Deacon Keith A. Fournier, Associate
In the "Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons" the
Congregation for the Clergy speaks of the
juridical status of the deacon as a
"1. The origin of the diaconate is the consecration and mission of Christ,
in which the deacon is called to share. Through the imposition of hands and the
prayer of consecration, he is constituted a sacred minister and a member of the
hierarchy. This condition determines his theological and juridical status in the
For those who have been called to ordination as deacons of the
Church, something "ontological" changed when they were ordained. Most deacons
were fruitfully serving as lay men prior to their ordination. That is why
deacons usually deeply esteem and value the wonderful renewed emphasis on the
role of the "lay members of Christ’s Faithful" proclaimed with particular power
and joy since the Second Vatican Council. However, deacons are no longer laymen.
They are also not priests. They are deacons.
I know (and I have heard similar experiences from many of my fellow deacons)
something profound happened within me with the imposition of the hands of the
Bishop. Not only did I change, but my call to service changed.
Yes, we were chosen, along with all the faithful, at our Baptism. However, at
our diaconal ordination we were chosen—even once again—by the "call" or
"invitation" to orders!
We also responded to that invitation. We made the choice for ordered service.
We exercised our freedom and said "Yes". What a fresh light this understanding
of God’s call—and our response in freedom—can shed upon our reading of those
wonderful words of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John:
"You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you that you should go
and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide’’ (John 15:16).
This passage follows His call to the disciples to "abide" in Him and to allow
His word to "abide" in them. The Greek literally means, "to make a home." We are
called to "make our home" in Jesus and His Church. And He "makes His home" in
us! Home is the place of most security. It matters little who or what may oppose
or oppress you when you are at home. You can be at peace and secure because you
are at home.
As Deacons we are "at home" in the Lord and in His Church. And as deacons we
make a home for the Church in the midst of the world. We serve as an order of
clergy who go from the altar and the ambo into the world.
"Deacons for Life" believes that deacons can serve an important role, with
the whole Church, in proclaiming the gospel of life and building a new culture
of life. We are called to uniquely serve as a model of clergy in the midst of a
world that is so desperately in need of a witness of Jesus Christ who is the
Servant of all.
We can be a bridge, called into a world bound by a Culture of Death from a
Church that is the sign of the culture of life and the civilization of love and
reveals the coming Kingdom.
As an order of clergy who are living, working and serving in the midst of the
world, we are uniquely positioned to confront that culture and to transform it
with the Gospel of Life.
The founder of "Deacons for Life", Fr. Frank Pavone
expressed this unique vocational calling with crystal clarity:
"Diaconate is service. The service of the deacon is his giving, but a
giving which has a special shape in our day. He is to give his time, energy, and
spoken word on behalf of the most defenseless members of the human family, those
still in the womb.
The effort and sacrifice he makes on their behalf is itself a witness that
raises the value of the lives of these children in the eyes of the world. It
also expresses the Church's preferential option for the poor.
The word "poor" does not simply refer to those who lack sufficient material
resources. It means those whose human dignity is not recognized by others. The
children in the womb have been declared to be outside the realm of personhood.
They are the poorest of the poor.
Service is not service unless it serves where the need is greatest. Love is
not love unless it gives without counting the cost
The Church needs deacons for many reasons. A world immersed in the culture of
death needs them for even more reasons."
It is a privilege to now join together with Father Pavone in the
building of "Deacons for Life." I know that that this association will play a
vital role, along with Priests and Seminarians for Life, in the building up of
the "Civilization of Love" in the Third Christian Millennium.
Few principles are more cherished in our contemporary society than freedom of
choice. It is precisely in its adoption of the language of "choice" that the
movement to both legalize and normalize the killing of children in the womb made
its most profane "advance" in its persistent efforts at cultural change.
All men and women long for freedom. It is our inheritance and our highest
aspiration. Yet few consider the real purpose of this God-given freedom. Is
"free choice" principally about our own self interests—or is it given to us for
a higher, more lasting purpose?
It is the Christian revelation that reveals the true "end" of our freedom. It
also exposes the reality of sin and death that so impedes our ability to
exercise our freedom rightly. Finally and most importantly it is the Christian
claim alone that provides the way to a recovery of authentic freedom in the One
who alone can set us free from both sin and death by His Cross and Resurrection.
Every exercise of freedom must be made within a moral structure. It must be
exercised in conformity to truth. The real question is not choice but….what
This capacity for freedom, inscribed within our being, shows that we are made
in the image of God. Because of that we bear the responsibility that this gift
of freedom entails—to always choose in conformity to truth and with the love of
This capacity to choose is what reflects the very "Imago Dei" (the Image of
God) in us. It sets human persons apart from every other living creature. The
God who is Love wants us to love Him and one another (even those who hurt us)
and to choose to do so FREELY!
