Feeling the weight

I am more aware of the weight of this vocation midway through my fourth year in the formation program. Assuming things progress normally, the day we must put into practice the ideas and concepts we have been studying approaches and seems to approach faster. Jon Jenkins has been a blessing in this area, as his is the first Scripture class we have had where the default position is not skeptical on questions of authorship or historicity. We’re not going to preach to a bunch of Bible intellectuals, and Jon makes the point that we are studying to preach the Gospel not write articles for scholarly journals. That shift brings the reality of being a deacon into sharper focus.

I am more involved in liturgy in my parish, and my parish has a LOT of liturgies. I have been studying with Deacon Whitney on how to serve as Master of Ceremonies. With Passion Sunday, the Chrism Mass, and the Triduum, Holy Week was a whirlwind of activities in which I had an important part and one of responsibility. People were looking to me for leadership in an area where I was uncertain about what exactly I should be doing. So I felt that weight in the liturgical setting.

I am now involved in wedding prep, working with couples to get their paperwork completed in time for their weddings. But it is more than a paperwork job, I have responsibility to help these young couples confirm their desire to have a Catholic wedding. So many of them really do not know their faith. So many of them reject (in their behavior) so much of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. I feel the weight of sharing the good news of those difficult teachings while not just rubber-stamping their desire to have a Catholic wedding ceremony.

Between the parish work of helping couples prepare for marriage and helping the people participate in the liturgy, I am very aware of the need for people to do this work. As people in my parish become increasingly aware of what I am doing, I feel and hear their support and thanks that I would give my time and energy for them and the parish. Though I might have been less aware of it at the beginning of this formation process, I see very clearly that the vocation is not focused on me and what I want to do. It is about the work that needs doing. I may not get to do much of “what I like to do” because the need may be elsewhere. But I don’t really have a choice other than to respond to the need or not. It is all about service to God and his people. Not getting to set the agenda is another weight I feel, for I am nervous about my ability to the work and do it well.

Watching what has happened to Chris as he moved from “Man in Formation” to “Deacon” shows me how quickly things will change should I be ordained. My sense of our class is that we actually like each other quite a bit. I know I am very fond of these brothers of mine. But it will be very hard to keep up with each other after ordination. Chris shows up for the liturgy and does his job and moves on to the next thing. I think that’s exactly what is happening for Bill at Prince of Peace and for John at St. Michael the Archangel, so those good friends just don’t get to see each other much anymore. I’ll miss not seeing Tony and Lenny and Ron and everyone else twice a month, so there’s another kind of “weight” I feel.

Believe

When the earthquake shook the prison where Paul and Silas were being held, the jailer despaired of his punishment for letting them escape. But they refused to escape, and so he asked what he must do to be saved.

They answered him, “Believe.”

I believe the sun will rise each morning and set each evening. That belief is so strongly held, I order my life around it.

I must reorder my life if I truly believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That is what Paul meant when he said, “Believe.”

Egoism

When Moses meets God in the burning bush, he asks his name. God responds, I AM WHO AM.

When John the Baptist sees that Jesus is the Messiah, he says I must decrease that He may increase.

Our use of the first person singular in our conversations may be a handy indicator of how much we are giving into the religion of egoism that this world worships.

If He is the great I AM, then I must not be. Can I live that in my daily life?

Christmas is Coming

Brothers and Sisters, as we continue the season of Advent, a season of preparation for the coming of the Word as a baby born in a manger because nobody bothered to find a room for an expectant mother, we are reminded to discipline ourselves with patience. We need patience because we know not the hour. We need patience because “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” We need patience because God is patient with us, giving us time to prepare for his coming at the end of time.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Church celebrated the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We celebrated the end of time, when Christ will reign in Heaven with all those who are saved, and the Heavenly Banquet will be an eternal feast. We celebrated the Day of Judgment: that day when each of us will go before our Maker and be judged as sheep or goat, passing to the right or the left according to how we accepted the gift of salvation offered to us during our lives. When St. Peter says “the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar,” this is what he is describing.

We each receive our particular judgment at our death. When we die, we are headed to one of two destinations. One destination is very, very good: it is blessed communion with our eternal loving Father. The other is exactly the opposite: eternity separated from love.

St. Peter exhorts the Christians in the first century — and us in the 21st — to live our lives in such a way as to ensure we reach the destination we said at our Baptism we desire. We are to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion.

