Diaconate is 'mighty act of God'

Saturday, April 14, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Deacon Joe Cerenzia Correspondent

In light of Bishop David Zubik’s recent call of a new class into the diocesan Deacon Formation Program, here is a look at one of the men currently serving in this ministry.

While working at St. Athanasius Parish in West View as the maintenance manager, little did Deacon Gary Comer know that God was about to add to his duties there.

He had worked at the parish since 1999, long before he was ordained a deacon for the diocese on June 11, 2011, and he has been assigned to “St. A’s” for diaconal ministry ever since.

“When then-Bishop (Donald) Wuerl first issued the call for a new deacon class in 2005, it was the furthest thing from my mind that the Lord may be calling me,” Deacon Comer said. “A personal invitation from my pastor, Father Bob Norton, first got me thinking about the possibility of becoming a deacon. After a time of questioning, many conversations, personal reflection and prayer, I decided to apply. I began the journey toward the diaconate to see if it was truly God’s call for me. I never could have imagined how my life would change.”

He had already established a connection with parishioners and staff at St. Athanasius through his work and as a member of the parish. He received the steady support of Father Norton and other priests there as well as from his family in nurturing and building up his diaconal ministry.

“In my diaconate, it was important to develop relationships with parishioners, personal care home residents, priests, deacons, our bishop, co-workers, and with everyone who is striving to be better disciples of the Lord,” Deacon Comer said.

“You cannot serve as a deacon in isolation; you need the support of your family and others,” he said.

At St. Athanasius, Deacon Comer serves alongside a classmate from his ordination class. “Deacon Bill Palamara and I are both assigned to St. Athanasius, and we respect each other in our assignments. Deacon Bill has many gifts, and he shares them generously.

“We get along well, and sometimes we will share in certain ministries together,” Deacon Comer said. “This enables us to grow in our faith and in our diaconates.”

Part of Deacon Comer’s diaconal assignment is to minister to the residents of nearby nursing homes, which is an especially cherished part of his calling. He and his beagle, Gracie, are a trained pet therapy team and visit nursing homes together.

“These good people really appreciate a friendly visit, some everyday conversation, and a little reminder that they are remembered and cared for by the Lord, and me, and Gracie, too — and they give me so much in return,” he said.

Deacon Comer believes that serving as a deacon has certainly enhanced his relationship with the Lord, especially since the diaconate is “a mighty act of God experienced by a person.”

He said, “Diaconal ministry forms a person in faith in Jesus. Growing in one’s relationship with Jesus is essential. Openness and trusting in God comes over time as we awaken to how caring and forgiving our Lord is toward each one of us.”

Deacon Comer encourages anyone considering the diaconate not to be afraid to pursue it. His advice is that even though you may have doubts, trust that God will lead you where he wants you to be.

“Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide you, and be quiet with the Lord,” he said. “A banner at our parish quotes a Scripture passage: ‘How shall I make a return to the Lord for all he has given to me?’ That about says it.”

Questions about diaconal ministry and the diocesan Deacon Formation Program may be directed to deacons@diopitt.org or 412-456-3124. For information, including the complete interview with Deacon Comer, go to www.diopitt.org/permanent-diaconate.

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