In a particular way all ordained clergy—bishops, priests, and
deacons—"incarnate" the choice to serve that is at the heart of each Christian’s
vocation. But in a unique way deacons, though at the "lowest" order of the
clergy, have a particular vocation to be configured to Christ the servant and
make this wonderful truth about the nature of God’s love, revealed in Him,
present in the world.
There is a "diaconal spirituality". "Deacons for Life" seeks to foster it
among our members and demonstrate it in our mission.
The call to diaconal spirituality is profoundly Marian, in the sense that she
is the model of the exercise of freedom in deference to the love of God. She is
the one whose "Fiat" opened the gates of heaven and allowed the gift of heaven
to come to earth through her.
She said "Yes." As a free person she could have said "No." The early fathers
of the Church understood the significance of that response so much more than
many contemporary Christians. That is why one of her most ancient titles was
"the second Eve." Her "yes" they maintained turned back the tide of disobedience
unleashed by the "No" of the first Eve.
That blessed "Yes" made possible the great mystery that we recently
celebrated in the wonderful feasts of the Incarnation, Christmas and the
Epiphany. That is why the affirmation of Our Lady, as the "Theotokos" at the
Council of Ephesus, has a prophetic implication for each one of us as Deacons.
When she said, "Fiat, let it be to me according to your Word" (Luke 1:38),
she opened the way for all of us. In that wonderful exercise of freedom we find
the pattern for our own vocation as deacons, "Fiat…. Magnificat…. Theotokos" --
the trajectory of love. Our "Yes" leads to a life of poured out love and praise
and makes us fruitful, in a sense, bearing the word of God through our witness
and our work.
This is a key to understanding the invitation to diaconal life, ministry and
In a sense, all of history (human history and the history of our own
life) falls between two trees: the tree in Eden (where Eve chose to say "no" to
the Father’s invitation to love … and then attempted to blame another) or the
second tree of Calvary (where the "second Eve"—Mary—stood in pure love).
At the heart of the contemporary "culture of death" (of which, in the words
of John Paul II, abortion is the cutting edge) is the wrong choice, the choice
of selfishness, the choice that always leads to death.
John Paul II spoke of the great implications of the exercise of freedom:
"History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better—but
rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms
that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves—the love of God to the
point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God
(John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)"
The recurring questions of Eden echo in our contemporary culture. How will we
exercise our "freedom"? At which tree will we worship? Will it be the tree of
disobedience or the tree of obedience?
The choice we must make as deacons is the choice of freely given, kenotic
Of course, the greatest example to us of this love is Christ, the "deacon"
who St. Paul writes to the Philippians:
"Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a
thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant’’
This word rendered "Servant" in this text is the same word for Deacon in the
original Greek. This choice of self emptying, of kenosis, of pouring out His
life, is now to become our choice. It is that choice that lies at the heart of
the diaconal vocation. It is the choice that leads to a life of true freedom.
The Choice for the Future
In this age so transfixed on the "right to choose" the choices we make will
determine our future. Though we are "free to choose," (as those of this age are
so fond of proclaiming) we are not free to declare the objects of our choice
"good" or "evil."
God alone has that prerogative.
The concept of a "right to choose" has all too often been subverted, causing
a new bondage in the lives of countless millions
We CHOOSE our future through the exercise of our freedom. In the words of the
‘‘Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to
speak, the father of his acts’’ (CCC, n. 1749).
This extraordinary "power" of choice, what philosophers call the reflexive
nature of human choice, has been the subject of deep reflection in the Christian
tradition. An early father of the Church opined:
Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born
ever anew…but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is
the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a
certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions."
St. Gregory of Nyssa
When we choose in a way that is contrary to Gods plan and purpose and
opposed to the way of love, we sin. Sin is an abuse of the freedom to choose
given to us by God (cf. CCC, n. 1730-1738).
It seems no matter where you turn these days someone is demanding a "right to
There are the new libertines who mistake "freedom" with the right to do anything
that "feels good." There are the self-deluded champions of new "rights"-which
are not rights at all -- such as requiring that consensual prolonged sexual acts
between practicing homosexuals (or unmarried heterosexuals) be afforded the same
treatment as a marriage by the State.
The clamor for these mistaken notions of "choice", and others, grows louder
What does all of this tell us about ourselves and our future? What are we
choosing, and who are we becoming in the process? What kind of nation will we
Tragically, we are all too often making the wrong choices becoming corrupted,
individually and collectively, in the process. Why? Partly because we have lost
the foundational philosophical and moral understanding of the true obligations
which authentic freedom entails along with the effect of the "reflexive" nature
of our choices on who we become, both as individuals and as a nation.
