Sunday, May 15, 2016

Preparing for the Jubilee for Permanent Deacons: what is being a deacon all about?

In preparation for the Jubilee of Deacons, May 27 thru May 29th, and in response to numerous questions I get all throughout the year, here is a reflection on what being a deacon is all about!

I was ordained and received the Sacrament of Holy Orders on December 13, 2008.  I was ordained to be a Permanent Deacon.  I will always be a Deacon, I will never be a Priest.  There are several reasons for this including the fact that I am a married man but more importantly, I was called by God to diakonia, the ministry of service sacramentalized!  I was not called by God to be a Priest.  This is a good place to remind everyone that the Deacon is not Father's little helper or a glorified altar boy.  The Permanent Deacon is not some part-time member of the parish staff who only "works" on Sundays.  The Permanent Deacon, by ordination and the laying on of hands by the Bishop, is sealed with an indelible mark which says so much more about "being" than "doing".  Once ordained, the Deacon is always a Deacon, at home, at work and when actively engaged in ministry.

At ordination my "being" included the following, I was 51 years old, married for 31 years to Wendy, and the proud dad to two unmarried children, James and Elizabeth.  I was employed as a banker with a national chain bank.  A homeowner, Wendy and I have 10 acre spread and we still were taking care of two horses.  Immediately upon ordination I was assigned to my home church parish of St. Jane de Chantal and to Rayburn Correctional Center, a state-run prison for inmates generally serving terms of 10-40 years.  I am considered a pastoral care chaplain for the Catholic community among the 1,100 inmates.

For anyone who knows me, they would not be surprised that I robustly threw myself into ministry.  I viewed my role as Deacon as being involved in some sort of ministry 2-3 nights per week and most of the weekend.  In my earliest days as a Deacon, my job allowed me to come to work at 9 so I began the routine of assisting at daily Mass, sometimes all 5 days of the work week.  In general, I would be assigned at least 2 Masses every weekend.  Yes, sometimes there are more masses and sometimes less; every now and again we get a weekend off from assisting duties.  Don't forget, there is also many special liturgies, Holy Days of Obligation, funerals, weddings, first Communions, Confirmations, etc.  Being the Catholic Chaplain at the prison, I am charged with conducting Communion Services or assisting visiting Priests when we are able to celebrate Mass.

Among the many things I do at Rayburn Correctional include being "present" to any of the men who need to share/tell their story, to visit the men outside of chapel time, help to coordinate retreats and special visits, including at least an annual visit from the Archbishop, and keep records related to any Baptisms, 1st Communions and Confirmations conducted at the prison.  I have also worked with the ecumenical prison ministry known as Kairos where we conduct weekend retreats for those seeking a relationship with God.  While I absolutely love this ministry, Rayburn takes some effort.  From work, it's about a 45 mile drive and the return home is 37 miles to the house.  Rayburn is located in a rural, low-populated area of Washington Parish(county).  It is as far north and east as you can go in the Archdiocese from the Chancery office.  Many times, when one of our Catholic community are released from Rayburn, I help coordinate temporary housing and stay in touch with the men in their freedom.

Back at the parish I have been involved in Sacramental Preparation, most especially Baptisms and Weddings.  Remember, a good, solid Wedding prep includes multiple meetings with the couple over a period of 6 months.  I've lost count of the number of couples I have prepared and the number of weddings I have witnessed, but all of them are pure joy.  I have been involved in many weddings for couples I have known going back to their CCD days and as you most certainly know, was able to preach and assist at my own daughter's wedding just two weeks ago.  If weddings are a joy, so are baptisms.  Again, I've lost track of every Baptism I have done but each one is also very special.  Have I done funerals?  Only a few, but keep in mind this is something Deacons do with regularity, especially wake services or graveside services. 

Deacons also are called upon to be involved in many things at the Parish level; sometimes these things make sense, other times these things could just as easily be handled by lay parish leaders.  In my time as Deacon I have managed the altar servers(this should be a lay leader), been actively involved in adult faith formation and Bible studies, worked with youth groups and anything else you can imagine.  And while these things are usually directed by the Pastor, most Catholics would be surprised to learn that we directly report to the Bishop.  Said a better way, the Deacon is ordained to serve the needs of the people of God as directed by the Bishop.  I have been privileged to serve both Archbishop Alfred Hughes, who was my ordaining Bishop, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond.  By the way, the Permanent Deacon is expected to assist with Masses, in rotation, at the Cathedral in downtown New Orleans; historic St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter.

