Monday, August 31, 2020

A joyful witness to life and peace

In the midst of a bitter political campaign in the US that sees people failing to respect their opponents, presenting half-truths as proofs, and weaponizing issues, it might be useful to recall a young man of 24 years who died on August 31, 1982 – John Leary.

I met John a few times, mostly when visiting Haley House in Boston when I was a grad student at Boston College. He always came across as a joyful committed young man. He is, in my estimation, a real hero for our times.

Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy,
Born and raised in a Connecticut Catholic family, he came to Boston to study at Harvard, but he found himself working with the poor, sometimes sharing his room with them. He was an important part of the Haley House community which serves the poor.

John was also an advocate for peace, speaking out as well as protesting and being arrested two times at a Boston weapons lab.

He lived the seamless garment, also being arrested once at an abortion clinic.

He worked at the Pax Christi Center for Conscience and War with Gordon Zahn. He embodied the love of the poor, the advocacy of a seamless garment of life, and a nonviolent life. He lived the seamless garment of life.

But he was essentially a man of God. He used to pray the Jesus prayer as he jogged. He died, jogging home from the Pax Christi Center to Haley House – probably with the words of the Jesus prayer on his lips.

In the midst of all the hype of an election year, I think we ought to look to John, a man of faith and integrity. The issue is whether we are faithful to Christ Jesus and respond to Christ hidden in the poor and abandoned – from the drunk to the unborn child, from the immigrant to the battered woman, from the abandoned elderly to those who lack the food and medicine for a dignified life.

This demands not just a vote; it demands a commitment to encounter the other as sister or brother, to love our enemies as persons (even when we despise what they say or do), to be with those on the margins – not just with our words, but with our lives.

We are not all going to do this in the same way. For some it will be caring for elderly parents or children with special needs in the home. For some it will mean responding to persons with COVID-19 as a medical professional or as a friend who brings food. For some it will mean going out on the streets (observing protocols of biosecurity, of course) to advocate to immigrants or for black lives threatened by a culture and structure of racism and loathing of the stranger.

But, we ought to do this with love and joy – because we find ourselves rooted in a God of love – who has mercy on sinners, including ourselves.

John Leary exuded joy and peace. May he intercede for us in these dark times. And may we pray the Jesus prayer that he loved so much:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Recognizing our vulnerability

A few weeks ago a priest I know put a meme on his Facebook page – Situación post-Pandemia: “volveremos... y seremos más fuertes” The situation after the pandemic: “We will come back – and we will be stronger.” I commented, “Mejor - volveremos más conscientes de nuestra vulnerabilidad”. Better – we will come back, but more conscious of our vulnerability.”

The pandemic, the racism, the derecho in the Mid-West, and more are, I believe, signs of a spiritual crisis.

First of all, we are afraid of our vulnerability. We are afraid that we are not in control. We are afraid because we feel powerless.

This year, even before the pandemic, I was thinking about my vulnerability. I don’t like to think about it. Like some people, I like to think that I’ve got everything under control.

Last year a Guatemalan who was here with his family working in a nearby community began to drop by. His family had lots of needs, including an infant who was sick. I helped as I could. One evening early in January he visited me and told me about his situation. He was planning to go back to Guatemala for medical care for his infant son.. I gave him some Quetzales I had and a few Lempiras.

The next day I wrote this in my diary:
“During Mass, I recognized that I felt powerless in this situation. That is not bad; in fact, it might be the best and most spiritually healthy response. I cannot solve the problem – but I can be with those in desperate straits, commending them and me to God. In my weakness, God can work.”

About two weeks later, on a Thursday morning, someone broke into the sisters’ convent in Dulce Nombre, stole a ciborium, and scattered the consecrated hosts on the ground. I led a prayer in the morning and then, since there was no priest available, I led a Celebration of the Word with Communion in the evening. In my homily I reflected on the vulnerability of Christ in the Eucharist. Nothing is more vulnerable than a small piece of bread, even when this bread is the Body of Christ. And Jesus is God made flesh, God made vulnerable, even unto death.

