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October 1, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 24

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photo: Dr. Michael Tkacik, left, talks with Leanne Thompson, wife of Deacon Robert (Tom) Thompson; Deacon Calvin Bailey, of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, and Deacon Thompson, of St. Olaf, Norge.
Dr. Michael Tkacik, left, talks with Leanne Thompson, wife of Deacon Robert (Tom) Thompson; Deacon Calvin Bailey, of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, and Deacon Thompson, of St. Olaf, Norge.

Deacons told their lives mirror the laity

Before theologian Michael Tkacik began his keynote talk to the annual diocesan Deacons’ Convocation, Deacon Dick Surrusco turned to another attendee and smiled, “You’re in for a treat.”

Dr. Tkacik, who teaches theology at St. Leo University in Florida, had taught a class for the Richmond Diocese permanent deacon formation program.

Now, addressing a full house at the September 21 gathering in Staunton, Dr. Tkacik discussed the “gems” of the Second Vatican Council and explained how that historic juncture in the church restored the permanent diaconate and gave it an important role in empowering and animating the Holy Spirit in lay Catholics.

Dr. Tkacik contended that in the church’s primary work of spreading the Gospel, its “point of contact” with the world, is through the laity.

“The only way the church will succeed in its mission is if lay people live out their faith,” he said. “For you as deacons, this whole vision we’re talking about can’t succeed if you’re not there,” he added.

Reminding the deacons that Vatican II was a turning point for the church as Pope John XXIII emphasized a need for “aggiornamento” — updating it to engage an advancing modern society — Dr. Tkacik explained that the pope called for the Council in 1962 to be a new Pentecost for the church. He wanted to follow the example of Jesus’ first apostles taking the Gospel out into the world.

But in 1962 the world rapidly was changing in terms of both technology and social and political thought.

“The pope was very intentional in this,” he said. “He wanted the church to not resist and reject the advances of society, but to see them as new avenues, new ways for the church to serve.

photo: Dr. Michael Tkacik, right, at Deacons’ Convocation with Karin and Deacon Bob Ewan
Dr. Michael Tkacik, right, at Deacons’ Convocation with Karin and Deacon Bob Ewan

“The new disposition of the church was to go out and engage the world and to respond in ways to demonstrate the church’s relevance and viability.”

The bishops’ assertion that fundamental to the church’s relevance in the world was the full and active participation of the laity in a movement that would revolutionize the church and, Dr. Tkacik suggested, would help shape the role of diaconal ministry in the formation of the lay faithful through educating, preaching the Word of God and enriching their understanding and participation in the sacraments.

Noting that ordination unites a deacon to the bishop, he said Vatican II necessitated “a greater collaboration of the bishop with the people, and this has tremendous potential for you as a link and a bridge for him to the laity.”

“The diaconate is the eyes, ears, hands and mouth of the bishop,” he told them.

Dr. Tkacik repeatedly reminded the deacons that their teaching and preaching carry a significance with the laity because their lives “mirror” the lives of the people — as married men with families and careers and other community roles.

Deacon Surrusco of Our Lady of Nazareth in Roanoke said he believed Dr. Tkacik’s talk was “timely as we approach the Year of Faith in the church and also as we prepare to ordain a new group of deacons. Hopefully, his words also will move us to a deeper sense of diaconia (care and service).”

The diocese’s 69 permanent deacons hold their convocation each year to update and share ideas and insights for their ministry. Their number will soon grow with the ordination of 38 new permanent deacons Oct. 13 and Nov. 3.

Another Roanoke deacon, Mark Allison of St. Andrew’s, said Dr. Tkacik’s presentation was “illuminating.” He said, “It’s good to see and think about who we are and how we (permanent deacons) came to be.”

Indeed, Dr. Tkacik, who has been involved in deacon formation in several dioceses for 16 years, several times invoked the names of the earliest diaconal role models, Saints Stephen and Lawrence. He noted, “As the church is a sacrament to the world, in which it looks to us and sees Jesus, so the diaconate is to the church a miniature of that. You are service sacramentalized.

“You are an icon of Christ. And that should bring you to your knees,” he said.

In preaching, he added, deacons are “the go-between of the Gospel proclaimed and the Gospel lived.

“The heart of your ministry is to illuminate the mysteries of the faith to the laity,” he said, but cautioned them that the way they teach must model the understanding and merciful attitude of Jesus.

“There can be no condemnation. You must communicate in a way that’s life giving to the person.

“The way you teach must facilitate an interpersonal relationship with a loving God. Because he loves us and wants that relationship, we must be custodians of that, and we have no right to block it.”

There were numerous nods of agreement when Dr. Tkacik stressed the importance of the church’s “enculturation” in a changing society. He explained that involves teaching, preaching and celebrating the sacraments in ways that provide meaning among the people being served, including practices and what he called “small-T traditions” that express and articulate the faith with relevance in today’s advanced and diverse culture.

“Know your audience,” Dr. Tkacik said more than once. “Adapt to the current world so your teaching will resonate with the lived experience of those you are talking to. Effective teaching is the means to an active faith by an educated lay apostolate.”

Dr. Tkacik also provided the deacons and their wives with some deeper spiritual encouragement as he reminded them of the church’s mission to bring people to encounter Christ and “to invite them to a living, interpersonal relationship with the God who loves them.”

Anne Gibbons, wife of Deacon Chris Barrett of Resurrection Parish in Moneta, said, “He (Dr. Tkacik) is touching on the things we are thinking. I’m grateful for what he is bringing out for us. “It’s valuable food for thought.”

Ms. Gibbons, chaplain at Lynchburg College who serves in several diocesan ministries, added, “Revelation is an ongoing process and it’s important for us to think about how we as married couples and families are living out ‘aggiornamento’ in our own lives.”

Most of the group returned to hear more from Dr. Tkacik at a later extended session. Part of that discussion focused on the importance the Second Vatican Council gave to ecumenism.

Fully one-fourth of the Vatican II documents address the matter of ecumenism which was, he pointed out, “a specific concern of Pope John XXIII.”

He explained that the pope recognized that diversity, not uniformity, strengthens unity in faith and said further that John Paul II, during his papacy, reaffirmed the Council’s call to Christian unity by stating that the church’s commitment to ecumenism is “irrevocable.”

He urged the deacons to recognize with the Council that “other traditions communicate grace that can be salvific” and there is something to be learned through give and take with other Christian traditions.

“To the extent that we are divided,” he stated, “we scandalize the Gospel.”

Speaking from his own experience teaching the current generation, he noted a decreased sense of religious identity.

“We live in a global world and you will work with these families so you want to understand them,” he said. “You are going to be marrying them and you’re going to be burying them,” he said.

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