Diaconal formation is the occasion for continued discernment of a diaconal vocation and immediate preparation for ordination. Throughout this path in formation, the candidate himself assumes the primary responsibility for his discernment and development. To comply with the Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, the candidate pathway in diaconal formation in the Diocese of Camden will last approximately five (5) years.
There are four interrelated dimensions of Deacon Formation:
1. Human Formation is the foundation of the other three;
2. Spiritual Formation informs the other three;
3. Intellectual Formation enables the understanding of the other three;
4. Pastoral Formation expresses the other three in practice.
One who will serve as a deacon requires a formation that promotes the development of the whole person. Therefore, the four dimensions in formation should be so interrelated as to achieve a continual integration of their objectives in the life of each participant and in his exercise of ministry. (National Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, p.51).
The goal of a “suitable human dimension” is to help the deacon develop “his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in meeting with Jesus Christ.” (Pope Saint John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 1992). The capacity to relate to others is a fundamental quality for a person called into community service. The whole being of body, mind, and spirit is involved in formation. The critical areas of psychological competence, communication skills, physical well-being, relational skills, and openness to the arts, sciences and politics of human life are all addressed in this development of suitable candidates.
Deacons have an important role in the field of human development and the promotion of justice. Because of their close living and working situations in society, they can well understand, interpret, and try to bring solutions to personal and social problems in light of the Gospel. Therefore, deacons need to be close to the people, helping them to understand the realities of social life so they can try to improve it. (National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, p. 51).
Spiritual Formation constitutes the unifying heart of Christian formation. Its aim is to foster the development of the new life first received in Baptism. The work of the Holy Spirit provides multiple directions and productive options to this goal.
This understanding is the foundational principle of the spiritual formation aspect in the Deacon Formation Program. “The spiritual life is, therefore, dynamic and never static. The goal of spiritual formation is ‘putting on the mind of Christ’, thereby establishing and nurturing attitudes, habits, and practices that provide a foundation for the development of an authentic and ongoing spiritual discipline. (National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, p. 53).
The objectives of the spiritual dimension in formation are to deepen the candidate’s prayer life – personal, familial, communal, and liturgical with special emphasis upon:
1. Participation in Eucharist. Daily if possible.
2. Daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially morning and evening prayer;
3. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
4. Regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
These life-long practices enable the candidate, with the help of his spiritual director, to deepen and cultivate a service commitment to God’s word, the Church, and the world. This prayer life acquaints candidates with the Catholic spiritual tradition reflected in classic spiritual writings and in the lives of the saints, and with contemporary developments in spirituality. They develop a faith of expression and celebration. The candidate also strives to affirm the Christian witness of matrimonial and celibate spirituality. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he incarnates his spirituality in the real life and history of the people where he lives, works, and serves. (National Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, p. 54)
Oriented toward ministry providing the candidate with the knowledge and appreciation of the faith that he needs in order to carry out his ministry of word, liturgy, and charity. The intellectual dimension of formation must be designed to communicate a knowledge of the faith and church tradition that is ‘complete and serious’ so that each participant will be prepared to carry out his vital ministry (see National Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, p. 55)
The commitment to study is no small part of formation of those candidates preparing for the diaconate. It is not an external or secondary dimension of their Christian, spiritual and vocational growth. In reality, through study, especially the study of theology, the future [deacon] assents to the Word of God, grows in his spiritual life and prepares himself to fulfill his pastoral ministry (see National Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, p. 56).
Deacons must first understand and practice the essentials of Christian doctrine and life before, in their ministries of word, liturgy, and charity, they can communicate, in a clear way, to others. Sacred Scripture is the soul of intellectual formation. Around the Sacred Word are structured other branches of theology. Liturgical studies are given prominence, as the candidates prepare to lead their future faith community in prayer and sacramental life. The intellectual content will provide the candidate with the knowledge, skills, and appreciation of the Faith that he needs to effectively fulfill his ministry of word, liturgy, and charity.
Pastoral Formation entails the development of skills and competencies that enable deacons to serve God’s people well. It is the practical side of theology. Deacons must keep themselves aware of the challenges of the people he serves. They should continue to enhance their pastoral skills by gathering new insights on how to effectively minister and serve. They must be open to veteran evaluation and direction so that they can continue to be formed.
Candidates will also be required to participate in summer internships/apostolates. The internship experience provides a unique opportunity for the candidate to gain insight into ways of integrating knowledge, skills and personal conviction into the practice of ministry.
Readiness for ordination is assessed annually by both the candidate and formation personnel to ascertain what level of achievement the candidate has attained. Areas of recognized growth include:
1. His understanding of the diaconal vocation, its responsibilities, and its obligations.
2. His growth in the spiritual life.
3. His competency in required diaconal knowledge and skills.
4. His practical experience in pastoral ministry.
5. His witness of human and affective maturity.
6. If he is married, an appraisal of his wife’s readiness and consent will also be made.
In addition to the classroom work, the candidates will be required to attend various Human and Spiritual Development seminars that will be held one Saturday each month throughout the year. Each formation year will conclude with a retreat and a formal portfolio review conducted by the Director of Formation and members of the Diaconate Scrutinies Board (hereafter referred to as the Diaconate Board). This annual review will acknowledge individual strengths and accomplishments of the candidate and help identify any deficiency that might prevent the candidate from continuing in formation.