In the midst of all this I was going through some personal difficulties. I was feeling isolated. I felt that decisions were being made that affected me and no one spoke to me about them. I faced situations where I was not in control.

At the end of the month, the day after I met on Skype with my spiritual director, I came home to a truck load of sand blocking the way to my house. I was frustrated; another case of people doing things that affect others and not saying anything. I remembered what my director had just told me: when you feel frustrated at the injustice you perceive or the lack of consultation, remember the poor – how they suffer and are treated. My vulnerability and lack of control is nothing compared to what the poor suffer every day.

A few days later, at the beginning of March, I was in a meeting where someone in authority spoke for more than an hour and a half, pure stream of consciousness. I recalled what my director had said. I recognized that what I’m experiencing is almost nothing in comparison with what the people suffer. I felt deep compassion with the people in the aldeas.  The oppressive, demeaning approach, the neglect I feel from some authorities is nothing compared to what the poor suffer. As I wrote in my journal, “I’m learning from identifying with the poor.”

This has sustained me and helped me to live in the isolation of the quarantine.

In the midst of vulnerability, I believe, as I wrote on Easter Monday:
We are experiencing the insecurity which the poor suffer all the time.
How will we respond?
How do we respond?
How do the poor respond? – resignation, resentment, organization, solidarity.
Will we isolate ourselves and try to live as secure, separated atoms, or will we build the community of solidarity?

Wearing a mask reminds us that we are vulnerable. I believe that many who refuse to wear masks may be motivated by the fear of looking vulnerable. Isn’t it paradoxical that some of those who refuse to wear masks, which they say reflect fear, carry not only pistols but more powerful weapons. What are they afraid of?

And when people come out in peaceful demonstrations, demanding justice, why do governments respond with massive displays of tear gas and violent force?

A few days ago, some people, fed up with the corruption in the abuse of money meant to aid in the pandemic, came out at night and painted a major highway in Tegucigalpa with the slogan: “¿Dónde está el dinero?” – Where’s the money?

The government reacted. They tried to cover up the slogan and then they tried to blot it out using burnt motor oil. That didn’t work. And people came out and repainted the slogan – in broad daylight.

The seemingly powerful are afraid of their vulnerability.

I wonder if some of those who came out against the Black Lives Matter demonstrations act because they are afraid of their powerlessness, which is not due to any black mobilization but to a government and economy that don’t care for the poor, not matter what race. Pitting the poor against the poor is often a tactic of the powers that be.

(Note, I am speaking about the people who came out to denounce the racism, not any organization.)

Just this week a derecho, a storm with intense winds, devastated Iowa and other parts of the Mid-West. Buildings collapsed, trees fell. Some people have been without electricity for more than three days.

 We are afraid of our vulnerability.

We are afraid that we will be like the poor.

We forget that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10.} And the words of the psalmist make no sense to us: “The helpless entrust themselves to you, for You are the helper of orphans.” (Cf. Psalm 10: 14.)

We have a spiritual crisis – we don’t want to remember that we are human, incomplete, vulnerable. We want to be like gods.

Beware. Beware of thinking that we can go back to the way things were before. Beware of thinking we can come out of this “stronger.”

I fear that if we are not aware of our vulnerability, we are in for some serious problems – personally, socially, and politically.

If we think we can get out of this alone, we are gravely mistaken. 

I learned this just this week. The connection to my battery melted and I was stuck. But someone came out, found a new connector and helped me get the car started - and refused any money! We need more people like this man.

Above all, what we need is solidarity, recognizing that we are in this together. 


Thanks to two friends inIowa who gave me permission to use their Facebook pictures.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Saint Lawrence deacon

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, who was executed on August 10, 258.

Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome, entrusted with care of the goods of the church and serving the poor. He was not killed with his bishop, Pope Sixtus II, and the other six deacons, on August 6.

