With the feast of the Baptism of the Lord yesterday, the Church officially ended the Christmas season and enters Ordinary Time. As it happens, I spent the last weekend of the Christmas season with my brother candidates for the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Knoxville in formation. This weekend’s topic was Canon Law. Those of you who read Life At 25 regularly know that I have quoted from the Code of Canon Law before on this blog, perhaps most extensively in this Q&A entry on Friday abstinence or this Q&A on the minimum age for the permanent diaconate. The code serves as the Church’s body of law, and so it serves as an instrument of teaching, but it has an unjust reputation of being dry and unpastoral. Many of us went into the weekend prepared, I believe, to accidentally fall asleep in class.
I think it is fair to say that this not only isn’t what happened to all of us over the weekend, but we all developed a deeper appreciation for the Code of Canon Law and what it does for us in the Church. Father David Carter is the Rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, and he is also our diocese’s Vice Chancellor for Canonical Affairs. In plain English, he is the Diocese of Knoxville’s canon lawyer. Father Carter made the code come to life for us in the way that caused me to see the Code for what it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the Church’s official statement of what she believes, the Code of Canon Law tells us how the Church is to act on those beliefs in law. Without it, we would have ecclesiastical anarchy. On a personal note, I so enjoyed Father’s teaching and the way that he taught us, that I pray we might find some occasion to bring him back and either teach us or otherwise assist us before we are ordained, or perhaps for a continuing education class on the Code of Canon Law sometime. Father Carter likely doesn’t realize this, but he played a role in opening my heart and mind and eyes to the reality that my life is about to change in a major way, as it will for each of the men I am in formation with.
My life won’t only be changing in a couple of months because I am about to become a father for the first time. That will bring an entire set of daily challenges that will change everything about the way both my wife and I live. Parenthood will do that for anyone, but especially for anyone who lives with a disability just as I do. However, that change is not the only change that’s coming, another major change is coming which, please God, will change my life and everything about it. In looking at our remaining formation class schedule, we don’t have a lot of time left. That realization came to me this weekend as I realized listening to Father Carter that many people will be looking to me and my brother candidates as examples and for answers. When they want to know why the Church teaches something or why something is done in a certain way, in a lot of cases we will be the first people that folks in our parishes come to ask. We’d better be both ready to answer when we can, and humble enough to admit when we can’t. People in our parishes and in the community will see us as leaders and representatives of the Church.
Since learning that my wife and I will soon be the parents of a little girl, I have wondered how this will impact my ministry as a deacon, and it certainly will. Nicole and I have already had discussions about how we’ll handle weekends when I am away for formation so that we can work out some of those logistics well ahead of time. There is one thing which my spiritual director pointed out some months ago, however, and that is that our daughter will have a unique experience that few children get, and those that do may not realize how unique it is. Most of the men in our formation class are also parents, but for most of them, their children are either grown (and often have children of their own), or nearly there. In any case, most of the children of the other candidates will remember a time, and for most it will be a long time, when Dad wasn’t a deacon, wasn’t an ordained minister of the Church. Our little girl will be, if it is God’s will, just over a year old when we are all ordained. All she will know and remember is a Dad who has been a minister of the Church for effectively her entire life.
We’ve been rightly reminded by our Director of Deacons, Deacon Tim Elliott, and others that we will be the public face of the Church for many of the people in our parishes and for most of the world who aren’t Catholic and who may not have a clear understanding of our faith. We were reminded again this past weekend as we reviewed some of the requirements and norms to be expected of us once we are ordained. This is especially important for me because I won’t just be the face and voice of the Church for the many people I will encounter in the parish and in the community, I will be the face and voice of the Church to my own child. It is a stunning and an awesome realization and responsibility, and it is an incredible gift from God.