Saturday, January 26, 2013
Following God’s call is not always an easy thing to do. Often times it conflicts with our own desires and dreams. Trying to align our plans to God’s plans can be a challenge, it may not happen overnight. I was struggling with this to some extent as I began my journey towards possibly becoming a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. A simple visual reminder helped me make progress in this area. The visual reminder found its way into my life in an unforeseen way.
We attended a live auction at our parish; this was part of a parish fall festival. One of the auction items available was a statue of Christ the King. This statue features Christ seated on his throne. The throne is large; the back of the chair reaches high above the seated Christ. He holds the world in His left hand. His right hand is raised to indicate authority and blessing over His subjects and His kingdom. The overall statue is just over two feet tall.
We ended up winning this item at the auction. When we arrived home, we weren’t sure what to do with it since we hadn’t set out to acquire something like this. It requires a good amount of space both top-to-bottom and back-to-front. It also makes a statement as it is easy to see. After a few days, the statue made its way to its new home, at the top of my dresser in the main bedroom. The dresser is fairly tall. Since the statue is also tall, this resulted in Christ sitting above me ruling from His throne even though he is seated. His right hand stretches out over me. His hand and his head are slightly above my head. I have to glance up to him to get a good look at him.
Each morning when I get up one of the first things I see is Christ reigning over me. This is also one of the last things I see each night before I go to bed. This simple visual has helped me remember each day that Christ should and does reign in our lives. This visual trigger helps me mentally attempt to align and realign my will, intentions, actions and desires to those that Jesus has for me each day. This has helped me little by little replace my wants and desires with God’s plan for my life.
I don’t know why the person who previously had the statue decided to make it available at the parish auction. I don’t know why we won the item during the auction. I don’t know how the statue ended up on top of my dresser perfectly situated in elevation and proximity so that the message could be delivered easily and frequently. I don’t know why such a simple thing could be so helpful in helping align my will to that of God’s will for me. Yet all this has happened and has been a great blessing.
This statue has helped me remember that Chris should reign in our lives. The daily reminder helps to make it so.
Not my will but His will. Let Christ reign!
Thursday, November 29, 2012
There are several specific phases a person must go through to make the transformation from a lay person to an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. Here is a brief summary of the phases and the expected timeframe for each phase as currently implemented in our diocese. While this has varied from diocese to diocese in the past, efforts in recent years have sought to normalize the phases and the terminology in the United States.
Prerequisites – fundamentals of the faith, timeframe varies but in our diocese it is at least two years. For us this involves acquiring a full and comprehensive understanding of what the Church believes and teaches. This is accomplished in our diocese through a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Faith. Other prerequisites exist; knowing the basics of the faith is the significant one.
Inquiry – applying to the formation program, normally takes a year or more. During this phase, we learn about why the Church has deacons, what a deacon is and does, how one becomes a deacon, and we further explore if God is really calling. The Inquiry phase also includes the official application (large, long) and a series of initial interviews.
Aspirancy – transition from Inquiry to Candidacy, one year. During this phase we begin our formation but also participate in additional application and selection activities. Individuals in Aspirancy start the formation process in earnest, get a much more detailed look at the steps ahead, and the life and work of a deacon. Further energies are spent to discern the call to the deaconate. A successful path through Aspirancy leads to the next phase, Candidacy.
Candidacy – formation as a deacon, four years. This is the heavy lifting part of the training and the transformation to becoming a deacon.
Ordination – receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders as a permanent deacon, during the fourth year of Candidacy.
Post Ordination Formation – during the fourth year of Candidacy after Ordination and for two additional years beyond that. Here we learn the finer points of fulfilling the duties of a newly ordained deacon. This includes learning many of the liturgical details of assisting at mass and many other vocation details.
Continuing Education – ongoing after the formal Post Ordination Formation has been completed.
The length and content of each phase varies from diocese to diocese. However the structure is starting to become somewhat standard across the country. In our diocese, these phases collectively take about 7 to 10 years depending upon if some of the early phases happen to overlap. In any case, that seems like a long time. Why does it take so long? This question was asked a few times during some of the inquiry meetings. The answer: because that is how long it takes – to transform a man from being a man of the world into an ordained minister of the Catholic Church.