According to the tradition, he was called to bring the treasures of the church to the prefect of Rome. He sold the goods of the church and gave them to the poor, the widows, and the sick. Then he showed up with these outcasts before the prefect and proclaimed: “These are the treasures of the church.”

The prefect was not pleased and proceeded to have Lawrence killed.

What does this tell us deacons?

Where do we seek our treasure? Do we assist those at the margins of society? Are we identified with them? Do we know their names? Would we know where to find them if we were called upon to present the treasures of the church to the authorities?

The diaconate is not limited to the altar, to an exclusive sacramental ministry. We have a role in the liturgy, but we do not stay there. We are called to be signs of the Good News of Jesus to the world in our daily lives and to assist those who are neglected or despised by the powerful.

We bring the needs of the People of God to the altar and we go forth from the altar with Good News, bringing hope to the corners of the world where we love and work and assist those in need.

In this way, we can be servants of God, promoting the Baptismal call of all the People of God to be signs of the Reign of God in the world. We do not do this alone; God works with us through and with all the People of God.

We serve in the Church, with the Church, and through the Church – for the world.

print by Ade Bethune

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Deacon reflection 7

I never thought I’d be doing this

I have been a deacon for a little more than four years. There have been a few highlights during those times, but I’d like to write about what have been two areas of my diaconal ministry that have moved me. They are also areas where I am surprised by my way of connecting with people.


With only one priest in the parish, who tries to visit all the more than forty-five villages in the parish every two months, there are times when he cannot be present for funeral Mass. In many villages, a Delegate of the Word presides at a Celebration of the Word, There are not many who seek a Mass or a Celebration with Communion, outside of the main towns in the parish.

I have made myself available for funerals and, at times, the pastor or a delegate of the Word calls me to come. There is not much time for preparation, since people are usually buried within twenty-hours of their death. Often I don’t know the person who died, though there have been times when I had visited the deceased, bringing them communion.

Being present in times of loss is important. I try to say a few words of comfort and of hope. But there is a line in the prayer in the funeral rite that touches me almost every time I preside.

As the family gathers around the casket to pray the final commendation, the church prays:

“May the Lord be merciful with our brother/sister, so that, free from death, absolved by his/her sins, reconciled with the Father and carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, he/she may merit to enjoy the eternal joy of the saints in the entourage of the eternal King.” (My translation).

Often I ask the family to visualize their loved one on the shoulders of Christ the Good Shepherd or held like a child in Christ’s loving arms.

Many times I have been asked to pray in the homes where they have been waking the body of the person who died. I usually do a short Celebration of the Word  with one reading and the rites of commendation of the body. 

Often there are many people - in the room where the coffin is and outside - to accompany the family. These times of prayer can be extremely moving and it is important to be there. Earlier this year I prayed beside the small coffin of a still born infant. 

Marriage preparation

Though I have been helping in the Dulce Nombre parish for years, I didn’t notice many sacramental marriages until last year.

I’m not sure why there are so few couples married in the church. Some possible reasons might include one or more of these:  fear of the commitment of a sacramental marriage; the cost of a civil marriage (since a sacramental marriage cannot take place without the civil marriage usually witnessed by a mayor); the expectations of a costly celebration; the lack of invitation by local church leaders – some of who only castigate people for “living in fornication”; not a strong sense of dating; the lack of a culture of marriage; many years without the presence of priests in rural villages except for a few times a year; and more.

Yet I often encourage couples to get married in the church. I have often seen young men around the church door while their wives are inside with one or two kids. I jokingly ask them if they are married and when they say know I gently urge them to consider this.

The process might be a bit daunting. The couple meets with the pastor, then they have about three months of weekly meetings with a couple in their village. Then there is the interview of the couple as well as two witnesses, who know the couple. They also have to be married civilly before their church marriage.

