My First Homily!

My pastor scheduled me to preach my very first weekend as a deacon, to go along with a celebration of my ordination. I worked on my first homily all summer long. I really wanted to get it all right, I wanted to start off good. It was a finely crafted work of art.

I then scraped the whole thing and rewrote it the night before.

It was such a great joy to serve my parish for the first time, I was so deeply honored. Ill talk more about the reception in another post.

So without further ado, for your reading pleasure…

Readings for the day can be found here…

As I stand here today, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to this parish, this family who have given so much to support me over these last five and a half years. In preparing to become a deacon, I have many times wanted to quit, to give up. You see, I know that I am in no way worthy to serve you.

How blessed am I that the one piece of scripture that sustained me, is the scripture we read from Paul today. He is telling my story. He says, “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated.” This is me. But the grace of our Lord is indeed abundant, and like Paul, somehow God in his grace has found me trustworthy.

In my life, I have not been the best of men. In my foolishness and ignorance, I have denied him, I have hurt people, and I have hurt myself. Christ came to save people just like me, sinners. Like Paul, I cannot help but think that the main reason Christ has chosen me in this way, to serve you as deacon, is to show you the endless mercy and patience he has. If he can bring a sinner like me home, there is no one he cannot save.

I know you too are not perfect. Maybe your sins are different then mine, but to be human is to have that natural tendency towards sin, so I know it is there for you too. It was there for Israel in the desert as they built the molten calf, and it is with us still. But God’s mercy is enough for us.

Jesus is not afraid of our weakness, he is not afraid of our sin. It is we who live in fear, fear of not being good enough, fear of judgement, fear of the future and fear of being alone. Jesus is not afraid to walk right through all of that to walk beside us. He is not afraid to leave all and come searching for us, to risk all to bring us home, and there is no greater celebration for him than finding you and I, his lost sheep, his missing coin.

We must move towards him always, we must have faith that he is there to catch us when we fall, and to guide our steps along the ever narrowing path. We must take every step of our lives in this faith, we must walk this faith in our work, in our dealings with our families and friends, in our meeting strangers, and in our sufferings and sorrows. If we instead choose to live in fear, we will never find the happiness we seek.

Faith is not a blind thing. Faith is not trying to force yourself to believe something that doesn’t make sense. Faith is like a glass bridge stretching over the Grand Canyon. You have seen people walk across it, you know it has been engineered well, but when it comes time for you to walk over it yourself, you can’t help but be afraid. You see nothing but glass and sky beneath you, and your heart rises in your chest, and you can hardly breathe.

Faith is knowing what is true, and acting on it even when it doesn’t FEEL true. We may desire sinful things, but we must fight it, because we know it will not bring us joy, will not make us whole, and will leave us empty. Instead we must in faith move towards the good things that come from God, Friendship, Loyalty, Charity, Compassion, Kindness, and Fortitude. These are the things that will bring us lasting joy. Joy is what we seek, and to live a life in Christ is to turn away from the sin and the fear that plagues us, and to grab that joy our Lord offers with both hands.

Today as I begin my ministry to you, I remember the words of a dear friend of yours and mine, Fr. Eric Freed, that I hold deep in my heart and in my thoughts. “To be happy, be thankful. To be thankful, have faith. Faith is understanding that all is God’s.”

Ordination! Two impressions…

Satan tried to bring me down. I know it was him, I felt it.

I was in the hotel room getting ready, and I had a brand new alb my beloved priest had bought for me. It was beautiful: Long, White, Clean, Crisp, …just beautiful. I had never worn it, and it was wrinkled.

We aren’t rich, and this whole process had been expensive, so we were staying in an inexpensive (can I say, crappy?) motel, and they didn’t have an iron in room, so I had to go get one from the office along with this cheap little tabletop ironing board. Seriously, how does one iron this huge alb on a squishy bed with a little tabletop ironing board? I was laughing at the mere idea. But I was a boy scout, and I can make anything work, so I just turned on the iron, and got ready to make it happen.

