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Bishop Burbidge ‘lifts up’ permanent diaconate

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deacon 50th anniversaryThis is the third in a series of articles throughout the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate in the United States.

Fifty years ago, the Catholic Church reinstituted the permanent diaconate, and the men of the Diocese of Arlington have responded generously to the call. “We have a significant number of men stepping forward saying they want to be deacons. Recruitment, with God's grace, is taking really good care of itself,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. Currently, there are more than 70 permanent deacons in active ministry and 15 men in formation with future classes forming. 

As a young priest, Bishop Burbidge worked with permanent deacons in his parishes. “I really began to see that my vocation as a priest was supported (by) the deacons, who became great collaborators in the work of meeting pastoral and spiritual needs,” he said. “The deacons I met (then) and the deacons I continue to meet really have been a source of inspiration, to see their profound love of the church in the midst of so many other demands.”

Now as bishop, he oversees their ministry, but also their formation. “I could not be more proud of the formation program we have for our deacons. It's hard work, but it needs to be because these men are being prepared for ordination,” he said. “I can really feel very assured that here in our diocese and really throughout our church in the U.S. that our deacons are well-formed and prepared.”

Bishop Burbidge believes the anniversary year is a time to lift up this special vocation. “I always think it's very important we understand that all vocations are from God and are to be respected, because they all play a unique role. But it’s very wise at times to lift up a particular vocation,” he said. “I think this anniversary of the diaconate is a wonderful time for us to say, ‘let’s lift up this vocation, let’s emphasis its role.’ It's a great opportunity to make clear what this gift is to the church.”

In a deacon’s many roles on the altar, serving in a charitable capacity or simply in his day-to-day life, Bishop Burbidge feels the greatest gift a deacon brings is his witness. Married deacons also bring the gift of their family life to their ministry. “So many of our deacons also are blessed with another vocation: married love and fatherhood. And so to see the beautiful witness of living faithfully with their spouse — the sign of the love Christ has for His church — is just a tremendous blessing to all of us,” he said.

Bishop Burbidge also is grateful to the deacons’ wives and their children. “I want to express thanks to their spouses for being so committed and so generous, and their children for encouraging their fathers and sharing their fathers with us,” he said. 

Bishop Burbidge hopes this year will serve as an opportunity for men to consider a call to the diaconate. “I think we should continue to talk about the diaconate — why the church needs deacons,” he said.  “Pastors and deacons should encourage men of their parish to keep their hearts open.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018