Since my ordination, I have been doing the final interview. This interview, with two witnesses, is to see if they are ready for the sacrament and also to see if there are any obstacles to marriage. At times this has been perfunctory. But recently, I have been finding it inspiring.

In one distant village – one hour by car from my house – six couples began meeting at least a year ago, reflecting on their faith and talking about getting married in the church. At first, they got some flak from the church leaders in their village who didn’t like the idea of people in fornication meeting together without a designated church leader. I, on the other hand, was delighted that some people were taking the initiative. Finally, the local leaders did not resist the formation of these couples in preparation for the sacrament of matrimony. But then the pandemic and the lock downs came.

As I got permission to go out on ministry Mondays through Fridays, I told the communities that I would come out and do the interviews in their villages. So far I have done eight interviews. In a few cases, one of the spouses is not baptized. I’ve met with the unbaptized to follow up on preparation in their villages. I’ve baptized one young man a few weeks ago a few days before his wedding. I’ll be baptizing two women in the next few weeks, the day before five couples are married in their village.

It has been so good to talk with these and try to help them see the presence of God in their relationships and, in many cases, their children.

Though I don’t preside at the celebrations of many marriages, these encounters are a real part of my diaconal ministry.


These two areas of diaconal ministry are really important. People need to feel the presence of the church in their lives – accompanying them in times of loss and in times of joy.

They are not alone. The Church is with them – and values them. The Church wants to share their sorrows and their joys.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Deacon reflection 6

 What’s different, being a deacon?

A few months after I had been ordained, my pastor asked me what was different.


Not much, I told him.


I was continuing my work in visiting communities on Sundays for Celebrations of the Word with Communion as I had been doing for years. I was continuing to visit the sick and bringing them communion. I continued working with catechists and helping to organize the social ministry in the various communities.


There were some differences in the way I presided at Celebrations of the Word with Communion and in how I visited the sick. The most obvious difference was that I was giving a blessing to those I encountered.


There were a few new things. I baptized a few times and presided at funerals.


I was a member of the clergy.


As such, I had a position within the church. I was ordained for the order of the community, in my case to image Christ the Servant.


But a real difference for me was that I was no longer a “free agent.”


I had come to Honduras as a volunteer and offered myself to the bishop to serve as he saw fit. But I was a volunteer. I had no contract. I had no official commitment. I could leave when I wanted.


But ordination meant that I was no longer a volunteer. I had a role in the church as a deacon. I couldn’t, without permission, just get up and leave. I had been called and ordained for a specific service in this local church, the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras.


Now, I’m here as one with a particular ministry in the diocese. I’m no longer here on my own.


This isn’t a privilege, nor an honor. It’s a calling to live out.


Before my ordination, I had been serving in the church and the world. But now I’m expected to do this because of being called in a different way.


This doesn’t mean that all the baptized are not called to serve. That’s part of who we are as persons baptized into Christ who is prophet, priest, and king (servant), as the rite of anointing with chrism after Baptism notes.


This is who I am now, not above anyone, but commissioned, ordained, to serve the People of God in a special and visible way.


All of us who are baptized are also called to live as Christ, as member of His Body. Before we were baptized, if we were baptized as adults, we may have been living as Christians. But, by baptism, we are doing this publicly, commissioned to do this – not because we want to, but because of who we are.


And so, I am now called to serve, not because I want to, as a free agent, but as I am – called to be an Icon of Christ the Servant in the world, at the service of the People of God, especially the poor.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Deacon reflection 5

 Dachau and the prophetic role of deacons

The first thing I read after Bishop Darwin Andino asked me to consider the diaconate was an article by Deacon William Ditewig in US Catholic. (Source noted below.)


In that article, which is well worth reading, he noted the recent origins of the permanent diaconate in the priests’ barracks at the Dachau concentration camp. More than 2,500 priests, as well as Orthodox priests and a bishop and Protestant clergy were held there. I wrote about this shortly before I was ordained in this blog post.


