Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Man of the Church

It has admittedly been quite some time since I have posted here at Operarius, largely because my summer work has taken me to the Diocese of Knoxville's official blog Life At 25, which has meant that I have had less time to post here. However, it is worth noting that as our diocesan Eucharistic Congress approaches this coming weekend, so does the Rite of Candidacy that will "officially" make me a candidate for ordination. That Rite will happen on October 12th, God willing.

If there is one thing that I have learned over the past few months, it is that some people are slowly starting to notice that there have been a lot of changes in the way that I do things. My daily Examiner column has taken on far more religious content and far less political content. It isn't that I have lost interest in the political world (that is what my degree is in, after all, so I have an abiding personal interest in, and a certain enjoyment of, politics), but there is a genuine realization that now, my personal views could be wrongly taken for the views of the Church at large.

"Now Oatney," you may say, "that is silly. Why on earth would anyone take your opinion for the point of view of the diocese, or the bishops' conference, or the Church as a whole." There are some well-meaning people out there who do not necessarily grasp how the Church functions internally as a body, and so the opinions of one small potato can be blown into the official Yukon Gold Source of Truth. That doesn't mean I'm not entitled to my opinion, but it does mean that I must be increasingly more careful about when and how it is expressed. I should point out that, at least to some degree, I have learned this reality "the hard way."

I don't say all that with a sense of trepidation, lest anyone think that might be the case, but instead with an understanding that my journey of formation is about to enter a new phase. Candidacy means that the Church will recognize publicly, for the first time, that there is a strong possibility that I may be ordained. It means that I will be a "man of the Church," and may be seen as such by some already.

Perhaps most important of all, though, I see a change in myself, one that I believe comes from the Holy Spirit. I am increasingly comfortable that the Holy Spirit has placed me where I now find myself, and even though I don't yet know what ministries I will have if I am ordained, I am confident that if the Lord allows me to be ordained, that he will give me the gifts that I need to carry out what I am called to do, if he hasn't already.

Most of all, though, myself and the men of our formation class need your prayers. Remember us as you remember your pastor, and all the clergy. I know that so many of my brother Aspirants are thankful for all the prayers they can get. I know that I am.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New pastor, new normal

Last weekend Father Joseph Hammond, CHS, spent his last weekend as the pastor at my parish, St. Patrick in Morristown. This weekend, our new pastor, Father Patrick Brownell, said his first Sunday Mass, and it happened that Nicole and I attended the Vigil Mass Saturday. We had the advantage of also attending the Wednesday evening Mass (which we often do) and I had attended the Knights of Columbus Officers' Installation, and Father celebrated the Wednesday evening Mass and he had attended the officers' installation the day before, where he was installed as Chaplain of Council 6730.

If his earliest days are any indication, Father Patrick could be a welcome and refreshing change for our parish, and I don't mean because he is a new face on the altar. He seems to have a gift for good (and humorous) homiletics. He also
appears to be a very motivated pastor, and he wants us to be motivated too. It strikes me that Father Patrick could be a great evangelizer, especially since he made a comment in his homily this past weekend about the parish seemingly having plenty of room for more people.

As the lone diaconate Aspirant in the parish, I am praying that Father Patrick and I can build a good relationship. Right now, his head is still spinning, he is still learning who is who, and the first time we were ever introduced was Tuesday evening. Pray for Father Patrick, and for all of our priests in new assignments as of this past week, I know I will be.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The end of the year and candidacy

In a little over four hours from now I will be leaving for another deaconate formation weekend, the second of our classes on the Synoptic Gospels. I do so with something approaching mixed emotions, firstly because the end of our classes will apparently not mean the end of class work (it appears that we will have at least one more paper to write, but that's okay, it goes with the territory), but moreso because I found last year entering into the summer recess that I missed many of my Aspirant brethren tremendously. I think that a bond has formed between many of us from all over the diocese, and certainly between myself and the other two Aspirants in my deanery, Steve Helmbrecht and Don Griffith. I find that I look forward with a great deal of anticipation each month to our class sessions and meetings as much for the communio and (sometimes very deep) discussions we have outside of class as for the learning I get in the classroom. It is wonderful to be among men who love the Lord and the Church as much as you do, and who aspire to devote their lives more fully to the service of God. There are times when the joy seems infectious when we are together.

