Only through God’s Grace
Why the role of a deacon’s wife is one of accompaniment
On the eve of my husband’s ordination, I had a dark night of the soul. It suddenly occurred to me that, after four years of formation with Larry, I didn’t know if I was up to the demands and sacrifices that the life would require. “What was I thinking when I gave my consent to the bishop?” I asked myself.
“God,” I prayed, “how am I going to handle being married to a member of the clergy? It’s all so confusing. We became one flesh in the Sacrament of Matrimony. But after ordination it becomes a clergy/layperson union. There is a clear separation between the two states in life. How does this work?” It was close to dawn when I heard God’s answer clearly: Grace.
The last 12 years have indeed been infused with God’s grace. There are no rules or guidelines defining the role of a deacon’s wife in the Church. There isn’t even a “How to Be a Deacon’s Wife for Dummies.” A few parishioners do have a certain idea of what my role should be; they think I should be at every single parish event. But most are very supportive.
Somewhere I heard a person quip that the life of a deacon’s wife is one of being left behind — left alone in the pew while he is on the altar; left at home at night as he goes to meetings or counsels people or presides at a funeral vigil. I have never thought of it that way. To borrow from Pope Francis, it is a role of accompaniment. I walk with my husband as he strives to live a life of service and to be seen as an icon of Christ the Servant — which is the vocation of all deacons. In accompaniment, I try to offer encouragement when it is needed — supporting him in his ministry even if it means giving up time together. Sometimes it means offering correction, as in, “that is not very deaconlike of you,” or, “do you really want to say that in your homily?” Sometimes it simply is to remind him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
All of the above sounds like what every husband and wife do for each other on a daily basis. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, each spouse is called to help the other to become holy — to become saints. But as the wife of a deacon, it takes on a whole new dimension. Being a deacon is a great gift, and a greater responsibility. Supporting a husband in his diaconal vocation also is a great responsibility. It is not easy. In reality, the role of both the deacon and his wife is to be faithful and to grow in sacrificial love that all those who receive the sacrament of marriage are called to do. We are called to love each other as Christ loves his Church. That is why marriage is called a sacrament of vocation.
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But for the deacon and his wife, this calling is and should become much more visible. It is important that I do my part to ensure our marriage grows in love and always conforms to Christ and his Church. The Church asks us as deacon and wife to witness to the Church and community a marital love that is Christ-like.
Our witness also includes the struggles all married couples face. There are joys and sorrows, and children who drift from faith. There are no perfect marriages. But my husband and I strive to show that growing in love is a lifelong calling that is possible. But only with grace.
As a deacon’s wife, I find my role difficult but rewarding. I am still not good at it; I am a work in progress. But then we all are unfinished Christians in need of God’s mercy and grace.
SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.