Rite of Reader (Lector)

I realize I need to go about this from where I left off in my journey. I want very badly to talk about other things, but that seems somehow improper until I complete the story of my pilgrimage here.

In my last post so many years ago, I explained that my formation director suggested I not post any more in this blog. This was not a censure of any kind, but an act of prudence. His concern was that I might accidentally say something something I didn’t mean, or might in some way share something that shouldn’t be shared. The fear was that this might in some way have an effect on whether or not I was actually ordained when the time came.

This seemed wise and thoughtful to me, and I resolved to stop writing until such a time as I was free to do so, and went on with my formation process.

another-lecture

Most of formation was endless classes, every other weekend. The Divine Office, Theology, Church History, Psychology, Homiletics, all in all very useful, but also very tiring. I teach theology, so that meant for me, the only real difference on weekends was: I was sitting be talked to instead of standing and doing the talking. My instructors were fantastic and extremely knowledgeable, but for me it was a lot like having to go to professional development classes every weekend!

There are moments that stand out brightly though, those moments when we would come together in prayer to celebrate the changes that were happening, as well accept new responsibilities. The first of these was the Rite of Reader.

riteofreader

In this beautiful Rite, celebrated in the cathedral, is focused on the Word of God, on Sacred Scripture. We are called to love scripture, to become living examples of the words we read. We are called forth to be the very mouth of God, as he proclaims his sacred words to his sons and daughters, and to those who who have not yet come home to him.

The central moment of this Rite, is the handing of scripture from the bishop to the reader. In all solemnity, the reader comes to kneel before the bishop, and the bishop hands him the book of scripture with these words, looking you straight in the eye:

“Take this book of holy Scripture
and be faithful in handing on the word of God,
so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.”

rite-of-lector

I teach from the bible every day. I have one in my hand all the time. This book given to me by my bishop is different. I keep it in a special box, and every time I pull it out, I remember this moment. This bible feels heavier than any other I have ever owned, not because it is, but because every time I hold it, I feel the weight of this responsibility. Now, almost two years later, this book feels heavier than ever, but it is a weight that I hold with great joy, and a great sense of duty.

In this Rite we were officially designated to be those who had a duty to proclaim scripture  to the sacred assembly.

Think about that for a moment. We were given the Duty, to Proclaim Scripture, to the Sacred Assembly.

For the first time in this whole process, we were called to actually DO something, and something really important.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been a lector at my parish for years. I try to do a good job, I read the scriptures the night before, I use inflection and make sure I know how to pronounce all the strange names. If fact, I have always loved reading at Mass.

proclaiming-the-word

The first time I read as a duly instituted reader, appointed by the bishop for that sacred task, it felt different. This was my place, and I had a responsibility to make sure it was done well and right. I knew it was my job to be the most reverent, best reader possible, that I was called to be the example that lectors should follow.

But it was deeper than that. I knew that I had a ministry, a calling. Even if I were not to become a deacon, I was this, and this was no small matter.

My bishop told us a story before we celebrated this Rite, of a man to whom he had given this Rite to before. He talked about how this man felt changed by the charism of the Rite, and how as he neared death, he asked him, his bishop, if he could be buried with the bible on his chest as a sign of his sacred office.

man-with-bible

The Rite had marked this man, had given him sacred purpose. It did the same for me. As I stood up to read scripture again for the first time, I knew that I had been changed, and I could never be the same again.

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.

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