The second the iron touched the fabric, I wanted to cry. It was hotter than the setting said, and began to melt my beautiful polyester.

I wanted to scream, yell, and hit things. I wanted to cry, weep and moan. I had no backup. I had ruined it. I was to be ordained in hours.

God bless my family. They are so smart, and so wise. They all left the room while I just vented. Then, they came back in and my daughter said, “Don’t let Satan take this from you.”

Out of the mouth of babes.

My whole attitude changed in a second. I wore it as is, and wear it still. It seems silly now, but how easily the Liar can fool us and try to steal what is beautiful from us.


I didn’t know how I would feel as we went through ordination. So often we have a hard time paying attention during these big moments in our lives, and can only see the grace when looking backwards. In the midst of all the travel, the meeting with family and friends who came to share the day with me, in the sheer busyness of it all, I expected this to be much the same.

I was all business as we walked in. We had rehearsed everything, and I wasn’t going to be the idiot who screwed up and looked stupid, so I was totally focused on trying to be in the right place at the right time. We were processing in to begin the Mass, my wife beside me holding the luxurious vestments I would soon be dressed in, my beloved family and so many of my dearest friends to my left, my friends the Marian Sisters to my right; it was truly almost a royal feeling.

I’m still just walking in, I haven’t even sat down yet, and I look up and there is this giant, larger than life crucifix of our Lord hanging above the altar. The first thought that pops in my mind is:

“Here I stand, surrounded by love in all my finery, and there You are with nothing but a loincloth as vestments, and all but a few have left you to suffer. Why would you bless me so?”

The rest was an emotional rollercoaster. I remember crying, and not being able to cry any more. I remember lying on the cold stone tile offering everything I have, I remember the moment the bishop’s hands rested on my head, I remember feeling the weight of the Gospel in my hands, and the deep sense of change as my wife and my mentor dressed me. I felt every moment with clarity, I felt transformed.

I still do. It’s calmer now, but I know I am not the same as I was. I am a different man, no longer my own. My independence is gone, but it has been replaced with this unyielding desire to be there for everyone God puts into my life. I am learning I can’t do it all, that I don’t have the time for everyone, and that actually hurts.

In the end, the Catechism has it right, we are given the grace to live out the Sacrament we have received. I pray I am able to allow that grace to continue to transform me as the years pass on that I may serve Him ever more.

More than all this, I am still shocked that our Lord would be so gracious to me who deserve that grace so little.

Thank you to all my brother deacons who walked this path with me. May God bless you continuously in your ministry.

Plan Your Work – Work Your Plan

We are now fully into the penance of the holy season of Lent.

I’ve already messed it all up.

This to me, is the beauty of Lent. It reminds me every year of just how hard it is to be the person I really want to be, the person I think God is calling me to be. It sets me up to fail, to remind me that without God, I truly am powerless.

Every year, I use Lent almost like New Years Day, a time to reset my life to what I think it should be if only I were a better person. I have in my mind the idea that if I can just create the habits of being good, that somehow that will fix most of my problems. Lent teaches me again and again, year after year, that it is just more complicated than that. It reminds me of my fundamental laziness, my sloth, my pride.

It’s not that I don’t really want to be a good person, I truly do. I truly wish to become a saint, as holy as I am able in this transitory life. The problem is wanting to be a saint right now. I have this constant vision of what I think holiness looks like, and want to somehow reach it, but in the moment, I think, “I’m tired, I know I should pray my rosary, but I really just want to lie on the couch and watch some Netflix.” Then one show becomes three, and I’ve blown my whole evening. I can’t help but feel so defeated, and I feel like just giving up.

The first Sunday of Lent, we heard the story of Jesus in the desert, being tempted by Satan. Again and again Satan tries to trick Jesus, and he does it in the most devious way possible. He uses scripture! He tries to present sin to Jesus as if it is a good thing, as if God would really want him to do these things. Jesus is not fooled, but I am fooled almost every time. “Come on Dance, you know you are tired, I know God wants you to have some free time to yourself,” the serpent whispers. Yes, of course he does, but not at the expense of leaving Him or my commitments I’ve made to Him! And I certainly don’t need THAT much rest!