One of the things I have loved in my time as a Deacon has been to assist others in their formation toward eventual ordination to the Diaconate.  I was very privileged to work with the 2010, 2012 and 2015 classes.  Under the direction of our Diaconate Director, I have helped conduct retreats, have facilitated homiletics and mentored 4 or 5 candidates.  At the prison, I supervise two candidates every year there is a group in formation as they take their clinical pastoral training(CPT). 

I mentioned the Deacon's relationship with his Bishop.  One of the responsibilities of the Bishop is to make sure Deacons are assigned in a manner which maximizes service to the people of God.  This means that Deacons get assigned where need is greatest.  Now because Permanent Deacons are married, have family and work a secular job until retirement, they are not moved around the entire Archdiocese.  In my case, I have been moved twice.  In January 2011 I was assigned to Most Holy Trinity Parish in Covington/Mandeville area; about 10 miles south of my formerly assigned home parish of St. Jane de Chantal.  I can honestly say looking back that this was a great help for me in so many ways.  I loved my time at MHT and stayed there until July 2015 when I was reassigned back home to St. Jane's.  This is one of the pledges we take upon ordination, to be obedient to assignments and to totally understand that you do not get to stay at "home" as a Deacon.  I would tell any Deacon that spending time away from the home parish is a really good thing on so many levels.  Today, I am a better Deacon at St. Jane's because of my time spent in service at Most Holy Trinity!

In sharing all of this I may give the appearance that doing is more important than being, contradicting my earlier statement.  Believe me, this is only part of the story.  A Deacon is a Deacon all of the time, through all that life throws at you.  I am a Deacon at home, I am a Deacon when I go to North Carolina to be with my NC family and two grandchildren, I am a Deacon at work, even when I have to handle something difficult or tell a client I can't approve their loan.  I am a Deacon when the wife is sick or the car breaks down.  I am a Deacon at all times and in all roles I have to fulfill.  As a Deacon, I do have to find time to pray, including the pledge we made at ordination to pray some part of the church's Liturgy of the Hours daily.  Being a man of prayer and personal sanctity is a must for the office of the Permanent Deacon.  Of course we, being just men, are sinners, and must make time for frequent confession, spiritual direction and at least an annual retreat.  All the while, remember to be present to your wife, who supports you immensely, be dad and granddad and be who you are whether at work or Walmart.

So today, this Deacon is now 59 years old, married 38 years(soon to be 39 on June 4th), the father of two happily married children, James to Sara and Elizabeth to Mark, the granddad, actually "Pops" to Calvin, soon to be 4 and Katelynn, soon to be 1, I no longer have horses, having buried my last two since ordination, am the proud "dad" to my little puppy that my wife named "Delilah" and I now work for a smaller, stronger community bank in a nice little town called Pearl River.  Since ordination in 2008, we have had many personal happy events and moments while at the same time I had my first ever surgery, been through a health scare or two for my wife and survived several job changes for both me and Wendy. 

One thing for certain as we approach this Jubilee for Deacons; I am forever thankful that for whatever reason known to Him alone, that God chose me for this role in serving His people in this Archdiocese that forever has been my home.  I marvel everyday at the numerous contributions and efforts of all my brother Deacons as they minister at nursing homes, food kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals, hospice, job training programs, youth facilities, substance abuse programs, chaplains to police and firefighters, parishes, with couples preparing for marriage, parents preparing for baptisms, families facing illnesses and even death and just being present to all the many people who have no one else to be with them.  It truly is a ministry of service and that service, all week long and all hours of the day and night, is sacramentalized, made present to God's people, by the Deacon's presence on the altar at Mass, where we proclaim the Gospel, preach the homily when directed to do so, present the prayers of the people in the intentions and minister the Cup and help distribute Holy Communion then finally dismiss the people as we are all sent to serve God.

I am a Permanent Deacon, ordained to be an icon of Christ the Servant who came to serve, not to be served.

St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, Deacons and Martyrs for the faith, pray for us!!!

Pray for all your Deacons, especially during the weekend of May 27-29, the Jubilee for Deacons in this Jubilee Year of Mercy!

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