Oh, the gift of life-giving love

Matt and Mindy Dalton

Following God’s design for how he created us as male and female brings great peace, harmony and unity to marriage, family and our world. I can remember vividly feeling as though I was a bystander with each of the seven cesarean sections that Mindy endured. “Lord Jesus,” I would pray, “help me to be a supportive husband and please, Heavenly Father, give me your grace to be a worthy father.” Witnessing the gift that my wife made of herself in childbearing and beyond gives me the desire to lay down my life as Christ does for his bride, the Church. It is always amazing how God created women to be the “Garden Enclosed” — the paradise where new life begins. With each daughter and son, I can recall the lump in my throat, filled with deep emotion, some trepidation and lots of gratitude that God would entrust us with these precious children.

For certain, God is generous — now our oldest, who married her husband in late July, is carrying their first precious child due in late May, our first grandchild. What joy and anticipation we have, although the thought of being “Grandpa” makes me feel seasoned. When they went to their first doctor’s appointment to have an ultrasound and determine the due date of the baby, their OB/GYN introduced herself along with some small talk and then turned to Josh, her husband, and said, “We are now going to talk about some female issues that might make you uncomfortable.” Josh then said, “I learned in marriage prep how to chart Karlie’s fertility symptoms and temperature through Natural Family Planning and all of this fascinates me.” The physician was pleasantly shocked and put at ease by Josh’s passion and concern for his ‘bride’ and mother-to-be. Father Brendan Rolling, the Benedictine priest who witnessed their marriage, said, “Josh is a scholar of the Catholic faith disguised as a football player.”

After the good news was confirmed at their doctor’s office, they let others know, along with posting the news on social media. Not everyone had a positive response. “So soon?”; “Don’t they want to have time for themselves?” And some even had their suspicion: “Were they pregnant before they were married?” Comments rolled off peoples’ tongues. As parents and grandparents, we were taken off guard as to how to respond. Then it came to me: “There is a nursery rhyme that we learned as kids which has deep theological meaning.” One person responded, “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” I responded, “God knows what to do.” However, the one that came to me was, “Karlie and Josh were sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”

Pope St. John Paul II put it this way, in Familiaris Consortio (“On the Family”), Article 28. With the heading, “Cooperators in the love of God the Creator,” he wrote: “Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person. … Sexuality is not just something biological but concerns the ‘innermost being of the human person’ (Familiaris Consortio, 11). This narrative of God’s love for each of us is far more important than any guarantee of wealth or fame — but possibility… in a word – hope. Why hope? JPII gives us the answer: “The fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to procreation of children … It is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the church and to the world.”

There is no other glorious blessing for parents, now grandparents, to be caught up into the experience of our own children cooperating with the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit. It makes real and visible the reality of the eternal exchange of the life-giving love of the blessed Trinity that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit long for each of us to participate in.

COMING UP: How deacons give life to the Church

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The calling and ministries of the diaconate are as varied as the men who serve in it. For Deacon Don Tracy, the call to the diaconate was a long one, and his first years as a deacon didn’t match his expectations.

“Feeling unsettled with a restless heart for many years, I did not understand at the time that I was experiencing the first stirrings of my call to the diaconate by the Holy Spirit. As I searched to find the peace that was missing in my life, I went down several false paths, believing that a career change to one of the service-oriented professions would give me the tranquility I desired,” Deacon Tracy said.

“I eventually discerned that I should not change careers…but those feelings came to a head when I joined a men’s group called ‘That Man Is You.’ I felt as if I were being turned inside out and sought the help of deacons for guidance. With their assistance, I began to discern that my restless heart came from God calling me to the diaconate,” he added.

But shortly after becoming a deacon, his first ministry became caring for his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his ordination.

“For the next two years, my life was far different than the deacon brothers I was ordained with who were beginning ministries in their parishes and for the people of the archdiocese,” Deacon Tracy said. “Instead, my ministry as a husband and deacon was to care for my wife through what seemed like countless medical appointments and hospital stays. And when my dear wife entered her final weeks on earth last year, I did everything I could think of to help her get to heaven.”

