Thursday, December 29, 2011

"A Deacon! A Miserable Deacon!": St. Thomas Becket

Today we remember the famous saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his own cathedral by knights under the influence of the king and Becket's former friend, Henry II.  What many people forget about St. Thomas is that he was a deacon; in fact, he was once the archdeacon of Canterbury under Archbishop Theobald.  He left that office (of archdeacon) when asked by his friend Henry to take over as Chancellor of England.

Back in college seminary, I took the role of Becket in a production of Jean Anouilh's play of the same name.  While many critics have rightly criticized Anouilh's historical accuracy, no one can doubt that he captures the personalities involved beautifully, and many actors have enjoyed playing these roles, including Richard Burton (Becket) and Peter O'Toole (Henry) in the movie version of of the play.

One bit of history that Anouilh appears to have appreciated accurately is the fact of Becket's diaconate!  In one of the early scenes of the play (watered down in the movie), the king has just presented his new Chancellor to the Archbishop and other Church leaders.  While the Archbishop is gracious enough, it is clear that the other bishops in attendance are not pleased, especially when they realize that young deacon Thomas is "switching sides":

Becket: My Lord and King has given me his Seal with the Three Lions to guard.  My mother is England now.
Folliot (the bishop of London): A deacon!  A miserable deacon nourished in our bosom!  Traitor!  Little viper!  Libertine!  Sycophant!  Saxon!

I suppose there have been other pastors who have felt the same way about their deacons!  One lesson that we can all learn from Becket, of course, is his courage in speaking truth to power, whether that power is found in the structures of the church or in secular authority.  May God continue to grant us all the same courage in our own lives and ministry!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers!

No reflection today: just a heartfelt wish from my family to yours, 
that you have the most blessed Christmas ever!

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Your redemption is near at hand": Remembering "Amahl and the Night Visitors"

The responsorial psalm for today reminds us, "Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand."  In a wonderful reflection over on PrayTell, Teresa Berger refers to December 23 as a liturgical "hinge day" as we transition from Advent preparations into Christmas realities.  On television, Christmas is being described in very generic, nondescript and unoffensive terms as a "time of peace, family, and gift-giving."  Nice enough, to be sure, but we could just as easily be speaking of any other solstice celebration.  To borrow from our Jewish heritage at Passover, "What makes tonight different from all other nights?" ought to be our question as we celebrate the entrance of the Christ into human history.  What difference should Christmas make?

I have shared before about the eight years I spent in Catholic seminary preparing for possible ordination to the priesthood.  These were the eight years of high school and college and, in those days, there were actually hundreds of Catholic high school seminaries around the country.  I graduated from the Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin in 1967.  During our junior year, the rector -- who was also our music teacher and director of the choir -- decided to stage Gian-Carlo Menotti's wonderful opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors."  We were not a large school, and since we were a seminary, there were no women or girls around to play Amahl's mother and the "shepherdesses" called for in the libretto!  So, Father Rector contacted a nearby convent/novitiate and we arranged to do a joint production.  One of our freshmen, Mike Hoffman (now Rev. Michael Hoffman, SDS), was a professionally trained singer who sang the lead role better than I have ever heard it done before or since.  I was the accompanist for the production, playing the 136-page score so often over the weeks of rehearsal and then production that I could "name that tune" in any two notes!

For those of you who do not know the story, it's quite simple.  Amahl is a crippled boy living with his widowed mother.  They are living in extreme poverty and the mother is resigned that they will soon have to become beggars in order to survive.  In the middle of the night, there is a knock on the door of their hut.  To their amazement, their visitors are the Three Kings on their way to find the Christ child, and the kings are seeking a place to rest on their journey.  After some wonderful music describing the child they are seeking (here's an audio clip from the original 1951 broadcast), and a warm welcome from the shepherds and shepherdesses living in the region, the kings and Amahl and his mother retire for the night.  In the darkness, Amahl's mother sings a beautiful aria about her own son, and then realizes what she could do for her son with just a little of gold that the kings are taking to the unknown Christ child.  (Here's the aria from the original 1951 broadcast with the remarkable Rosemary Kuhlmann.)  As she attempts to steal some of the gold, she is caught by the kings' page.  The kings tell her to keep the gold, that "the child we seek doesn't need our gold".  The mother returns the gold, however, and expresses her wish that she had something of value that she, too, could send to the child.  Amahl steps forward, saying that all he has to give is his crutch but that he would send that to the child, since, "who knows, he may need one too"!  In that act of generosity, the miracle takes place and Amahl the cripple is healed.  In thanksgiving, the mother permits Amahl to go with the kings to greet the Christ child in person.

Here's where I'm going with this.  Menotti wrote "Amahl" on a commission from NBC in 1951.  The network was seeking original programming, and in particular, they wanted a serious work to be broadcast as part of their Christmas schedule.  "Amahl" was broadcast live on Christmas Eve, 1951, and immediately became a Christmas staple for many years.  I read recently that every year it is now produced more than 500 times across the country.  I find this history stunning on many levels.  First, there was no apology by the commercial network (NBC) for having a specifically religiously-themed production aired; not only that, network executives intentionally and deliberately commissioned the work!  Second, this was a piece of classical music exquisitely performed live.  There was no attempt at a "dumbing down" of the material, and the immediate popularity of the music attests to its popular reception.  There were no cheap jokes, no scatological attempts at humor, no trivializing of the material.

I too fell in love with the music and the story.  Here is a modern re-telling of the impact the coming of Christ can have on very real people facing very real challenges in their very real lives.  This is not some kind of Christmas-lite, "feel-good", pseudo-religious piece of programming.  A single mother raising a handicapped child living in extreme poverty and about to go on the streets encounters a chance to steal some gold to turn their lives around.  Instead, through the love and the dreams of the kings and her own innate generosity and that of her son, a miracle takes place.  Their lives are changed, not because they now will have money to do whatever they want, but because the unseen Christ has come freely to them and affected the choices that they make.

Perhaps you have never heard of this opera these days.  Or, conversely, perhaps you've heard of it too much and consider merely a piece of Christmas fluff.  In any case, I offer it to you for your reconsideration.  Let yourself be swept away by some of the must beautiful music written (for example, the Mother's aria, or the quartet she sings with the kings as they ask "Have you seen a child?" and she describes Amahl to them).  We should then ask ourselves: How is the coming of Christ into my life being felt in very real, concrete ways in the lives of the people around me?

What miracles is the unseen Christ willing to work through us?  "Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand."

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Old Man's Advent Dream for Christmas


A time of waiting for "the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ" is the way the new translation of the Roman Missal puts it.  Sounds great, but what does this really mean?  "Blessed hope" for what, exactly?  And what will the coming of Christ mean THIS year?  If these words are to have any meaning beyond being part of a new liturgical ritual, it seems to me we have to make them truly incarnate, to "flesh them out" a bit.


I've been doing a lot of praying and reflecting about life this Advent, trying to figure some things out.  The older I get the more comfort I find in the words of St. Peter on Pentecost.  The people of Jerusalem, hearing the apostles speaking in tongues under the influence of the Holy Spirit, think that they are instead under the influence of new wine.  "But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:  'Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams."

So, this reflection is nothing more than an old man dreaming a dream.

When I was a young man, I was strongly influenced -- as I've written about before -- by the visions and dreams of the bishops of the Second Vatican Council.  Some of those men were young and were seeing visions; others were old and dreaming dreams. Now I'm an old man, and I've seen some of those early visions become reality, but so much more still remains a dream.

