Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving in times of hurricanes and COVID

It's Thanksgiving in the US, but I will give thanks here.


1992 was an extraordinary year in my life. It was a time of grace, a time of learning to say “gracias a Dios” – thanks be to God. 

I had managed to persuade the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames to provide sabbaticals to lay employees and I was the first to take advantage of the opportunity after eight and a half years of service in the parish.

But I took a different type of sabbatical. Instead of going off to study in a university. I spent almost seven months in El Salvador, serving for most of the time in the parish of Suchitoto. The parish, at that time, was served by a Salvadoran priest and had five US sisters working there, mostly in the countryside. 

I arrived in time to celebrate a ceasefire and the peace accords that brought an end to a bloody civil war, in which many perished at the hands of a US-supported military. The war also precipitated the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

I ended up in Suchitoto thanks to my connections with the sisters – four Dubuque Franciscans and one New Jersey Sister of Charity, who had served the area during the war. They ministered to the many communities that had returned to the countryside and lived in precarious situations, not least of all war and poverty.

Dubuque Franciscan Sisters Nancy, Pat, Kay (RIP), Carol

The pastor and they sisters ended up sending me to a remote part of the parish. It was a four hour walk to get to the community where a family took me in. I stayed there usually for four or five days at a time, participating in the life of the village, visiting other communities – training catechists and other pastoral work. 

I stayed with the Clavel family in their provisional housing, that Esteban, who had to flee the country to escape being killed, had fashioned out of the cattle stalls that once stood where he, his wife Rosa Elbia, and their children lived. I brought along a hammock for sleeping so that I wouldn’t displace anyone from their beds.

Esteban and Rosa Elbia

Life was simple. A makeshift latrine, water brought by the family from a stream about thirty minutes away, bathing in the stream, eating tortillas and beans (often very salty) with the family. The housing was so provisional that during the rains water streamed in under my hammock. But, in the midst of this, I experienced the grace of God. Almost every morning in that simple home, I woke up in my hammock with the words, “Thanks be to God,” on my lips and in my heart. In that poverty, sharing it with good people, I experienced the giftedness of God. The only appropriate response was thanksgiving. 

Today, Thanksgiving in the US, I find myself giving thanks. I had plans to spend Thanksgiving with the Dubuque Franciscans (two of whom I know from Suchitoto) but the access to a major bridge between Santa Rosa de Copán was washed out and is provisionally repaired. So, I’ll have a different Thanksgiving. This may help me recall how I have been blessed to serve in rural Honduras. 

I don’t live nearly as poorly and simply as I did in Suchitoto 28 years ago. But we are in the middle of a pandemic that has restricted my ministry. Also, we have been buffeted by two hurricanes that have left villages in the parish isolated and many places without electricity for several days. Many villages also lack water because the water lines from the springs up the mountains have been broken. 

But God is good. And people have responded to the needs.

Local people have collected clothing and basic grains to share with those who have lost their homes or been displaced. Others, including some Hondurans who live in the US, have sent money to help buy basic food stuffs and cleaning supplies. Two friends are sending some money and our sister-parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames, will be sending money for reconstruction efforts and may have a fundraiser for our needs. Today, God willing, I'll be going with the pastor and others to take food, clothing, and more to a village that has been isolated since the first hurricane. It may be a grueling trip since we will probably have to take the highway to La Entrada and then the highway toward Copán Ruinas, since there is no access to that part of the parish from Dulce Nombre. 

But I am grateful that we can help. 

This will be a different Thanksgiving, perhaps getting to the essence of what this day should mean – recognizing the graciousness of God, remembering that all is gift, and responding in joyful love. 

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The generosity of the poor

Today I spent some time at the parish and then in my home village. 

Part of the time I spent talking with Alejandro Carbajal who is the artist in charge of the mural in our parish church. He is now working on the image of Monseñor Óscar Romero, the sainted martyr of the poor, killed in El Salvador in 1980. The image is based on a photo of him receiving an offering of beans during a Mass in Chalatenango. 

There’s a family now staying in the village where I live who lost their home when a huge boulder (about 2.5 meters high and 3 x 5 meters) fell and crush and buried all their belongings about 7 am last Wednesday. They escaped with only an abode hitting one of the four children on the head. They are staying with the mother’s sister. 

Another family from the same hamlet is also here. They rescued some of the possessions but left food stuff and chickens in their home. They have an eleven-year-old who is physically and mentally disabled. We visited them and shared a few provisions. 