Note: At the time of this writing, I’m in the middle of the Inquiry phase.
Humble Servant of the Lord
Monday, November 19, 2012
That is likely a very easy question for most applicants. For me, providing an answer was easy. However, providing a good answer was a little more difficult.
Life was good. Work was very interesting and going well. I was constantly tinkering with new ideas that might turn into a new business venture. My wife and I were both involved in a variety of Church activities and ministries. Much of my spare time was devoted to efforts within the Holy Name Society at the parish, archdiocese and national level. The Holy Name activities were challenging but the Holy Spirit was moving things in a positive direction. I was enjoying a variety of hobbies including gardening, hunting and cooking.
My wife and I had talked some about when we might retire, what we might do when retired, and how we would spend our time together doing the things we wanted to do. As we went along, we were always trying to grow closer to God, become better Catholics, and do God’s will.
While life was just “happening,” a few years ago I began to know that I was called to serve God as a permanent deacon in His Church. I resisted this call early and often. I also readily knew that this was God’s will; he wanted me to do this. Just as sure as I was of that, I was sure that I didn’t want to do it. It was not in my long term plans.
The biggest reason why I didn’t want to follow God’s plan is that the cost was too high. I’d have to give up most of the activities and plans that I had worked myself into over the past few years. Formation requires a lot of time and energy, and seems to take forever. I was constantly thinking about what else I could do if I devoted that much time and energy into any other single thing. I figured I could do just about anything else in the same amount of time, something of my own choosing, rather than what God had in mind. And, I was wondering if I was too late? Perhaps my opportunity window had passed; maybe I’d waited too long to say yes?
Regardless of what I wanted, I did recognize that this was something significant that needed to be considered and thought through, not just reacted to. I initially bounced the idea off three people. One of those three was my wife. She and the others basically said the same thing; “if you are called, you need to do it!”
Thus, the journey to become a deacon began. I said yes to God’s call and started working towards applying to the program. My attitude wasn’t great at the start. This was one of the many things God would need to work on if His plan were to become a reality. I mentioned this to an existing deacon. He said “most of us begin the journey that way.”
Why do you want to become a deacon? I’ll get back to you on that a little bit later.
A Humble Servant
Friday, November 16, 2012
Recently I received an email from a Jewish friend, which read: "I finally figured out that the rule of Gemilut Hasidim is you should always do what is right - even if others do not. Tradition holds that a Jew must give to a beggar in the street when asked. Equally important, Jewish commentary insists that a beggar or poor person be treated with dignity. There are many reasons for this, but two stand out. By performing Gemilut Hasidim, people cultivate the divine qualities within them. Also important within Judaism is the notion that anyone who suffers diminishes every member of the community."
"Brilliant!" I emailed back, and thought, "vaguely familiar." So I started reading. What I discovered upon digging deeper into this Jewish rule of 'loving kindness' was a heritage that we as Christians and Catholics draw richly upon as well.
First, we recognize God as the Master of Charity - that He sustains all creation through His acts of kindness and that as recipients of this kindness, we emulate Him when we act in a like manner to one another. If we recognize that we are totally dependent on this loving Creator, that everything we have is a gift from Him and we own nothing of ourselves, then pride and feelings of superiority are non-existant - we give, we share, with the same reckless and selfless abandon.
In Jewish philosophy: we are the middlemen, facilitating the process of delivering goods and services received from an infinite storehouse of kindness to the rightful owners - those in need. Our payment: the pleasure of experiencing a closeness to God.
In Christian philosophy, ala St Gregory the Great: "When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice." Or St Francis of Assisi: "Alms are an inheritance and a justice which is due to the poor, and which Jesus Christ has levied upon us."
A justice due - the same justice spoken of in Old Testament Proverbs: "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Prov 21:3); of which Isaiah wrote: "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow" (Isa. 1:10-17); and of what the Jews call, 'tsedakah', not a favor granted by the giver but a holy obligation, a duty to give - joyfully - with a true and rightful compassion for the recipient.
