St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Deacons and the Priesthood

A co-worker said to me recently: "You're studying to be a deacon, and a deacon is closer to the priesthood."  Her statement made sense to me at first, but after some thought I realized that depending on what she meant by priesthood, that's actually not true at all.

Allow me to explain- this topic is actually one of the first things I had to wrap my head around when I entered the deacon formation program.  (This might get a little more theological than usual.)

For those who may not be familiar, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that there are two participations in the priesthood of Jesus Christ- the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood (paragraphs 1546-1547).

Through priestly ordination, bishops and priests belong to the ministerial priesthood.  Deacons are also ordained, but "not unto the priesthood but unto a ministry of service" (Lumen Gentium 29).  Because of this distinction, deacons belong to the common priesthood along with the laity and vowed religious sisters and brothers.  All of us became a part of the common priesthood (also called the royal priesthood in 1 Peter and Revelation) through baptism.  In light of my co-worker's comment, there's no distinction among the folks within the royal priesthood who is closer to the ministerial priesthood.

Putting the ministerial priesthood distinction aside, certainly deacons enjoy a special relationship with priests.  A good deacon compliments a priest well.  It's also important to point out that all priests were once deacons as part of their formation to priesthoodLike priests, deacons take a leading role in the liturgy and in the pastoral life of the parish, although rightfully to a much lesser degree.  Sometimes it can be hard for people to distinguish between a priest and a deacon during Mass.  Both wear liturgical vestments including a stole to signify their clerical office- priests wear the stole over both shoulders with it hanging down the front; deacons were the stole over the left shoulder and have it fastened at the right hip.  Despite their similarities, the priest will always celebrate the Mass; the deacon's role is always to serve or assist.

The first deacons in Acts 6:1-6
So if they're not a part of the ministerial priesthood and they can't do as much as priests can do, what's the point being a deacon?

Well it's not about how much a deacon can do, but rather what his focus is.  Unlike priests who are configured to Jesus the Priest, through ordination deacons are configured to Jesus as Servant.

Deacons are clergy that live among the laity and thus identify closely with them.  Many deacons have families and maintain employment in the secular worldBecause of this, they can take the Gospel message in the name of the Church to the margins where it is not easy for priests and bishops to go.  As servants, deacons also give a special focus to the poor and others who need the Church's attention (which was the initial task of the first deacons in Acts of the Apostles). 

Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta wrote something that caught my attention in the November 2015 edition of Deacon Digest that highlights one of the most important things that deacons do:
"When these deacons do don the liturgical vestments of their office, they distinguish themselves not only in attire but also in sacramental focus so that the poor and neglected will know that they have an advocate who stands at the altar and who will frequently remind the entire community of their presence and dignity within the heart of the Church."
That's a pretty good reason have deacons, right?

If you would, please say a prayer for me and my fellow deacon aspirants.  It's become clear to me that the Church needs good deaconsI'm glad Thanksgiving break gave me some time to catch up on the blog!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Brought to a Grinding Halt by Miscarriage

So where's this guy been?  If I have any blog followers left, that's probably what they're thinking.  I apologize that I've neglected the blog, but you'll see why in these next few lines.  I last wrote in April, so I'll start there.

In mid April I received a letter from the diocese- I was accepted into the deacon formation program.  My coursework started in May, and we paused for Summer break at the end of June.  It's a lot of reading/writing and my nights for class can run long after a hard day's work, but so far it's been a really good experience.  I'm looking forward to returning to the seminary for class in mid-August.  Also in April, I received a promotion at work.  It's more responsibility for sure, but it came at the best time (less overnight on call time and working on the weekends) so I can give more attention to the formation program.

The biggest news came in May: we're PREGNANT.  This was a complete and total shock to my wife and I, but nonetheless we were excited to have another young one who'd be due in January.  (And yep, I know raising four children is a lot.)  We had a lot to do- we had already given away a lot of what we needed (like baby toys, clothes, etc) so we had to figure that out.  We were also trying to decide between renovating our house, looking for another one, or even both.  To top it off, I wasn't sure at first if I could stay in the deacon formation program since having a baby is a big deal, but the program director was fine with everything so long as my first priority is to my family and that I be open to the fact that I may have to leave if the needs of my family require it.

