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For Deacon Anthony, an apostolate of presence

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This is the seventh in a series of articles throughout the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate in the United States.

Deacon Gerard-Marie Anthony has held many jobs in his life, but they’ve each had two things in common: engagement with other people and God. It’s those two elements that drew him to the vocation of the permanent diaconate as well.

“That's what I try to do as a deacon —  to let people know that I’m here with you and the Lord is with you here,” he said.

Deacon Anthony was ordained a deacon in 2017 for the diocese where he has lived his whole life. He and his twin brother, Gerald, were born in Alexandria, and baptized at St. Rita Church, then lived in Arlington and Dale City.

Deacon Anthony says his tween years were the only time he wasn’t very religious. A health scare brought him back to the faith.

When staying with his dad, Deacon Anthony began to get very thirsty and weak, and he had recently lost a lot of weight. His stepsister eventually brought him to the hospital, where he was sure he was going to die. Before he passed out, he prayed that he would see his mom. When he woke up, his mom was sitting nearby. The doctor said his glucose levels were very high and he had diabetes.

“Learning how to deal with diabetes, that really humbled me,” Deacon Anthony said. “Every time I look at my needles I realize I have to depend on God to live. My suffering and my cross made me fervent in my faith.”

Read more profiles of deacons in the Diocese of Arlington.

After high school, Deacon Anthony attended Christendom College in Front Royal. He earned his teaching certification from George Mason University in Fairfax. After a student encouraged him to “just be yourself” while teaching, he grew to love being a teacher. He later earned a master’s in theology from Catholic Distance University.

After a few years, he transitioned from teaching into youth ministry at St. Louis Church in Alexandria, then St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. He taught religion and bioethics at St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries for eight years.

Throughout those years, Deacon Anthony was discerning his vocation, contemplating missionary work, religious life and the priesthood. “Ultimately, we’re all called to make a gift of ourselves, so I was asking, how is God calling me?” he said. “I (thought) I could make a more fulfilling gift being ordained, and (being) a celibate.”

While in college, he remembers reading the Second Vatican Council document about the restoration of the permanent diaconate. “(I thought,) this sounds interesting because of the servant aspect. I’ve always had a place in my heart to want to help people,” he said. So he decided to pursue it. “Priests bring us Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But (deacons) are called to different ministry — being out in the community rather than at the altar or the confessional.”

According to canon law, permanent deacons must be at least 35 years old. They must be married before they are ordained, or remain celibate. If a married deacon’s wife dies, he may not remarry. At age 36, Deacon Anthony was ordained to the ministry of service.

Because he is unmarried, Deacon Anthony feels able to devote more of his time to his diaconate ministry, and he spends several hours five days a week at his parish — St. Timothy. He prepares couples for marriage, serves at funerals, performs weddings and baptisms, and blesses homes. Occasionally parents will ask him to talk with their children. “Basically, I try to be whatever the people need me to be,” he said.

At the same time, as with all deacons, he has to provide for himself through work. Right now, that means earning a degree in counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington. He hopes to be a counselor for family, children and those with addictions.

Though he’s only been a deacon for a short amount of time — he calls himself a toddler deacon — he’s been amazed by the gift of his vocation. “It’s amazing to see how much Christ can touch people though the apostolate of presence, which is the deacon role,” he said. “We’re made for love. People want people to be able to walk with them, or rather they want Christ to walk with them, and I try to do that as his deacon.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018