In Dachau, several priests began discussions about the church, concerned that, in the face of World War I and the rise of Nazism, the Church had not been as aware and forthright as it might have been. Having deacons, who were involved in their “mundane” occupations, might be a way for the institutional church to be more aware of what was happening – not just in the political sphere but also in the daily lives of the faithful.


I see this as one of the most important aspects of the restored diaconate, one that I fear is not always practiced.


The permanent deacon has, most often, a family and a job “in the world”. I am an exception, being single and working in the church.


The married deacon can bring to his ministry the joys and the struggles of family life, including raising children with values that are very much different than those of the dominant culture of competition, individualism, and domination. These can influence his preaching, his ways of connecting with people, and even his role in the sacraments of baptism and matrimony. They also can open his heart to the needs of poor and broken families.


The deacon with a “secular” job can not only bring the Gospel to impact on the workplace, but he has the opportunity to show in his work the dignity and holiness of work that serves the common good and keeps the poor at the center of our concern.


But there is another dimension that I have not seen all too often. The deacon can bring to the Church, both the local congregation and the bishops and priests, the injustices and the temptations to worship the gods of power, wealth, and sex that he encounters in the world.


I wish that we deacons were more visible in this prophetic aspect of our ministry – following the example of Christ who is prophet, priest, and servant-king.

visiting the sick in a rural village

Where am I in the face of the injustices around us?


I do mention the problems of corruption in some of my homilies, but is there more that I can do? A few times I have shared my concerns with the bishop, usually in a letter or e-mail. I accompanied the bishop and some priests when he went to the town of Azacualpa where a mining company is moving a cemetery to extract the gold found under it. I also try to share my concerns in my blog and on my Facebook page.


This can be done and we deacons should do it more.


Our prophetic word, our analysis of reality, our denunciations of injustice must be done – but with a spirit of love and based in the message of the Gospels.


So much of the discussion about issues is partisan and vituperative.


How can we be prophetic – in truth and in love?




"A call of their own: The role of deacons in the church", US Catholic, June 2014.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Deacon reflection 4

The deacon and serving in the margins


The tradition says that the first seven deacons were chosen by the apostles in response to a crisis in the early Christian community. (Acts 6:1-7) The Hellenists, the non-Hebrew speaking followers, complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily ministry. So seven “reputable men, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit” were chosen.


It is notable that the name “deacon” does not appear in the account in the Acts of the Apostles, though the complaint was the widows were neglected in the daily diakonia (ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ).


For many years this was understood as serving at the table, caring for the physical needs of the Hellenists in the community. Recently, some writers have contended that it is inadequate to speak of them as serving at table since the word deacon had a wider meaning at that time. I don’t want to go into this dispute here which I think is overstated and may mislead us in trying to comprehend the ministry of the deacon which should be seen as three-fold.


A recent Instruction of the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy "The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church” noted that Pope Saint Paul VI, “reaffirmed that the deacon serves Christian communities ‘in proclaiming the Word of God, in sacramental ministry and in the exercise of charity’.”


What is interesting in the Acts of the Apostles is that, though the deacons were formed to assist those in need, we find two of them, Stephen and Philip, evangelizing. Stephen, the first martyr, defends the community in the face of the religious leaders of the day. But Philip evangelizes and baptizes those outside the Jewish community, people in Samaria, a people despised by the Judean community, and then an Ethiopian eunuch.

I would suggest that the first “deacons” were needed to respond to those at the margins – first the widows of the Hellenists in the community and then Samaritans and even an Ethiopian.


From his first days as Pope, Pope Francis has spoken of the call to “go to the peripheries,” to seek out those on the margins. (Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 20.) He has shown this in his washing of the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, in his visit to the refugees on Lampedusa in the first months of his papacy, in his openness to people of many faiths – and no faith.