The world we live in is not one of holiness and devotion. As we humbly prepare for the coming of the eternal King of the Universe as a defenseless baby born in irregular circumstances, the world races from mall to mall in desperate search of stuff to cram beneath the Christmas Tree in a pagan offering to the god of materialism. As we slow down in the season of Advent, the world accelerates in a climactic progression of Christmas parties at the office, at school, and at home. At precisely the moment when the world collapses in its easy chair, we proclaim Immanuel — the Anointed One of God With Us. As they sleep off the excesses of the shopping season, we celebrate twelve days of Christmas.

Our call to holiness, and our imperative for patience, applies in Advent toward those who know not that the day of the Lord will come like a thief. We must keep our low profile and our posture of humble obedience while the world competes for purchases like a fight in Filene’s Basement. And we must not judge those who do not see. In our observance of Advent, we may be the Bible for somebody who has never read it. In our patience and self-control, in our joyful waiting for the day of the Lord, we may bring somebody to Christ.

So, be patient, be holy, be loving — all in a spirit of joyful expectation for the coming of God in the flesh as a newborn at Christmas and as King of the Universe at the Final Judgment.

Baby Love

When we kiss a baby’s soft cheek, we are loving that baby.

Everybody can see that.

But love is more than one kind of expression.

When we wipe the meconium from our newborn’s bottom, we are loving that baby.

When we get up out of our warm bed and sit with the colicky baby in our arms because that is the only way he can fall asleep, we are loving that baby.

When we put the baby in his crib and shut the door and don’t go back in while he cries – sometimes bawls – himself to sleep, we are loving that baby.

Love is warm affection, but that’s not all love is.

Love is acts of service, but that’s not all love is.

Love is giving of ourselves to help another, but that’s not all love is.

Love is discipline when we need it even if we don’t like it, but that’s not all love is.

Love is infinite because God is infinite, and God is Love. The Infinite is coming soon to live with the finite. Love is on the way. The Baby arrives in four weeks.

Be ready!

 

The Church and Human Sexuality

We discussed in a recent class marriage and the Church’s explanation of its teachings on faith and morals in the area of sexuality, and it really hit me how different we approach these important cultural institutions. Fr. Tran explained that the three major teachings on sexuality in the 20th century were all responses to cultural milestones at the time: casti connubii was a response to the Anglican Lambeth Council that approved the use of artificial birth control by married couples, humanae vitae was a response to the Pill, and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teachings were a response to the cultural impact of the sexual revolution.

The Church understands the human person, the human body, and human relations so differently than does the broader culture. As men who might be asked to lead the faithful from time to time, we have to understand both perspectives. We all live in this broader secular culture, one that approves of promiscuity and sweeping away the consequences of it: broken marriages, sexual using and abuse, death from abortion or sexually transmitted dieseases. We feel broken and confused, yet we regularly resist the teaching of the best source for understanding, solace, and solution. As deacons, we will have to be deeply committed to the teachings of the Church – mouthing the words without embracing them will not suffice – while we are likewise deeply committed to the people in our parishes who reject in practice those teachings. While the bishop or pastor plays the role of shepherd, we men in formation and perhaps as deacons must play the role of sheepdog: running around the edges of the herd, yapping and nipping just enough to help the sheep return to the safety of the group and avoiding the dangers of being separated from it. This work is a work of love, even if it looks like barking and biting.

We have to become comfortable with discomfort.

As the miles go by

We used to drive from Atlanta to a lake house in Ontario Canada, which is a drive of 18 hours. There is a point during such a long drive that I would fully settle into the experience. I would cross the Ohio River at Cincinnati and realize I have already been driving for seven hours and I will spend four just in the state of Ohio before getting to Detroit for the crossing into Canada for the last six hours. The miles are clicking on by, but we still have a long way to go. I feel a bit like that at this point in the middle of year two as a Candidate in the formation program.

I have grown mentally and spiritually through this discernment and formation process. But the journey is only about half completed. My job is to take each day the Lord has given me and to use it as best as I can. Perhaps it is not a day but a particular class, or a project within a class. The variety of teachers and styles is rich and diverse. We have had one “repeat” in Fr. Tran, who taught us Logic as Aspirants and is now teaching us Moral and Sacramental Theology. It has been very interesting to interact with him as a Candidate/student, for he seems so much less intimidating than he did when I was an Aspirant. I don’t think he has changed; it has been me who has grown a bit more peaceful and letting the formation process do its work on me.

