Saturday, July 15, 2017

One year as deacon

I have been a deacon for one year.

On July 15, 2016, I was ordained a permanent deacon for the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. On June 13, this year I celebrated ten years serving in the diocese, first as a lay missionary and now as a deacon. What’s different?

Continuing my service

In many ways, I find myself doing the same as I did before ordination.

 I am the main person responsible for the formation of catechists and youth leaders in the parish. I help in the formation of Delegates of the Word, extraordinary ministers of Communion, and base community leaders. 

catechist training
I also prepare materials for parish and other events. I’m working with two young priests on materials for next year for base communities, based on the Sunday lectionary readings. I prepared material for the Corpus Christi processions.

I visit the sick and elderly a bit more than in the past, bringing them communion. I also make greater efforts to visit more communities on Sundays that don’t have a Communion minister to lead Celebrations of the Word with Communion. Our pastor sent me to some communities for special Ash Wednesday celebrations, for a Holy Thursday Celebration with Washing of the Feet Communion in one town, and a Corpus Christi procession with Celebration of the Word and Communion in a remote sector of the parish.

Corpus Christi altar
I continue my concern for the social needs of the parish. I continue to oversee the scholarships for Maestro en Casa, a weekend middle and high school program. I also have been serving as liaison between a newly formed coffee producers association which is exporting coffee to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa. 

With the El Zapote Coffee Association
I have also begun trying to revitalize the social ministry in the villages and sectors of the parish.

What’s new?

I preach often. I usually try to accompany our pastor for at least one of his five Sunday Masses and often for Masses during the week. He usually asks me to preach – to give him some rest.

I have done a good number of baptisms, most often during Mass. I have had one occasion to baptize a group from a nearby village outside of Mass.

I have done one wedding – but our pastor will be having me participate in the interviews for those wishing to be married in the church and then will unleash me to help him with some interviews.

What else?

Most of all I feel a call to deepen my commitment to the poor and see it in light of the Eucharist.

I have served as a deacon at a number of diocesan events:  diaconal ordinations, the Chrism Mass, and, most significantly for me, the diocesan Mass to commemorate the canonization of Mother Teresa. At that Mass, as I purified the chalice, being careful not to leave even the smallest fragment behind, I looked out at the assembly and saw children from Amigos de Jesús, a home for children who are orphaned, abandoned, or come from extremely difficult situations. I recalled that I should be as concerned about the very least of them – and of others – as I was of the particles of Jesus in the chalice. In both I encounter Christ in His most vulnerable and powerless form.

I also feel a call to get out of myself more and visit the sick and elderly. I tend to be an introvert – one person here called me a hermit. But when I do visit I find myself being consoled, even as I try to console the sick. Being present to them in their need and, at times, helplessness opens me to the consolation which Christ offers to me. Being able to bring them Christ in the Eucharist is a privilege that cuts through any notion of rote in terms of communion and assisting at Mass. It also reminds me that Christ loves to be present with the people in times of distress.

Taking communion to the parents of Juan Ángel. He died a few months later of pneumonia.
I also find myself reflecting more on the relation of the deacon to the Blood of Christ and the witness of the martyrs. The deacon is, in a special way, the minister of the chalice, the Blood of Christ. After my ordination I have asked our pastor to allow me to hold the chalice when we distribute Communion by intinction – even if an extraordinary minister is distributing the Host. This has been our custom; I am there to hold the Blood of Christ so that it may be shared with others (and by others.)

The Blood of Christ reminds of a very specific call. When I raise the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, I often feel the call to give my life, my blood, for God’s people – not necessarily being martyred, but definitely by pouring myself out for the people, especially the poor. Recently at a Mass at which Padre German recalled the witness of the bishop martyrs Monseñor Romero and Monseñor Gerardi, I felt tears well up within me as I raised the chalice. Am I willing to give my life every day for God’s people, especially those endangered by poverty and violence?

I find myself being called to be more available, disponible – to use the phrase of Gabriel Marcel. I need to be more open to others’ needs, especially when I am preoccupied with my concerns, my comfort, my convenience. I was moved and challenged when I heard of a Salvadoran permanent deacon who is working in gang-ridden neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I feel so small and cowardly when I think of his openness, his availability, his risking his life for people on the margins.

Related to this, I find even more joy in just being here, accompanying the people – whether it be at a church event or when I’m working in the parish coffee field with other people or helping dig a ditch in Plan Grande. 

This provides me a chance to get to know people on a more personal level. It also gives me the opportunity challenge people. I don’t know how many young people I have urged to get married in the church. I used to do it before I was ordained, but now I tell them that I could preside at their marriage! What is a real gift is that I can do this in a way that doesn’t make them feel demeaned. Many of them even get the serious aspect of my challenge, especially in a very light way.

Preaching is at times a challenge – especially when I try to get the right words in Spanish to express what I am thinking. At other times a message comes to me that I would have never thought of – pure inspiration from the Spirit. At times, though I have prepared a text, something happens and I am able to connect it more directly with the people at the moment of preaching. Other times, I start preaching and don’t really have to think about what I’m saying. I do, however, try to preach for less than ten minutes and to get to the point as clearly as possible.

Preparing for preaching has at times been filled with blessings. I often read the Sunday readings a week before and then try to let the readings penetrate my heart. At times I have something prepared but when I wake up I spend a few minutes in bed thinking of the readings – and a new message comes to me.

But one of the deepest experiences of this year has been being present at funerals. I find that God gives me words of consolation and compassion that I never thought I’d be capable of. One of my hardest funerals was for a couple who had been machete in their home. Our pastor called me early in the morning and asked me to preside at the funeral later that morning. As I tried to prepare all I could think of telling the people was to put all – the pain, any desire for vengeance, the feeling of powerlessness at the foot of the Cross. I still cannot believe that I was given such words of comfort and challenge.

What next?

The question is how can I serve better – serve God and those at the margins. The words and example of Pope Francis continue to sustain and challenge me.

For me, one of the critical aspects of this challenge is to bring the joys and sorrows, the griefs and anxieties of the world, especially the poor to the table of the Lord and from that table go forth with the love and compassion of the Lord to serve at the table of the poor.

A phrase from Father Paul McPartlin that I read while discerning the permanent diaconate resounds in my heart:
“The deacon stands at the altar and prepares the gifts with clean hands, but he stands also where the practical need is greatest, getting his hands very dirty.”  
May I continue to get my hands dirty, may I continue to get my shoes muddy, as Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, 45:
“[The missionary heart] realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”

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