How does Jesus fight back? He has a plan. A real plan, and a good plan. Jesus knows he is going to be tempted, and he is prepared. For Jesus, he has prepared by knowing his scripture, and he’s ready to fight the devil head on.

Satan will attack us this Lent as well, every day of it, and if we too don’t have a plan, we will fall victim to his lies.

This is NOT a good plan! Sadly though, this is often the only plan we have.

You know what your main sins are. I certainly know mine, I confess them over and over again every time I seek Reconciliation. Do you have a plan for how you are going to deal with the temptation that most affects you? When you have the temptation to gossip, what is your plan? When you have the temptation to be rude, what is your plan? When you have the temptation to be lazy, what is your plan? When you have the temptation to consume too much, what is your plan?

Take your spiritual life seriously this Lent, treat it as you would any other enterprise. You would not build a business without a plan, neither can you build a strong spiritual life without one. Take notice of your weaknesses, and careful decide how you will defeat the sin that have plagued you. That way, like Jesus, you will be prepared when the tempter comes.

Then, this will be a Holy Lent indeed.

Rite of Candidacy

Or is it the Rite of Confusion?

The main problem we had was not the Rite itself, that is pretty straightforward. The Rite of Candidacy is simply the Church calling you forward as a candidate for Holy Orders. It would seem to be so simple, right?

Alas, no! The problem is not what the Rite is, but WHEN to perform it! Different dioceses through the world will perform this Rite at different times. Here’s the rundown on the hows and whys, skip a couple paragraphs if Church rules bore you!

When a priest is ordained, it is process that involves many steps, one of them being ordained to the diaconate. So for bishops and priests, it makes sense to want to follow the same order through which they were ordained. I mean, a deacon is a deacon, whether he is permanent or transitional, right? So it would just make sense that you would follow the same order, the same path to get there. This order is: Aspirant -> Lector -> Acolyte -> Candidate -> Deacon -> Priest.

Here things get a little confusing though, as the Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons from the Congregation for the Clergy implies that Candidacy comes right after the propaedeutic period, also known as aspirancy. This is BEFORE actual classes begin, upsetting the order defined in priestly formation. The new order described is Aspirant -> Candidate -> Lector -> Acolyte -> Deacon.

In our diocese, our bishop decided the priestly order was more in keeping with the spirit of the Rite as he saw it, and as such, this was the last Rite before ordination. For us, this was quite unlike our previous Rites, as it was a very small and private affair between our brother candidates, our wives, our formation team and of course, our bishop. He was kind enough to spend the day with us in retreat to prepare.

I think I would describe this Rite as “comfortable”. If I were to be honest, this was the first time I felt at ease during the whole process. Let me explain.

The whole time, all these years, I felt as if I was on the chopping block. I was desperate to not make any big mistakes, or to make too loud a noise, as all it would take was a word to have me removed from the program. I had felt as if I had to keep my head down and not make waves, to not speak too loud when I felt classes may be getting off course or be leaning in a direction that I felt wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of the Church’s faith. Frankly, I didn’t want to piss anybody off, lest I become the confrontational guy. For example, I was told to stop writing this blog, and I obeyed. It feels like you are walking a knife’s edge, and over years, this becomes a wearing feeling. Ordination is not guaranteed, and the fear that you will be removed was always present.

This Rite was pleasant, and full of the symbolism of the Church choosing us for this Sacrament, which was beautiful, but the fear still lingered. So I shared a little of my fear with my bishop. I will never forget what he said, and it was like a wave of peace flowing over me. I felt suddenly and completely released, and it enabled me to finally let go and begin preparing spiritually for what was about to come.

He said, “The only thing that can stop you now is you, me, and God. Don’t worry about anyone else.”