 I had gotten information on these cases in the morning and went to get some supplies for them. 

In the parish, there was a Honduran woman who has lived in the US for more than 14 years. She regularly sends clothing to her family for those in need. We went to her family’s house and got two bags of blankets and clothing for the family. 

We also went to the Concepción city hall to get a note that the municipality will pay for medication for two children in family that has lives in a village which has been cut off since Eta struck. We got the medicine and it will get to the kids sometime today or tomorrow. The woman who donated the clothes drove me to Concepción, to the pharmacy, and back to the church. 

Back in Plan Grande, I spoke to the delegate who had investigated the situation of the two families. When her son returned from an errand we went – she, her son, and a grandson.

We went first to the house where the family whose house had been crushed was staying. It was basically two rooms. We shared the clothes and some rice and cornmeal. As we left, the sister who was housing her sister’s family gave us a bag of beans, a donation for the parish’s efforts for those who have been displaced! 

The generosity of the poorest. She was feeding six more people, yet wanted to share with even more people. 

As I write this, I think of the image of Monseñor Romero, accepting the offering of a bag of beans. The gifts of the poor enrich our world.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Hurricane IOTA in the parish of Dulce Nombre

Hurricane Iota struck Honduras this past week, less than two weeks after Eta devastated the country. 

Eta mostly affected the north coast and left thousands without homes. Massive flooding of many cities, bridges washed out. Even the international airport in San Pedro Sula is flooded, under several feet of water and won’t be reopened until mid-December at the earliest. 

 Iota has affected us in the southwest a bit more than ETA, though all the rain will affect the already swollen rivers on the coast. One parish, not far from the parish of Dulce Nombre, has been badly hit, first by ETA and now with IOTA, with massive flooding, 93 homes destroyed in one municipality, and much, much more. 

In our parish, the rains connected with Eta provoked some mudslides which destroyed some houses and closed some roads (and made others treacherous.) A good number of trees fell, because of the strong winds and the rain-soaked land. A number of houses were lost due to mudslides. Iota came on top of this, although we had a few sunny days between the hurricanes. But when the rains and winds came, they came with incredible force – and it’s still raining, though not continuous and with less force. 

A large portion of our parish, including Plan Grande where I live, had no electricity for about three days. Downed power lines and problems with some equipment damage caused this for thousands of people. In addition, a major landslide near Candelaria closed off the one road that provides access to more than 18 aldeas. It was repaired provisionally in a day, with about half the road fallen, but it is still muddy and slippery. 

El Zapote Santa Rosa, an aldea just ten minutes away from Plan Grande was incommunicado, until Friday when a local coffee grower got some machinery to come and fix one part if the road, so that the village would have some access to and from Dulce Nombre. But still there is no access to aldeas north of there, due to mudslides, roads fallen away, and other obstacles. That means that more than fourteen communities have no access to Dulce Nombre. There are people who lost their houses or whose houses are in danger. They have moved in with relatives or into three places where they have set up shelters. It appears that the local people have matters under control - even trying to recover some water sources in the community, since their water lines from springs have been destroyed.

Many communities have only access on foot. In addition, many of the communities have not had electricity since Monday and cell phone service of the most common provider was almost non-existent. As of Sunday, there was some electricity and cell phone service in that part of the parish, but there was no access by vehicles. 

I am trying to be in contact with folks to see what is happening, what are the needs, and how we might begin to help better. There are isolated villages, with needs for food and more, but the only way to get supplies in is on foot or with horses and mules. 

In the parish of Dulce Nombre, we have had some serious damage, with houses destroyed by landslides. Due to damage to roads, many parts of the parish are inaccessible. Electricity was off in many places for more than six days and there has been no cellphone coverage in many parts. Many places don’t have access to water. Many people have also lost their crops and their coffee fields. 

 The parish has received aid from local sources, as well as donations from Hondurans in the US. The Santa Rosa Rotary club arrived today to give out some aid in Dulce Nombre. But a major problem is getting aid to the countryside, to those communities which are isolated because of landslides. 

Thursday, I want with Padre German and Fernando, a seminarian who is with us this year, to Vega Redonda. We couldn’t get there the normal way since a major road had been washed out. We had to go through a back road, crossing a stream two times and navigating a slippery hill. We got there and distributed some water. Padre went to see an area where there had been a landslide. Some of the people returned with us to stay with family who live in Dulce Nombre and Concepción.

