Ramblings from us as we strive to live a holy life in the world, not of the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deacon Joe's homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You are the seed...so what is your mission?

(Note: by request from parishioners, I post my husband's homilies to my blog so that they can find them easily if they want to read them. This is his homily for today)

Jesus gives us little kernels, or seeds of his teaching today.  The teaching may be small in words like seeds but has great impact like a seed that grows to fruition.  In the first part of our Gospel reading, St. Mark shows Jesus telling us how a man scatters seed and the seed grows but he knows not how.  Then we see in the second part of the Gospel Jesus telling us how the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, very small, yet when it grows it becomes the largest of plants.  In these parables we can learn about both ourselves and also about our mission.  What does a seed have to do with us in our personal journey with Our Lord?  We are seeds (I mean that in a good way).  We can only grow to fullness with God’s help.  We need to fully trust in God in order for us to reach our true potential, become the “largest of plants.”  It is He who guides us, and believe me brothers and sisters, if you put your trust completely in Him, God will guide you to things you never dreamed of.  What does a seed mean to our mission?  Let’s review for just a second about our mission.  Our lives are wrapped in vocation and mission.  Who we are: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, priests, deacons, etc...WHO God wants us to be is our vocation.  Our mission is what God wants us to do: teach, preach, parent, visit, do liturgical duties, etc…  In our mission, whatever it may be, we scatter seeds.  Again, it is God who makes them grow.  Very often we don’t see the results of the seeds we scatter in our mission.  We don’t have the ability to see what’s going on inside of other people, and we don’t have the ability to see into the future either, to tell whether the fruits of our labors have been worthwhile.  This is also where we need to trust in God.  We also need to persevere.  Our spiritual journey is, unfortunately, not like a football game, where we can cross a goal line, spike the ball, and for some of us so inclined, do a little touchdown dance.  It’s just not like that.  God has the plan, all we can do is stay with Him and trust in Him, give ourselves to Him.  That is what he asks of us, and He will take care of the rest.
It is trust and faith that we also need to be able to deal with our world, our current culture.
There’s a story of man whose dog just passed, and he was looking for another canine companion:
This man visits a local pet shop. The owner tells him that he has a special dog that he might be interested in. “It's a talking dog,” says the owner. "No Way!" says the customer. "This I have to see" So, the owner escorts him to the rear room of the shop and points out the dog. "There he is. Go ahead and talk to him" and then leaves the customer and the dog alone.  "So you're a talking dog huh?"  "Why yes sir, I sure am."  Shocked, the man now hangs on every word.  "Yeah, when I was a little pup I lived in a fire station and rode to all the fires with the firemen. One day I rescued a little girl and the city called me a hero and gave me a medal.  Later on, I even got to go to the White House and met the President! After I rescued a whole family in another fire, I was sent to meet the Pope in Rome! Yes sir, I've sure had an interesting and exciting life!"

The man was dumbstruck and rushed back to the front of the pet shop.
"Well, did you talk to the dog?" asked the owner.  "Yes I did! It's simply amazing; why on Earth would you want to sell such a talented dog?"

The owner replied, "Well, he is a great talker, but he's a horrible liar!"

