Vigil of Pentecost

Today is the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.  Tomorrow the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles.  Without the Spirit, the Apostles would have just been twelve guys who might not have had the courage to carry out God’s plan.  Believe me, standing up in front of people, preaching the good news of the Gospel isn’t an easy task, especially in the first century, when there was a very real threat of death for preaching this radical new faith.


Today is also the day when Archbishop Carlson ordained twenty men to be permanent deacons.  One of several questions he asked the prospective deacons was, “Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?”  The key words here are “humility” and “serve”.  These words remind the deacon, just as tomorrow’s celebration reminds all of us that we must be humble, and that we must serve one another.


As followers of Christ it’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.  After all, we’re all chosen people.  We must be pretty special.  But none of us is more special than anyone else.  The only thing that makes any of us different from anyone else is our particular talents, and those talents are given to us by God.  If we ever forget that, then we fall into the sin of pride.


Part of my calling is to preach.  Most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  But my call doesn’t make me special.  It just means that God has put me in a position to expand on the day’s readings.  Trust me, that’s all the Holy Spirit.  I’m just His spokesman, repeating what He wants you to hear.  I’m not afraid to speak because the Spirit is with me.


Here’s what the Archbishop said today in his prayer of consecration over the new deacons, “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.  Deacons have an office, just as priests, religious men and women, and all of you have an office.


“Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace, to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”  Before I was ordained, I did some public speaking.  I guess I was ok at it. I got paid for it.  But I wasn’t inspired.  I guess I had some talent, but I didn’t have the gift of the Spirit.


The Archbishop uses the words “unassuming authority” and “May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and one day reign with Him in heaven.”  All of us, deacons, priests, and lay people, are called to serve, just like Jesus came to serve.


We all received the Holy Spirit when we were confirmed.  For most of us that happened a long time ago.  We may not remember what was said.  The bishop’s prayer for us was very similar to the prayer of Ordination, “My dear friends, in baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters.”  There’s that word, chosen.


Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God.”


“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”


Judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe.  These are the gifts we receive; the same gifts the Apostles received on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Today we acknowledge those gifts and pray that we never lose them.  Jesus promised that he would never leave us alone; that the Spirit would be with us as our advocate.


After mass tomorrow, we’ll take down the Easter decorations.  We’ll put away the white vestments and return to wearing the green of ordinary time.  With a few exceptions we’ll wear the green until November 30, when we’ll put on the purple of Advent.  But in the modern use of the word, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Sunday.  Every Sunday is extraordinary because we have the Eucharist.  It’s another gift that Jesus left us.  With the gifts of the spirit, judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe, we’re called to share our faith.  We’re called to be disciples, and to make disciples.  We’re called to do it with humility, remembering that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.


The fact that sometimes we don’t have a priest to celebrate with us is another sign of God’s will for all of us.  Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but we’re all empowered to share it with one another, even when a priest isn’t present.  We can still approach the altar with wonder and awe, knowing that we all have a part in Jesus’ ministry, and that we’re in His Presence.  Any of us can assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  Any of us can take Communion to the sick.  Any of us can share God’s Good News.  Any of us can be the disciples we’re called to be.


Before the Apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were scared; scared to death.  But the Spirit gave them the courage to do what needed to be done.  On this vigil of the Pentecost, our prayer is that the same Spirit will empower all of us to share the Good News of the Gospel.


Please stand and renew your baptismal promises.


40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic–BONUS POST

Here I though I had everything planned out.  40 days of Lent.  40 posts.  Everything was just fine until I got to this weekend and realized that there are a lot more than 40 reasons for Catholic coolness.  But the list got shuffled over the last few weeks and here I am with five days left and six posts. So today is a bonus.  I’ll post the regularly scheduled topic later, but here’s another thing that’s cool.  As Catholics we always get more than we expect.

Today’s bonus reason why it’s cool to be Catholic is permanent deacons.  I almost left out my own vocation.  Doh!  Actually, we were on the list from the very beginning, but something else came along that bumped deacons to number 41.  Be that as it may, here’s why deacons make it cool to be Catholic.   Where the priest is ordained for the Eucharist, permanent deacons are ordained for service.

At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.  Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.   They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.  Acts 6: 1-6

Deacons work alongside priests and are responsible to the local bishop.  We receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, just like priests, but we’re ordained to serve.  Service includes assisting the priest (or bishop) at mass.  There are certain parts of the mass that are reserved for deacons and some that are optional.  For example, reading the Gospel is the deacon’s job.  Giving a homily may be done by either the priest or by the deacon.  In some dioceses including my own Archdiocese of Saint Louis, deacons don’t automatically receive preaching faculties when they’re ordained.  It takes a year of service as an ordained deacon and another class to receive them.

A deacon is never an adequate substitute for a priest.  We can’t say mass.  We can’t administer the sacrament of reconciliation.  We can’t anoint the sick.  What we can do is perform other tasks that normally take up the priests’ time, freeing them up to do the things that only they can do.  Deacons visit prisons, we visit hospitals, we work with the elderly and the poor.  There deacons ministering to travelers at many airports and here in Saint Louis we even have a deacon whose ministry is a local truck stop.

There are deacons who teach in schools and in parish schools of religion and deacons who catechize people wanting to join the Church.  We prepare couples for marriage and work with families as they have their children baptized.  And, most of us maintain a secular job, providing a presence of the Church in the workplace.

And we pray.  Twice a day we pray the Liturgy of the Hours and we pray for you.

I’m not very comfortable telling you how great I am, because, frankly, I’m not.  I’m just a guy who heard God calling me to do more for Him and for His Church.  Like everyone else, some deacons are living, breathing saints and some  of us are just happy to serve.  One aspect of deacon coolness is that the vocation accepts married men.  If you’re a man, 35 years old or older, you might be called to the diaconate.  It’s something that’s worth spending the time to discuss with God in your prayers.

If you’re a woman, or if you’re a man who isn’t called to this particular vocation, it’s still cool that the Church restored the permanent diaconate after Vatican II.  There are about 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, roughly 1 for every 2 priests.  Even though most of us serve on a part-time basis, that’s still a lot of men doing a lot of work for the Church; most of it without compensation.

Some of us do work that frees up our pastors to do other things and some of us do things that wouldn’t get done were it not for deacons.

You have to admit, that’s pretty cool.


Personal note:  I know there’s not a married deacon who won’t tell you that it would be impossible to have any kind of diaconal ministry without the loving support of a wife who keeps things going at home while we’re out doing our deacon thing.  I’m no exception.  I couldn’t do this without my wife’s help.  As I write this she’s out working in the yard.  On behalf of deacons everywhere, thank you ladies for making our ministries possible.