It is also interesting to note how close we seem to have become to many of the hotel staff. Last month we learned of the departure from the staff of the dear lady who has taken care of us from the beginning of our journey together. I cannot speak to the feelings of the others in the class regarding this development, but I was very sorry to hear of it. She remembered all of us by name and took such care to see to it that our needs were met. I have always gotten the same accessible room on the first floor because she saw to it, and I've always gotten an automated e-mail, usually a couple of days before we were due to be there, letting me know that my room would be ready. I noted that this month I have not received such an e-mail, and I told Nicole that I hope that I have a room!

This month I will submit the letters from Nicole and from myself requesting that Bishop Stika admit me to candidacy for Holy Orders, which if he does so, will happen in October. My mentor told me that it was his experience that the men who make it to candidacy together will likely be ordained together, so it is now that I will ask for everyone's prayers for my own continued discernment, for my growth in charity, and that the Holy Spirit will guide me and conform me into what God would want me to be, and that hopefully when others see me, they will come to see Christ in me.

On this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray with me the Litany of the Sacred Heart for all of our Aspirant class, for all of the Deacons of our Diocese, for Father Christopher Manning, our newly- ordained priest, for all of our seminarians, priests, religious, and those who spend their lives in God's service.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Clerical reassignments in the diocese hit home

It was around 10:00AM this morning that I got the e-mail. It was sent at around 10 PM last night. It was a note from one of my brother Aspirants, Scott Maentz, congratulating me on our new pastor at St. Patrick Church. Until I opened that e-mail, I didn't know we were getting a new pastor. We have only had our current pastor, Father Joseph Hammond, CHS, for a little over three years, although he had been our Associate for a much longer period of time.

Father Joseph, CHS

Early last month on this very blog, I wrote that several of us in the Aspirant community were aware of a series of priestly reassignments in the Diocese of Knoxville that would soon be upon us, and that indeed because of these reassignments some would have to change spiritual directors. Others would be very directly impacted because they would be seeing a change in pastor. I did not know then that Father Joseph would be among those reassigned to new ministries...I don't know whether Father Joseph knew by then or not, and that is, of course, absolutely none of my business.

I do know that I would not be in the deaconate formation program today, approaching candidacy if God and the bishop are willing, were it not for Father Joseph. Every potential Aspirant must have a letter of recommendation from their pastor. We have to have certain other letters of recommendation as well, and it probably doesn't hurt to have a couple of extra, which I did. Father Joseph is the one which contents I do not know, but I know he wrote it because I could not have been accepted without it. That is the one recommendation every man in the class must have, and it humbles me greatly that I received Father Joseph's good word.

I was humbled because Father Joseph seemed to keep a certain distance from many in the parish, and I think this may have been because some parishioners moaned and complained that they could not understand him (this was, as a matter of personal observation, because some people didn't want to take the time to understand him better). Yet Father Joseph had enough trust and confidence in me to recommend me for deaconate formation, and for that will be eternally honored and grateful to him. I am sorry to see him go, primarily because I think that he is a living example of Christ's humility that our parish continues to be in very sore need of. He was doing all of us a great deal more good than he may have realized. I will say that in going back into what appears to be full time ministry with the Hispanic community, Father Joseph is returning to a ministry where he has many talents and gifts and where it is known that those gifts are deeply appreciated. He and his ministry will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers in the years ahead.

So now we will have a new pastor. He's visited St. Pat's before and many parishioners know who he is, and some know him better.