We can’t allow ourselves to be mesmerized by the messages our world sends.  Like the talking dog, the world can be very impressive, very entertaining in its message, but there’s a good chance the world is lying to us about who we are and what we want.  Through the seeds of our faith and growth from God, we need to be sure in faith and trust, that we’re evaluating the world’s messages by GOD’S STANDARDS.  We may see things on TV or hear things on the radio, or be talking with friends and/or colleagues, and how they speak or how they present themselves may be very impressive, they may be very convincing.  But are we listening to WHAT they say?  Our duty as followers of Jesus Christ, our duty as Catholics, is to evaluate WHAT is being said as compared to the truth of God regardless of how convincing or impressive that delivery may be.  To have complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and God, we need to look beyond our political parties, our favorite news program, our favorite talk show host and get to the heart of the matter and test everything against the light of God.  As Jesus gave himself for us on the cross, we are called to give of ourselves and that include putting aside our personal preferences to achieve the good of all. 
Speaking of giving of self and achieving the good of all, it is Father’s Day (weekend).  (Blessing?)  No doubt fatherhood requires much sacrifice, but that sacrifice does not go in vain, as their children benefit greatly from their presence and love.  Fathers sow the seeds of faith in the children.  Being a father myself I can tell you that we don’t necessarily see the results of our efforts, at least not in the here and now.  Our impact might never be truly known, but we can look to our children as they reach adulthood and hopefully be proud of them as they try to find their vocation and carry out their mission.
I’d like to take a minute and thank the Parish for seeing me through my first year as a deacon.  My ordination, if you’ll recall, was June 11th last year, and I can’t tell you how blessed my vocation and mission have been, so again thank you for all your prayers and support, you’ve all been so very wonderful.  A special thanks to my wife Joanne, the real brains and beauty of our whole operation.  Thanks to my children for being patient while their father is so busy sometimes, and to Fr. Kleppner, Fr. Mariusz, and Fr. Sam Esposito for all their help and support.  The diaconate is very much seed scattering also.  I don’t really ever get to find out what happens to the inmates once they leave, so all I can do is hope and pray that God has been able to reach them through me, and that their lives have turned to him.  Taking from today’s gospel, I don’t need to know, I just need to trust in God and dutifully carry out my mission, He will make good things happen.
In all of this, Jesus is pointing us to the best of all seeds, that being the Eucharist.  The Eucharist, what appears to be just a small wafer, is the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we take in and allow God to implant in us.  And if we allow God to do His work, He will make that seed grow to the fullness of life.  I can stand here and personally tell you that the vocations of father and deacon sometimes are not so easy, but I’ve never felt more of a sense of belonging and doing what God has truly meant me to do with this life.  It’s a beautiful thing.  So as we come to the table of the Eucharist today, I ask you to contemplate the seed, contemplate the growth that only God can make happen, and contemplate the beautiful life He has in store for you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Deacons: Understanding their assignments and ministry

On June 11th, we will celebrate the one year anniversary of my husband's ordination to the diaconate. Although I already reflected on how I am adapting to being a deacon's wife, I've noticed over the past year, how few people really understand the ministry of a deacon.

Several weeks ago, my daughter's instructor said, "my mom is really devout but she doesn't understand all this new stuff that the Church is adding like deacons." SIGH...I usually just say "read Acts 6." So there is still much education that is needed in that area.

But, I'm not really going to focus on the history of the diaconate or the catechesis of holy orders. I want to try to give a better understanding of what a deacon's ministry looks like. What we've found is that most lay people may understand what a deacon is, but they really don't understand what they do. It's not just the lay people either. When a priest asked my favorite deacon what day of the week he had off, he was surprised to hear my husband say, "I don't have a day off. I get a few hours here or there." Or when a priest texted my husband and was dismayed that his text wasn't returned for hours because my husband was in an extremely important meeting at work.

Even parish staff with theology or religious education backgrounds sometimes don't quite understand deacon's roles. When I remark about my husband having to take days off from work to attend clergy meetings, I'm met with "why would he have to go to those?"

I'd like to present a snapshot of a deacon's ministry. This is not necessarily the norm, but what it's like in our diocese. There are three aspects to the deacon's life, not including family:

1. Secular employment. Deacons are often seen as a bridge between the laity and the clergy. Although they are clergy, they are generally not paid by the Church unless they are employed within a diocese to work in some capacity that may or may not be related to the fact that they are deacons. Many people in our parish wrongly assumed that my husband would take on a paid position at our parish once he became ordained. In our diocese, deacons won't work for the parish where they are assigned for ministry and they won't be assigned to a parish if they are employed there.

In the United States, many view permanent deacons as retired and older. That perception tends to foster a belief that that is the norm. However, the average age of deacons worldwide is 40 years old. For deacons who are in their 40s or 50s, many are still working to support their families if they are married (yes, there are plenty of unmarried permanent deacons that take a vow of celibacy and married deacons likewise cannot remarry if their wife dies).