I have been working with Penny and Jose on how to work in a social justice ministry that is meaningful, for our social justice work should be more than hours in a log sheet. I find myself referring to so many phrases and themes that Deacon Gayle Peters employed during his JustFaith sessions. Like the complementarity of the male and female genders in a marriage relationship, I think I want a social justice ministry that focuses on the complementarity of the two major pillars of social justice: solidarity and subsidiarity. I’m very comfortable as a teacher, and there is such a need for multiple presentations of our social justice teaching, so that is certainly one outlet for me in this area. I also am looking for something that reinforces the core concept of solidarity: we may look different or have different cultural norms, but we are all ultimately the same because we are all God’s children. So I am reaching out to find groups in our diocese that are trying to promote solidarity. Somewhat connected with that, I realize I need to learn Spanish. In my own parish, we are so separated that it almost as though there are two parishes: the Anglo parish and the Latino parish. Maybe it is there that I am called to work on solidarity.

I have been talking with folks at the Chancery about the proper outlet for what my heart seeks in terms of a social justice ministry. Thanks to Ashley Morris and Leslye Colvin, I am being led to work on racial issues. I wonder how we can learn from the past in matters of institutional oppression of selected citizens so that Black Americans’ suffering in the past can have a redemptive quality. I realize that White Americans can be too quick to dismiss the issue as resolved now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. At the same time, no Black American today endures anything like what they endured 60 years ago. So how do we joyfully combine the battle won without doing injustice to the difficulty of the battle? How do men and women of different races find solidarity that celebrates their cultural diversity? I think it is another mystery of Christ, and I think it is one I must enter into.

I reflect on the social justice component of our formation process because I see it as a type for my overall formation as a deacon. I thought I knew a thing or two about social justice. I thought I was an official “good guy” for a variety of reasons. I might just have had a bit of pride going on! But God works through my pride and has gently opened my eyes to things I admit now I did not see then. He is gentle but He is a determined teacher. I don’t think this refining process will be limited to one part of our formation. I think God will keep working on me, smoothing out the rough edges, so that I can be a better servant to His people. Each time He opens my eyes a bit more, I see how poorly I see things when I do not rely on Him. In the classroom, in the parish, in extra-parochial apostolates, I find I am learning how much I have yet to learn.

We have a lot of ground yet to cover, and I realize I need every minute of preparation if I am to serve God’s people as they deserve. I am settling into my seat, I am not rushing to cross the finish line, I am trying to learn to see Him more clearly and just let the miles click on by.

Tradition in practice

We had two classes where the instructor was unable to be present. In both cases, Deacon Jose came in and talked with us about things. It was a gift like that of an elder brother telling his younger brothers a few of the important truths that might not be covered in organized instruction. He listened to the various questions and concerns aired. He offered advice and facilitated our sharing of experiences. As men already identified in our parishes as something slightly different than regular lay volunteers, we are a bit nervous about being unprepared to serve well. One question was how to use “the book,” which meant the Roman Missal. While there is not a class for deacons in formation on “how to use the book,” Jose said that is something we will find a way to cover. He said we could use part of lunch time to go through it.

Later, he spent time in our Liturgy class because Fr. Berny was ill. Again, he talked about what we must do in terms of understanding the rights and responsibilities of each of the instituted orders and eventually the ordained role of deacon. He pointed out that we must exercize our offices and duties but never forget our call to obedience and service, so we must work with our pastors and the various entrenched lay leaders with great charity and joy. It was refreshing to hear acknowledgment of some of the pressures and stresses men in formation have expressed to each other but are not covered in a classroom setting. Deacon Jose spoke with love, so there was no judgment, but there was great encouragement in what he said and how he said it.

Our teachers are a mix of laymen, priests, deacons and religious, and each vocation brings to the classroom valuable perspective and experience. Jose’s sharing and leadership was something wonderful: unexpected, full of love, full of encouragement, challenging, and something we should emulate to those who come after us. I need to be encouraging and helpful to the men in formation behind me, and if I am finally ordained as a deacon in the future I must return to share with the men in formation. This is “tradition” in practice: the children of God handing on to the next group what was handed on to them. Thanks to Jose’s gift of time and energy, I have a graphic example of “tradition” implanted in my memory.

Babies, not foetal remains

Every now and then comes along a news item that seems to justify Martin Luther’s conception of man as “snow-covered piles of dung.” To wit, British hospital trusts used dead babies’ bodies to heat their hospital buildings.

The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found. Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.

Even in “beyond the pale” stories like this one, however, the internal human orientation toward the divine law can be revealed:

Last night the Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr Dan Poulter branded ‘totally unacceptable.’

One hopes Dr. Dan finds the practice totally unacceptable on the basis of morality rather than on the basis of being newsworthy. Western culture is so far gone, we cannot know for sure.

The full story is here.