“But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
My name is Deacon Chris Beltowski. I am the Associate Director for the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Detroit. I have been in this position for approximately a year and a half. In my brief time as the Associate Director, I have witnessed through the example of my fellow deacons what it truly means to be configured to Jesus Christ as servant. That is who we are as deacons (in Greek—diakonos, meaning a servant). We receive an indelible mark at our ordination which configures our hearts to his servant heart.
How do we go about forming the servant heart of a deacon? Being a deacon is not something you do. It is who you are. It is a state of being. God called us before he knit us in our mother’s wombs, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you” (Jer. 1:5). However, there is formation that takes place as we discern our call and journey closer to ordination and beyond.
A formal candidate for the permanent diaconate, one who is discerning the call through the diaconate formation program in the Archdiocese of Detroit, takes on a summer ministry each year while he is in the program. The summer ministry is meant, as our candidate handbook states, “to enable the candidate to walk in the footsteps of Christ” as servant. It is meant to put the candidate in an uncomfortable setting, one that will stretch him so that the gifts and fruits of the Spirit that are given to him can be better formed. What is learned and experienced in the summer ministry comes back ten-fold when evangelical charity (meeting the material and spiritual needs of others through Christ) takes place for the deacon after ordination.
As an example, in my first year of formation my summer ministry took place at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac serving in a program called, “No One Dies Alone.” I had the honor and privilege to sit with patients who were actively dying who may have had no family or friends, or I was giving a family member a break during this very difficult process. I felt attracted to this ministry having watched my mother at her bedside pass to eternal life back in 1997. Fast-forward to 2022, a few months ago, an ordained deacon for more than seven years, I found myself at the bedside of my 100-year-old neighbor keeping her son company as she was actively dying. God continues to form my heart, continues to configure it to Jesus’s heart as a servant.
As I learned from one of my fellow deacons, we have two choices to make as a deacon: we can just be a flowerpot or handsome decorative ornament that stands next to the priest by the altar, or we can take the unconditional love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that takes place on the altar and bring it out into the world that we live in and serve with evangelical charity.
Almighty and ever-loving God: Configure my heart to yours. Make me the servant you want me to be for your greater glory and praise, and for the love, care and salvation of all souls. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Servant. Amen.