On Friday, July 15, I was ordained a permanent deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, a diocese where I worked as a lay missionary since June 2007.
Now ordained, I feel more a member of this place and much less a missionary from without. In fact, I am now a member of the clergy of this diocese. My ministerial identity is as a deacon here – no longer as a missionary from outside.
But in some ways there is not a lot different in what I’m doing, especially since I’ve been living in a village in the parish of Dulce Nombre. I’m still preparing for training sessions for catechists; I’m still connecting with the youth leaders of youth groups and base communities; I’m still taking part in the parish council; I’m still bringing communion to the sick and occasionally to communities without extraordinary ministers of Communion.
But in many ways life has changed.
At Masses, I proclaim the Gospel, the Good News that sustains me and that offers hope to our people.
I have preached twice – last Sunday at the Mass of Thanksgiving and today at Mass in Concepción.
When I go visit the sick, I bring them Communion as I have before, but before leaving them I can bless them, in the name of the Church, with the Sign of the Cross. I am not blessing them from myself; but the blessing I can share is the blessing of God through the whole People of God gathered with the sick.
There is something about blessing people with the sign of the cross that I need to reflect on more.
People here are big on blessings. Often when a person encounters a god-parent, he or she will join the hands together and often bow before the god-parent who often places the god-child’s hands between his or her hands. The first time I saw this it struck me as a great sign of blessing and the importance of the relation between god-child and god-parent. What is especially fascinating is that the god-children are not only kids; I have often seen adults seek their god-parents’ blessings.
In light of this, blessing a person with the Sign of the Cross becomes for me an action that the community does, through me, blessing persons.
Toward I found this particularly poignant as I visited three ill people in their homes in Vertientes, after a Celebration of the Word with Communion with members of the community. In many ways, I felt blessed to be able to share God’s blessings with these elderly and ill persons in their poor houses.
But the big event was yesterday in Quebraditas. Even though Padre German presided at the Mass (the second of three he’d celebrated Saturday), he asked me to baptize the babies and little children at the Mass – all twenty of them. It was a new experience – squirming and screaming babies and proud parents and god-parents.
Again, it was a blessing to share God’s love with them through this sacrament.
This week promises some new experiences – including assisting at a Mass with First Communions.
But there was one other experience that stirred my heart.
The evening after my ordination, I arrived home and after talking with Phil who was visiting from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, I went up to pray.
For many years I have prayed parts of the Liturgy of Hours. I have tried every morning to pray Vigils from Benedictine Daily Prayer, followed by Morning Prayer in Spanish. I have tried to pray Evening Prayer in Spanish and at least parts of Night Prayer in English (accompanied by an Ignatian Examen.)
Now I have become more focused in praying these because at my ordination I promised to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours “in the name of the Church and, even more so, in the name of the whole community.” (The English translation speaks of celebrating for the Church and the whole world.)
That first evening as I prayed the psalms I had a sense that I was not just praying for the Church and the world but in the name of the Church and the whole community,
The psalms were not only my prayer; they are the prayer of the People of God and of all God’s people in the world. Though I may not be experiencing the joy or the desperation of a particular psalm, there are people in the church and the world who are filled with joy, or suffering from anxiety and despair. When I am praying, I am praying with them, offering their joys and sighs to God.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours thus becomes for me not only a way to praise God with the Church and the world; it is a way of being in solidarity with all God’s people; it is a way to accompany them in the presence of God – even accompanying those who do not know God or reject God.
So what is new about these ten days as a deacon?
I have a sense of the presence of God’s grace surrounding me and sustaining me.
I have a sense of being more connected with God’s people especially the sick and the poor.
I have a renewed sense of mission, of calling to accompany even more the poor.
I am challenged and encouraged by these words of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the universal Little Brother:
Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, silent virtues, practiced with no witnesses other than God, his friends and neighbors. Nazareth, the place where most people lead their lives. We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers… let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted as one of them.
That is what I pray that I may continue to learn.