I never really believed that things happen in 3's, but there's definitely some argument here.  School, work, and family- I had something great going on in each of them.  Unfortunately, this last week became one of the worst times of my life; that good momentum I had going was brought to a grinding halt by the awful miscarriage of our expected baby. 

I wasn't sure if anybody would even be interested hearing why the miscarriage was so awful or in the specific details of what took place, but for whatever reason it's important to me to tell the story.  (I guess this article is more for me than it is for everyone else.)  The details of the hospital stay are really gruesome so with my wife's help I toned down several of the scary things.  I wanted people to know about the trauma we experienced, but not scare people away from wanting to get pregnant.  If the story becomes too much for whatever reason, then please skip down till you see the [OK to read] message.

Last Wednesday afternoon my wife called me at work.  She was on her way to the OB/GYN's office.  This was not a routine visit, but we had become accustomed to the complications of this pregnancy so these sorts of things were becoming the norm.  Since June my wife had experienced some spotting or bleeding with some additional discomfort- she was hemorrhaging a little and clots were forming in utero.  If there was more bleeding than usual then she was passing a clot.  This is more common in women with multiple past pregnancies.  So of course, the usual text message followed- she had heard the baby's heartbeat and the ultrasound showed everything was good. 

But that night was anything but good.  My wife complained of some pain and more blood than before.  We reassured each other that this is what is supposed to happen and that if she paged her doctor, he would probably just say that he would see her in the office the next day just like he had done many times before.  Then moments later she doubled over in pain and we knew she had to call.  Her OB agreed that something wasn't right and instructed us to get the ER.  His intention had been to admit her under observation for a couple days for IV hydration and pain control.  By the time we made it to the ER we realized this wouldn't be the case.

[This is where it gets hard to read.]

We arrived at the ER around 12:30am.  There was so much blood and they had to give her morphine for the pain.  As they went to clean her up, I could only ask my wife to not look at what they were doing; I wanted to protect her from seeing the horrible blood and tissue that I could see.  At 1:30pm, she was taken for the ultrasound.  The technician was mostly silent.  I'm no radiologist, but I've seen enough OB ultrasounds to suspect that my wife was no longer pregnant.  She suspected the same thing, and the only thing I could do is hold her hand as she began to tear. 

We waited back in her room in the ER.  If she wasn't in pain, my wife was crying over what we knew without being told.  Some time later, the ER physician returned to do a pelvic exam.  It was one of the most awful things I have ever seen.  The only thing I could do is hold her hand as she wept while it happened.  I had no idea it what that would be like, and I couldn't believe the amount of blood on the floor afterwards. We hadn't been told anything yet, but it was apparent by the horror I saw that our baby (along with all our hopes and dreams for him) was gone.

Around 4am, her OB arrived and led with the words, "I'm so sorry," finally confirming what we had feared.  He suspected that a clot in her uterus became so large (the size of a plum) that her body had to expel it.  Our child had no chance to survive.

He then asked my wife to undergo a dilatation and evacuation.  She could have decided to wait, but the OB indicated that the next couple weeks would involve more bleeding and pain and it may ultimately lead to doing the D&E anyway.  Those of you in pro-life movements might know that this is the same procedure most often used for abortion.  For a few quick moments I was actually appalled that we would be associated with such an awful procedure, but I knew it was medically necessary, in the best interest for my wife, and there would be no evil in doing so since our baby was already dead.  At the time, I couldn't tell my wife my thoughts...I figured it would just make matters worse.

[OK to read from here.]

For an hour I was by myself in the waiting room with all my fears and worries, but my wife came through the procedure fine.   It was so hard to sit by her in recovery- if she wasn't sleeping, she would cry each time she would realize what had happened to her.  We made it to regular hospital room before 7am.  I realized that we had started a new day, and we were starting it by no longer expecting our baby.  I was exhausted, hungry, incredibly sad, and angry.  I remember being so angry that I wanted to leave and never come back.  I didn't care that my wife had to finish her IV medication and tolerate a diet in order to leave, but I wanted to get her out as soon as possible. This was the same hospital where my two daughters were born so I've always thought of it as a very special place, and now it's become a place of anguish and despair which I had absolutely enough of.