What do I see in my dream?

It begins with a nightmare.  There are people living on the streets, under overpasses,  in dark alleys.  They are dirty, smelly, with runny noses and open sores.  Many of them are drunk on booze or drugs, and this is a violent nightmare, with people attacking each other for money or food, people selling themselves to earn money.  They are in a downward spiral, without hope, joy or reason for either.

The nightmare continues.  There are people who have been ostracized, cut off from family and friends because of things they've done in the past, or because of relationships they're in, or because they're "different" or hard to handle in "acceptable" circles of society.  There are young people who feel isolated and abandoned because they have realized that they are homosexual and they are pushed into suicide out of overwhelming depression and a sense of permanent and total exclusion.

The nightmare grows.  Old people, people who were once vital and ran through life with creativity, passion and generosity, now shunted aside because they are no longer able to contribute anything to anyone.  They are dried up, used up, and kicked to the curb of life.  Sick and dying people, whose fear of death is often faced with courage and strength, are also forgotten or relegated to the sidelines as if association with them might lead a healthy person to fear their own vulnerability.

The nightmare includes the treatment of the stranger, or people who speak different languages or who look at life and the world through eyes different from others.  The nightmare recalls an incident at a "Catholic" parish in the Midwest in which a bilingual program on pastoral planning was being held.  As signs in English and Spanish were being placed around the room, several Catholic gentlemen came forward and told the presenter to "put the American signs on this side of the room."  When the presenter said, "You mean, you want the English signs on this side of the room?" the men -- those good "Catholic" men -- repeated, "You heard what we said, you put the AMERICAN signs on this side of the room."

The nightmare?  So many people, all cut off, isolated and alone.  Where can they find hope, joy and a reason for living?

The dream?  The catholic -- truly universal -- people of God!  Every person who is cut off from everything and everyone else, is WELCOMED by the catholic people of God.  In a very real sense, the catholic people of God is the home for the homeless, the family for those who have been disowned and rejected by others, are the ones for whom this church is designed.  In the ancient catholic people of God, they were often the ones cut off and persecuted by society and those in charge, often to their deaths.  But the ancient catholic people of God rejoiced that they were a people called by God (an "ekklesia theou"), a people without church buildings or temples.  What united them and gave them hope and joy was their common faith that God had called them to be a people for each other, PRECISELY because they were cut off from everyone else.

The dream?  At Midnight Mass this year, that the doors will open and everyone -- absolutely everyone -- will walk in to applause, laughter and joy-filled welcome.  Those dirty, smelly children of God who are living under the overpass, those depressed and lonely gay teenagers who are walking on the brink of despair, those people who look and sound different from others, and even those who find themselves here without legal status -- all of them will pour through those doors and into the welcoming arms of this catholic people of God and find a true home and the love that has so often been denied them by society.  "If society has rejected you, we welcome you" is the mission statement of the catholic people of God.  And to the bishop who once remarked that the song "All are Welcome" was incorrect, and that all people are NOT welcome at Catholic Mass, I say,  "Sorry, bishop, but you are wrong.  In the Catholic Church, in the authentic catholic people of God, all are indeed welcome in this place."

I know.  Right now we have many Catholics who don't even like to reach out and take someone else's hand at the greeting of peace before communion.  Those folks are really not going to like my dream, since not only do I hope that they will shake someone else's hand, but actually, beginning at Midnight Mass this Christmas, I'm hoping that they will open their arms and embrace tightly that dirty, smelly homeless man who's been living in a cardboard box down the street from the church.  In fact, it is precisely to those who have been excluded by everyone else that Christ is coming into the world.

My dream is really quite simple.  Christ willingly emptied himself completely into human nature.  We either believe that or we don't.  Human nature is the common denominator here.  If Christ is to be found there, then we are to be found there.  The "Church" isn't a place for those who have successfully navigated life.  It's a haven for all those who admit their sinfulness, their brokenness, their need for others and for God.

And then I wake up.

What do I have to do to make the dream a reality?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Who are you? What have you got to say for yourself?"

I have a confession to make.  Oh, not a sacramental confession as in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but a confession nonetheless.  My specializations in Theology deal with ecclesiology, the theological study of the nature of Church, but my motivations for going into this field were not based on some grand academic quest.  Rather, I found at a very early age (13 to be exact), that ecclesiology was the most fascinating part of theology, since that was what the Second Vatican Council was all about.  Since the Council was just going into its second session (1963) as I was entering high school seminary, this was an understandable focus for a young seminarian.

As the Council progressed, then ended, and the Church moved into the implementation phase following the Council, so much about how we were Church evolved.  No longer was ministry something that only priests and sisters did, for example.  We had recovered a sense of baptism as the primal sacrament of ministry, and the Council has described the Church as a pilgrim in the world and servant to the world.  All members of the Church, we read in the Council's documents, were called to be evangelists, and the Church herself was to be "a leaven and a kind of soul" within the world.  However, all of this came at a cost.

Vatican II was convened because many bishops, including Pope John XXIII, believed that the Church was out of touch with the demands of the modern world.  Churchmen of the first half of the 20th Century were deeply concerned over the Church's failure to be a more effective witness of Christ during that time, and worried that the Church had been ineffectual at confronting the issues that led to two world wars and the rise of three totalitarian regimes.  The Council was an attempt to give a renewed missionary drive to the Church, to empower all of the members of the Church to be "co-responsible" as evangelists to the world, with all believers being called to perfect holiness, despite our state in life.  The Council was, as Pope Paul VI put it, "the great Catechism of our time."  My generation of seminarians found ourselves inspired to be at the forefront of these renewed efforts in the Church and the world, and enthusiastically responded to the Council's call.

Nonetheless, following the Council, we watched as public institutions, including institutional Churches, continued to lose credibility in the contemporary world.  Despite our best efforts in the 1960's and 1970's to find creative ways to be a prophetic witness of Christ to the world, efforts which are now routinely mocked by certain reactionary elements even within our own Church, people continued to find, as they had even before the Council, that certain aspects of the Church -- usually described as the "institutional" dimension of the Church -- to be irrelevant at best and harmful at worst.  Increasingly people began to say that they were spiritual, and maybe even go so far as to say that they were spiritual Catholics, but not in the sense of being churchgoing religionists.  As a friend once said to me, "The Catholic Church is great once the institution gets out of the way."  Perhaps the most troubling thing to watch, for me personally, was how members of my own family were treated by certain priests and other "good church-going Catholics," who very successfully drove these family members from the Church through their stupidity, narrowness and arrogance.  I watched as repeatedly, my loved ones would try and try again to reconnect, only to encounter the same kind of things all over again until they felt they had no choice but to leave.

And here's the real point of all this: my family's situation is not an isolated case.  Recently, on an international list-server for deacons, a brother deacon asked the group how many family members in our own extended families still "practiced" Catholicism.  I won't depress you with the final answers.

Author Eric Weiner, writing an op-ed piece in the New York Times recently, asks "Americans: Undecided about God?" Read the whole article here.  It's a most thought-provoking piece, and many folks have been blogging about it.  At first I was going to pass this one by, but as I was preparing homilies for this Third Sunday of Advent, I came back to Weiner's piece.  The questions asked of John the Baptizer remain the questions asked of us today: "Who are you?  What have you got to say about yourself? 

Weiner concludes his column with his own take on an answer:
What is the solution? The answer, I think, lies in the sort of entrepreneurial spirit that has long defined America, including religious America.

