By Kathie Obradovich
One evening, my husband, Jim, casually mentioned that his priest had suggested he look into becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church. He thought it sounded like something he’d want to consider.
Sure, honey, I said, sort of absently.
Well, hold on, he said. The training is pretty significant — four years, including monthly weekend trips to a seminary in Missouri for classes, another monthly Saturday class in the Des Moines Diocese and a full week of summer school every August.
I thought it sounded like the National Guard, but I nodded. Whatever you want to do, dear, we’ll make it work.
Um, well, here’s the thing, he said. The wives of wanna-be deacons have to go through the entire training program, too. They have to attend all the seminary classes, do all the assignments, participate in the projects.
Suddenly, he had my full attention. Election season was in full roar, with the Iowa caucus campaign already ramping up. I was busy, busy, busy. I didn’t have time to study theology. I didn’t know what a deacon was. And I wasn’t even Catholic.
Four years later — last Saturday — Jim was ordained along with 12 other deacons at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. As I eventually learned, Catholic deacons are different from the church elders who many Protestant faiths elect. They can do many of the same things priests can do — baptize, preside at weddings and funerals, preach. Their special role, however, is charity. It’s a deacon’s mission to care for the poor, the elderly, the forgotten in society.
That’s not just the deacon’s mission. It’s everyone’s responsibility.
People ask me often why I was willing to join the Catholic Church, which I did in 2007, and go through all this study and work when women are not allowed to be ordained. Many of the wives in our class would have made excellent deacons. But the tools and skills we each received with our husbands will make us better wives and, in most cases, mothers, better daughters to elderly parents, better co-workers and friends, better Christians and better human beings.
Some church scholars think the Catholic Church will eventually find a way to ordain women as deacons. I hope and pray for continued progress on the role of women in the church hierarchy. But there’s too much work to be done to stand by and lament the church’s problems. White robes are too hard to keep clean, anyway.
This process hasn’t completely changed my views on religion in politics. I’m still wary of the role of religion in government. I still believe that it’s not the role of government to sponsor or promote one religion over another. I don’t think tax money should be spent for things like the Ten Commandments in marble on the courthouse lawn.
But I do believe there’s room for a greater role for community and faith-based service in addressing some of the societal problems that government does only partially or poorly. Problems like the abandonment of the elderly in nursing homes, the hopelessness of the poor, the neglect of children. I hope we can keep working on finding ways to increase our respect and tolerance for expressions of personal faith in public settings, including in politics.
I’ve been inspired by people who dedicate their lives to serving others and have begun to realize how much more we all can do. Here’s a little secret: Focusing on other people makes your personal problems fade into the background.
This experience has made me long to hear something more from our politicians — something that inspires more of us to look beyond ourselves and give service a try.
(Political columnist Kathie Obradovich can be reached at (515) 284-8126 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kobradovich. For more Obradovich columns, blogs and tweets, visit www.dmregister.com/Obradovich.)