We made it home before noon, almost 12 hours after we had left. Physically my wife has been doing OK. She's had to limit her activity, but is starting to get back to things slowly. Emotionally it's been tough- tears are apart of our everyday life.  It's been hard to establish a new normal- everything we had been doing at home was oriented towards getting ready for a new baby.  On the bright side of things, people have been very supportive with their prayers, companionship, and food; and I can't express how much I appreciate it.

My wife is really hesitant to go to church, and I can't blame her.  Despite what's happened she still looks pregnant so the level of awkwardness would be unbearable, especially at a place where so many people are quick to ask how we're doing.  I spoke to our pastor about it- he's informally dispensed her Sunday obligation for a couple weeks.   It was during my conversation with him that something possibly extraordinary happened, so I'll share it as I wrap this up.

I was speaking with our priest alone in the sacristy after the daily Mass on Friday.  As I was sharing the awful news, a blonde haired boy around 2 years old ran in and interrupted us.  I had never seen him before, but it was obvious that Fr Bud knew him.  It looked like the two had a routine- the boy would take holy water from the font and put it on Fr Bud's forehead as if to bless him.  As I watched this happen, Fr Bud said "Well thanks Kolbe, now I know I'll have a good day today."  What no one knew was that Kolbe was the name we were going to give to our child, after St Maximilian Kolbe.  I was really surprised what I just saw, so in shock I abruptly ended our conversation and left.  After Mass on Sunday, I asked our pastor about that young toddler without mentioning any of the above; he told me he was adopted and his parents named him after St Maximilian.

Could this just be coincidence or maybe something more?  I'd like to think this was a sign from God, telling me that He's still in it and somehow everything will be fine.  At this point I don't know what it was, but I'm still quite taken by this brief encounter with the little boy and have found some much needed solace in it.

Of course, the question "Why did this have to happen?" has come up.  I can only conclude that in some way beyond our understanding that our second unborn child, my wife's awful suffering, and our profound despair will somehow give glory to God.  In faith, I hope this is the case.

Eternal rest, grant unto little Kolbe, O Lord.  
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April Fool's Day is a Catholic Thing

Okay, so it isn't really Catholic thing per se, but the origin of April Fool's Day is actually found in the Church.   A lot of people don't know this, so here's how the story goes.

On February 24, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII issued the papal bull Inter Gravissimas which established the Gregorian calendar (which gets it's name from this pope) as the official calendar for the Christian world.  With this pronouncement, the Julian calendar was replaced and the first day of the new year was moved to January 1.  Those who continued to observe it on April 1, whether out of resistance or because they didn't receive the news, were considered foolish and ridiculed.

So if someone pulls a prank or plays a joke on you on April 1st, you can legitimately blame the Catholic Church or at least Pope Gregory XIII.  Historians actually offer different accounts on the origin of April Fool's Day, but this one sounds pretty believable to me.

Other than some interesting cocktail party talk, why do I bring this up?  Because I think it's good to point out the contributions the Church has made to society.  Once you realize that, then you're one step closer to realizing how important the Church is to daily life.  Christianity isn't just something might we do for an hour on Sundays; it's how we should be living and orienting our daily lives.  
And that ain't no April fool! 

(I know, that last line was a sorry attempt at being funny.)

On a  personal note from the author:
I'm not sure how many blog followers I still have, but in case you were wondering why I've neglected the blog since last Fall...

Between my family and work, life has been pretty full.  Around the house these days- our oldest is getting ready to transition from preschool to kindergarten, our middle child is days away from completing potty training, and the youngest is taking over the house one cute moment at a time.  All this is in addition to me applying to the permanent deacon program for the local diocese.

Yep, it's true.  I haven't mentioned it on the blog or even on Facebook or Twitter, but a few people have known since last May that I've made an application.  After writing a spiritual autobiography, having multiple interviews, completing a psychological battery, and a lot of praying, worrying, discerning, etc, I'll find out if I am accepted sometime after Easter.  If so, then it's a 5 year program with a lot of studying, formation, and more discernment.  In your charity, please say a prayer for me and my family- perhaps this is where God is leading me.

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