We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us.
While I'll leave the comparison to Steve Jobs alone, I do rather like his observation that what he's looking for is "not a new religion but a new way of being religious."  That, in my opinion, was PRECISELY was the Second Vatican Council was calling us to do.  Sure, those bishops used the Latin term novus mentis habitus (a "new way of thinking"), but there it is, in contemporary terms.  How can we, followers of Christ, find a new way of being religious, a new way of being Catholic, in the contemporary world?  A new way of being Catholic that proclaims Christ in ways that are -- like Christ Himself -- always inviting and open to all.  We shouldn't be excluding ANYONE from our assembly, precisely because we proclaim ourselves to be a people called by God ("ekklesia"), not by "the Church".  And this people called by God has always, throughout the Tradition, called itself to be catholikos -- catholic -- open to all and universal.  If we were truly finding a new way of thinking, a new way of being religious, people who now feel excluded from our communion would instead be welcomed!  No matter how else society might be treating them, they would find a warm, welcoming home with us!  "These Christians!  See how they love one another!"

"Who are you?  What have you got to say for yourself?"


Saturday, December 3, 2011

"When I grow up I want to be a Deacon!" Thanks, Elizabeth!

Some time ago, a prolific author named Elizabeth Ficocelli contacted me about a manuscript she had written for children on the diaconate.  She asked if I would take a look at the manuscript, and it was joy to do so!  That book, which Deacon Greg Kandra has already announced, has now been published and is available.  Elizabeth was recently interviewed about her work, and you may read more about that here and here.  It's called Where Do Deacons Come From? and it's published by Bezalel Books.

In the interview, she remarks that "Deacon Greg Kandra recently blogged that his friend, Deacon William Ditewig, had made the following statement: 'The diaconate will only become fully accepted as a vocation when young people say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a deacon.’  Well, Deacon Ditewig, I hope my book Where Do Deacons Come From? will help make that a reality."  Thanks, Elizabeth, I agree with you!

The reason I believe this to be so important is this: For nearly a millennium, when someone "imagined" ordained ministry, the "image" that came to mind was "priest".  In Scholastic theology, even the bishop was not considered part of the sacrament of Holy Order: he was thought to be sacramentally simply a priest who had been given additional jurisdiction.  This had NOT been the case in the ancient church, and since 1967 it is not the case any more.  It's just that while church law and official practice has shifted, how people "image" ordained ministry has not.  At least not completely.  Such a cultural shift is going to take time. 

We can see this shift taking place in different ways around the world.  In those areas where the diaconate has been around since the 1970s, we've had some four decades to become part of fabric of contemporary church life.  In those areas where the diaconate is still relatively new, of course, the process has barely begun.  What I find so fascinating and significant about Ms. Ficocelli's contribution on the diaconate is that she has captured the presence of deacons as ministers with whom the children are familiar and would like to know more about. 

So, many, many thanks, Elizabeth!  God bless you!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Watching a Classmate Become a Bishop

I haven't seen Dave Kagan since 1967, when we graduated from Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin, and went our separate ways into different college-level seminaries.  Dave was a seminarian for the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, and I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria.  For those of you not in the know about such things, Rockford and Peoria have always competed for the title of the second largest city of Illinois.  Dave and I were members of a 27-student senior class, so we all knew each other quite well by the time we graduated.  Dave and the rest of the Rockford men went to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and the Peoria men were sent to Saint Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa.

Most Rev. David D. Kagan
I left the seminary after eight years, following graduation from St. Ambrose in 1971, and a few months later, found myself in the Navy.  Dave continued in the seminary, and was ordained a priest for the Rockford Diocese in 1975.  He became a canon lawyer and eventually served in a variety of pastoral and administrative posts until yesterday.  Yesterday, Monsignor David Kagan, Vicar General of Rockford, became Bishop David Kagan and was installed as the seventh bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota.  Here's where you can find the video of the whole event, complete with Native American drums, the new papal nuncio to the United States, and a Cathedral full of the People of God.

It was quite a moment, watching a man whom I had known as a fellow teenager, now in the process of becoming a bishop and taking on the pastoral responsibilities of a diocesan church.  What came through loud and clear is just how important it is for all of us to pray for all of our diocesan churches and their bishops.  Each of those bishops has friends who "knew them when" and I hope that each of those bishops will continue to permit themselves to stay connected to those people who knew them "before the purple."  During my days at the USCCB, more than a few bishops shared that it's often very, very difficult for a bishop to receive information he needs to have, while there are many, many people who are willing to tell him what they think he wants to hear.  Then again, there are some bishops (fortunately, very, very few) who think that they already know everything they need to know!  Still it seems important to me for bishops to retain significant connections with family and friends who will still love them for who they are as human beings (and not simply because of the office they now hold) and who will continue to be honest with them.

So, my old friend, ad multos annos on your ordination and installation as bishop!  May God continue to bless you abundantly in your family, friends and new collaborators in the vineyard.  I'm sure I speak for all of the surviving members of the Salvatorian Seminary Class of 1967 when I say that we're all proud of you and will pray ardently for you and the Church of Bismarck.

Your old classmate,
Deacon Bill

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Being Catholic: What Difference Does It Make, Really?

My friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, and others have been opining about Mike Hayes' recent blog post which asks whether we have become the Pharisees of our day.  Here's the original blog post over at Googling God, and here's Deacon Greg's post on the matter, along with considerable commentary. Not only do I think Mike's post is right on target, I think it has particular relevance for those of us who serve as the Church's deacons.  Let me offer two observations: one based on an historical look at the diaconate in the ancient and early medieval church, and another based on more recent history and theology related to the diaconate.

First we should look at the biblical and patristic roots of the Order of Deacons in the church.  Consider that whenever we read of deacons in scripture, they are always described in relationship to the bishop-overseer of the community, and the deacons are clearly responsible for much of the administration and outreach of the community.  The various patristic sources on the diaconate describe deacons as legates, ambassadors to other communities, catechists and religious educators.  Yes, of course, they have a liturgical role, and it's an important one!  However, their "day job" is all about helping people make connections: connecting their bishop with other communities when they served as his legates, connecting people with needs with the resources to meet those needs, and even helping their bishops in administering the goods and other "temporalities" of the church.  Deacons are, as I have said often, ministers of "connect-the-dots."

As the diaconate gradually became transitional to the presbyterate, some of this connective tissue was lost, and I don't believe it's coincidental that we see the emergence of a variety of religious orders (of both women and men) who take as their primary charism the service of others.  There is a direct, tangible connection between the decline of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry and the rise of religious congregations devoted to the Church's diakonia.

Second, as I've written extensively here and elsewhere, the reasons for renewing a permanent diaconate in the 19th and 20th Centuries were also driven by a need to increase the outreach of the Christian family to those in need (charity) and also to work for institutional, structural, and systemic change so that the conditions which led to those needs could be eliminated (justice).  In short, the Church increasingly recovered her identity as a servant-Church.  This was the principle theme of Pope Paul VI as he closed the Second Vatican Council in 1965: he announced that the central theme of the entire Council had been to identify the Church as servant to the world.  The diaconate was restored, largely and most influentially, because of the horrors of the Dachau Concentration Camp and the experiences of the large numbers of German and Polish priests incarcerated there.  It would due to the efforts of several of those priest-survivors who would push for the renewal of a contemporary permanent diaconate precisely to help the Church recover her servant-identity, and this was what the world's bishops would also recover at the Council.  Pope Paul VI didn't end his reflection with that final speech, either.  In the years following the Council, as he took the necessary steps to renew the diaconate, he frequently observed that the very reason for the deacon's existence is to "sacramentalize the Church's own service."  He also reminded these new deacons that we are to be the "animators" of the Church's own service, by stirring up the conscience of the Christian community.