Like the Biblical son of Isaac, Esau, we have sold our birthright for a bowl of
This story is told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis (see Genesis
25:29-34). Esau came in from hunting one day famished. Unable to control his own
disordered appetites, he, the firstborn who stood to inherit his fathers'
estate, sold that birthright for a bowl of red stew made from wild game.
He made a wrong choice.
That was why he would later be called Edom, which means "red". That choice
defined him and literally changed his "name", which in biblical terms entails
character and identity. His wrong choice not only lost him a future but also
changed his very identity.
As a nation, America was birthed in an understanding of freedom that implied
both a "freedom from" intrusive government but also a "freedom for" responsible
and virtuous living. Our founders understood the obligations of social
Birthed from the Western tradition, the American idea of "ordered liberty"
contained within it the deeper understanding of the person as a responsible
agent whose choices defined his or her character. Additionally, the framework
our founders structured for national self-government was dependent upon- and
subordinated to- the existence of self-government on a personal, family and
In a real sense our choices make us--- we actually become what we choose! In
other words our choices not only affect the "outside" world but the "inside"
world as well. In the very act of choosing we change ourselves-we become what we
American literature is laced with reflections rooted in the truth concerning the
reflexive nature of human choice. For example, most children, at some point in
their formal education, read the "Portrait of Dorian Gray." The story revolves
around a young artist who is painting a self-portrait. He keeps it hidden away
and works on it throughout his life.
As his life proceeds he "pays his money and he makes his choices"-- most of
which proceed from his narcissistic worldview. To the onlooker, he is living the
life of sensual and professional "success"-but he knows what the portrait
reveals when he is home alone.
When the artist is eventually found dead, his self-portrait is also found. It
revealed the interior truth of what his life choices had made him to become on
the inside. The figure on the canvas is hideous, corrupt and lecherous.
It is interesting to note that the author of the book, Oscar Wilde, was for much
of his life, a practicing homosexual. He later converted to Catholicism and died
in a state of grace. The choices we make determine not only our character but
also pave the road to our eternal destiny.
Many other biblical narratives capture this poignant insight about human choice.
The Eden story of the fall is all about the errant exercise of freedom, the
making of a wrong choice, at that tree in the garden. An invitation to love from
a God who cherishes our capacity for freedom was rebuffed and the whole human
race, collectively, through our first parents, chose a counterfeit notion of
freedom as a raw power to do as we choose, regardless of truth, over an
invitation into an ongoing relationship with God.
That choice gets repeated throughout our personal and collective histories to
this very hour!
The Sacred texts of the New Testament are also filled with the insight. We
"become" adulterers when we look at a woman with lust (Mt. 5:28); what comes out
of our "heart"
(The "heart" is the biblical center where freedom is exercised, human choices
are made and character formed) is what makes us "unclean" (Mk 7:14-23).
There is a self-determining character to our exercise of choice. In that sense,
freedom is not free… it always costs. Our wrong choices corrupt us.
So, in this age in which we have all too often chosen to worship the golden calf
of unencumbered "choice" we should stop and ask ourselves some very serious
questions. Who are we making ourselves to be---as individuals and as a
nation--in the choices we are making?
We choose to discard "unwanted" children who are not even allowed the freedom to
be born; we choose to kill those who have killed, when bloodless means of
punishment and protection of the common good are available, for vengeance; we
choose to denigrate women (and now men) as sexual objects and defame the beauty
of sexual intimacy; we choose to ignore the cry of the widow, the orphan, the
poor and the oppressed while we chase the golden ring of consumerism and
self-ism--- and we call of these choices "rights" and an exercise of our
On the national level, we are making ourselves a nation of killers, harlots, and
That imprinted character, which we have painted on our national self
portrait, can only be changed when we make a contrary choice to hear the cry of
the poor, respect again every human life from conception to natural death, and
rededicate ourselves to a true understanding of equal justice.
On the personal level we are dangerously close to the fate of the young artist
of American novel or the first born in the biblical account. There is a real
choice to be made by everyone of us… and we will make ourselves in making it--
it is the choice to truly love.
Those of us who are Christians understand the heart of that choice because Love
became a Person and made the ultimate choice on the second tree where He emptied
Himself so that we might live (see Phil 2:5-11). Because of that we have a
higher obligation to continue His choice through our poured out lives.
Those who are deacons have an even higher obligation. We are called into the
world corrupted by the wrong exercise of choice to proclaim and point to another
way, the way of love.
Ordained for word, service and sacrament, we are particularly invited by the
Church to the works of charity and justice. We are called to reach out to the
Again in the words of the founder of "Deacons for Life", Fr Frank Pavone:
The word "poor" does not simply refer to those who lack sufficient
material resources. It means those whose human dignity is not recognized by
others. The children in the womb have been declared to be outside the realm of
personhood. They are the poorest of the poor.
