St. Stephen is considered to be the first person called to serve as a Deacon. St. Stephen was a man of great faith who met his martyrdom by being stoned to death as he prayed for those who stoned him.
I certainly didn’t hope for that same fate as St. Steven but I prayed for that devout faith. Historically, we know that from the time of St. Stephen through the next 1000 years or so the diaconate grew to be a vital part of the church with three distinct levels of clergy; Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, but after that the office of deacon disappeared except as a step towards the priesthood. The Second Vatican Council restored the Permanent Diaconate to men only, who were over 35 years of age.
There are presently over 10,000 deacons in the U.S. alone. And the Diaconate is continuing to evolve by expanding the curriculum and broadening the requirements to better prepare each candidate.
As a Deacon, the question I am asked most often is, “What can you do compared to a priest?” It is the wrong question, because we are not in competition, through we both receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, allowing deacons to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, officiate at funerals, and proclaim and preach the Gospel. Presently, deacons cannot anoint the sick, hear confessions, or consecrate the Eucharist.
I think the greatest gift the diaconate brings to the church community is their many different life experiences. The deacons of our diocese come from all different backgrounds, teachers, police officers, business men, Doctors, social workers, engineers, accountants, military and laborers; we are black, Hispanic and white serving in parishes, yes, but also in a wide variety of ministries. We minister first in the work place, hospitals, prisons, soup kitchens, convalescent homes, help with drug and alcoholic rehabilitation, and many other unique ministries.
The needs of our communities are many and varied, many yet to be identified. Besides my involvement at Nativity which consisted of assisting at Mass, weddings, baptisms, and funerals when I was asked. My wife has worked with me in marriage preparation and assisted with baptisms and weddings.
I have become aware of another important aspect of the diaconate. We Deacons all make our living, like you do, in the workplace; wearing clothing appropriate for the job.
Is serving as a Deacon always a bed of roses? No, like anything in life it has its ups and downs, with conflicts at times. With my wife and family, a full time job, and my ministry setting priorities was often difficult. As a husband and father of three children, my family was always my number one priority; without their love and support I could never have served as Deacon.
Many have said to me, “It’s wonderful of you to make so many sacrifices to serve others,” That is not true; the greatest gift of the diaconate to me has been the discovery that life has its deepest meaning when we share, it’s in giving that we receive, those I have served truly helped me to come out of myself and live life to the fullest, yes, so that when serving as a Deacon because difficult I was able to think of the positives.
Thank you Nativity of Mary and May God Bless You and Yours,
Deacon Jim McLaughlin
A few weeks ago, I mentioned in the homily that I saw the documentary about Fred Rogers, AKA Mr. Rogers. It was entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. It was a staple of my television viewing experience throughout my youth. I knew there was something attractive about Mr. Rogers’ approach to his show, but I did not understand the depth of his wisdom or his love for people.
Upon watching the documentary, I awakened to the great lessons he was trying to teach me, now on a more mature level. And these lessons are still needed for adults today.
One of the profound lessons that Mr. Rogers taught was about feelings. Many times, people will respond to feelings in one of two ways: Either, they try to suppress a feeling, or they believe they must act upon that emotion. We often allow ourselves only these two options. However, Mr. Rogers offers a third way to respond to emotions, which is much more profound and helpful. In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before congress to defend the budget for public television. The congressman asked Mr. Rogers about his show (which the congressman had not seen). And Mr. Rogers said that he taught children about many human experiences, including feelings. And here is what Mr. Rogers said, “I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
Mr. Rogers teaches that feelings are “mentionable and manageable.” We all experience feelings and they are found throughout the Bible: Happiness (Isaiah 12:3), Sadness (John 11:35), Anger (Ephesians 4:26), etc. Feelings are very mentionable. But not only are they mentionable (and here is the genius of Mr. Rogers), they are manageable. We can control what we do when we experience a feeling that we know is not leading us to a good choice. We are not robots who must act out every feeling that we experience. Rather, God has given us the ability to choose our actions and we must choose to respond to our feelings in ways that are good.
To drive home his point, Mr. Rogers wrote a song to help children (and adults) remember this truth: “What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go?”
“It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ― “I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime ... And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”
Found in this simple song is a very powerful tool for living our lives as Jesus calls us to act. We all experience feelings, and we can be the ones to choose how to respond to those feelings. That is the genius of Mr. Rogers who knew the love of God in his own life, for he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. So the next time we experience a feeling, let us remember this lesson from Mr. Rogers, acknowledge the feeling to Jesus, and allow Jesus to guide us in how we should react to this feeling. Then we will have that very good feeling knowing we have chosen to do what God would want us to do...and that feels very good.
NB: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is rated PG-13, so parents, please view the movie first and then discern if your children are of an appropriate age to watch this documentary.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach repentance to all who would receive them. It is important to note, however, that Jesus sent them out “two by two.” He sent them out in pairs. One of the reasons that Jesus did this was because he knew that we need other people of faith around us to support us. Very often, when we become isolate or even have the feeling of being isolated in our faith, we can be tempted to either drift from the faith or set it aside.