Freedom.

All that was left was a quiet six months of classes, a retreat, and my own prayerful preparations. I cannot describe the feeling of that weight lifted. Praise be to God.

Rite of Acolyte – A Visual Change

I hate to start off boring, but this will make no sense if you don’t know what an acolyte is, or what an acolyte does. As such, let me give you a quick run down.

The Rite of Institution to Acolyte is usually held in the cathedral with the bishop. This is not to be confused with altar servers, the local youth in your parish who help if you do not have an acolyte, or who assist the acolyte if you do. Acolyte is an ancient minor order, altar servers were created about 1000 years ago for parishes that didn’t have acolytes. (That’s most parishes now!)

These are altar servers, not acolytes. They are awesome too, just different.
These are altar servers, not acolytes. They are awesome too, just different.

The acolytes main function is to assist with the Mass by way of assisting the priest at the altar with the liturgical vessels, generally trying making his service easier, and in an incomplete way, stepping in for a deacon if there is none present. For example, an acolyte does not proclaim the Gospel, but can dress the altar if there is no deacon. His primary duty is ordered towards the eucharist and the care of the sacred vessels.

As such, he is not an ordinary minister of Holy Communion like a bishop, priest or deacon is, but he is the first extraordinary minister. If more ministers are needed than you have clergy for, then he should be the first to step forward, as he has a special duty to do so. Usually, this Rite is celebrated by those preparing for ordination, but that is not required. In our diocese for example, we have a good number of acolytes who serve without desire for ordination.

rite-of-acolyte

When we celebrated the Rite, I felt the same kind of gravity that I felt when we received the  Institution to the Ministry of Reader, that of being given a great responsibility, and of duty. As the bishop handed me the sacred chalice which holds within it God Himself, I was again struck by the seriousness of the moment. However, I was prepared for that. There was something else I was not prepared for.

I’m not sure anyone noticed when we received our first Rite. I didn’t look any different, I wore the same suit and tie I always have worn. I had read at Mass often before, so it was no surprise to see me there now. Yes, I felt very different, and thanks to my pastor, I did read much more often than I had in the past, but this hardly constituted a real change from the eyes of the average parishioner.

Many in the parish did not even realize I had been going through formation to become a deacon. It’s not that it was some secret, but it had never been announced at Mass or anything like that, and so a lot of people simply had no idea. They saw me very involved in parish life, but I had always been involved, so that was no great eye opener.

Me and my brother acolytes.
Me and my brother acolytes.

After the Rite of Institution of Acolyte, I suddenly everyone knew, and wanted to know more. Why did this Rite have such a huge effect on the parish, when the other went unnoticed? Very simply, I had to wear an alb, (a long white robe-like garment), and assist at the altar. Suddenly, I was a new guy on parade in front of everyone, and it was so obvious no one could miss it. I would get a million questions, my favorite comment was, “Why would a man of your age want to be an altar boy?”

Every mistake I made was done in full view. Every time Father looked my way, waiting for me to do something I had forgotten, the whole parish chuckled. It was like a comedy. And I was used to training altar servers! This is not exactly the beautiful, reverent, prayerful experience one hopes for in Mass, but the feeling of a thousand eyes watching your every move. It makes even simple things like carrying water very challenging. I got it all eventually, but at first, I won’t lie, I felt silly and sacred at the same time. Exalted and humbled. It was a good combo.

a-moment-of-waiting-for-the-rite

What I really learned though is this: when I’m doing my job well, I’m an arrow pointing to what is really happening. This was true then, and it’s true now as a deacon. When I become a living chalice, when my eyes, heart and body point to the Lord in the the Sacrament of the Altar, that is when I am truly fulfilling my vocation. In the beginning I was a distraction, but the better I became at my new task, the more invisible I became.

I learned this best later, after my ordination, as I held up the chalice full of His Most Sacred Blood, and realized that he was holding me, I was not holding him. But I’ll tell that story another day.

 

 

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