A geoscientist by training, Deacon Rex Pilger, 68, business manager for St. Joan of Arc Parish in Arvada, is a deacon of 28 years. A decade of experience in diaconal formation for the Denver Archdiocese led him to write a book, “Every Man a Deacon?” (CreateSpace, 2014) aimed at helping men discern whether they may have a call to the permanent diaconate. Married 42 years, a father and grandfather, Deacon Pilger recently spoke to the Denver Catholic about his straightforward, informative guide. The interview has been edited for space.
Denver Catholic: Why did you write “Every Man a Deacon?”
Deacon Rex Pilger: We had a man (in diaconal formation) whose job was working with the poor. The priest he was working with said, “I believe you should be a deacon.” He was already serving the poor and was a faithful Catholic, so why become a deacon? The answer is
that the deacon in his very person is an expression of Christ himself. The deacon is an icon of Christ the Servant.
I see a lot of men engaged in fulltime ministry who would benefit by becoming an icon of Christ the Servant. Their service, their ministry would be sacramentalized. There would be an elevation and a deepening of the meaning of their ministry. There have been a number of men I’m aware of who were in fulltime ministry and it transformed their ministry. They discovered entirely new ways to proclaim and live out the Gospel.
DC: Who is the book for?
RP: The target is men who are already active in Church ministry. Men who have already heard the call of the Lord to serve. Perhaps the Lord is calling them to a deeper, more effective ministry (as) an icon of Christ the Servant.
DC: Why use a question—“Every Man a Deacon?”—for the title?
RP: The idea is to prompt an immediate response: That (a man) asks himself, Oh, am I called to be a deacon? Not every man is called. There are a number of canons that he has to be a Catholic man in good standing with the Church, whether married in the Church or living a single, celibate lifestyle. (Age 35 if married with the permission of their wife, age 25 if unmarried.) Realistically, only a small number of men may actually be called.
DC: How did you receive your call to the diaconate?
RP: My wife and I were invited to the ordination of a deacon from our parish in Louisiana where were living at that time. At one point during the ordination Mass we looked at each other and realized, This could be me. It became a very exciting journey.
DC: Talk about the book’s content.
RP: I discuss what a deacon is and what a deacon does. Then I address certain questions that arise (about diaconal ministry and formation). Becoming a deacon is not about oneself or one’s wife and family. It’s about how God wants you to serve him best. When a child is baptized that boy or girl is receiving a call. That call will come, we hope, through the faith of their family and the faith of the Church. It’s a call to grow and to serve. I serve by awakening the call of others to serve that came with their baptism. More than anything else, that is the meaning of the diaconate: I am called to serve by calling others to serve. That becomes my witness.
DC: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
RP: A desire to discern their own calling, their own vocation, whatever that might be. The word vocation is sometimes misunderstood. We think, I’m a teacher, a truck driver, a policeman—that’s my vocation. There was a priest many years ago who emphasized to me that my vocation is as a Catholic man—as a husband and father—that is my primary vocation. That by which I earn, which supports me and my family, is part of the ways in which the Lord blesses me in my vocation so I can meet the everyday needs my family and I have, but it’s secondary to my religious vocation. Everybody has a “religious” vocation. It’s not merely priests and nuns.