The more we have received from God," says St. John Eudes, "the more we are obliged to render to him." (See Matt 25:14-30)
Gemilut Hasidim equates giving to others with buying something for ourselves. When we give, we are 'buying' the opportunity to help another person. "Nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as to give alms" says St Francis de Sales. In a spiritual sense, we become wealthy beyond imagining; so, as my friend pointed out, we "cultivate the divine qualities" while satisfying temporal need. Wealth, therefore, exists only to provide an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of those without. "We must give alms," says St Angela Merici, "Charity wins souls and draws them to virtue." We might say, it forces the poor to place their trust in God while providing the wealthy the circumstances in which to serve Him in their fellow man. So, we treat the poor and the needy with dignity, in private (see Matt 6:2-4), so as to not bring attention to their plight, and they accept with humble thanks, from God's limitless bounty ...
Secondly, while the notion of a worldly (or other-worldly) unity with, or interdependence on, each and every member of a society is shared by many different ideologies and faiths (a Budhist friend once remarked that this belief has remarkable similarities to his understanding of nirvana!); while we all share in the dignity inherent as children created in the image and likeness of God himself - a brotherhood of man - how much more it is realized in the members of the Church He founded: "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor 12:13)
St. Paul explains our belief in this fashion: "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Rom 12:4-5) This bears repeating: "we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another." So, each time we act with compassion upon those in need, we build up one another - build up ourselves - as members of this same body, the Church. Jesus himself couldn't have made it much clearer when he said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me." (Matt 25:40)
It stands to reason then that there is no such thing as an unimportant or insignificant member in the Mystical Body of Christ, right? "God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." (1 Cor:24-26)
In a metaphysical sense, there is no such thing as a 'private' sin nor a truly private act of charity. Just as every good action affects the universe positively, every bad action conversely so - in ways only God can see and measure. The Church calls this a "supernatural solidarity." (Indulgentarium Doctrina, Ch II) How may we be impacting others we don't even know by our daily thoughts, words, and actions - or inactions? How too may we be of immeasureable service to the Church Suffering and Militant when we give alms or offer up our simple daily crosses? We can be assured from Matthew's gospel (Matt 24:41-45, 16:27), that we will be held accountable for all on the day of judgement. St. John of the Cross puts it plainly: "At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity."
"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main ... any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." Metaphysical poet, John Donne, reflected upon this oneness in death; but we as Catholics know it too in life, in eternity with the Communion of Saints, and in the love of Christ through neighbor as fellow members of His Mystical Body.
"We are all poor beggars," says St. Alphonsus Liguori, "The only hope of the poor is to ask alms from the rich. In our spiritual poverty our only recourse is to beg God, by prayer, for the graces of which we stand in need." We are taught by St. Francis and his order that there is a humble and quiet dignity in begging for the necessities of life. If we want to see true love, we look into the eyes of Lady Poverty who can in no other way return the love we share by giving alms.
Pray for the poor. Be generous - not only from our surplus, our want, but from our necessity. (See Mk 12:41-44) "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Matt 6:21) Not only with our financial resources, but with our time and talents, too. God knows what's in our hearts. He knows in what spirit we give. We pray for the cardinal virtue of Prudence ("right reason in action" writes St. Thomas Aquinas); we discern genuine need and then in justice, by His grace, act upon it. "He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed." (Prv 19:17)
"Give to the man who begs from you," Jesus says. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:42,48) And again: "If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." (Matt 19:21) So give - joyfully give - for it is not really ours to keep; and pray for those in need, place them in the loving hands of our heavenly Father: the Master of Charity.
Holy Name Society
Archdiocese of St. Paul / Minneapolis
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I often think of this quest toward becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church as a journey. Through these blog posts, you are traveling on the journey with me. Since we’ll be spending some time together in these travels, it might make sense for you to know a little more about your journeyman. Here are some important things about me; knowing these might help make our trip together more meaningful.
17, 26, 37, 47, 55 – those are important numbers in my life.
At seventeen I was able to make my first major decisions about where I intended to go with my life. Did I want to remain rooted in the farming economy in which I was raised, or did I want to venture out? I liked many aspects of life on the farm: being your own boss, working with my dad and other family members every day, growing things, caring for animals, being outdoors among other things. There are many careers in agriculture, but I chose to go in a totally different direction. I decided to venture into engineering combined with computers – two things that really interested me. The desire to work for myself was planted in me early on, while I was busy planting and tending crops. I could also feel God’s presence in my life at this stage but I didn’t really take that seriously. There were too many other tantalizing things to discover.
