3 out of 4 stars
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“Life doesn’t unfold as we plan. We all live unexpected lives in one way or another. But sooner or later, we have to decide how we are going to make the most of the unexpected life.” This quote by Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly aptly reflects the life of author Thomas Fargnoli. In his book The Deacon: An Unexpected Life, Fargnoli shares his lovely, logical, and often lonely life as he reflects on his call to the Catholic diaconate and the heart-wrenching decision he made to leave this ministry after the unexpected death of his wife. The life events in this book are true, but the author (Tom in the book) tells his story to a fictitious newspaper reporter, Rick. The story is written in the first-person narrative from the perspective of Tom.
The cover attracted me to this book. Intrigued by the mysterious man in the rumpled coat, I wondered what kind of turbulence this deacon had faced in his life. Although a storm was brewing, his swagger exuded supernatural confidence.
As it turns out, the resilient man on the cover may not be the deacon. After reading this book, I think he could be Rick. I wonder what you’ll conclude after reading The Deacon.
In three interviews with Rick, Tom shared his love for his wife, his family, and God. As he described his path to becoming a deacon, I enjoyed learning about the requirements for ministry work in the Catholic Church. The dedication of the diaconate is commendable, but through Tom’s story, I also see how the rules placed on this group can be burdensome and contradictory. Tom was honest and gracious in telling his story.
One thing I did not like about the book was it got bogged down in details occasionally. For example, Tom was telling Rick about writing a letter to Pope Francis, and he brought the letter out to show him. At that point in the book, the letter was inserted in its entirety. Tom had just described the letter and events surrounding it, and reading the actual contents of the letter felt redundant. Other letters, cards, and homily outlines were also included verbatim in the text. While they added a level of authenticity, it would improve the pace of the story if they were moved to an appendix.
Tom incorporated his experience as an engineer, teacher, and magician into his role as a deacon. Surprisingly, magic was a valuable part of his ministry. He performed a few magic tricks for Rick and shared stories about how magic relaxed the people he visited, especially those in the hospitals. He even included magic tricks in his training on the seven sacraments. Throughout his interview with Rick, Tom explained ecclesiastical terms and scriptures as he illustrated a point. It would have been helpful if he also shared how he reconciled performing magic tricks with Bible scriptures such as Leviticus 19:26 and Galatians 5:19-21, which describe sorcery as sin. Some thought-for-thought Bible translations even use the word “magic” regarding sorcery. The difference between the references in the Bible and his entertaining craft was not an issue for him in his ministry, but using magic tricks as part of a teaching on biblical concepts was disconcerting to me.
I rate The Deacon 3 out of 4 stars. I deducted one star because of the number of grammatical errors and also because of the excessive details previously mentioned. The grammatical errors were not distracting, but another round of editing is suggested. This is a thoughtful, honest account of a man who loves God and believes God wants him to enjoy a life not only spiritually fulfilling but also physically and emotionally satisfying. I recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs and to those interested in a glimpse of the life of a Catholic ex-deacon. There is a recurring theme of suicide in the story, so readers sensitive to this topic should consider skipping this book.
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