Father Patrick Brownell

A great many have known that Father Patrick has served our country as a chaplain for our military personnel. Many of us have prayed for him in that vitally important role. Now he'll be joining my parish  family as our new pastor. I have not had the privilege to come to know Father Patrick in the way that some others in our diocese have, but I have never heard anything but good about him, and I know that he has visited St. Pat's before in the time that I have been a member there. It is my prayer, however, that I will come to know him, I hope well, and I hope that he will pray for me in my formation as I strive to help him in his new pastoral ministry through prayer, and in whatever meager way that I might serve. I am praying that we might be able to develop a relationship that can bear fruit for God's Kingdom for many years to come.

As I wrote last month, the reassignment of priests, and sometimes even of deacons, is a reality of life in the Church, and people who are active in the Church know this, but it doesn't always make it easy on the clergy or the parishioners involved. We should pray for both Father Joseph and Father Patrick, and try to make it as easy and as welcoming for Father Patrick as we can, and to remember that he will be our shepherd. Let us strive for a spirit of joyful obedience to him as he follows God's will in coming to us.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A project blessing and charity

Well, we had a very good (if very "loaded") series of formation classes with Dr. Sherri Brown on the synoptic Gospels, and I had my long-awaited meeting with Deacon Tim Elliott and Deacon Jim Lawson. At first, I was quite nervous and I didn't know what to expect, although in hindsight, the meeting itself wasn't much to be worried about.

As everyone knows who reads this blog, I have been concerned for some time to find a summer project that would fulfill the 30 hours of service which is being asked for by the bishop. I am grateful to God that a project has been given to me, and while I don't know if that project will fulfill a full 30 hours, I know it will fulfill a good chunk of it considering how long it takes me to research and write a good post. I have been asked to be the primary (certainly not the only) blogger for a few months on the Diocese of Knoxville's blog dedicated to our 25th Anniversary, Life at 25. (You can see my first two posts in that assignment here and here). I asked Deacon Tim if I could use the time that I put into Life at 25 as a summer project, and he said that he would accept that. I am thrilled to have the assignment, but I also know that in this case, my strength is my weakness, because I have taken on a project that is all about the use of words, long an admitted strength.

As Deacon Tim has very rightly pointed out to me, however, the "third leg" of the mission of the diaconate is charity, and he made it rather clear, I think, that the ability to render charity in some form is something that he is looking for, and he should-one of the things we are reminded of in the Ordination Rite is that we are to be conformed to Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. Hence, I am actively looking for a way to render some charity, and not merely because it is being asked of me, but because I know that as a deacon, it will be an integral part of my ministry and I want to reflect Christ's love to as many people as I can.

I am hoping that my writing this summer will bless a lot of people, and that the Lord might give me another opportunity to give people who need it a blessing also.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Projects and praise

The time has come to begin searching in earnest for our summer service projects for formation. I am still unsure exactly what my summer service will entail. Deacon Tim Elliott, who is our Director of Deacons and Deaconate Formation, has e-mailed us a list of suggested places that we might go to minister, but I thought the list for our deanery was a bit thin. The good news is that we don't have to follow that list, we are at liberty to find our own service project, but we have to verify that we've done the good works we set out to do by writing Deacon Tim a one-page summary of our work and the contact information of the person or people who can verify that we did what we have said we would do, and for the amount of time that we are pledged to do it. That is neither an unreasonable request, nor is it undoable once I do find something.

At this point, I still have no idea what my summer service project will be, but I am open to suggestions and I am going to operate under the assumption that if it is something radically different that I might need to clear it with Deacon Tim or with the bishop, even though I have been told in an e-mail that we do not necessarily have to clear our projects beforehand. I'd certainly feel more comfortable doing so in order to make certain that whatever I find (or come up with) meets the intentions that Deacon Tim and Bishop Stika have set out for a proper service requirement, not just a case of "I like this, so I think I will do it." Nicole suggested that it may be possible to find something to do at Daily Bread, which is an ecumenical ministry in Morristown that feeds hungry people-anyone who comes-every day. Many area churches serve there, including our own parish. My spiritual director has suggested that I might consider offering some classes of supplemental instruction at the parish over the summer on topics such as different forms of prayer, the liturgy, or the Eucharist after I expressed a concern to him about some of our RCIA neophytes being "left hanging" a bit (not on purpose, mind you, they just kept right on coming!). I couldn't help but notice that this year, unlike what I have often observed in previous years, we didn't see much of a drop-off in attendance after Easter. Most of our new Catholics stayed with us right up to the very end. To me, this indicated a spiritual hunger and interest, so I might like to try and address some of that (of course, were I to offer these informational sessions, they'd be open to all, not just former RCIA participants). Father Joseph would have to approve of that project, too...