As I see my ministry as a deacon, I am called to go out to the peripheries; for me this means, at the very least, going out to the impoverished in the remote parts of the parish where I serve here in Honduras. For others it may mean reaching out to those in prisons and hospitals. I have heard of one deacon who is active in the struggle for the abolition of the death penalty in the state where he lives. I know of another deacon who is reaching out in solidarity with the gay and lesbian communities in the town.


The deacon should not be reduced to being in humble service to the poor, nor should he be limited to a role at the altar or to preaching and teaching. We should be involved in all – but with a special emphasis on reaching out to the marginalized.


The deacon should be one who goes out, in imitation of Jesus who did not remain in heaven to save us from afar but, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 5-8)


Jesus come to be with those on the margins and so should the deacon leave the sanctuary to be with those at the margins, serving them and being a living sign of the Gospel, at times evangelizing with words.


The question is whether I as a deacon am really serving in the margins.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Deacon reflection 3

The Ordained Deacon and the Baptized

When the bishop asked me to consider the diaconate, I shared with him one of my concerns: Would this create a wider breach between me and the people I serve?

I am aware that there is a breach already between us. I am white, from the United States, I have bank accounts and an assured income (Social Security). I have many more years of education than most of the people I work with. I can leave whenever I want for the United States and don’t need a visa to visit there since I am a US citizen. I can take vacations, even to Europe (if I save enough money). I am from a different culture and prefer different foods (though I love baleadas and pupusas). Would becoming a deacon, a member of the clergy, create a further breach? I still struggle with this.

Some of my concern is with the clericalism I see here. Many people have a clericalist view of the clergy. Not only does Father know best, his word is law – for some lay people. It is not easy to find people with a critical consciousness, able to raise questions with priests and bishops. I have also seen aspects of clericalism among some priests, a sense of entitlement and superiority and an unwillingness to hand over responsibilities to lay people. I have also known priests who seek to empower the people.

Avoiding any type of clericalism or sense of entitlement or power over others is absolutely necessary. But I think there is also a need to rethink the sacrament of holy orders, especially in light of the sacrament of baptism.

For me, the sacrament of holy orders is a special way to some members of the community to live out their baptism in such a way as to “order” the life of the people of God.

The deacon serves in the church in evangelization, liturgy, and charity.

In our diocese the pastoral work is organized for the most part, in three areas, which we call the Triple Ministry – the prophetic, the liturgical, and the social.  In the rite of baptism in Spanish, the baptized person is anointed with chrism, “para que se incorpore a su pueblo y sea para siempre miembro de Cristo, Sacerdote, Profeta y Rey” – so that the baptized person may be incorporated to God’s people and be forever a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King.

As I see it, the deacon is ordained to live this baptismal call in a special way, for the good of the whole Church. The deacon needs to place emphasis on servanthood – which is the way Christ see being a King. But he will also live out the other two aspects. And so, for me, the diaconate is trying to live as the evangelizer, the servant of the poor, and the minister at the altar.

I am there not to replace the non-ordained in the ministries but, in the words of Pope Saint Paul VI, to be a driving force, an animator of diaconía for the whole church.

The deacon is not above the baptized. He is called to live out his baptism in a unique way, serving God and the People of God.

There are my first thoughts on this important issue: How can is the ordained diaconate related to baptism? I plan to write more on this.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Deacon reflection 2

Why are there deacons and why me?

After the bishop’s invitation to consider the diaconate, I began to read and pray.

The diaconate as a permanent grade of the sacrament of Holy Orders had been restored after the Second Vatican Council. Between the Middle Ages and Vatican II, the diaconate was considered almost exclusively as a step on the way to the priesthood.

There were a few cases of men who remained deacons. Saint Francis of Assisi is said to be among them. There was also a suggestion at the Council of Trent to revive the permanent diaconate. There were discussions during the nineteen century.

During the Second World War, priests in the Dachau concentration camp seriously discussed the diaconate in the light of what they considered to be a church out of touch with the world. After the war, some of those priests and other theologians wrote on the topic. There were also laypeople who began discussions and formed Deacon Circles. Pope Pius XII at one point said it was not yet time for permanent deacons.

