On Saturday I was extremely blessed and grateful as Nicole and myself joined 22 of my brother Aspirants for the diaconate for the Rite of Candidacy with Bishop Richard Stika, our formation directors Deacons Tim Elliott, Jim Lawson, and Joe Stackhouse, and many of the Deacons of our diocese and their families. It was certainly a blessed and celebratory occasion, one which at one time in the process of discernment in which I am currently journeying upon seemed far away. Now that it has come and gone, I have pondered with my dear wife on just how time flies. It was not long ago when I wondered if the Lord would allow me to get to this point. Now, thinking of life as an ordained person in the Church no longer seems like such a far-away notion anymore.
I have to admit that the nervousness didn’t really hit me until the time came for the calling of our names and ourselves to answer “present.” Before Mass, we had been told to bow to the altar and then bow to the bishop upon our name being called. What I did not know was that the bishop would not be sitting, he ended up standing right in front of the altar. I think I only ended up giving one bow. I hope it was noticeable (as I also had to move toward my walker at the same time, you can see me standing with my walker pretty clearly in the picture above), and I hope I didn’t flub it up too badly.
In his homily, Bishop Stika discussed how he has such a great admiration for deacons and men who undertake study for the permanent diaconate. He said that while priests undertake to devote their whole life to the Church, deacons and those who aspire to the diaconate ultimately give their lives to the Church and to the people of God while still taking care of families, having secular careers, and plenty of non-ecclesiastical obligations. Unless a deacon is fortunate enough to have a job or career in the employ of the Church in some fashion (and we have just a few of those here in our diocese), he has to carry on making a living and surviving along with his ministerial duties.
Just as with priests and religious, the candidates for the diaconate choose to accept the call of the Lord to be where we are today, and just as with our priests and seminarians in their vocational journey, that isn’t an easy thing to do, especially in the increasingly secularized culture in which we find ourselves today. For my own part, however (and I suspect this is probably true for many of my brothers, but you’ll have to ask them), I do not expect life as a deacon to be what we might call a picnic all the time. I have had many obstacles to deal with in my own journey, and I am sure that before it is all over, I will probably have a few more to struggle with as well. For me, though, the reward and the great honor of being able to serve God’s people, to serve the Church, is worth far more than the risks and difficulties that all of us undergo as part of this discernment process.
I would be remiss if I did not thank my wife, and I know that the other Candidates surely feel the same way about their own wives as we move forward on the next steps of our journey together. Nicole often comes across as quiet, reserved, and not often talkative, and this is because she is quiet, reserved, and not very talkative! My wife is my polar opposite in many ways. I have always been the “social butterfly,” I love being around people, I enjoy good company, good wine (and beer, as some of our brothers can attest) and good conversation. Nicole likes horses, goats, and other animals, and she has a passion for them that few people do in this day and age. It has been my wife, however, that has supported and encouraged me in my call from the very first moment. Without her willingness to help, as well as quietly encourage me, I simply would not be where I am today as a Candidate for Holy Orders in our diocese.
Equally deserving of thanks are Deacons Tim Elliott, Jim Lawson and Joe Stackhouse, our formation staff, for giving of their time and talents to serve us, and on a personal level for putting up with me for the last two years! I hope that one day I might be allowed to bless these men in some way, as they have been a blessing to me with their kindness. My mentor, Deacon Jim Prosak, also deserves thanks for taking the time out of his busy schedule to continue meeting with me each month, as does my spiritual director. My brother Candidates Steve Helmbrecht and Don Griffith have been incredibly generous in seeing to it that I have had a way to get to our formation classes every month. It would be impossible to carry on without their willingness to lend me a lift. My fellow Candidate Scott Maentz along with his wife Christine…well, they’ve just been generous…period, and I can’t thank them enough (and it was lovely meeting Scott’s son, Jacob, who came all the way from the Philippines to share in the moment and take pictures). I also have to mention Deacon George Frederick, because perhaps unknowingly, he continues to provide encouragement to me when I need it. My journey of discernment to ordination continues in no small part because of the helping hand of many of the aforementioned, and the prayers of countless others.
It was very gratifying to see so many deacons come to assist at the Mass and to stay and have dinner with us after Mass was over. It was also nice to see so many deacons wearing their collars. The reason that I personally found this to be a special thing is not for the sake of the collars themselves, in other words not for the sake of mere appearances. Instead, this was a welcome sight in my mind because we live in an age when there are many good and holy men in the clergy who are much maligned, and the Gospel itself is often tread upon that seeing even a deacon in clericals says simply “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” (cf. Rom. 1:16) Mind you, I’m not saying that deacons who choose not to wear their collar are ashamed of the Gospel, lest any of you read this and think such a thing (anyone who has read my personal blog may remember that I wrote that it was my opinion that deacons should not obsess over wearing the collar, something that I got the impression that some do from reading the comments of others), merely that the willingness to be open about one’s vocation in this way is a blessing to some of us.
Candidates, deacons, priests, wives, and families were all treated to a sumptuous meal after Mass. It was generously served to us by some of the deacons of the diocese and their families, parishioners at All Saints where the Mass was held, and I am sure by many volunteers who were willing to help. Even this served as a reminder to all of us of the call and the journey that we are all now, by God’s grace, more firmly set upon. As we were served on Saturday night, so we will be called on to serve. To serve others, to serve the Church, to serve the poor, the marginalized, the isolated, the broken, and the hurting.
There was a lot of leftover food Saturday night, and those remaining to the end were encouraged to take some. Nicole filled a box with what little we could carry, but I sure hope others took plenty home with them. I’d hate to think of so much food going to waste when there are people in East Tennessee who didn’t eat a decent meal that night, especially since the leftovers included some of the best beef brisket I have ever had the pleasure to eat, and some of the most moist and fluffy red velvet cake I’ve ever had in my life. Perhaps someone got to enjoy some of this who wasn’t able to enjoy it with us.
I do regret not being able to catch Bishop Stika on his way out. Through checking out His Excellency’s Facebook page and reading some of his comments in the East Tennessee Catholic, I have learned that the bishop and myself share in common a life-threatening love of White Castle hamburgers. Bishop Stika, a die-hard Cardinals fan, did “forgive” all Cub fans present. Since I am a life-long Cub fan, that would make me forgiven.
God has called each of us to serve him in a particular way if we are willing to accept his call. Those of us who have been blessed, though, to be on this very unique journey down the road that leads to the Sacrament of Holy Orders are especially blessed. We are called to serve the servant People of God. Pray for all of us, we don’t just need your prayers, they are felt and appreciated.
IMPORTANT UPDATE (10/17/13): In the post above, I made reference to the delicious meal that we were privileged to be able to eat, and I said that “I’d hate to think of so much food going to waste when there are people in East Tennessee who didn’t eat a decent meal that night…” Deacon Tim Elliott, our Director of Deacons, apparently tried to comment on this post but was unable to do so (if you are also having trouble posting comments, please let me know by clicking on the feedback section and e-mailing me). Deacon Tim wanted everyone to know this about what happened to all of those leftovers:
“None of the food was wasted. The leftovers were taken to a very appreciative Samaritan Place (Catholic Charities of East Tennessee).”
Deacon Tim also wanted to point out what hard work his Administrative Assistant, Chris Kite, and the team of volunteers who helped put this very special event together had done. On a personal note, I think they all deserve a world of thanks, and I am sorry that Deacon Tim was unable to post his comment.