Also, our faith grows when we share it with others. By sending out his disciples two by two, Jesus also gave them a partner in the journey of faith. They had someone with them who already believed in Jesus and they could talk about their faith with each other. This helps solidify our experiences of faith and creates fertile ground for the faith to grow.
So for us here in Minnesota, we need to talk about our faith with each other. If you have a good friend who also is a faith-filled person, be sure to talk about how God is working in your life. If you are married, be sure to have those conversations about faith with each other. If you have a family member whom you know to be a person of faith, call them and talk about how God is working in your life. If you have children, be sure to talk about your experiences with God to show them that it is good to talk about God working in our lives.
We need to share our faith and talk about our personal encounters with God. So the following are a few suggestions of topics to discuss as you go through this life two by two:
These are just a few suggestions of topics to discuss with another person of faith. Jesus is sending all of us through the world and we need someone to walk with us as we journey. Let us not miss those opportunities to receive the graces of sharing our faith with another so that we might have our faith deepened.
God bless you,
This week, we celebrate the memorial of St. Benedict (July 11). A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Italy and visiting the abbey at Monte Cassino. This is the first of the Benedictine monasteries in the world. It was here where St. Benedict put his faith into practice in a radical way. He knew that his calling to holiness was found in establishing a community of individuals who were unified in their belief in Jesus Christ as well as their efforts to become holy.
To accomplish this goal of holiness, St. Benedict, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote his motto for the entire Benedictine Order: “Ora et labora,” which translates to: “Prayer and work.” It was this simple motto that was the guide for the monastic life of the Benedictines as well as many other religious orders throughout the world.
St. Benedict knew that it was essential for the path of holiness to combine both contemplation (prayer) with labor (work). When these two were in the necessary balance, one would find the ideal of not only the religious life, but also the life of any Catholic. In the Gospel of Luke, we find the passage of the two sisters who meet Jesus, Martha and Mary. One chooses to labor for their guest, while the other sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. Many commentators on Scripture have seen the symbolism in the two sisters as being the representation of the two aspects of the life of a Catholic.
So how does this apply to us non-monks? Typically, we Catholics will forget to live well one, or both of these aspects of the Catholic life. Firstly, the Catholic life requires us to live a life of prayer. It is very tempting to dedicate ourselves to the labors of life that we will fail to have time for prayer. We will claim that we are too busy, or that we have too many responsibilities or that others around us require so much of our time, especially children. And so, the prayer life slips away. I think of St. Teresa of Calcutta when I think that I do not have enough time to pray. Here was a woman who had hundreds of people seeking her attention, and yet she led a life of deep prayer. I too, can choose to have a life of prayer. If you have children, bring them to prayer with you. What a gift to teach your children both how to pray and the importance of prayer. It is only through prayer that we open ourselves to the graces that God offers us so that we can become the holy people we are made to be.
We can also be tempted to fail to enter into the labora of the Catholic life. It is tempting to want to spend all of our lives in prayer just to “get away from it all.” We can dedicate our time to prayer and hope to avoid the labor of following the work that God has put in front of us. Like St. Peter on the mountain top, when the transfiguration occurred, Peter desired to remain up there and not go into the world, yet Jesus called him down to labor for the kingdom of God. So too, we must be about the work of our calling. As priests, we must write our homilies and visit the sick. As married couples, tending to the needs of the children and your spouse. As single people, serving those who need assistance and looking out for the spiritual needs of our parish and broader community.
This week, let us all pay attention to the motto of the great St. Benedict and live out our own personal calling to Ora and Labora.
When I think about the Saints, I often think about the amazing heroics that they performed for the faith. For example, I think about St. Patrick, and how he was willing to travel to the land of the people who forced him into slavery, to evangelize them and save their souls. Or St. Joan of Arc, who led forces into battle to defend France. However, what is not often spoken about with regard to these Saints is that they are not Saints because they did one single amazing event, but rather, they lived a life of holiness one day at a time, that allowed them to make their heroic gestures.
Similar to exercise, those athletes at the Olympics or the World Cup did not simply walk onto the field and perform these amazing feats. What we see is only the culmination of years of preparation, daily making the decision to get up, to practice, without any fanfare or attention. They simply practiced and made the little choices one day at a time which allows them to be able to perform at such a high level.
Similarly in the spiritual life, for us to become saints, it is not done by one heroic act, but rather, it is done through our daily living and growing in our spiritual lives. One example is St. Maximilian Kolbe. Many people know about his heroic sacrifice of his life in the concentration camp which saved the life of a Jewish man. However, this was not the beginning of his saintly life. Rather, he was one who pursued holiness as a youth, choosing to make time for prayer daily and consecrating himself to Mary. During his priesthood, he worked to spread the faith and founded other monasteries. All of this prayer, devotion to Mary, and daily living the faith prepared him well for the moment where he could sacrifice his own life for the life of another.
Every person at our parish, and truly every person on the globe, is called to become a Saint. This is not just something for an elite group, but is your calling. To become a Saint is not done in one simple moment, but is a daily decision to become holier than I was the day before. Choose today and every day to become the holy person God knows you can be. And when we create this habit of holiness, we will become the saints that God desires us to be.