Here's where I think Mike's blog post really hits home.  He asks us to inquire of ourselves and our parishioners what they believe the Church's priorities are.  What has the bishop stated as his own pastoral priorities?  Here in the diocese in which I'm serving, for example, our bishop has made it clear that one of his chief pastoral priorities -- and something that he wants all of us to tackle in some way -- is that countering gang violence.  Bishops in the Midwest, where family farms are giving way to huge corporate conglomerates, often take on the plight of the family farmers and their families.  Unfortunately, Mike found that very often, many Catholics didn't even know who there bishop was, much less what his pastoral concerns were.

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves playing "insider baseball".  We often get so wrapped up in internal parochial matters (which are sometimes quite important, don't get me wrong!), that we forget that the very mission of the Church herself -- as Paul VI and John Paul II said so frequently -- is evangelization itself.  As Cardinal Mahoney once wrote, "It's not that the Church has mission, but that the mission has a Church" and that mission, is evangelization.

So, my friends, I think this is a good opportunity for us to reflect on all of this.  As a community of faith, what is your parish doing?  Get specific!  What are the top three priorities of your bishop?  Of your pastor?  Of your parish pastoral council?  Of your finance council?  Follow the money, follow the time, follow the energy expended.  What do you find?

Let me end with a true story.  I was serving on a diocesan staff in the Midwest.  The bishop asked me to come to a meeting with some parish leaders from a small rural parish who were concerned about their ability to survive as a parish.  They came to the bishop and enthusiastically told him that they had "found the solution to the priest shortage."  Their answer was to sponsor a priest from Nigeria to come to the diocese, attend a local University, and also serve in their parish, which was nearby.  And the good news, they said, was that they only needed Father to say a Mass on Sunday; the rest of the week, he would be available to do any other jobs the bishop had for him.  When the bishop asked who was going to handle the rest of the parish's functions, if they didn't see Father doing that, they said that there WERE no other parish responsibilities.  The parish existed for one reason: to have Sunday Mass.  Period.  Nothing else.  It was a stunningly depressing moment, to see these wonderful people who had no idea of what being a Catholic parish ought to mean within the larger human community.

What's going on where you live?

Time for a little levity: Priests and Deacons working together

There are so many important things going on in the world today, and we usually treat them with deadly seriousness.  World hunger, global warming, illness and disease, human trafficking, gut-wrenching poverty, new translations of Latin Mass texts. . . . all of them deadly serious, to be sure.  Sometimes, though, we just need to see the humor in things.  So, thanks to one of my former students, now a very effective diocesan youth minister, we have this great story.  Chelsea, thanks for this!

"Father, you want me to do what?"

Some cautions before I share it with you:

1) Please don't get distracted and hung up about what SHOULD or should NOT have been done in this case.  As a deacon for nearly 22 years, and a very active and committed lay person for at least as many years before that, I can attest to seeing even crazier things happen, some which would put this little tale to shame!  I'm sure many of you can do the same.   But for now, just enjoy it!

2) What I particularly enjoy is how the priest and the deacon work together on this one!  Would that we always had this kind of good collaboration!

Now -- enjoy!  Here's the story. . . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

22 November: A Personal Reflection

Today, 22 November 2011, we commemorate the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  I leave it to political pundits and scholars to hypothesize about the impact of JFK's loss on our nation.  For now, though, I simply offer one man's personal reflection.

On 22 November 1963, I was a freshman in high school seminary: St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois.  I was studying to become a priest in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), hoping to become a missionary priest.  Three years before, while still in grade school at St. Patrick's Parish in Peoria, Illinois, my class had staged our own version of the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates, as we learned that, for the first time ever, the United States might actually elect a Catholic to be president!  Not everyone was a Kennedy supporter: even at home, my Dad was firmly behind Richard Nixon.  After the election, Kennedy had won and then came that marvelous inaugural address!  "Ask not what your country can do for you. . . ."  What an exciting time!

As JFK was preparing to run for president, of course, things were changing in the Church, too -- the other great influence on those of us in Catholic grade school.  In 1958, the long-serving Pope Pius XII died, and Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected pope, taking the name of John XXIII.  There was such excitement about the new pope, especially when, in January 1959, he announced that he was convening a general Council of the Church: Vatican II.  To me, as a young Catholic boy who had already decided that he wanted to go to the seminary, it seemed like everything and anything was going to be possible in the church and the world.

1962: the year of the opening of the Council and the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as a 12-year old, I watched with my Mom and Dad as President Kennedy showed those frightening photos of the missile launchers in Cuba and announced the naval blockade.  If I could have enlisted in the Navy that night, I would have.  The world was rapidly changing, and we wanted to be part of it.

In 1963, suddenly, things began to change in a negative direction, including the death of "good Pope John" and then the assassination of President Kennedy.  Even though I was only 13, I made two scrapbooks that year, and I still have them: one on the President and one on the Pope.  Suddenly, our generation had to start to grow up and face unpleasant realities.  A new word, "Vietnam" replaced "French Indochina" in our news, and tensions increased in both our government and in our church.  This would seem to build until the awful year of 1968: the year of the Tet Offensive, and the year of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  While those events would really steer our generation in many ways, the process really began with that shocking day, 48 years ago, in Dallas.

Ultimately, it's not helpful to wonder "what if" JFK hadn't been cut down.  At the same time, it does seem opportune to see if we can recover some of the optimism and enthusiasm we all had for the Church and Country back then!  Wouldn't it be wonderful too see and encourage the possibilities of the future, and not all of the things that keep us angry and divided?

RIP, President Kennedy.  We're still here, still trying to live up to the potential of your inaugural challenge!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coming soon to the Archdiocese of Vancouver: Deacons!

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, the Archbishop of Vancouver announced earlier this year that, following the recommendations of a recent Archdiocesan Synod and other consultative processes, he was restoring the diaconate as a permanent ministry within the Archdiocese.  You can read more about his announcement, as well as a link to his pastoral letter on the diaconate, here

This is always an exciting time for an diocesan church, and yet it is also a time of some confusion and uncertainty.  Ultimately, it is a time of extraordinary faith and hope: the willingness to set out into waters that are as yet uncharted in that diocese, the recognition that a new group of ordained ministers who are not priests will be entering the official service of the People of God, and the courage to face whatever challenges develop as they happen with the conviction of the ongoing presence and action of the Holy Spirit to guide them through it.

As I type these words, I'm sitting at an airport gate in California awaiting my flights to Vancouver.  I've been invited by Archbishop Miller to come to Vancouver and spend two days with the priests of the Archdiocese talking about the diaconate.  I'll also be spending some time with the brand new group of aspirants to the diaconate, as they meet with the priests on Tuesday evening.  I'm honored to be a part of the "launching" of this new adventure in the life of their local Church.

