June 8, 1974
Any one of us might wonder if we have accomplished good for those that follow our lead. Success, in church ministry, can be measured by how we touch people with the Love of Christ. Certainly gifts of preaching, singing, or writing are ways to reach the flock, but without love it means nothing. See Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “if I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing symbol.”
The words told us before ordination not to expect to change the world, but that is open to interpretation, nevertheless our position in the Church is valuable. Otherwise, the Holy Spirit would not have renewed the Permanent Diaconate or called each of us to ministry.
Each one will have a story that can be told. Some that may appear mundane while others have changed history. It doesn’t matter. We are called to serve and that we shall do. The following events are part of 45 years without planning, just serving.
In the early years of my ministry I shared with another deacon classmate in hospital ministry at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. One evening, after making visitations, and on my way to the chapel for a Communion Service, and eventual trip through the hospital with the Sacred Hosts, my time was running short making, me late for the service. As I was about to pass a small women’s ward the Holy Spirit told me to go into the room. One woman was there and, after speaking with her, I asked if she wanted to receive communion when I returned. She began to cry and told me she was not allowed to receive the sacraments of the Church, and had not received the Eucharist for 13 years. I asked why and the story she related made the hairs on the back of my neck raise. It seemed that she had seven children and almost died after her last pregnancy. Her doctor told her she would likely die from any more attempts at childbirth. He suggested having her tubes tied. She discussed this with her priest who said if that occurred she would not be allowed to receive the sacraments. Her response was, “who will raise my seven children? She had the procedure and was told by the priest to never go to communion again. I passed this event to the chaplain who heard her confession and she did receive Jesus that night. The main part of this story is she was being discharged the next morning.
I realize the teaching of the Church on artificial birth control but there are times where pastoral decisions are necessary, and why would the Holy Spirit guide me into that room?
When in ministry during the 1980’s while in Midland, TX, the acquaintance of a family must have had an impression on the young man. Last year, I wondered how they were doing and by chance sent an e-mail to Mike. I didn’t have his address and by chance took the initiative and sent it via g-mail. It was the right one and he replied wondering how I found the address, but told me I had inspired him to seek the ministry of the permanent diaconate. Now, even though my stay in Texas was short, without relating the why’s and wherefores, perhaps God wanted Mike to become a deacon and I was the vehicle He used for this occurrence. We know that in ministry, some plant a seed, others nurture it, while someone else experiences the harvest. Usually, most of us will not see the final blooming of the seeds we plant. God allowed me that privilege, in the case of Mike.
One of my gifts is preaching and I never wrote my homilies. I did not go out ad-libbing, but spent the week before preparing mentally and using homily helps to be ready. One week-end, after preparing myself for the homily, I awoke on Sunday morning, and as usual looked over the readings while getting ready. Did you ever look at what you thought you would speak about and without notes forgot what you were expected to deliver? LOL, I did.
All the way to St. Angela’s I kept going over in my mind what I could remember from the readings, but nothing came through. During the first part of the Mass the only thing in my mind was, “what am I going to do?” It came time for the gospel; I got the pastor’s blessing, read the gospel and walked to the center of the sanctuary, picked up the microphone and told myself here goes nothing. The words just flowed and after what probably was the usual time of about seven minutes, I replaced the microphone and went to my chair. The pastor was impressed, and I never knew what I said.
Upon arriving back home and opening the door went in, looked up, and said, “What are you doing to me?” The words I will ever forget, very succinctly; “You’re always talking about faith, today I tested yours.”
In ministry, whether you are preaching, visiting an unexpected encounter with a person who is afraid, or sitting down to write about God, do not forget the Holy Spirit is in charge.
Ralph B. Hathaway, Pentecost 2019