Because deacons have to work at secular employment and perform ministry in their off hours, they are often perceived as 'part-time' deacons. That is untrue. They are full-time or all-the-time deacons working 'in the world.' Many deacons will say that they find that their ministry flows into their workplace. They are often asked to counsel, defuse volatile situations, or extend blessings. My husband works in federal law enforcement and is often asked to bless agents.

2. Ministry of Service. The bishop assigns each deacon to a ministry of service. For some deacons, that is within a diocesan office or parish. They may facilitate RCIA, baptism or marriage prep. classes. For others, it may be institutional like ministering in a jail, hospital, nursing home, or homeless shelter. This is where the deacon spends the bulk of his time and is where the true work of his vocation is.

The name deacon comes from the Greek word diakonis which means servant. The real role of the deacon, as demonstrated in Acts 6, is as a ministry of service. As such, this is unpaid service. Typically deacons will spend about 10-20 hours a week between their ministry of service, liturgical ministry, and administrative aspects.

For the retired deacons, they often take on additional ministry assignments and many work almost full-time hours.

3. Liturgical Ministry. Every deacon is assigned to a parish or several parishes. In our diocese, many of the deacons have been assigned to their home parish. If they aren't, they are assigned to a parish that is geographically close to their home or work. Liturgically, deacons can baptize, witness marriages, bless objects, preside at funeral vigils and internments, and have assigned roles during Mass such as read the Gospel (as Minister of the Word), preach homilies, and distribute communion (as Minister of the Cup).

For many parishioners, confusion arises because they often don't understand the dynamics of the three roles. There may be a deacon employed at a parish as a pastoral associate or as a DRE but that deacon happens to be a deacon employed in that capacity, his ministry of service would be elsewhere. For a deacon who has a ministry of service outside of the parish, parishioners may not understand why the deacon isn't heavily involved within the parish. Also, many parishioners ask, "What are we paying that deacon anyway?" My husband often says he gets paid in Kit Kat bars that the pastor routinely gives to our two youngest boys.

There also can be resentment among parish staff that does the bulk of the necessary work within the parish. They may not fully understand why the deacon isn't around much during the week, but is there for a couple of Masses shaking hands with people on the weekend.

So what does my husband's ministry look like? First of all, he is employed in secular employment, which he intents to keep, barring any unforeseen circumstances, until he feels comfortable enough to retire in 15 years or so. He has no intention of taking anyone's job within the diocese as some fear. We are also a  single-income family. With a large family and a deacon's ministry, we feel that it's necessary for me to stay home and maintain most of the domestic responsibilities and for he to have a career that enables us to do that.

His ministry of service is as chaplain of a county jail. This is a ministry that, at the beginning of formation, he swore he would never want to do. But he has found that he is really called to it. He travels to the jail two or three times a week and does everything from communion services, Bible studies, RCIA lessons, individual meetings, and prayer services. As he says, he gives much of himself but he receives more from helping these men and women than he ever imagined. An added benefit is that he is able to spread the word about helping the inmates within our community. He has gotten donations for reading material and promises of help for those inmates once they are released.

Finally, my husband is assigned liturgically to our home parish which we've belonged to for the past ten years. That has been a blessing since the parishioners are our 'family.' Within the parish, he helps with RCIA, the Holy Name Society, CCD on occasion, facilitates the Catholic Men's Fellowship, and the liturgical functions of a deacon. He generally preaches a homily about once a month which requires a fair amount of preparation and assist at two or three Masses on a weekend. He is often asked to do funeral vigils and an occasional baptism. I imagine that may increase as time goes by. He has also taught classes within the diocese as a master catechist.

The diaconate is a vocation. Deacons aren't just glorified altar servers, they have a very distinct role within the Church. Hoping that as more people are exposed to permanent deacons, they will come to understand the role of a deacon.