Please keep all of them (and your humble blogger!) in your prayers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Renewed Diaconate at Vatican II: Gift of the Holy Spirit

It is fairly well known that it was the decision of the 2600 bishops assembled as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that it would be possible again to permit the exercise of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry.  They expressed this decision in paragraph #29 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (known by its Latin incipit, Lumen gentium).  Pope Paul VI would then implement this decision after the Council ended; he promulgated Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem  ("The Holy Order of the Diaconate") in 1967, changing existing law to permit bishops to ordain men as deacons without the intention of later ordaining them to the priesthood, as well as changing the law in order to permit married candidates to be ordained.

However, what is often not discussed are the actual conversations, speeches and writings related to the question that took place before and during the Council itself.  I thought it might be interesting to review some of that background.  It gives us a valuable insight as to why the bishops felt this was such an important decision to make. 

I will present three Cardinals to you.  At the time of the debate on the diaconate, Cardinal Leo-Josef Suenens of Belgium was 59, and a highly-respected leader during and following the Council.  He was a close friend to both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, and his intellectual brilliance and pastoral heart were deeply felt on a wide variety of issues at the Council: the renewal of religious life, the diaconate, the processes involved in the governance of dioceses, and even his support of the charismatic renewal movement. Cardinal Juan Landazuri Ricketts, only 50 years of age at the time of the debate, was a Franciscan friar serving as Archbishop of Peru,  Cardinal Julius Doepfner of Munich-Freising was another young (50 at the time of the debate), well-respected and pastorally-experienced leader at the Council.  These three young cardinals articulated extremely valuable points which apparently echoed the desires of the vast majority of the Council fathers with regard to the diaconate.

The principal conciliar debate on the subject of renewing the diaconate as a "proper and permanent" order in the Latin Church occurred during the 41st to the 49th general assemblies (4 - 16 October 1963).  In reviewing the interventions, the climax of the debate occurred on 8 October, with the intervention of Cardinal Suenens. 

Cardinal Doepfner
The first speaker in favor of renewal was Cardinal Doepfner.  He strongly urged acceptance of the draft, and ad­dressed some of the concerns already raised.  He supported the inclusion of the diaconate in a dogmatic document because the issue of the orders of the hierarchy of the Church is a dogmatic issue, a part of the divine law and therefore an essential part of the nature of the Church.  He pointed out that the diaconate, ever since Trent, had been seen as part of the sacra­mental priesthood.  Looking to the present situation in many parts of the world, Doepfner pointed to the fact that there are many persons, many of them married, who are serving the Church in diaconal roles.  He asked, “Why should these people be denied the grace of the sacrament?”  The law of celibacy is sacred, he said, but it should not become an obstacle for the evolution of beneficial ways to serve which may be necessary in our times.
Cardinal Landazuri-Ricketts
Cardinal Landazuri Ricketts, speaking for himself and 95 other Latin American Fathers, spoke to the benefits of a renewed diaco­nate.  While many functions (which he does not articulate) of the diaconate were already done by laypersons, there were still others that the deacon would carry out as an ordained member of the hierarchy.  The restoration of the diacon­ate was not to lessen the role of the laity, but to increase it, and that the lay apostolate, while most important, is not an end in itself.  The Latin American Fathers he represented urged the adoption of the proposal.

Cardinal Suenens
It was at this point that Cardinal Suenens presented what is arguably the strongest and most coherent argument for the diaco­nate evident in the documents.  He began by outlining the theo­logical principles upon which the diaconate is based.  Citing the authority of scripture, the apostolic Fathers, constant tradi­tion, and the liturgical books of East and West, he spoke of the many charisms evident throughout the Church, distinct from the priest­hood, which were set up to provide direct assistance to the bishop in the care of the poor and the nurturing of the communi­ty.  To say that these tasks can be given to lay persons does not mean that the diaconate is not needed.  These tasks should only be given to persons (whether ordained or not) who have the neces­sary graces.  The Church has the right to the benefit of all the graces given to it by God, including the graces of the diaconate.

Suenens then turned to the situation in the contemporary world.  He urged the Fathers not to make a universal decision for or against the diaconate.  Rather, they should decide if there was any area or situation that might benefit from it, and then phrase its decision in such a way as to enable it to take effect in those regions in which the bishops decided it was appropriate.  In other words, the Council should not close off universally any means by which the grace of God may flow into the Church.  Therefore (quoting from the draft), “where episcopal conferences judge the restoration of a permanent diaconate opportune, they should be free to introduce it.”

Even in this brief snapshot, we can see how the Council worked: What tools were needed to assist people in the contemporary world.  Expressed more theologically, what gifts had been given by the Spirit to the Church to render such assistance?  The diaconate was presented as one of those many gifts of the Spirit.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Women Deacons: Heat and Light

Friend, brother deacon and blogger extraordinaire, Deacon Greg Kandra of the Deacon's Bench, recently posted an entry (read the original post and the many comments here) which linked to my last post about the launch of Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future, which was written by Drs. Gary Macy, Phyllis Zagano, and myself.  After the fantastically positive experience of writing the book itself and the equally positive reception at the launch at Loyola University, Chicago, it was quite disheartening to see the almost unbelievable venom and vitriol levied at Deacon Greg, the three of us authors, and anyone who would even consider picking up our book.  We were even criticized for our pasts; for example, I was mocked as a former senior staff member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); you know, that rabid liberal cabal who lead our country's bishops around by the nose to get them to do dangerous, liberal things, like defending religious liberty, Catholic social teaching, and so on.

Be that as it may, I encourage you to read all the comments.  Greg has felt compelled to close off comments and I respect his decision.  On the other hand, while I hope that such behavior will not migrate to this blog, I still wish to respond to a couple of points raised on his blog.  You will see that I had addressed several issues already.  If Greg hadn't closed his comments when he did, I would have posted the following.  Again, I think that others might be interested in the questions raised, and answers to those questions. So, "Diakonos09". of you happen to find yourself over here on my blog, here's what I wanted to post:

Dear Diakonos09 (#104),
Several points. Your tone suggests that you don't accept Deacon Greg's point that he was quoting me (from my blog) rather than the pope, and that therefore you don't believe that there is papal support for this being an "open theological question." After teaching all day yesterday and preaching four Masses this weekend, the tempting answer out of fatigue is to suggest you read the book, where I review more than a dozen documents and historical events which address your question specifically. But, reason prevailed, and here's a short summary.
Let me highlight both documents and actions.
In terms of documents, both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have been influential. In 1976, Paul directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to publish "Inter Insigniores", which has an official English title of "Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood." Subsequent teaching, both in papal encyclicals and reflected in secondary teaching documents such as the Catechism, clarifies repeatedly that deacons are NOT part of the ministerial priesthood. In fact, "Inter Insigniores" itself says, "the Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women." Taking that quotation at its word, notice that it does NOT reference deacons.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II promulgates "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" which again refers only to ordination to the sacerdotal (priestly) orders of presbyter and bishop -- NOT deacons. Several other documents from this period and up until as late as 2009 further clarify the church's understanding that deacons are NOT included in the "ministerial priesthood" and are NOT included in the teaching of these documents.
Those are just two major documents. But let's consider official ACTIONS, and I will list the major one. Notice the dates of the two documents I listed above. Now, consider that then-Cardinal Ratzinger -- with the approval of the Pope -- assigned the question of ordaining women as deacons (not deaconesses -- they are a separate group) to the International Theological Commission for review as part of their five year term from 1992-1997. Notice that no published report on the question was ever put out by the Commission or the Congregation, although the Pope had during that time promulgated "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis." Since the Commission had not been able to come up with an answer on women deacons, Cardinal Ratzinger assigned it to them AGAIN for their 1997-2002 term. This time, they issued a report, in which they concluded that the question of ordaining women, was something that the Church's "ministry of discernment" might choose to address at some future point; in other words, it remains an open question. Neither Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Levada (who succeeded him at the CDF) has ever acted on that suggestion, although Ratzinger did authorize the public release of that report, and it's available for your study. The fact is, if this question of women deacons were NOT an open question, why would successive popes and prefects of the CDF keep treating it like one, even after they have taken pains to address the question of women priests???!!!!
Finally, a word about being ordained as an icon of Christ. I would never agree with the conclusion that a deacon is not ordained as an icon of Christ the Servant. I wouldn't want to, and as you point out, it's a clear teaching of the Church. But ordination as an icon of Christ need not always be reflected simply in the gender of the ordinand. Can women not be icons of Christ? Mother Theresa comes to mind -- certainly when the poorest of poor encountered her, they encountered the love of Christ, right? And, frankly, to go back to my first points: if this were an issue for the popes and CDF, why didn't they simply say, "Look, we've already addressed this issue in "Inter Insigniores" and in "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" and it applies to deacons as well as priests." But they didn't do that, even when asked directly about it. Instead, they have consistently put the matter out for further study. That's what we're doing.