I am also actively seeking to assist the parish in new ways. There are a couple of committee positions on the parish council at St. Pat's that I have a genuine interest in. One is spiritual life, and the other is parish life. Since prayer and spirituality are what I would call a strength of mine (albeit a developing strength), perhaps I can also be of service in this way. A ministry of prayer and the teaching and spreading of prayer to others is one that I would hope to have if I am-God willing-ordained.

Even though I am still perplexed about what my summer project might be, I have decided to take the advice of a commenter to this blog back in January when I first expressed honest concern and some apprehension about what my summer project might be. Everything about my formation up to this point I have entrusted to Jesus through Mary, and I have told the Lord that I trust in him to provide what I need, and he has so far done that through the wonderful and prayerful support of my brother Aspirants, in a unique way through Steve Helmbrecht and Don Griffith, who have been generous to provide me a ride to formation each month, and have therefore had to put up with me! The Lord sent them to answer my prayer that if this was the Lord's will, the Lord would provide a way. 

I am going to approach my summer project with the same spirit and with that prayer brought to us by St. Faustina: "Jesus I trust in you." It is our bishop's episcopal motto (Iesu Confido in Te) and it has become my personal prayer throughout my formation process...and so I trust in Jesus to show me the way in summer service the way he has shown me the way in everything else.

And I am going to praise God for his goodness to me in allowing me to be formed in this way. In that spirit, here is another of my favorite Taize hymns.

If you don't know the Latin, it roughly translates:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
All Nations, Alleluia!

Finally, pray for me. This coming weekend is our formation weekend, and on Saturday I am scheduled to meet with Deacon Tim, Deacon Jim Lawson, and <??????> to answer whatever questions they may have about where I am in my call, to submit my canonical impediments form, and to receive instructions on how to formally request candidacy from the bishop. Nicole will also have to join me in this request.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Come and follow me

I recently engaged in an internet discussion with a very nice lady who has shown some rudimentary interest in the Catholic faith. I don't yet know enough about her, other than just a little about her personal faith background, to know how best I might help her in her faith journey or whether I am the one to help at all. The exchange has gotten me to thinking, however, of the importance of our lives acting as witnesses to call others to Jesus Christ, who would call all people to himself.

Pope Francis has said in a recent homily that without evangelization, the Church doesn't act as our Mother, but as "a babysitter." The Holy Father said that when we evangelize others “the Church becomes a mother church that produces children (and more) children, because we, the children of the Church, we carry that. But when we do not, the Church is not the mother, but the babysitter, that takes care of the baby – to put the baby to sleep. It is a Church dormant." Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to proclaim Christ, to carry the Church – this fruitful motherhood of the Church – forward." The Holy Father's call echos the very words of Jesus when he told the Apostles in Matthew 28:19-20:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The Holy Father also pointed out that the very first believers in the book of Acts had only recently been baptized, but had the courage to go out and proclaim the Gospel to others. Certainly we aren't called to do any less than the first Christians. What we cannot do with any effectiveness is to be witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:9)” without our lives reflecting that which we proclaim and being the primary witness to the faith we profess.

My internet conversation with someone interested in our faith got me thinking seriously about how the words and actions that I use around others reflect on the faith that I profess with my lips. We are called to issue the same summons that Jesus did, to encourage others to follow him.

Are we really doing that?