Friday, we went to the mountain village of Vertientes. We again had to use an alternative route along slippery muddy roads, up and down hills. There had been two major landslides in Vertientes. One landslide left four houses destroyed and at least two more in danger. Padre went to see another site int he village, about an hour away, where more houses were destroyed. 

I fell trying to walk through the fields and went to a clinic in Santa Rosa on Saturday. No broken ribs, but I’m sore. Also, I had to take a COVID-19n test. Negative!

On Saturday, the pastor went to San José El Bosque which is almost completely isolated. I have been in contact today with someone in the remote village of San Marcos Las Pavas which has had at least five houses destroyed. The village has been isolated since ETA and there is no access for vehicles. In addition, it is in a part of the parish which has no access to Dulce Nombre because of major landslides and more, leaving about 14 communities isolated. I managed to call someone from Delicias, Concepción, which is isolated. There were four breaks in the road from Delicias to the villages north of there. The problem is that some communities don’t have enough food supplies – and so they were trying to transport some rice and other supplies on horseback. 

We are just beginning to get an idea of the effects of the hurricane and what will be needed for reconstruction. Right now, we are concentrating on finding ways to save lives and protect people. This week there are forecasts of rain every day and so recovery will be even slower.

I'm well, even though the water system in Plan Grande in not working due to the destruction of pipes from the water source - even metal water pipes have been affected by the landslides. But I have water from a tank as well as from barrels collecting rain water. And I have bottled drinking water.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The deacon and the World Day of the Poor

“Stretch forth your hand to the poor.” 
Sirach 7:32

 This is the theme of the fourth world day of prayer for the poor, this coming Sunday, November 15. It is a theme that should be at the center of the ministry and spirituality of every follower of Christ and, especially, of every deacon. 

Recently I listened to a webinar of a prominent deacon promoting his recent book. As I listened, I felt a lack of connection of his spirituality of the diaconate with the materially poor. He had some good insights on spirituality, especially on Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s idea of “the sacrament of the present moment,” but I did not find any suggestion that, in the encounter with the poor, we are face to face with “the sacrament of the suffering Christ.” 

My question is: how can we have a spirituality of the deacon without a careful investigation of how service with the poor makes us who we are as deacons? 

I believe that a diaconal spirituality that does not incorporate the poor into an understanding of our identity as deacons is incomplete. In my opinion, a deacon without frequent and continuous encounters with the poor, the materially poor, may be missing part of our calling. 

Before I began working as a lay campus minister in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, Iowa, I had a very limited understanding of this. I was very involved in advocacy, especially of peace and human rights, but my direct contact with the poor was limited. But, through the witness of members of the parish and students involved in the service and justice team, I learned this truth and began to involve myself more directly with those at the margins of society. 

Now, I live in the midst of the poor – though my house is not anyway near as poor and simple as my neighbors. 

Recently, there have been several articles and books that refer to the work of John Collins that, in my opinion, displace the centrality of the poor in the diaconal vocation. This does not mean that the deacon’s ministry and identity are limited to “humble service,” but service to the marginalized is critical. 

Attempts to contextualize the diaconal service of the poor can lead to a marginalization of this central aspect of our vocation. What is needed is an integration of the triple diakonia: Word, Sacrament, and Charity. 

According to a recent Vatican document, the ministry of the deacon is both evangelization and charity, brought together at the Eucharistic table. (Congregation of the Clergy, The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church, ¶ 82) 

I would suggest that the deacon should be seen as a sacramental presence of Christ the Servant, who became poor. 

Present at the altar we should bring the needs of the poor, especially the materially poor, praying for them in the Prayers of the Faithful. 

In our preaching we should bring to light the needs of the poor and God’s special love for the poor. A friend who worked with deacons in his archdiocese for many years has suggested that when the deacon preaches, he should make present the poor in our midst. 

When we send forth the assembly at the end of Mass, we should be sending them to live out their baptismal commitment of service and charity. We ourselves should be animating them to accompany the poor in our midst. 

Deacon Enzo Petrolino, commenting on a passage of the Syriac Testament of the Lord, writes, 
“The edifying role of the deacon in his community requires him to perceive the suffering and needs that are present in the community and, as much as possible, to spread the mercy of Jesus Christ in a concrete way, making it visible to man." (Pope Francis: Deacons: Servants of Charity, p. 245)
The deacon is a herald who should be “Good News to the Poor,” in what we say and do. We should make real the connection between the People of God and the poor and marginalized and help the Church live this.