 Really: I know people will have questions about why we wrote the book, what's in it, and how we come to whatever conclusions we reach in the book.  The best way to find answers to those questions, obviously, is to read the book, where we can explain ourselves much better than we can on blogs and Facebook entries.  Still, it's a start!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The "Ship" is Launched. . . .

On Thursday, at Loyola University in Chicago, Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future was officially launched.  Three of us wrote the book: Dr. Gary Macy focused on the most recent historical research into the question, I analyze contemporary Church teaching and theology of the question, and Dr. Phyllis Zagano offers some insights into the possible future of women in the diaconate.

First, some personal reflections about the event at Loyola.  I arrived in Chicago after a great visit with our oldest son and our grandson.  We had gone to visit my mother and had a great visit with her!  Then it was back to Chicago for me to meet with my colleagues.  Gary Macy and I had gone to high school seminary together many years ago and, until a couple of months ago, had not seen each other in person since 1967!  We met and went to the Five Guys across the street from where we were staying and waiting for Phyllis to arrive.  We had a nice visit and coordinated our plans for the next day.

 Before the event itself, several news agencies were interested in talking with us about the nature of the diaconate itself in the Church, and to summarize the points we raise in the book.  Of all the books I've written and/or contributed to, this one is (obviously) getting the most attention, and we want to be as clear as possible about what we're saying and what we're NOT saying in the book.  More about this a bit later.  About 200-300 people gathered for the launch, and it was quite a diverse group!  There were a few undergraduates, but most of the folks were grad students and folks from the community, including more than a few priests, one of whom brought a whole group of parishioners.  We enjoyed the presence of Sr. (Dr.) Sara Butler, who is on the pope's International Theological Commission, and Sr. (Dr.) Mary Collins, OSB, now retired, who was one of my professors at the Catholic University of America when I was working on my Ph.D.

We began with prayer, and shortly thereafter, Dr. Susan Ross, Chair of the Theology Department at Loyola, welcomed everyone and began the panel presentations.  Proceeding in turn, each of us gave a 15 minute presentation on our particular focus in the book.  We then took a short break which gave the attendees the chance to write out some questions for us.  After the break, Dr. Ross invited us to respond to the questions, which was a lot of fun and gave us a chance to expound even more on points we hadn't had time for in our initial presentations.  It was a great conversation!  After that we signed a LOT of books, and responded to more questions.  It was an absolutely wonderful, engaging and stimulating evening, with a lot of humor and wit along with the more scholarly stuff.

Second, a word about the process we used in writing the book.  After deciding to write this book, Dr. Macy drafted his essay/chapter and e-mailed it to me.  I commented on it, and then wrote my own and forwarded both Dr. Zagano.  She commented on both of ours, and wrote HERS, and then forwarded the whole thing back to Gary, and the cycle was repeated several times until we were satisfied with it.  This kind of "self-refereeing" was very helpful to each of us, and we think, for the end result.  We then collaborated on the Introduction, and invited Dr. Ross to write a Forward, which she did.

Third, I ask my readers to keep a number of things in mind before you comment on this posting.  I know just how incensed some people can get when this topic is broached, and the recent thread on Deacon Greg's blog is a good example of that!  So, here are some things to know before blood pressures are raised:

1) No one, not the pope, nor any part of the Roman Curia, has EVER ruled out the possibility of ordaining women AS DEACONS.  It is, according to the pope himself, an "OPEN THEOLOGICAL QUESTION."  All we are doing is exploring that question with the latest research we can find on the subject.  Many people think that "we can't talk about ordaining women"; that's not true, and that's not what church authority says!  You will see what I mean when you read my chapter of the book: I analyze much of the official teaching documentation to see precisely what is being said.  One thing comes through crystal clear: the Holy See very clearly and very significantly DISTINGUISHES the diaconate from the sacerdotal ("priestly") orders of presbyter and bishop (I use the word "presbyter" here because in technical language, "priest" can apply to both presbyters and bishops).  So, no matter what has been said about the ordination of women to the presbyterate, the Church authority itself says that this does NOT apply to the diaconate.

2) The history of women in the diaconate has benefitted from considerable new historiography and analysis over the last 20-25 years.  Therefore, Gary's work is not simply a different interpretation of the same material, but an up-to-date analysis of the more complete data we have now.  He builds on some of the venerable work done a generation or more ago.  For example, there are several groups of women associated with diaconate in the early history of the Church: there are "women deacons" in one group, "deaconesses" in another, and some women given those titles because they were married to male deacons.  Each group is distinct and we have the rituals used to ordain them to help determine how their local communities perceived these women in ministry.  I know you'll find this section quite interesting.

3) My section deals with two major themes: first, as I said before, I study the official documentation on the topic to demonstrate the distinctiveness of this question from other questions, and to stress that we are only interested in this book with the question of the possible ordination of women as deacons, not to any other question at all.  I also review the teaching of Vatican II on the subject of the diaconate itself to make sure we see what the "vision" of the diaconate at the time of its renewal.  Just as women and men in religious life often talk about rediscovering the vision of their founders, I think that for deacons, the bishops at Vatican II were our "founders", and it's good to have a sense of what they were thinking and doing about the diaconate and the renewal of the Church.

4) We often hear that this is just an attempt to get women into the priesthood "through a back door"; that, if we ordain women to the diaconate, "the next thing you know, they'll want to be priests!"  Well, that's just a lot of nonsense.  As I said: the diaconate is not the priesthood, nor is it a part of the ministerial priesthood in which presbyters and bishops participate.  Furthermore, we have more than four decades of experience with the (permanent) diaconate now, in which the vast majority of deacons are serving as married men.  There's been no run on any diocesan chanceries by these married deacons to demand ordination as presbyters!  The vast majority of deacons, when asked if they would be interested in serving as presbyters if the church's discipline on celibacy were changed, respond that they would not.  After nearly 22 years as a deacon myself, but also as someone who had earlier spent eight years in the seminary, I can attest that the vocation of deacon is significantly different from the vocation of the priest!  So, the evidence is pretty clear that the diaconate is not now, nor would it ever be, a "back door" to becoming a priest.

