A New Format for a New Life

For years, this blog has had the title, “Not a Deacon Yet”.

That is no longer accurate.

I intend to begin posting again soon, and I will of course begin with a run down of what has happened in the last few years leading to my ordination. Before I do, it seems a good time for an update to this site, new visuals, new format, new style.

I will soon be updating my menu pages, and afterwords, I will begin to post again. It’s a new day, and I now have a new mission.

I look forward to meeting you all once again!

You are cordially invited.

I hesitated to post this, I was planning on waiting until ordination was over before I posted again.

However, many of you have been kind enough to take this journey with me. I have greatly enjoyed your emails, comments and camaraderie. God willing, I will be ordained this Saturday at 10:00 am PST.

I would like to invite you to my ordination. Sadly, there in only one seat left in the house, and it’s at your desk or couch. I invite you to watch live on YouTube as God in his goodness confers on me through my bishop, the sacred sacrament of Holy Orders.

These last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me as I spend one moment frightened at what I’ve gotten myself into, and the next praising God for the opportunity he has given me. Please keep me in your prayers.

May God have mercy on me, and may my life be lived for His glory. Amen.

Ordination Date Been Set!

Years have gone by. Five and a half of them. Children and grandchildren have been born, parents and grandparents have passed on. This formation process has been full of up and downs, and classes that will never end.

Except that the classes HAVE ended. I have reached the end of this road, and beyond it I can see a new life, a life lived not for myself, but for God’s most precious possession, his Holy Church.

This September, God willing, my bishop will lay hands on me, and through this most ancient prayer I will be changed forever. I haven’t been this excited since I was married to the most beautiful woman I have ever met.

If anyone is still out there after these years of silence, I would ask your prayers. I look forward to writing again very soon.

May God fill you with His endless blessings!

Institution of Acolyte
Instituted as a Acolyte – one of the final steps before Ordination as a Deacon.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant… RIP Father Eric Freed

I am sorry for having been so reluctant to write, but I want to thank everyone for their condolences and prayers. This post is bound to be more of a journal that an article, so please forgive me my lack of ordered thought. For those of you that don’t know, my priest was brutally murdered on January first this year. He was a wonderful pastor, an educated scholar, and true servant of the gospel, but for me, most importantly, he was my dear friend.

Father Eric and I chatting

It was Father Eric Freed that sent in my recommendation to enter formation, it was he who talked to the local catholic school to help me land my job as a theology teacher, it was he who would cruelly thrust me into ministry after ministry unprepared, and it was he who would save me at the last minute when I would stumble in these ministries. Father Eric was the catalyst, the force behind nearly everything I do now. I cannot tell you how much I miss our weekly breakfast where we would catch up on everything going on in the parish, me rambling on about everything that needed improving, him laughing as he wrote all his notes in Japanese on napkins.

I won’t pretend we agreed on everything, the truth would be quite the reverse, we disagreed on everything, but our disagreement never got in the way of our friendship, and never got in the way of our work. In fact it only seemed to heighten it. Mutual respect is something uncommon in today’s world that seems more interested in debate and argument than the true meeting of minds. Father Eric was never that way.

I had prepared the altar for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God after a long night of staying up with my daughters to ring in the new year. Everyone was tired. Having January first be a holy day of obligation can feel like a bother sometimes, but we all know it’s the best way to start off the year. I know you are a faithful Catholic when I see your red eyes in church on New Years Day! Our deacon and I were chatting in the sacristy about nothing in particular, when we realized Father was later than usual. After calling him with no response, he went over to check on him. When he returned, pale as a ghost and announced to the congregation that Father was sick, and there would be no Mass, I feared the worst immediately. As he ran out of the church, still in his freshly pressed white vestments, I hopped up to the ambo to lead the parish in prayer for Father. As I stood there praying the rosary with our congregation, my mind raced with terror. Our deacon works in a hospital and is a black belt, so it takes more than sickness to drain the blood from his face. I knew this had to be quite bad indeed.

Poicle Tape at Church

After dismissing the congregation, I stepped outside the church for a moment to see my spiritual home being dressed in bright yellow police tape, and them carting out a body. I didn’t cry, I didn’t feel anything at all. All I felt was a pressing need to do something. I sat with our deacon, my friend, as he calmly told the police over and over again exactly what he saw, having to relive that moment again and again while the image of finding his body was so fresh. I felt so numb, and yet was comforted by the strength of he and his wife.

I went home to change for the press conference, only to find my phone full of messages asking if Father was okay, but the police had asked me to be silent. I came back to the Church to a storm of cameras, city officials and worried parishioners. The tears were already flowing everywhere when the mayor gave us the news. I wanted so badly for the cameras to all just go away and let our people cry without our emotions all being documented for the evening’s bout of entertainment. I haven’t watched the news since. I don’t think I ever will.

