and in good standing.