At twenty six my life changed significantly – I married my wife. That was significant for many reasons. I was so happy to have found a Catholic woman that I could share my life and the whole preparation for the sacrament of marriage was a wake-up call. I could see how I had ignored my Catholic faith during the previous nine years. This much needed course correction came just in time.
At thirty seven, I had achieved all the worldly goals that I had set for myself. Make a certain amount of money each year for three or more consecutive years. Attain a certain position/title in a specific sized company. Be responsible for particular business areas. Manage a specific number of people. I had set those goals for myself years earlier believing that if/when I achieved them, I would be successful but more importantly that I’d be happy. Turns out it was just the opposite. At age thirty seven while achieving all my earthly goals, I was the most unhappy I had been in my whole work life. Fortunately, through the grace of God, my wife and I found what we were seeking in Jesus and his Church. At this point we wanted as much of that as we could get. We started re-orienting our lives so that we could strive to become the best Catholics we could become.
At forty seven, I said yes to the call I had been hearing to become a deacon. At that point I knew what God was asking of me. I started to move toward that calling rather than ignoring it or moving in other directions.
What is the rest of the story? Don’t know yet. We’ll have to see what God has in store. It should prove to be an interesting journey. Perhaps the next big number in my life will be 55 (possible ordination to the permanent deaconate)?
Humble Servant of God.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
When starting this series of posts about my journey towards the permanent deaconate, I debated the merits of writing about it. Writing about it certainly makes the whole process somewhat public. You and others will share the joys but also be aware of my failures. Despite the risks, I decided to blog about my journey. Why?
Robert Frost said this about writing: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." That hits upon a couple reasons why this is being written. For me this journey is full of surprises. I don't know where it will go, how long it will continue, our how it will turn out. It is an expensive journey in terms of time, effort and commitment. Because of this, emotions run deep. There is a lot at stake.
The journey has been short so far. The learning has begun on my part but there is still much more to learn. In spite of that, I've already come to better understand that God has given us and the Church a great blessing in his deacons. I came into this with many preconceived ideas of what a deacon is and why we have them. I was wrong on most of my ideas. It has been a wonderful discovery. I hope to share some of the beauty in what I've learned and am learning.
Blogging seemed like an easy way to update people about the trip. Several friends and family members want to know what is happening. I'm not able to talk to each one of them about all the things that are going on. This is a better way for us to "stay in touch."
Another reason for writing these blog posts is to possibly help others who are traveling or might travel a similar path. When hiking on a trail, a good trail guide can really help make the most of the trip. A few years ago my wife and I were on a hike in Glacier National Park. We decided to hike with a guide rather than on our own. The guide was able to point out the best things about the park and helped us make good use of our time. And perhaps most important, the guide was equipped to deal with the grizzly bears that make their home in the park. Overall, it was helpful to be there with someone who was familiar with the terrain. Perhaps some of these posts will help others who travel this path.
There are lots of reasons to write about my adventure to become a deacon. There is one main reason not to. That reason is fear. Fear of failure on my part. If and when that happens, I'll feel an obligation to tell you about it through a blog post. That won't be much fun.
.........and Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Mt 8:26
Much of this journey is about setting aside wants and fears in order to say “yes” to God’s call. These posts give me practice in overcoming that fear and placing my trust in God’s plan for me.
A Humble Servant of the Lord
Thursday, October 25, 2012
When starting a new course in college, one of the first questions was "when is the test?" The other questions tied to this are "how many tests will there be? How much do they count towards the final grade? With this information, a student could then figure out what they needed to do to attempt to get the desired grade.
My physics class during my freshman year of college featured a test every Friday. The final was just another Friday test that happened to cover material from the whole semester. And, each student was allowed to drop their two lowest weekly test scores. Your overall grade was your average of your Friday tests. This of course drove some specific student behavior. Each Thursday night, you'd see kids in the library with their physic book getting ready for the Friday test.
As I got started on this journey towards becoming a deacon, I originally looked at it through a college-class type of lens. I was wondering what tests were involved, when they would take place, and how they would be used to determine the outcome. I soon discovered that this would be different. So far there have been several "tests.” I’m required to pass each one in order to continue on the journey.