Service is not service unless it serves where the need is greatest. Love is
not love unless it gives without counting the cost
"Deacons for Life" is an invitation to deacons to "give without
counting the cost."
It is our turn to choose to become what He has invited the whole human race
to become. In that choice to follow Jesus Christ the Deacon we also choose to
conform our lives, and our choices, to His. Some "incarnate" that vocation as
bishops, priests, or deacons—in ordained service. As deacons, we have a
particular vocation to service.
The choice is ours.
We can help to reverse the downward cultural spiral and set the captives of this
age of "choice" and counterfeit freedom truly free- by inviting them back to a
relationship with the God who made them.
That choice is the path to true freedom and a future of hope.
Because God, who is a Father, did not want the obedience of puppets,
but rather the love of sons and daughters, he does not coerce our response. He
invites us into a relationship of love with Him and with one another. We learn
to live - and to love- by conforming our choices to what is true. This is a
lifetime vocation. It is called the Christian life. We all live it according to
our states of life, but within what the Church calls "the Universal Call to
A Community of Deacons:
As a new association of deacons we are a response to the
invitation of the Church to form a diaconal community, a "family of deacons"
where we can strengthen one another for the work of service.
All of us have labored in the "pro-life movement" and many of us are weary.
We are building a community of support among deacons where we can be revitalized
in order to continue the pro-life work.
Deacons know that the call can get lonely. That is particularly true because,
at least in the Western Church, the diaconal vocation is still fairly unknown
and often misunderstood.
Though ancient, it fell out of practical application in the western Church
until reinstituted by the Second Vatican Council. Consequently many deacons feel
isolated and misunderstood within their own Church. "Deacons for life" will be a
place where we can support one another and renew our resolve to say "Yes", no
matter the cost.
No matter how many times you may hear discouraging comments such as "Father
doesn’t ‘believe’ in deacons," remember the only choice is to love. Our vocation
does not depend on whether a particular priest "believes" in our office or
forgets that, even though he has been called to ordination as a priest, he is
still a deacon—you do not lose the order.
Our vocation and place in the Church, and our call into the world, was
settled when the hands of Jesus, acting through his bishop, were imposed upon
us. All that is left for us to do is to make the choice of service.
Last year I attended the ordination of a friend to the Diaconate, for service
in the Melkite Catholic Church. It was a beautiful service, and it gave me an
opportunity to renew my own "yes" to the Lord and to His Church.
The ancient Byzantine Catholic Liturgy was filled with the beauty and symbols
of ancient worship. For many of us ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, we
remember various moments in the ordination liturgy. It was more than we had
imagined it could ever be. I remember, as though it were yesterday, how I
experienced the extraordinary power of God break forth as I lay prostrate before
the altar, hearing the ancient litany of saints and crying out in my heart of
hearts, "Here I am Lord—FIAT."
Though the service differs in the East, the symbol used at that moment
communicates the same profound truth: that our lives are no longer our own. In
the East, the sub-deacon candidate lays his head on the altar. This follows the
procession with his brother deacons who, after pushing his head to the floor at
several stops along the way, lead him to a profound bow.
At each stop of reverence, I felt my own heart break with love for the One
who walked the way of the Cross—and I experienced a new resolve to offer my
ordained service to His plan for the "New Evangelization."
I know that I may be writing to men who experienced that same call and made
the same choice. I also know it is not a "one time" choice. It is made over and
over again, in the midst of both the joy of ministry and the pain of
disappointment. It is made at the "high" points—perhaps, for example, after you
have had the privilege of bringing someone to the Faith, or home to the Church,
or seen the power of the Gospel of Life convince a mother to carry her child to
term and not to abort.
It is also made at the "low" times, perhaps when you hear a colleague in the
priesthood questioning the very need for your own ordered service. Or, perhaps
you have experienced the rebuff of a lay minister who is threatened by your
presence on the altar.
This choice for kenotic love is made daily, in the "heroic moment" upon
opening your eyes to greet the day, throughout each waking moment and at the
final invitation to rest.
I have a wonderful Bishop friend who maintains that there are two types of
people in this world. You can tell them apart in that first moment of the day.
Those who say, "Good morning, Lord!" and those who say, "Good Lord, its
Our entire life is a series of choices.
This is particularly important for those who have been ordained to the order
of deacon during this time in history. Our call to service is literally being
shaped for the future of the Church through the choices we make today.
As we respond to the invitation to build a new "culture of life" that the
Holy Father speaks of in the third Christian millennium, deacons have a
tremendous opportunity to play a vital role.
"Deacons for Life" is one way.