These are just some reflections on what has been a most interesting process for me and my colleagues.  All I ask is this: BEFORE you jump to any rash conclusions, BEFORE you assume you know our motivations, our lineage, our "agendas" and all the rest of it, just read the book.  None of the three of us are rabid "liberals" or "conservatives"; we are not "radical feminists" or "feminazis".  In fact, two of us (Dr. Zagano and myself) are both retired Navy Commanders -- not exactly a "liberal" professional background.  Besides, if you start to find yourself pre-judging based on what you think you already know about this question, I would hope you would try to set those pre-judgments aside and first gather the facts.

Bottom line: the Church considers this an open question to be studied and discussed so that the church's "ministry of discernment" (the phrase used by the International Theological Commission, which works for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) can be exercised on this matter.  All we have done here is attempt to contribute to that discussion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You have to be a little crazy to be a deacon

My good friend and brother deacon who occupies "The Deacon's Bench" over at Patheos, Deacon Greg Kandra, has a very interesting post today about psychological testing as part of the process of applying for admission into formation programs which may lead to possible ordination as a deacon or presbyter.  Here's what Greg wrote about it, and from there you can read the full reflection by the original blogger on this issue.

I thought it might be helpful to review some basics about the application, discernment and formation processes that are involved here, and how psychological testing fits into that larger picture.  While I certainly don't deny that the original author highlights some interesting questions vis-a-vis psychological testing, several things need to be kept in mind: 1) Unless the applicant is a trained psychologist himself, how he THINKS certain questions might be answered may not, in fact, be the same as how a professional trained in test interpretation might read the data.  I can tell you from my own experience with this, that while my examiner didn't ask certain questions specifically, I was stunned later about her ability to piece the data she DID receive into an accurate portrait; 2) The applicant has, apparently, not yet completed the whole application process, so he has no idea if the questions he is raising will simply be part of subsequent testing or additional interviews; 3) The applicant himself is not himself experienced with the ministry of (at least in this case) the diaconate, which means that he has to make certain assumptions about what he BELIEVES ought to be included.  Now, I'm not saying he doesn't raise valid concerns!  However, it would also be wrong to extrapolate from one man's partial experience in one diocese (out of 196!) to make judgments about the processes followed throughout the country.  So, let's take a closer look.

First, psychological testing is only one part of the overall application process.  If you look at the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, you'll find that Chapter Four deals with "Vocation, Discernment, and Selection."  The chapter is divided into five sections: 1) Promotion and Recruitment, 2) The Mystery of Vocation, 3) The Discernment of the Call, 4) Admission and Selection Procedures, and, 5) Admission into the Aspirant Path in Formation.  I list all of these to put the specific issue of psychological testing in perspective.  Notice that the process of assessing the suitability of applicants begins long before we get to the administration of psychological tests, and that we begin with the far more fundamental issues of vocation and discernment of God's presence and action witnessed in the applicant's life by all of those around him: his family, friends, church community and so on.  We try to make sure that, unlike a "job application" for a secular position, the process of discerning a possible vocation to ordained ministry is interested in the whole range of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral elements of a person's life and character; the psychological is only one aspect in making such assessments.

Second, let's turn to Section IV in more detail.  There, we find information about the role of the pastor, the parish and the diocesan staff in reviewing a person's suitability, and the means of doing this involves a series of interviews by and with a variety of people, and these interviews usually involve the whole family of the applicant to some degree.  In paragraph 177, we read that "appropriate psychological consultation may be included as part of the application process, but always with the written consent of the applicant.  Those selected as psychological consultants must use psychological methods in harmony with Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching, particularly with respect to the theology of the diaconal vocation, the various states of life of the deacon and the basic human qualities expected of a mature deacon."

Third, notice what is NOT included in that paragraph: a required list of the psychological tests to be conducted!  In earlier drafts of the National Directory, such a list was offered; however, further research indicated that the resources available around the country varied greatly, as well as the professional opinions of psychologists about the best instruments to use.  This means that what one applicant might experience in one diocese will undoubtedly vary from what is used in the neighboring diocese.  As a result, those of us who are involved in this process are constantly assessing the psychological test batteries in use.

Just a final note: People should realize that, in a process as complex as this is, only rarely is a person rejected from the formation process based on a single issue alone.  Obviously, if it is discovered that a person has a serious psychological, medical or other issue; that's one thing.  But what we most often discover is a pattern of issues that need to be addressed.  Ultimately, decisions about whether or not to accept a person into the formation process, and leading all the way to decisions about whether or not to ordain a person at all, rest with the bishop and his assessment of the common good of the diocesan Church.  No one is ordained simply because they're a good and holy person (we hope!); a person is called to orders only when the bishop is convinced that the People of God can be served, and served well, by a particular person.  Psychological testing can be one important tool in that overall process, but it is never the only one, nor is it necessarily the best one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What a Day! Pope John XXIII and Vatican II!

Forty-nine years ago today, on 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII presided over the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  It is for this reason that we now celebrate Pope John's feast day today as well.  It's interesting, because usually a saint is remembered on the date of his birth or the date of her death.  John's is celebrated on the date of his most significant achievement in ministry: Vatican II.  It's a great day to commemorate both.

Angelo Roncalli, while he relished his peasant roots, was a man who loved history and the lessons history could teach us.  He was also a Roman "outsider" (unlike his best friend and successor, Giovanni Battista Montini, who was quite the Vatican "insider"), who came into his own during lengthy tours as a papal legate to Bulgaria (1925-1935), Turkey and Greece (1935-1944) and France (1944-1953).  He always maintained that it was his military service as a stretcher-bearer and chaplain during World War I that formed him into a pastor, and during World War II he did everything he could to facilitate the escape of as many as 100,000 Jews from Nazi-held areas.  In 1953 he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and was made a Cardinal.  He wrote that he loved the title of "Patriarch" -- the title he thought he would be buried with -- because it meant he was a "Father" to his people.  Little did he know that he would soon become "papa" to the whole world, not just Venice.  What his biography shows us is a man who was deeply immersed in the "real world" in a variety of difficult human situations, and a man who learned profoundly how the Church might help.

What the great Pope John brought to the world, and what the Council he called emphasized, was a "novus mentis habitus" -- a "new way of thinking" -- about the world and the Church.  Pope John Paul II used to speak about this quite often in the early days of his own papacy: that the world and the church today demands a new way of thinking about how we relate to the people with whom we live and serve.  Today, this message seems more needed than ever.

We read of church leaders who have decided that the richness of eating and drinking the Lord's Body and Blood, commanded by our Lord, is best accomplished through a resurgent sacramental minimalism by consuming under the species of bread alone; we wonder why our young people (and, let's be honest, some NOT so young people as well!) are leaving active participation in a Church they honestly believe has lost its moral compass and any connectedness whatsoever to the real problems which today's people face.  Instead, they see institutional church leadership fussing about translations from a dead language into a living culture while whole peoples are victims of genocide, forced migrations, war and natural disasters. They know that individual Catholics and groups of Catholics are involved in trying to make things better, but the acknowledged leadership often seems completely out-of-touch and remote from those efforts.

It was this very detachment from the "real world" that Pope John and the Council attempted to address.  In 1962, the world's bishops had vivid memories of two world wars, worldwide economic collapse, the rise of three totalitarian regimes, the emergence of the nuclear age and the cold war.  During the Council itself, the world was brought to the brink of another worldwide war during the Bay of Pigs debacle and the President of the US himself was assassinated.  The bishops of the world, led by John himself, wanted to try to find a NEW WAY OF THINKING so that the world might be transformed into a different kind of place, so that such tragedies could not happen again.

