Reflecting on 10 years of the permanent diaconate

The Diocese of Malacca Johore made history on August 1, 2011 when seven married men with secular jobs were ordained permanent deacons in front of their wives and children by the then Bishop of the Diocese of Malacca Johor, His Lordship Bishop Dr Paul Tan SJ.

Jul 30, 2021

By Deacon Dr  Leslie Petrus
The Diocese of Malacca Johore made history on August 1, 2011 when seven married men with secular jobs were ordained permanent deacons in front of their wives and children by the then Bishop of the Diocese of Malacca Johor, His Lordship Bishop Dr Paul Tan SJ. I was one of them and I remember the bishop laying his hands on my head as I prostrated myself during the litany of saints. This was the most memorable event after my wedding vows thirty-two years ago. We were invited and called by the Church to be permanent deacons and by His grace, we accepted the call.

For the record, it has not been easy being a husband, father and a doctor. As I look back, with His grace, I somehow managed it. I had managed to run my clinic with much success, even though I had my doubts in the Lord’s providence from time to time. My commitments to the Ministry affected my time for work, marriage and family but I knew the price I had to pay and sacrifices I would have to make. I thought I was ready but little did I know that it was much more than just sacrifice. Despite all this, I had witnessed how God works for the good of those who love and serve Him. It is through the diaconate that my faith, like St Thomas the apostle who had touched His wounds and encountered the Lord in a very personal way, is the reason why I do what I do, which seems strange to those close to me.

Many have not really grasped the essence of the working permanent diaconate. I am not claiming to know the reason for Vatican Council ll reinstating the permanent diaconate. The Holy Father Pope Francis, in one of his addresses, said that the diaconate is “not priesthood” but “service”.

Marriage does something mysterious to the man — the married man serves his wife and children with love and humility. Many would agree that being married is sacrificial love and I do it with joy, in spite of some pain and disappointment. The working deacon depends entirely on divine providence for his wages. He lives his life where the Spirit takes him. He works with people of other faiths and lives out inter religious dialogue through the ups and downs where one’s faith is tested in action day in and day out. The working deacon is in the secular world, exercising his influence, and probably being able to minister to the lost and the broken hearted, those who have turned their backs on God.

Being a father is the most humbling experience. My children have taught me lessons on the virtue of humility. In my imperfection, God has taught me how I should have related to Him as child so that I could be a better father to my children. Now I understand what Pope Francis meant. He said “The generosity of a deacon who spends himself without seeking frontlines, smells of the Gospel and tells of the greatness of God’s humility that takes the first step to meet even those who have turned their backs on Him”.

The life of a married permanent deacon is different from that of the priest. We are committed to our ‘marriage vow’ while the diaconate is a call within a call. This makes it unique. My service not only extends to my parish and community but in my place of work as a doctor. My work becomes a ‘market place’ ministry. A deacon has his own distinct role, purpose and destiny. Priest and deacon both have unity with the bishop. In today’s post pandemic world, the working deacon is also affected by job loss and income. When he ministers, he ministers with empathy and compassion. Out of his limitations, he serves the poor and the needy with whatever he has from his income. I take courage from Pope Francis’ words “Deacons will never lose their bearings. They will be caring servants, excluding no one, ensuring that the love of the Lord touches peoples’ lives in a concrete way.”

The spirituality of a married deacon can be summed up as Pope Francis says “availability inside and openness outside. Available inside from the heart, ready to say yes, docile, without making one’s life revolve around one’s own agenda and open outside, looking at everyone, especially those who are left out, those who feel excluded.” The Holy Father Pope Francis beautifully defines the profile of a deacon which I am to live out for the rest of my living years until death calls me to Him. They are:

1. Be Humble.

2. Be a good husband, father and grandfather.

3. Be a ‘sentinel’ to watch out for others, those out there, to spot the poor, those far away and to help Christian community to spot Jesus in the poor and the distant as he knocks on our doors through them.

It has been an enriching experience becoming the person I am called to be. I have learnt now that I am a child of God, having a growing relationship with my Lord, knowing my inheritance from Him, a man who listens to God, trusting and obeying him faithfully. This is the legacy I hope to leave behind to my wife and children. 

--This week we introduce a new column ‘Ruminations’ which will feature a variety of topics written by the clergy, religious and laity. Sunday Observer will appear periodically.

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