Much has been made recently of the role the deacon has in relation to the bishop, and rightly so. But the deacon also has a role for the entire church, directly related to the poor and marginalized. 

Commenting on the Epistle of Clement to James, Bishop Shawn McKnight noted that the deacon is a bridge between the poor and the community at large. 
"Whereas the emphasis had been placed upon the deacon bringing the needs of the poor to the bishop, here the deacon is to motivate and challenge the community to satisfy the needs of the poor…. The bishop must be advised as to the needs of the people and be made aware of the charisms available within the community to satisfy these needs. Deacons are clearly described here as servants of the church, and not merely personal attendants of the bishop. The deacon serves to animate the faithful to fulfill their Gospel obligation, working to bind the church more closely in solidarity with those in need. (Understanding the Diaconate: Historical, Theological, and Sociological Foundations, p. 137) 
How then can we deacons “stretch forth our hands to the poor” and motivate the whole church to the charity and solidarity of Christ, in a world filled with suffering?


The photo is a detail of a mural being painted in the church of Dulce Nombre de María in Dulce Nombre de Copán, Honduras. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Grace abounds

The last two weeks have been times of grace for me, despite difficult situations and the pandemic and hurricane. Here are some photos.

Travel has been tricky – and the pastor’s car got stuck in a cemetery on All Souls Day. 

I had the power steering belt changed on my pickup on Wednesday. This is what some of the roads look like, if you wonder why I have so many repairs.

There was the grave-side service on October 30 in Dulce Nombre of a young man who died of electrocution at work. 

There was the baptism on October 31 of a young man who needs a fourth operation for cerebral blood coagulation.

There was the All Souls Day Mass at the cemetery in Joyas Galanas (where I preached). HEre's a picture of the pastor with Fernando, the seminarian who's with us this year. 

There was the wedding of a young couple in Descansadero, last Thursday, November 5. 

There were the baptisms of four kids, ages 11 months to six years, in San Agustín, on Saturday, November 7. 

There was the joy of seeing that the church in San Agustín is collecting food stuffs and materials for the victims of the earthquake. One family donated four sacks of corn. 

And there has been my continuing amazement at the work on the murals in the parish church – with the mural of Saint Lawrence the deacon almost finished. 

 God is good.

And the sun came out for a time yesterday.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Hope in the midst of a hurricane

Monday, in the midst of torrential rains, I went to Mass in the cemetery of distant community, as noted in a previous post. I sensed that there was something wrong with the car, since it was difficult to turn the steering wheel. 

On Tuesday, I decided to stay home – praying and reading. I had time to sit down and again read Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections of Christian Leadership. I strongly recommend it especially to those who serve in the religious community. 

Wednesday morning, I took the car to be repaired in Santa Rosa de Copán. They replaced the power steering belt and a set of ball bearing – for the grand cost of 300 lempiras (less than $15, including parts.) 

I spent the afternoon at home, without water and without electricity, and thus without internet. The electricity in my section of Plan Grande was off from about 1:00 am Wedneday to about 3:00 pm Thursday.) 

I was able to do a little connecting through Facebook because I bought a smartphone a year ago and have a monthly plan that lets me access Facebook and the internet. But I don’t like trying to work on a phone and so I just did a minimal amount of digital connecting. 

I also didn’t try to follow the results of the US elections. This was a blessing. I was able to tune out the noise – and there probably was a lot – about the election. I was able to avoid having to deal with all the ramblings and rantings of people on the election results. It was good to be out of the Facebook frenzy for a day. 

Wednesday morning I did repost a post of a good friend who is an Episcopal monk which was much stronger and more pointed at the President than anything I had posted this year. But I think he had something to say, analyzing the pandemic of division, ill-will, and invective that has invaded the US. I am glad I did, it even though I got a response accusing me of passing on lies and being judgmental. So it goes. 

But what is really important is what is happening here around me. 

The winds and the rains have been fierce. Trees have fallen down and blocked the roads. In a few places there have been landslides and roads collapsing (deslizamientos y derrumbes). Here are just a few photos of what I’ve seen here. 






This morning, Friday, about 6:45, I got a call from a distant community that is isolated die to flooding. Two houses have fallen and others are in danger. Some of the persons affected have been given refuge in the village church. The person who called me asked me to go to the mayor since he wasn’t answering their phone calls. I went to his house and got him out of bed. He knew of their situation as well as of other cases of fallen houses in another community. 

But all this is nothing like what is happening in the north coast as well as in some parts of the department of Santa Barbara, Tegucigalpa, and other places. 