At the Press Conference

Anyone who has read my blog knows how deeply I respect and admire my bishop, it is built into the tone of nearly everything I say about the episcopacy. All that changed that week. Before, I respected him because in my mind, I saw him as my apostle in some idealistic fashion. However, it took very little time for me to simply love him more than any respect can do him justice. When he got the news, he immediately jumped in the car and drove the five hours from the chancery to our parish, and without missing a beat, took over everything for the parish personally. He handled the funeral arrangements, he handled mourning services, he took over all our masses for weeks, he stayed with us and mourned with us. He brought in Father Eric’s family, and more than that, he did all this in a way that everyone in the parish could participate and help. To think that as he came, I, in my selfishness, was more concerned with whether or not I would be involved in all that would soon transpire. His kindness and generosity knew no bounds, and put my selfishness to shame.

Eucharistic Prayer

We could not have done it without him. The services went on and on, they never seemed to end. Masses for Father, an all night vigil, the funeral, the graveside service; it seemed as if we fit three months of liturgies into a couple days, and our bishop never broke a sweat, and never stopped being able to smile.

The funeral was hard. I was given the second reading, the same reading we read last week from Romans, about how all creation groans for our redemption. I don’t think the bishop knew this when he chose it, but this was one of Father’s favorite scriptures. The Holy Spirit just helps with stuff like that. It was odd being so busy while trying to deal with my own emotions and prepare to read for such a massive crowd. One minute I was was making sure we had all the stuff for the funeral mass, the next I was condoling with someone new, the next I was relaying some message for the bishop, it was quite surreal. I did not go to the graveside service, I knew I couldn’t handle it.

Bishop lays father to rest

The outpouring of love for Father Eric was so intense that it crossed all boundaries. People came from the college he taught at, from the Newman center he worked with, for the Japanese community he served, from other faith communities, and so much more. He was loved so very much, and his loss hurt so many so very deeply.

I cannot speak as to how Father touched any of these people’s lives, but I can say who he was to me. He was one of the most masculine men I have known. He loved his sports, and his quiet evening with a beer and a cigar. He would actually vacation to Chicago. His knowledge of scripture was so immense that we could talk for hours on a single word, translating it from language to language to further understand its meaning. He believed that joy was the true christian vocation, that it was the heart of what it meant to love Christ, and he really tried to live that joy out everyday. He was ever the Salesian, and could not forget where he came from for a moment. (Never get him started talking about John Bosco!) He looked like a white man, but he was really Japanese to the core. He would talk with homeless men and women for hours. He was not the greatest of Saints, but on most days, he really tried to be.

Mostly, he was my friend.

Father in presiders chair

I want to say something trite, like live your friendships while you have them, or never take those around you for granted. Instead, I would say that bad things just happen, and sometimes, terrible things happen. But God does not leave us orphans, he is with us every step of the way. This event was one of the most terrible events I can imagine ever happening, the random murder of a good and faithful person for no reason at all, and yet, the blessings that God has poured out through this tragedy has been immense. I have written enough, and have no desire to talk about the individuals whose faith has been strengthened or renewed, the conversions or any of these particulars. Suffice to say, the blessings have continued in great abundance. Father’s message speaks louder in death than it ever did in life, however paradoxical that may seem. I have also found it ever so fitting that he died on the feast of our most beloved mother, the woman he always remembered was that greatest disciple of them all.

I want to thank all those who did so much for us, for the Knights of Columbus who stayed with the body all night long so that people could come and mourn in peace at their own time, the Women’s Club who handled all the arrangements for reception after reception, our sister parish for giving us full use of their church with no question asked, for my friend from my old youth group who organized the making of thousands of origami cranes, for the hundreds of people who left candlelit memorials at Father Eric’s door and lining the entire block, for the funeral home that comped all the funeral expenses, for all of our priests who drove from across the diocese to mourn with us. The thanks just go on and on, I could never get them all.

Funeral with altar servers

In closing, I would remember a tradition that Father would do every year from his days as a Salesian priest. Every year, he would print out a short thought on a card for everyone to reflect on for the whole year, and he would bring it up over and over again in his homilies. It is called a strenna. When he had the strenna printed out for the year, I felt it was nice enough, but I was unhappy with the artwork. It was meant to show God’s grace in the form of rain coming upon the earth, but I thought it looked sad, almost like tears. He liked it though, so we printed them. Those tears, the grace, the message, they have all burned into my mind now almost as if they were his identity in my thoughts now. There’s that ole Holy Spirit doing his thing again.

