Deacon Gary Thomas Levy
We can’t tell God “not yet” forever
Q. How did you discover your vocation?
A. Growing up in a strong Catholic family, I was blessed to have my childhood filled with sharing in the lives of many priests, brothers, and nuns. They were frequent guests in our home, so experiencing their lived vocations and diverse personalities in a relaxed setting greatly influenced me in a positive manner. These were all “real” people who were relatable, with warm personalities. They had quirks like all of us. As a teenager, having been educated by the Christian Brothers for eight years, I briefly discerned a vocation with them. Simultaneously, my now-wife of forty years and I were high-school sweethearts. So, she “won” and provided the answer as to what my primary vocation would become.
I eventually came to learn I couldn’t tell God “not yet” forever. Though I may have casually considered the diaconate while working full time, owning my own business, and raising a family, it wasn’t until we were empty-nesters that my wife pointed out an upcoming information night about the permanent diaconate. Five years later, I was ordained. I may have been redirected as a teenager by my future wife only to have her guide me, as she often has, back toward God’s call decades later.
Q. How have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
A. I feel like I’m still in the infancy of my diaconate, having only been ordained three years, but the amazing number of good people that God has put in my path throughout the journey shouts to the mountaintops: “God is good all the time!”
I am always surrounded by living models of God’s goodness, from the marriages of my brother deacons, to those in the community with whom we do marriage preparation, to the witnesses of love, forgiveness, and service by so many in my parish. Like the ninety-eight-year-old woman who constantly exudes joy and never misses daily Mass and the religious whom I encounter who live lives selflessly devoted to the people of God. His goodness is watching the couples we’ve prepared for marriage as their families grow, observing during Mass a two-year-old caress his father’s face, or trying not to laugh as I watch four brothers wrestle during the sign of peace! All of their lives and service provide joy and hope for me and our Church, serving as a witness to God’s eternal goodness.
Q. How is your ministry an example of servant leadership?
A. Early in our formation, the concept of “radical availability” was repeatedly put before us to reflect upon. It was important to come to terms with that reality as part of taking on the role of being a permanent deacon. I have already lived this time and again in these first few years since ordination. Whether it’s the more mundane, like missing a grandchild’s birthday party, or getting called to the home of a parishioner whose husband died in his sleep—the call of this vocation takes many forms.
It is simple acts like providing the door code for the adoration chapel to a visitor of our parish and seeing her respond as if she’s been given a priceless gift. In fact, she had.
It was especially gratifying, comforting, and humbling to be Christ the servant at the bedside of my oldest sister in her last hours of life. To be there with my brother-in-law and their children, to laugh, cry, sing, and pray together gave us all peace. We took comfort in knowing her suffering had ended and she now rested in the arms of our Lord.
Q. What role does prayer play in your life?
A. Prayer for me is the “pearl of great price” barely peeking through from under the sand as I walk on the beach. I’ve discovered that pearl lies atop a mountain of undiscovered treasure. There is much more room in my life, in my longing to expand the growth of my prayer life…digging and exploring below that pearl.
The prayer time I share with my wife as we begin each day builds our sacrament of marriage. The seeds sown in prayer each evening with our children as they grew has yielded beautiful moments—evident now as we listen to our grandchildren’s intentions at bedtime and see the mastery of a two-year-old’s prayer hands at grace before meals.
The time I create daily for prayer is a mere fraction of what I want it to be. As work in my professional life starts to taper, I look forward to creating more time for prayer. I am always seeking resources and programs to enrich my prayer life. Practices that are foundational remain: eucharistic adoration, Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, and an annual retreat based on Ignatian spirituality.
Q. What personal sacrifices do you join to the sacrifice of Christ?
A. The estrangement from my only son and his family holds me in daily union to the sufferings of Christ. I can relate on a visceral level to the pain felt by many in my parish and ministerial life. As a person who is constantly aware of the multitude of blessings in my life, this particular thorn instills in me a deep sense of empathy and compassion for others in similar circumstances. The feelings of despair are balanced by my faith in God and trust in his goodness. It may be out of my control to fix, but I have confidence that the Lord will sustain me. It is not due to any punishment by God that this situation exists. The serenity prayer has become ingrained in my being.
Particularly painful for both my wife and me is the lack of relationship we have with three of our seven grandchildren due to this estrangement. This, too, I put in God’s hands to guide me as he sees fit. This is perpetually at the top of my daily prayer intentions. It provides faces to my morning prayer as I speak: “God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me.” And the prayer that closes my day is a simple: “Your will be done, Father.” And in between, the Holy Spirit provides frequent reminders and opportunities throughout the day for me to turn to prayer.