But the bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) took up the questions and in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, opened the way to the ordination of men, even married men, to the diaconate as a permanent grade of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

They began paragraph 29 with a description of the deacon:

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service." For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: "Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all."

They then suggest the restoration, with an openness to ordaining “men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state.”

I knew this but I had to read the Decree on Mission, Ad Gentes, to really see how I might be a candidate for the diaconate.

In paragraph 16 the bishops wrote:
Where Episcopal Conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life... For there are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon’s office, either by preaching the Word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar. Thus they can carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.

When I read this, I was stunned.

Soon after I came to Honduras in 2007, I began helping in the training of catechists in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. With a new pastor in 2013, I soon began going out several Sundays to distant villages to preside at Celebrations of the Word with Communion. I also have been involved in efforts to respond to the needs of the poor – first through visiting a kindergarten in a poor neighborhood in Santa Rosa, and a lunch program for kids; then through assisting in the diocesan Caritas office; and then more recently in efforts in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council were proposing that those who had been involved in one of the three areas of evangelization, worship, or service to the poor might be ordained to the diaconate “to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar.”

I had been serving in all three areas. Maybe what I needed was “the sacramental grace of the sacrament” and the life commitment to serve.

 And so I continued my discernment.

Grinding coffee in a distant village while with Caritas 

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Deacon reflection 1

To prepare to celebrate the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, on August 10, I will be writing a novena of reflections on the diaconate.

I never wanted to be a permanent deacon.

In my youth I wanted to be a Franciscan priest and in grad school I wanted to be a university professor, but I never became a professed Franciscan priest and I never taught in a university as a professor, only as an adjunct.

But I never wanted, or planned, to be ordained a deacon. Nevertheless,  now I am a deacon.

In October, 2014, at a dinner in Dulce Nombre with Padre German Navarro, the pastor, Monseñor Darwin Andino, our bishop, asked me to consider the permanent diaconate. Father German had asked me about this a few months before the dinner and I had explained to him why I did not think I was called to that vocation. I looked at him and his face told me that he had not mentioned this to the bishop.

I explained to the bishop some of the reasons why I did not feel called. After dinner was over, he urged me to consider this seriously. I told him I would and that night I began my discernment.

I read a lot; I write to friends, including a priest who had been director of the diaconate in his archdiocese; I spoke to friends here, asking them to help me discern whether this was God’s call; when I went on a visit to the US, I spoke to friends there.

I didn’t want to become a deacon and resisted it. But God kept calling through the months of discernment.

Resisting a call has been part of my life. If I had had my own way, I would never have left graduate school and served for almost 24 years in campus ministry and social ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa. If I hadn’t spent a spring break in hurricane-devastated New Orleans in 2006, I never would have come to Honduras. If I hadn’t taken the bishop’s invitation seriously, I wouldn’t have been ordained a deacon.

Somehow God broke through my resistance. I think this happens to many of us.

But as I reflected on the diaconate in my process of discernment, I recognized that my life up to the day of my ordination was a preparation for the diaconate. God calls us from where we are and who we are.

When I was discerning if I should leave my work in Iowa and go as a lay missionary to Honduras, my spiritual director asked me why I would do this. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “To serve those most in need.”

I did not need to think through my response. Seeking to serve those most in need was who I am, or at least who I had been prepared to be – from my childhood, raised by two parents who had hearts open to those in need.

And so, as I think of my vocation, I realized that we are called to go beyond our self-imposed limits and respond from the very depths of who we are and who we had been prepared to be.

I did not want to be a deacon, but God – and family, teachers, friends, and others – had prepared me to respond. And so, by the grace of God, I was called to be an ordained deacon and I responded, weak and fragile as I am. 

Drawing of Ade Bethune
May God use this vulnerable man to serve.