His ministry to his wife as she passed from this world to the next profoundly changed his life — now, he hopes to begin a ministry to those who are struggling through illness or are grieving the loss of loved ones.

Deacon Tracy’s ministry to his wife in the first two years of his diaconate was just one way he was personally called to serve; many deacons, in addition to assisting the pastors in their parish, do much more than we realize.

On average, the 207 deacons spend 60 hours a week serving, between their normal jobs, family obligations, and ministries, according to Deacon Joseph Donohoe, director of deacon personnel at the Archdiocese of Denver.

Deacons assist the priest by ministering baptisms, witnessing marriages, performing funerals and burial services, distributing Holy Communion and preaching homilies.

Outside of this, they also assist in teaching RCIA, baptism preparation, marriage preparation, Bible studies, funerals, retreats, parish missions, visiting prisons and juvenile detention centers, bringing communion to sick patients in hospitals or hospice, visiting the elderly, working with immigrants and working in homeless shelters.

“We’re active in [sacraments], but we also have an obligation as deacons to respond to the archbishop in areas of ministries outside of the parish,” Deacon Donohoe said. “And this is in addition to their secular work and family obligations. So they’re very dedicated, and they do this for love of God. They’re not paid, their obligation is to the archbishop and the Church.”

Deacon Kevin Heckman of Blessed Sacrament Parish spends much of his ministry in Children’s Hospital. After getting a job there in 2009, he introduced himself to the hospital chaplain and asked if there was anyone doing Catholic ministry or communion service, and the chaplain “jumped at it.”

“I developed a relationship with the chaplains and got called to visit patients and bring communion to people. I’ve done about 50 emergency baptisms and praying with families. It’s been really rewarding, and I know that I have a special call to hospital ministry,” Deacon Heckman said.

Deacon Heckman has had the privilege of praying with a mother and her stillborn baby — just one of many experiences that he “won’t ever forget” in his service as a deacon.

Quite frankly, I am in awe of the deacons in the diocese, they are so dedicated to their ministry, and each time I talk to one of them, I get inspired and filled with awe over some of the things they do.”

So what does the call to the vocation of the diaconate look like?

It’s different for everyone, Deacon Donohoe said.

“Some guys get beat over the head. Others are less clear, it’s really just a continuous conversation with God, wanting to do his will. And if his will calls them to the laying on of hands by the archbishop, then he allows God to lead him in that direction,” Deacon Donohoe said.

If a man feels what he suspects may be a call to the diaconate, the process of discernment is years-long, similar to that of a priestly or religious vocation.

“They need to be called by God, and they need to be called by the Church. So it’s a four year process, from the time of the applications to the time they’re ordained, and it’s a discernment process,” Deacon Donohoe said. “There’s an intense amount of prayer involved, as well as a looking into their soul and spirit to discover what God is calling them to. Sometimes God is just calling them to the formation, and not ordination, and many times, they are called to ordination. It’s really a powerful experience.”

The stories of Deacon Tracy and Deacon Heckman are just a few of many men who are offering their lives to Christ through their vocation as a deacon.

“Quite frankly, I am in awe of the deacons in the diocese, they are so dedicated to their ministry, and each time I talk to one of them, I get inspired and filled with awe over some of the things they do,” Deacon Donohoe said. “They all have these stories that are just tremendous, because they’re all in prayer. They all want to listen, and they want to love God and the people of God.”

Not only are these men faithful to God’s will and serving his people, their families are tremendous witnesses to the world as well.

“Deacons in this diocese are tremendously dedicated to their ministry and to their family and they set a very positive example to the secular world in witnessing the true presence of Jesus Christ and the Church to a world in need of [him], including their marriages,” said Deacon Donohoe. “It’s not just the deacons, it’s their families. Their families give up much for their husbands and dads to be deacons, but they also do that for love of God.”

For more information about the deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver, visit archden.org/office-diaconate.