A Catholic Deacon in Post-Abortion Ministry

(photo: Register Files)

Deacon Mark Armamentos serves as a Catholic Deacon in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.  In the following interview, we discover that within his calling to the Deaconate, Rev. Armamentos found another very special invitation from the Lord.

How did you come to discover God's call to the Catholic Deaconate?

For a couple of years many people, from various ministries I was involved with, asked me if I considered being a deacon, to which I responded “no”. After a person had asked me a couple times about it, I said I would pray about it, but nothing further came of it.

During a weekend retreat for teenagers, I was giving a talk about sharing our faith with others and proclaimed to the participants, “God is always talking to us, through our parents, friends, nature, etc. We just have to listen with open hearts.” As I said those words, I instantly realized that God had been talking to me through a number of people…but I had not been really listening. After talking it over with my wife and family, I came to believe that the call was genuinely from God and I decided to apply. On a funny note, my eldest daughter said, “Gee dad, it’s about time!”

The blessings since that time have been too numerous to count; my marriage is better and it was already very good, my love for Jesus has grown, my faith in Him has deepened, and my desire to serve more boldly than before has really blossomed. I look up to Heaven and say, “I am a dull butter knife Lord, but you can always make good use of me …as long as I am blessed to keep saying Yes!

You received another special calling to serve as a Deacon in ministry for those with abortion loss.  How did you make that connection?
There was an email from our diocese to all deacons asking if anyone would be available to serve on an upcoming Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. (My wife read it before I did.) Late that night when I read my emails, the invitation really grabbed my heart. I looked over at my wife and said, “Would you mind if, I…” and before I finished my request she said that she had hoped that I would feel called to go. Once I had her blessing, I responded and met the team a couple days before the retreat.

I felt overwhelmed at first, but believed that the Holy Spirit would guide me and use me to help in the healing process of the women and men on the retreat.

What was the retreat experience like for you?

The retreat itself was amazing beyond belief! I met women and men on Friday who were hurting and broken and I witnessed a transformation like the Lord’s Resurrection. Friday, and Saturday too, they moved through the suffering of their lives, as if moving through the darkness of a tomb. A lot of the past had to be addressed head-on; a lot of work had to be done.

But by Sunday, a transformation had occurred! These women and men were on the path towards healing. They believed that God loved them. They believed that God had forgiven them. They even began to believe that they could eventually forgive themselves. I saw parents who were again ready to begin to live lives of joy that God desires for them.

It was gut-wrenching to be so intimately connected with such grievous wounds.  It was one of the greatest blessings of my life to have been a part of it all, from pain, to more pain, through a river and then a veritable ocean of tears…and finally to a faint smile that blossomed into a bunch of radiant, glowing mothers and fathers, unburdened of years, even decades of torment.

Do you see post abortion healing and the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat as a good fit for the Deaconate ministry? What special advice would you have for those discerning service in this outreach?

The diaconate is foremost a ministry of service. Rachel’s Vineyard is not only a good, but it is a great fit for a deacon.  But it’s important to note that each of us has our special gifts. Just as with any ministry, sometimes it’s a good fit, other times there is another type of service that will be a better match.   

A Deacon in this ministry must be a man who is utterly trusting in the Lord, perfectly willing to be extremely uncomfortable, and be able to relate very well with women as well as men who are dealing with some intense feelings, often troubled history, and deep grief. God commissioned us to serve everyone but especially those of his sons and daughters on the margins of society. It is hard to imagine people more on the margin of society than those who shun themselves from experiencing joy, who exile themselves from experiencing love.

What is most rewarding about serving in Rachel’s Vineyard ministry?

Those who come to participate in these weekend programs are so brave to admit they need God and that they need healing; frankly, most of us need God desperately but we have not faced the crisis that these parents have and therefore we still mistakenly believe that we can “fix things ourselves.”  Seeing and getting to know women and men who know they need healing, who know they are broken, who sense somehow that God, and His mercy, and His forgiveness are what they need to heal is such a blessing. It is a great joy to see them go through the retreat and experience so much of God’s love through the Living Scriptures Exercises (special scripture meditations developed by Rachel’s Vineyard founder Dr Theresa Burke,) and sharing and listening to others who have shared a similar dark journey.

What is most challenging?

It is very hard to listen to the stories of these women and men’s lives. Many have been so abused, so unloved. It breaks my heart to hear how beastly some people can be to one another. And, yet, it is like the Cross; there is no around it, there is no way over it, there is no way under it… there is only through it. The women, the team, and me, we all must walk the painful journey, like the road to Calvary together; a road of bad choices and horrific consequences and yet this dark road leads to the blazing light of transformation on Sunday, just like Easter Sunday.

How are you received by the retreat participants?

Whatever their initial reservations might be seeing a man and Deacon on the team, the retreat participants very soon get a sense that I am a servant who is there to help them without judgment, with only mercy and compassion. By Sunday afternoon, the tears are joyous and the hugs are plentiful all around.

Do you have an opportunity to share your RV experience with other Clergy?  Has your Rachel’s Vineyard ministry experience influenced your preaching and if so how is this received by the parishioners?

I met with my pastor and my fellow deacons at my parish after each retreat to tell them how transformative it was not only for the participants, but for me as well.   I have preached a number of times regarding abortion and healing, always focusing much more on the healing. I was astounded by the reaction as many women and men came up to me and thanked me for speaking so boldly about this. Many women and men shared with me that they had abortions or participated in one or more; some had been on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat and said it had helped them tremendously and others said they would consider it. I received no negative responses at all.