Profiles: Deacon Dennis Lambert
“I receive more than I…will ever be able to give.”
Q. How did you discover your vocation?
A. For as long as I can remember, I felt that God was calling me to service within the Church. At age twenty-two I responded to the vocation of marriage by marrying Debbie, my high school sweetheart. I have been richly blessed and hope our God-centered marriage has served as a beacon for others.
Even still, through the next thirty years, I continued to feel God calling me to something more. Juxtaposed with this feeling of being called to something unknown was the awareness of my own sinfulness. I remember thinking: How I can ever do any more in the service of our Lord when I am so short in virtue? Chief on that list was humility.
Then, I was thrown hard off my proverbial horse. Someone I loved who I was very close to fell into the grips of a crippling addiction to drugs and alcohol. My idyllic life was shattered. I lived for a couple years in a state of heightened anxiety and fear. For the first time in my life there was something on my plate that I couldn’t control or fix. I finally took a knee and surrendered all to God. In the past I had applied lip service to completely surrendering myself to his will. But at that moment my surrender became real. I broke, he healed. I submitted, he sealed me in his arms and gently kissed the top of my head.
At that moment, I began to question with more urgency whether I should I look into becoming a deacon. I thought: Is this what you have been calling me to Lord? While I didn’t get an audible answer, my greatly humbled heart told me I should start discerning this vocation. Some six years later, I was ordained, and my loved one was healed beyond belief!
Q. How have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
A. Within my ministerial life I often feel as though I am a thief, meaning I feel as though I receive more than I have or will ever be able to give. The truth of the words attributed to St. Francis is profound: “For it is in giving that we receive.”
For the last eight years I have volunteered with our local Catholic hospice. While many believe that those entering into hospice have only days or weeks to live, the reality is some have a great deal of time left on this earth. Walking with them is such a blessing, I can’t even describe it. While I’m there to bring companionship, a few smiles, and, of course, our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I can’t describe what I receive from them. No words can express my thankfulness to God for bringing me into a relationship with the many people I’ve encountered.
Related to my hospice ministry is my work with families who have lost a loved one. People often question how I can do either of these ministries. I try to explain that at these sacred times—when we lose a loved one or are knowingly on our way from this life to the next—our hearts have the propensity to open wider than we’d ever think possible. We have the capacity to receive and hold within ourselves the presence of Christ. It is in these moments when my heart splits wide, receiving and realizing the beauty, love, and presence of our Lord. Being the hands and feet of Christ is a gift beyond measure.
Q. In what ways was your active ministry an example of servant leadership?
A. Whatever we do within the Church, clergy, or laity should be done with a servant’s heart. This is especially true when we find ourselves in positions of leadership. Whether it’s leading a men’s group, serving an administrative role in a parish, working with couples in marriage or baptism prep, I always strive to put the needs of others before myself.
While a big part of servant leadership is having empathy for those you lead, another key component is helping those you serve grow in their relationship with Jesus. I recognize that I play a minuscule role—compared to that of the Holy Spirit—in developing this relationship. Nonetheless, if I want to make a positive impact, I must pursue a path of selfless servitude.
Perhaps one of the best lines on servant leadership was delivered by St. John the Baptist two thousand years before that term was even coined: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Q. What return can you make to the Lord for all he has given you?
A. God has given me, has given us all, literally EVERYTHING. He has given me the things I love most in this world: my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my dogs, my talents, my hobbies, the desert and mountains where I live, and every breath I take. How do I not recognize this truth and respond with thankfulness and a full-throttle desire to return his gift by dedicating my life to his service?
How can we repay the Lord for all he has given us? Be willing to give everything back to the Lord. I realize how difficult that is, and I also understand how it may sound more like a cliché response than an actual call to action. So, what does giving our whole self look like? Here are three actions that, in my experience, help fulfill this endeavor.
The first is prayer. Prayer is our means of communication with God, and communication is how we relate to others. Without prayer, we can’t build a relationship with our Creator. Prayer is essential to my day. My routine includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours, reading Scripture/inspirational writings, and saying the rosary. Being retired, I often add serving at daily Mass to this morning routine. While I am committed to and love these practices, I recognize the need for even greater depth and intimacy in my prayer life.
The second way to return God’s gift is through service. Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). There is no greater sense of being fully human than to give of ourselves to another. If you want to be happy, serve Christ by serving others…it’s the ultimate win-win. You’ll help someone in need and gain a feeling that money, prestige, or knowledge can never touch.
The third way to return God’s favor is to share the truth of our faith. Two statements by St. Paul VI have been chiseled into my heart and propel me to proclaim the risen Lord. The first is more macro, “She (the Church) exists to evangelize.” The second calls out our personal need to share the Good News: “Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 24).
Although I’m a deacon and people expect me to proclaim the gospel, I realize I need to work on proclaiming the truth beyond Sundays from the ambo—to do it in my everyday life. Be bold, my friends. Look for ways to share the truth. Be it sharing your faith story with another, posting something Christ-centered on social media, pinning a holy card in your workspace, or inviting someone to Mass or another parish ministry. It is unthinkable for us who have found the truth to not share it with others.