Tapping into God’s Mercy

Daily prayer should be the foundation for diaconal ministry


The most important decision we as deacons can make involves being faithful to a personal, daily time of prayer. The success of our diaconal ministries — not to mention all aspects of our lives — will rise or fall on our daily prayer times (in addition to the marriages of married deacons). The life of a deacon must be rooted in a life of prayer that brings him into union with Christ himself. The teachings of the spiritual masters in the Church are unanimous in saying that without a life of prayer there will be no growth in holiness, and our ministries will have limited effectiveness. The deacon must stay in love with God through prayer in the midst of the challenges of life and ministry.

The Mass has a primacy of position in the spiritual walk, but a solid prayer life is essential to foster the fruitfulness of the grace of the sacraments. In addition, it can be a humbling shock to learn that the most significant way to meet the needs of our people is not through our gifts of ministry, but in our offering of love to God in our prayer times each day. St. John of the Cross said: “An instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together.” The greatest service we can offer the people whom we were ordained to serve is to keep the love of God ablaze in our hearts through a faithful daily time of silent prayer (sometimes called mental or contemplative prayer). Our acts of love in prayer give spiritual power to our ministry and sustain it.

Hear the Invitation

Jesus invites every deacon to enter into relationship with him by opening our hearts to the outpouring of his love. In ministry, one always is responding to tangible needs, expectations or commitments ­— for example, serving on the altar, preaching, communion calls, RCIA, etc. Daily prayer time engages only the deacon and the Lord. It involves our response to his invitation to spend time with him in the privacy of wherever we prayer. Our choice to pray every day is an act of love in response to his love.

The reason we don’t pray is that we don’t have faith. We believe it is a better use of our time to work on our to-do lists. We succumb to the siren song of doing things at the expense of prayer. God does not take anything from us — including our time when we pray. He always gives to us in overflowing measure the wonderful treasures of healing, strength and direction when we pray.

Our Response

If we need to grow in our prayer lives, the place to start simply is to show up every day. Do it! Tell people that we are going to do it in order to hold ourselves accountable.

Are we praying enough and deeply enough? The answer can be found in asking ourselves if our prayer is the wellspring of our spiritual and ministerial life. Does our prayer life unlock the grace of the sacraments, give us encouragement, heal us of our woundedness and insecurities, give insights for preaching and ministry, etc.? In order for this to occur, we must put in the time. It is helpful to reflect on the spiritual giants who went before us — who shook the world through their ministries empowered by their prayer lives. In recent months I have heard two busy bishops share that they have committed themselves to begin their day with a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I honor them for this, and may we follow their example.

Our prayer lives are at the center of the battle, and we will need to persevere to reap the benefits. It will not be easy, and it is not supposed to be easy, because it is the narrow gate that will lead to holiness.

In this process, we should seek out good spiritual direction and avail ourselves of the rich spiritual tradition of the Church.

Ask for the Grace

When we need to renew our lives, we should ask for a renewed gift of the Holy Spirit.

Pope St. John Paul II, during a general audience, gave a meditation on Mary at Pentecost, which provides a central lesson for us. He pointed out that, at the Annunciation, Mary had the unique experience of the Spirit overshadowing her. And yet, Mary was present at Pentecost, praying for the gift of the Spirit for herself and for the community. Why, asked the pope, would it be necessary for Mary to pray for a repeated and reinforced outpouring of the Holy Spirit in her life? The answer, he indicated, is that Mary needed a “renewed gift of the Spirit” to fulfill her new role as Mother of the Church.

‘Constant Dialogue With Jesus’

“Dear deacons, this is a grace you
can implore daily in prayer. You can
offer the Lord your work, your little
inconveniences, your weariness and
your hopes in an authentic prayer
that brings your life to the Lord and
the Lord to your life. … In this way,
available in life, meek of heart and in
constant dialogue with Jesus, you will
not be afraid to be servants of Christ,
and to encounter and caress the flesh
of the Lord in the poor of our time.”

Pope Francis, homily, May 29, 2016

As deacons, we continually are in need of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit to meet new challenges and to experience growth. If we need a renewed prayer life, we should ask for a renewed gift of the Spirit.

Our love of God is central to a life of prayer. St. Teresa of Ávila said: “In prayer, what counts is not to think a lot, but to love a lot.” The love of God is not something we can conjure up on our own. A deep prayer life will only happen with a renewed gift of the Spirit that will set us on fire with the love of God.

It is in our daily prayer times where the battles will be won or lost. This unfolded in my own life years ago when I was serving on a committee that was addressing issues that would greatly impact the life of the Church in our area.

There was a priest on the committee who, from all appearances, was deliberately undermining our efforts for selfish concerns. I became profoundly angry at the priest and, even more significantly, was tempted to become cynical concerning the life of the Church on our local level. I am not proud of this, but it was the reality of my situation.

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One day during prayer, I experienced what can only be called a direct intervention of God’s grace. I was overcome with an outpouring of mercy from God that empowered me to love this priest — and all priests. The experience truly changed my attitude and, indeed, my whole life. It allowed me to become, at least to some degree, a source of encouragement and healing rather than a source of criticism and pain.

If we do not pray, we will not succeed, and we will be at the mercy of the forces of sin, confusion and discouragement that arise within our own hearts or come against us from without. If we do pray, we will avail ourselves of the mercy and power of God himself.

Please pray my brothers. Everything depends on it!

DEACON RICHARD ADAMS was ordained in 2012 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, where he serves as the formation director for the diaconate