As I get older I realize that I have more and more milestones passing my way. Each successive birthday seems to be a milestone in its own right. Sometimes I just can’t imagine that it has been over 35 years since high school graduation or that I have been married for over 25 years. I just attended a “cancer survivor’s day” at the local hospital this week and realized it has been 28 years as a survivor since the first diagnosis and 13 years since the second time. Those are some memorable milestones indeed.
On June 5, 1999 I was ordained a permanent deacon at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Missouri by Archbishop Justin Rigali (now Cardinal Rigali). Fifteen years have since passed. I could have never imagined where the road would lead from there but it has been quite a journey.
The ordination ritual is a powerful experience. The laying on of hands, being vested, and receiving the Book of the Gospels are all components that remain etched in my mind. Although I was familiar with the rite of ordination and we had thoroughly rehearsed for this day, I was particularly struck when I approached the archbishop to receive the Book of the Gospels. The reality of ordination really hit me at the moment Archbishop Rigali said, "Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach." Wow! What did I just sign up to do? The weight of the commitment struck me at at that precise moment.
If four and a half years of schooling were not enough, I continued my studies for another year following ordination specializing in religious education administration. I had a desire to pursue full time employment within the Church and I wanted to be as adequately prepared as I was able. I will readily admit my concern about being ready. At that point in time I was seriously questioning my ability to fulfill the commitment I had made. Thankfully, I came to the simple conclusion that there was no doubt I was going to need an abundance of God's grace in addition to the education and formation I had received.
In the last fourteen years I have worked full time for the Church in one capacity or another. I have been a Director of Religious Education at St. Benedict’s Parish in Florence, Colorado, a Vocation Director and Deacon Director for the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, a high school theology teacher and campus minister at Valle Catholic High School in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, Coordinator of Religious Education and Principal at Assumption Catholic School in O’Fallon, Missouri, and now the last four and a half years as Director of Pastoral Ministries and Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Cheyenne.
The lessons of life that I have learned during these last 15 years are too numerous to mention, but I will highlight just a couple of things. The people of God have blessed me abundantly in many different ways throughout my years of ministry. I am still amazed when an individual or a family invites me into a sacred moment of life. These can be either joyful or sorrowful occasions. Celebrating a wedding or a baptism brings one set of emotions. Joining with a family in prayer as a loved one approaches death brings a different set of emotions. The heartache of broken relationships, loss of a job, financial struggles, serious illness, or any other traumatic event can bring people to the Church to seek guidance and help. These can all be graced moments in which we intimately encounter the living God. I try to never take these moments for granted when I am invited to accompany someone on these difficult paths. It is a tremendous privilege as a member of the clergy to walk with parishioners in the midst of their pain and struggles. I am extremely grateful for each opportunity that I have had to pray one-on-one with someone for their specific needs. God does not disappoint.
Holy people have taught me to pray more fervently and faithfully. One question asked by a parishioner many years ago still rings in my head. I was just diagnosed with a serious illness and I was sharing the news with this particular individual. After I finished my account of what was going on she simply asked, “Are you still praising God?” That question has forever changed my prayer life. I am blessed because of her perception and wisdom. These types of individuals have repeatedly entered my life at just the right time through the years. That is evidence of God's grace at work.
I have tried to be faithful in my diaconal ministry. There have been many “successes” in the process, and also many times that my shortcomings have come to light as well. The areas of achievement deserve a special note of gratitude to Almighty God for allowing me to be an instrument of His love. The areas of “failure” are simply my own. Choosing my will over God’s will—that never results in a good outcome. Thankfully, God is patient and merciful.
As I mark this fifteenth anniversary of my diaconal ordination, I simply offer a prayer of gratitude for all who have touched my life through the years. Life has not always been easy, but it has surely been blessed. John’s Gospel chapter 10 verse 10 is real and true. (Look it up.) I have seen it demonstrated throughout my entire lifetime but especially during these last fifteen years.
As we approach the great Solemnity of Pentecost let us pray faithfully—COME, HOLY SPIRIT!
(Enjoy the pictures below. Yes, I looked much younger 15 years ago. Also, the pictures do not show the technical quality of modern age digital photography. Along with Cardinal Rigali, the other bishops are Bishop Michael Sheridan--now in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Bishop Edward Braxton--now in Belleville, Illinois.)