Sunday, January 24, 2016

Living the creative tension: twelve years a deacon

Each Friday I try to post what I have dubbed a traditio. A traditio is something, usually a song, (but not always), old or new, worth handing on. Every Sunday I try to post a reflection on the Sunday readings. Sometimes one or both is just too much with everything else I have going on in my life. Instead of a Friday traditio, this week I posted a Saturday morning one. Instead of a reflection on three very long readings, especially on a Sunday on which I had no liturgical or teaching duties, I am posting a reflection on something else. Besides, my Friday traditio and Sunday reflections posts are usually, but not always, my least read offerings. But I believe some things are worth doing for their own sake.

At the end of Mass today, during the announcements, as I sat with my three young sons in the congregation, when our pastor reminded everyone that tomorrow is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, it suddenly struck me that today, 24 January 2016, is the twelfth anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. At least one reason the date of my ordination, which took place on a Saturday, is 24 January is because the date of the episcopal ordination of then-Bishop (now-Archbishop emeritus) George Niederauer, who ordained me, is 25 January. I have always felt that the proximity of the date of my ordination to that of my then-bishop is significant. I was not the only deacon ordained for the Diocese of Salt Lake City on 24 January 2004. I was ordained along with 23 other men, my brothers, with whom I spent 4 wonderful years being formed primarily under the supervision of Dr Owen Cummings, a theologian and deacon, who teaches theology at Mt Angel Seminary in Oregon - the place where most of our diocese's priests are formed. I was 38 at the time of my ordination.

Because the diaconate, along with episcopate, most likely pre-dates the priesthood, at least as we understand the priesthood today, there has always been a close tie between a bishop and his deacons. Deacons were the bishop's original helpers, or servants, in taking care of the Christian community. This is clearly seen in passage of Acts that is understood as the institution of the diaconate - Acts 6:1-7. As Stephen and Philip show us, from the beginning, deacons have also been evangelizers. One way I think about being a deacon is that I make my bishop present wherever I go. This means making the Church present wherever I am. I am blessed beyond measure to have served under two bishops - George Niederauer and John Wester - who were wholeheartedly supportive and appreciative of the deacons who serve the local Church here in Utah. I fervently pray that our next bishop, who should be appointed this Spring or Summer, will be just as well-disposed towards his deacons. I was especially blessed to work closely with now-Archbishop Wester during his entire eight year ministry as bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Midnight Mass, Joint Base Anaconda, Iraq, 2006

It was a little more than two-and-a-half years after my ordination, on 19 July 2006, that I changed the name of my blog to Καθολικός διάκονος (i.e., Catholic Deacon) and started blogging in earnest. While it took me several years to really get a feel for this medium, I have understood what I do here as an extension of my diaconal ministry. Even with my tenth anniversary of blogging in earnest rapidly approaching, I can confidently say that I will continue blogging until I prayerfully discern it is time to quit.

I am grateful for the privilege of serving the Church and the world as a deacon. Like marriage, participating in the sacrament of holy orders, which call, like my call to holy matrimony , arose from my baptism, diaconal ministry, I believe, continues to conform me more to the image of Christ, the true and perfect deacon. This is why sometimes service can be excruciating on a number of levels. In the introduction to his excellent book, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, Deacon James Keating noted that permanent deacons are called to a vocation best characterized as living the "creative tension" generated from being a cleric who lives "a lay life." If deacons are to be the leaven for the Church and for the world we are ordained to be, then this tension must be ever present. Given this inherent strain, serving as a deacon is not a vocation for just anyone, but only for those called to live this tension.

In the end, being a deacon is not about me. It is about those I am called to serve. I pray that I have served well and that, by the grace of God, I may continue to serve well. And so to my brothers with whom I was ordained, even the three who have passed over - Gerry Shea, Aniceto Armendariz, and Scott Chisholm - happy anniversary. To those still kicking - ad multos annos.

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