The flooding, the overflowing rivers, the collapse of bridges have made life even worse for the poorest among us, who often build their homes in the most vulnerable places. 

Thursday, Padre German mentioned a tragic case in Santa Barbara. A woman near flood waters dropped her baby who was swept away. The rescue workers did manage to quickly get the baby – but it had already died. How many more cases will we hear while this goes on?

But in the midst of this we need to see the signs of hope. 

Last Saturday I baptized a young man who has had serious health problems the result of an accident several years ago. Recently, in the first week of the pandemic, his situation deteriorated and he had to undergo three operations in Santa Rosa. The doctors at the hospital advised him to go to a public hospital in San Pedro Sula for another operation. He was reluctant to undergo the operation. 

 Earlier this year, he and his companion of more than ten years had decided that they wanted to get married and enrolled in the marriage preparation program in their village. But the pandemic hit and so the preparation was put off. 

But his situation deteriorated in the last month or so and he could hardly talk. Getting him the ENSURE that the hospital had prescribed helped and he is now able to talk a bit. During all this time his companion cared for him, feeding him, as well as caring for their two children. 

Thursday we celebrated their wedding. In the midst of a pandemic and a hurricane, two young people got married – with their children and scores of people from their village in attendance. As usual I brought along masks but ran out all the twenty-five I brought. 

There was much to give hope.

Waiting for the wedding Mass

*With help he walked from his house to the house of his parents-in-law up the hill.

*The couple celebrate the sacrament of matrimony after more than ten years together.

*He was baptized and received his first Communion last Saturday.

*We used the third form of the marriage vows so that he could just answer “Yes.” But he repeated the words when he put the ring on his wife’s finger. 

*After the prayer of the faithful, Father German celebrated the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. 

In the midst of all the evil, all the sickness, all the devastation of the pandemic and the hurricane, two people are manifesting their love sacramentally, showing the world that love is possible. They are sacraments of God’s love. 

These poor humble people are signs of hope.

Tomorrow, Saturday, I will go to San Agustín to baptize four little children. More signs of hope.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

ETA - tropical storm, hurricane, and more

A hurricane is about to hit Honduras.

Since March we have had limitations on the days of circulating and in access to banks and stores, based on the last number of our identity cards. It was not easy, but it was an effort to cut down the agglomeration of people in public spaces. 

This week the Honduran government had called for the Feriado Morazanico, five days of free circulation throughout the country. This was touted as a way to benefit the tourist industry. Some of us believe this is ill-conceived and could open us up to further dissemination of COVD-19. But Tropical Storm Eta, which will probably be a full-scale hurricane, is coming and the government has postponed the feriado. 

The weather has been very strange this year. It’s been hotter than usual the past few months and we have had more rain than normal. The rain has resulted in terrible roads and in some landslides. 

Two weeks ago, a landslide destroyed a house in one rural community, while the family was inside. Thanks be to God they escaped. But it has been raining almost continuously for the past few days and we have rarely seen the sun. As a result, the roads are even worse and the danger of landslides is high. 

On the northern coast the situation is serious with major flooding in Tela, Atlantida, and other communities. 

What will happen when Eta comes into Honduras? 

 Some are suggesting that this could be very bad, as when Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras in 1998, which brought about 7000 deaths in the country. 

The roads here are treacherous in some places. The torrential rains are complicating a situation of roads that have deteriorated due to the earlier rains and the lack of maintenance. Massive ruts make driving an obstacle course and wreak havoc on the vehicles. Even in some cases when there have been repairs, the lack of putting down gravel has led to slippery roads. 

It rained almost all of Sunday night and Monday morning. I had planned to accompany the pastor to a 7:00 am Mass in the cemetery of Joyas Galanas and Plan de Naranjo, about an hour from where I live. 

When I got up at 4:30 am (since I couldn’t sleep), I wondered whether I should go. But I left at about 6:00 am. All went well till I got to a place a few kilometers before Joyas Galanas. 

A few weeks ago I had passed through here and taken a picture which I sent to the assistant mayor of Dolores. When I approached the site, I saw that they had done some work there. I thought I’d make it up the hill, but then I started slipping, although I was in four-wheel drive. I found myself straddling the road. After some efforts to more the car, with the help of someone who had come along, I saw the pastor’s car come up behind us. He ended up getting the car into a driveway nearby and I proceeded up the hill with him, though I felt at least once that we were “slip, sliding away.” 

