A Golden anniversary; one year early.
June 8, 1974 - June 8, 2023
Humility encompasses decreasing ourselves and increasing the life of another. John the Baptist did that when he saw Jesus and said, “He must increase” I must decrease.” (Jn 3: 30). We all have gifts that we must use to expand the glory to a God who loved us before he ever created us in our mother’s womb.
Therefore, it is always a gratuitous opportunity to let others know how we have used our talents, no matter how small they may be, to encourage someone who may not have that within their grasp.
I remember one time at a Sunday Mass listening to a lector reading from Paul’s letter about love. He had my attention and it inspired me. My thought was “I could do that.” Perhaps it was the spirit within telling me to seek the same ministry. However, wherever the inspiration came from some years later I did find myself doing the same.
This was during the early 1960’s and consequently I became involved with the Holy Name society, then the St, Vincent de Paul society, and in the early 70’s being accepted into the diaconate program at my parish. Now, it wasn’t that I was an organization jumper, but each step, from lector to spiritual participant certainly did have some part in being ordained. One thing that is important, the acceptance of Holy Orders is not, nor should it ever be, a prize or honor because one has been active or zealous in other ministries. The title of diaconia means to serve and it is a responsibility to be taken seriously.
During the 1970’s when our class was ordained, we were one of approximately 20 dioceses in the United States with a permanent diaconate program. We were among that small number the guides to what we have today. In a lot of cases there was new ground being broken with a trial and error scenario to the progress current deacons now experience.
Our diocese, Pittsburgh, did not require a college degree. We were not restricted from preaching, although a great number of my brothers did not preach much or at all. There was not a hindrance to our wearing a roman collar, although at some point it was suggested that we not use them.
While I was in Texas, as an interim to being incardinated into the diocese of San Angelo, I became aware of one diocese enforced their prohibition to wearing roman collars by deacons, and if they did the bishop would remove them from ministry. While on a retreat for priests and deacons at Steubenville University, some deacons told us that in order to preach they must write their homily and submit to the bishop before giving it. So, the freedom we enjoyed in Pittsburgh regarding preaching was a blessing in my eyes.
The giftedness any of us have sometimes will separate our position and may or may not affect our reason for becoming an ordained cleric. My experience as a preacher began the first week after ordination. One of the priests at my parish mentioned my serving as the deacon on Sunday. He said you’ll do all the functions as a deacon, serving at the altar and preaching. Now I always looked forward to speaking about Jesus and looked forward to this opportunity. But when he said I would preach, all anxiety hit me between the eyes. I said I wouldn’t preach but would read the gospel. He said, no I would not read the gospel. The gospel and homily go together as far as preaching the word. But, you may do all the other functions as a deacon. I was devastated since I always wanted to read the gospel. I went home on Saturday, prepared a very short homily and delivered it the next day. I preached almost every Sunday at any parish I was at, for the next 24 years. This became my talent and has rolled over to my writing.
Referring back to my time in Texas, I was befriended by a local family and became good friends to me and my wife. Not too long ago I wondered how they were doing so I sent an email to Mike. He contacted me later and said because of me he entered the diaconate program and was ordained. Trying to ascertain how God works, which we cannot do, perhaps there was one or more persons in Midland, TX that needed to hear or be ministered to by Mike. To do that Mike needed to minister as a deacon. So God instituted my being hired and employed by St. Annes in Midland. We see all through history, especially in the Church, and in scripture, one plants a seed, another waters it, and yet another collects the harvest from that one tiny seed. We are all part of that growth that God begins in each of us.
My advice though to aspiring deacons is use your gifts as you are permitted. Since we also must accept obedience as part of our vows when being ordained. To be obedient to the bishop and doing what deaconia means. We are here to serve and not be served. This is what Jesus said why he was sent, and we must follow these footsteps as well.
Ralph B. Hathaway