“To be happy, be thankful.

To be thankful, have faith.

Faith is understanding that all is God’s.”

-Fr. Eric Freed

Fr Eric Strenna

Eric, it has been six months, and I still can’t forget for even one day. I miss you very much, as do all those whom you served. May our Lord whom you served so faithfully give you the opportunity to serve him even more abundantly in heaven my friend. And while you are there, please continue to pray for me.

Further Reflections on Clerical Dress for Deacons

Once and a while, you get lucky. So when a former key staffer for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops takes the time to comment on your blog, a simple thank you isn’t enough. Deacon William Ditewig, Ph.D. was kind enough to share these thoughts on my posts, Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar, and Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar. Deacon Dietwig has authored ten books on the diaconate and lay ministry, and served as the head of the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Diaconate. His thought’s follow:

Lots of great thoughts here. If I may add my own two-cents’ worth?

This question is, first of all, not a new one. All the way back to 1968 when the US bishops first sought permission to renew the diaconate here in the United States, this was discussed. Remember that back then, the medieval “cursus honorum” was still in place with tonsure admitted a man to the clerical state, then the four minor orders, then the major order of subdeacon, and then the diaconate. Our first permanent deacons in this country went through all of that, since it didn’t go away until 1972! So in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, for example, we have some wonderful pictures of our first permanent deacons (ordained in 1971) wearing cassocks, collars and all the assorted vestments associated with the time. The collar, however, remained a sticking point, even from the beginning.

Baltimore's First Deacons
Baltimore’s First Deacons

The first negative experiences back then WERE based on confusion. The original permanent deacons in the early 1970s were actually considerably younger than many of our current ordinands: the age at ordination has been rising steadily over the decades. So, you had transitional deacons AND permanent deacons, both of whom could look quite young, out and about doing ministry. There WERE times when both sets of deacons would have to explain that they were not priests and couldn’t hear someone’s confession, and so forth.

But there’s something more significant at play here. I served for a number of years on the USCCB Staff, and one thing that I learned very clearly was that the bishops of a country — ANY country — do not like to generate particular national law whenever they can avoid it. The like to keep as much autonomy as they can so they can adapt things to the specific and very concrete needs of their diocese. This approach applies to ANYTHING, not just “deacons in collars.” Now, suppose there was a national policy that required deacons to wear collars. OK, fine. Got it. Now, imagine you’re a deacon in a remote diocese in the State of ________. There, the diocesan practice for the priests is that when they gather for anything outside of Mass, they are NOT in clericals. Then, here comes the deacon, following national law, and he’s the only cleric around who is. Who will be confused now? See, there’s no national law or practice on what PRIESTS are to wear either! The practice of wearing collars didn’t really catch on till the 20th century. Clerical attire is simply supposed to be “distinctive” attire, and it’s really only custom that has led to what we now have. So, bishops reasonably ask, “Why, when we don’t have a national law or policy on what our priests are supposed to wear, should we have one for deacons?”

Casual Priest Retreat
Casual Priest Retreat

During the preparation of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, one bishop recommended that the questions of “what deacons wear” should be determined by the bishops of each of the 15 episcopal regions (there are 14 geographical regions, plus one “region” for the Eastern Catholic Churchs). This got hooted off the floor very quickly. As one bishop told me later in the hallway, “We can’t decide by regions on what day to celebrate the Ascension? How would we ever decide what kind of shirt our deacons are wearing?”

The wearing of the grey clerical shirt (what we used to refer to for many years as “the St. Louis model,” because it seemed to originate there many, many years ago) is one way to go, but since many priests and other ministers of other faiths also wear multi-colored clericals, they don’t, ultimately, help all that much. Over the years, many designs have emerged. I would say that in my six years or so at the Conference, a new one would arrive about once a month. One was even a kind of clerical “dickie” that had a vertical stripe in the middle of the collar. Another was a collar without a notch; this was quickly vetoed by the bishops, however, because of complaints by many religious brothers who wear that kind of collar with their habits.

Colorful Collars

Seriously, after twenty-three years as a deacon, I’ve encountered every reason there is to wear a collar, and every reason why not to. Yes, I believe deacons should be readily identifiable as deacons of the Church in service to others. I also don’t like the fact that non-ordained seminarians wear clericals without question. That’s why I’ve always liked the policy that we have in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and which I’ve recommended to many bishops around the country: “If in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so.”

All I can say is, “Hang in there; there are more important things to worry about!”

God bless,

Deacon Bill Ditewig

The Ramblings, Teachings and Archive of a High School Theology Teacher, and Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.