I entered high school seminary in 1963, during the Council itself, and what a dynamic and exciting time it was!  We were encouraged to dream about serving in a rejuvenated Church, a Church that would walk among people and help them.  To use John's own word, there was to be an aggiornamento in the Church, an updating, not just of how we worshiped, but how we lived and served in the world.

Many things have happened in the forty-nine years since the Council began, but I believe that we are still called to a new way of thinking.  The old patterns of thought which some people seem intent on trying to "restore" to the Church and the world, did not keep the world from war, violence and destruction.  Pope John's call to look forward with new, fresh approaches is more needed today than ever.  What else matters if we cannot connect the real messiness of life with the promises of Christ?

Viva il Papa Giovanni!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Arrivederci, Roma; Welcome, USA!

In a few hours I will make my way to Fiumicino to catch the first of three flights back home.  First is a flight from Rome to Amsterdam, then the long 12-hour flight to LA, and then another quick flight up to Monterey.  It has been a good and productive trip, but it will be wonderful to be home again!

The meetings here concerning our international study institute on the diaconate have gone very well.  The University of St. John Lateran (the "Lateranum") has emerged as a key player in our planning, and we laid out a three-year summer program of courses.  This means that a person has choices: for those able and interested in doing so, a person could come to Rome for three summers and complete a Master's Degree awarded by the Lateranum.  Alternatively, a person could simply come for a single course purely out of personal interest, or, still again, could take a course or two which would provide transfer credit to another graduate degree being taken elsewhere.  For example, if a person were working on a Master's degree or Ph.D. at a university in the United States, 1 or 2 of the Institute's courses could be applied to the course work for that degree, since our courses are fully accredited as well.  Finally, a student who is enrolled in a university at which one of our faculty members is on staff, the course in Rome can be taken for credit at the faculty member's "home" institution as well.  For example, I could teach a course for the Institute in Rome, but a student from Santa Clara University could receive credit from Santa Clara for the course.

The academic prerequisites for the Institute program will be a baccalaureate degree, preferably in Theology or a related discipline.  The Roman and Vatican officials are quite insistent that the Institute be a place for graduate level work, and this really is the point of the Institute as well.  Courses are open to all qualified persons (and not only deacons) who are interested in study and research on the diaconate, and this cuts a wide swath: from history and archaeology, to biblical exegesis and the patristics, to ecclesiology, systematics, moral, spiritual and liturgical theology, to canon law.

Not all courses will be taught every summer.  Instead, there is a three-year plan of study: the first summer will be devoted to scripture and the patristics; the second summer to theology, and the third summer to pastoral-ministerial topics.

We even agreed on a name of the Institute.  It will be known as the "Studium Internazionale sul Diaconato San Lorenzo": the "Saint Lawrence International Institute on the Diaconate"

Once I get home, I'll be working on developing some English language materials on all of this, and we're putting together a web site that will link everyone together as well.  So stay tuned!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reflections on Buon Papa Giovanni

As I wrote earlier, I spent some time in prayer this morning at the tomb of Pope John XXIII.  I have been blessed to have this opportunity a number of times now, but the experience is always a profound one on many levels.

I began an eight-year journey (1963-1971) in the seminary (high school and college) during his pontificate and the Council which he convened.  Both have had an incredible influence on my life personally, ministerially, academically and professionally.  Today, as I found a spot near his tomb under the mosaic of the Death of St. Jerome, I noticed that the candles were lit at the altar [see the photo], reminding us, of course, that today is the Feast of St. Jerome on the Latin calendar.  As I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, however, something else struck me.

Pope John died nearly 50 years ago.  Those people who remember him and the events of his papacy (1958-1963) are now getting old (he himself once remarked, when he turned 60, that 60 was the age at which we begin to be old!).  But something remarkable has always amazed me, and this visit was no exception.  See, after you enter St. Peter's and work your way down the right hand side of the Basilica, the first big gathering spot for tourists is Michelangelo's famous Pieta "just inside" the front door; and now the next big stop is the new tomb of Pope John Paul II.  Then you come to the tomb of John XXIII.  Here's what amazed me: There were perhaps 200 people admiring the Pieta, and perhaps 100 or so at the tomb of John Paul II.  But, in the hour I was there, a steady stream of pilgrims filed by John's tomb.  I lost count after a couple of hundred, and the stream kept going.  In fact, there were three security guards posted there to keep the crowd moving, quiet and prayerful.  The memory of this holy man is still so strong and vibrant nearly 50 years after his death!  He was able, in his quiet joy-filled way, to touch the hearts, souls and imaginations of the entire world, and his pastoral leadership style enabled the bishops of the world to rejuvenate the Church at the Council.

As I prepared to leave, I approached one of the security guards and thanked him for his efforts.  He smiled and said, "Ah, deacon, good Pope John still lives!"  And so he does. . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Here we go again. . . .

Gentle readers, it has been far too long between blog posts, but life has been -- for all of us, I'm sure! -- full, rich and packed with other things which demand our attention.  However, following a summer of relocation from Florida to California, beginning a whole series of new responsibilities, and various family matters, now seems like a good and appropriate time to start things up again.

I'm writing from beautiful Rome, and I don't mean the beautiful Rome in Georgia.  As I've blogged about before, several of us deacon-theologian-professors are launching a new international advanced studies institute on the diaconate here at the Vatican. We are meeting tomorrow with representatives from the Vatican (the Congregation for Catholic Education) and the various pontifical universities who will be involved with the Institute.  We will be discussing the final details of dates, times, costs and curriculum, so it promises to be a full day!  If all goes well, we will offer the first courses this coming summer.  I'll provide all the details as soon as they are finalized.

For now, however, I'm off!  I'm going to walk over to St. Peter's and spend an hour in prayer at the tomb of my hero, Pope St. John XXIII.  I know, I know: the rest of the Church hasn't yet canonized him; but I claim the ancient practice of canonization by acclamation!  I will keep all of you and your intentions in prayer.

A presto!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

From Benedict XVI: Great words for those in formation for ordination

My friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, has a wonderful posting today on a sermon delivered by Pope Benedict XVI to a group of seminarians.  As Greg points out, it is a wonderful exhortation for deacon candidates as well, and I am forwarding a copy of it to all of our deacon candidates for this diocese.  Read the entire homily here, but here is a wonderful excerpt.

Dear friends, you are preparing yourselves to become apostles with Christ and like Christ, and to accompany your fellow men and women along their journey as companions and servants.
How should you behave during these years of preparation? First of all, they should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study and of gradual insertion into the pastoral activity and structures of the Church. A Church which is community and institution, family and mission, the creation of Christ through his Holy Spirit, as well as the result of those of us who shape it through our holiness and our sins. God, who does not hesitate to make of the poor and of sinners his friends and instruments for the redemption of the human race, willed it so. The holiness of the Church is above all the objective holiness of the very person of Christ, of his Gospel and his sacraments, the holiness of that power from on high which enlivens and impels it. We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign that we are and the reality that we wish to signify.
Meditate well upon this mystery of the Church, living the years of your formation in deep joy, humbly, clear-mindedly and with radical fidelity to the Gospel, in an affectionate relation to the time spent and the people among whom you live. No one chooses the place or the people to whom he is sent, and every time has its own challenges; but in every age God gives the right grace to face and overcome those challenges with love and realism.