We got to the cemetery, where the people had prepared tarps for the Mass. All went well until we went to leave. The pastor’s car got stuck and it had to be pulled out of the mud by the people in the community. 

He left me off where we had left my pickup and I proceeded home safely. 

I decided to spend today at home – reading, writing, praying (for the US on election day), relaxing. It’s been raining almost continuously since last night and so I didn’t want to venture out. 

I’ll go out tomorrow since I need to have the pickup looked at and since I need to pick up a few things in Santa Rosa. Thursday and Friday should be the days when Eta most affects our area. We have a wedding scheduled in a rural community but the roads are fairly good to get there. 

 Please keep all of us in Nicaragua and Honduras in your prayers. A major tropical storm only makes the situation worse. 

One note. If you want to provide assistance, be very careful. The corruption and the inefficiency will most likely run rampant – as they did after Hurricane Mitch. This is especially problematic since the election campaigns are beginning and aid is often manipulated by the ruling political party. In addition, some international agencies prioritize their goals, instead of responding to the needs and goals of the country. A detailed study of this can be found in Jeffrey T. Jackson, The Globalizers: Development Workers in Action, published in 2005. (I read it in 2013.) 

On a personal note. I am doing well. I have enough food in the house and enough propane for the stove. I am at the top of a hill and so there is little risk of flooding. The pickup will be checked out tomorrow. The only serious concerns for me are the status of the roads and the availability of electricity and the internet – very much first world concerns. But my neighbors and others are not so privileged and so I’ll try to be available to help as I can.


6. The celibate deacon as older brother 

 Recently I watched a You Tube video in which a celibate permanent deacon in Spain spoke about his vocation. He carefully distinguished the vocation of a permanent deacon from the vocation to the priesthood. 

In the course of the video he spoke about the spiritual fatherhood of the deacon. I have problems with this. 

The permanent deacon who is a father of a family can show the church how to be a father, bringing his fatherhood to his ministry, inspiring other fathers to see their vocation in the raising of their children, with their wives. He can show a way of being father that is not dominating, that derives its authority from his paternal love and not from the title of father. He, together with his wife, can guide their children in the ways of faith, showing them how to integrate the life of faith in the family.

But the celibate deacon, who enters the diaconate as a single person, does not manifest this charism. He does not have paternal authority over children, youth, or adults. He is not there every day to guide others in their daily lives.

I think a better image for the celibate permanent deacon is that of the older brother.

I write this reluctantly since I am an only child and so have not experienced having an older brother or being an older brother, but, observing other families, I dare to make a few observations. If my remarks are too idealistic, please help me to make them more realistic. 

As I see it, a true older brother looks out after his younger siblings, sometime protecting them, sometimes giving them advice, sometimes warning them. He looks after their well-being, not as one who can command them (if he is not domineering or a bully), but as one who has had some experience of life and wants to share it with a sister or brother. 
A true older brother encourages his siblings, urging them on when they are faced with difficulties, encouraging them as they succeed, opening up their eyes to possibilities that they may have never dreamed of, pointing out pitfalls as they grow up.

A true older brother should be an example, an icon of what it means to be a child in a family and a child of God, how to live as brothers and sisters, children of the heavenly Father.

As a celibate deacon I can encourage my siblings, other members of the People of God, to live lives worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) as I try to live my life.

Those who are not clergy are called to live their lives in the world, sanctifying the world in their lives and in their jobs. 

Most permanent deacons have jobs outside the Church, which I think is critical. They, like the laity, are called to sanctify the world in their jobs. 

Yet, as deacons, they come to the altar as persons who mostly live and work outside the walls of the church. They bring the world of work to the world of prayer, making visible the connection between the altar and the world of work. 

They can then speak to their co-workers as “siblings,” showing them a way to sanctify the world in their work. 

They do not come to the altar or the pulpit to order someone to live their faith in a particular way. They come to show in their lives how to live as a child of God in the world. They come to offer the advice of an older brother, intent on the good of the family (the People of God) and the fullness of life of their sisters and brothers.

As I think about this, I recall the words of Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II, describing the deacon as “the animator,” “a driving force” of diaconia in the church.

Can we celibate permanent deacons be the animators, the older brothers who accompany our sisters and brothers in our vocation as Church to serve God and to serve the world?

There are my initial thoughts. Obviously, I need to reflect more on this and to look at Vatican II’s “Decree on the Laity” as well as Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Christifideles laici. But these words might spur us to develop a deeper spirituality of the celibate permanent deacon.