Thursday, June 30, 2016

One Call to Serve Comes to an End to Prepare for Another - Part II

In the Spring 2016 issue of Human Development, Msgr. John Zenz (and my Spiritual Director) writes in regard to God’ providence and vocation, “We also reach a point of what St. Ignatius of Loyola would call ‘thinking with the Church’ wherein we recognize the presence of God working in the Church at every level and accept as God’s providential ‘will’ even things that may cause us confusion or disappointment.” (pg. 12)

So it is that I write that as of June 22, I am no longer in Formation. After prayerful consideration and discernment by the Formation team, it was felt that my ministry to the Church is something other than the Permanent Diaconate.

In my post of July 14, three years ago as I was entering Formation I wrote about how one call to serve was coming to an end in preparation for another call to serve. Well, after all this time, there is, in the beauty and mystery of God’s plan, a reversal. I have no doubt that this faith journey these past several years has been and is part of God’s plan. One day, through the grace of God, I may even understand the how, where, and why of it all.

But even if I don’t, one thing I do know is, this part of my life was enriched through the friendships, the brotherhood, forged with a group of men with whom I was going through formation, my fellow Candidates and the deacons who make up the Formation team. I am a better man, with a stronger relationship with our Lord, today because of each and every one of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul.

Come August at the time of the annual Formation retreat, as well as the second Saturdays of the month thereafter, I will be thinking of these men and their wives, praying for them as they continue their journeys.

While there is so much I could reference in regard to this decision and my state of mind (such as the attitude of Joseph from the Gen 45:4-5), I’ll close this entry with the refrain from Brandon Heath’s song Wait and See:

There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me
I have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet

In the peace of Christ,

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Reflection - John 10:27-30

“No one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” It is a portion of the Gospel that kept popping up in my head. While I tried to reflect on the entire three verses, I was drawn to this part time and time again.

Jesus’ full statement was in response to being challenged by Jewish authorities. They were looking for a definitive statement from Jesus that he was the Messiah, though not necessarily a divine Messiah, but a king that would return Israel to greatness, a second King David. What they got was an answer that is filled with references to Jesus’ divinity. From references of the voice – the Word of God incarnate, to the gift of eternal life, and most clearly, “I and the Father are one.” And just before this portion of the dialog with the authorities, Jesus states that he is the good shepherd. His use of “good” brought to mind Mark 10:18. After asking a rich man why he called Jesus good, Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” Even the two sentences that kept popping out imply equality between Jesus and God, as no one can snatch the sheep from Jesus’ hand or God’s hand.

But it wasn’t the aspect of equality between Jesus and God in this portion of the Gospel that intrigued me. It was the message of protection that kept coming to mind. “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.” As I thought about this, I recalled what was said early in formation, that Satan was going to try and stop us from responding positively to this calling, this vocation. I remember the session on discernment and talk of the evil spirits that were going to do their best to dissuade us from formation. I remember talking about these forces are going to constantly be trying to turn us from this calling, and could intensify in the period just before ordination. Sadly, while I remember talking about the challenges that we were going to face, I don’t remember if this verse was referenced to give us hope, to give us strength. Regardless, I will remember these words in the days and weeks and months and years ahead. Whether it is in response to challenges from evil spirits during formation or life in general, these words give me hope.

And just as Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, that he is the fulfillment of the Psalms, we see this protective nature in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Exactly what we would expect from our Good Shepherd.


Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Summer Ministry Reflection - Capuchin Soup Kitchen

My summer ministry was at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Connor Street in Detroit. My primary responsibilities were to minister to those who were coming to the kitchen for meals and other services.

I volunteered at the Kitchen most Fridays and Saturdays through the summer. I usually arrived around 8:00 AM, shortly before the serving line volunteers started showing up, and worked until 1:00 PM. I would help a bit with meal preparations, sometimes greet the line volunteers, and then head out into the dining room to mingle with the guests who were already gathering for breakfast, which was served from 8:30 to 9:30. Lunch, which was served from 11:00 to 1:00, frequently meant a new set of line volunteers.

On Fridays between meals the Detroit Action Commonwealth (D.A.C.) would meet at the Kitchen. I would help them and the U-M students who came by to assist folks with replacing lost state IDs, request copies of birth certificates, get driver’s licenses reinstated, or request other social services. On several occasions helping the D.A.C. meant driving people from the Kitchen to the Secretary of State’s office and back. On Saturdays, a computer lab was opened up between meal servings. This allowed folks to check email, apply for jobs, search for housing, and apply for various social services. I was dumbfounded to see how many people had email accounts, not to mention one or more smart phones. However, after seeing how many social services required online sign-up or status reporting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a need for individuals to have Internet access.

It was in the computer lab one Saturday that I got a chance to meet and speak with Rick. He was thumbing through a children’s book on the 50 states. Along with various facts about the state, the book highlighted someone important from that state. Frequently these “favorite sons” were musicians. Rick and I spent the afternoon looking up on my phone the real names of several Blues musicians. This time established a connection that I used the rest of the summer to ask how he was doing, what his plans were each time I saw him come in for a meal. Because of this, I made it a point to reach out to Rick my last day at the Kitchen. In the course of our conversation, and not in a forced way, I referred to his full name. His astonishment that I remembered Rick was short for Roderick was a powerful reminder for me of how a person’s name is their identity and their dignity.

As for some of the other guests that left an impression on me, there was Mercedes, and elderly woman who told me about her many businesses, her property, and how it was all taken from her. There was one gentleman who came in all decked out in a Marine Corps polo shirt and ball cap. As he walked by I shouted out “Semper Fi” the Marine Corps motto. He stopped, set down his tray, snapped to attention and saluted. Later, after eating, he came by to thank me for that simple acknowledgement of his service.

Troy was another regular at the Kitchen. He struck me as a young guy who was capable, but may have hit some hard times. After seeing him several weekends in a row, I finally went up and introduced myself. I found out he was working for an automotive supplier, making less than $9 an hour, but really wanted to work for the Detroit-based watch maker, Shinola. He took his meals at the Kitchen to stretch his money as far he could.

Then there was the conversation with the young man who had just been released from prison. He had served 24 years. His perspective on the then recent killings of young black men by police, and religion in prison was thought-provoking. His comments about police harassment of young blacks, and that in prison Christianity is viewed as the white man’s religion, were akin to a cry to “walk a mile in my shoes.”

In closing, while I may not have sat with someone during each and every meal that was served while I was at the Kitchen, in retrospect, I did speak with a number of folks, more than I realized, especially when trying to summarize them all within two pages! Reflecting on the experience gives me a lot more to ponder. It also leaves me thinking, there is a lot more to be and can be done.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

I Believe

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 Summer Ministry Reflection - St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services - Street Ministry

My summer ministry was a street ministry through St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services in downtown Detroit. Through this ministry we provided drinks, sandwiches, and sometimes articles of clothing to men and women we saw on the streets and in parks nearly every Saturday morning. I chose this ministry because I thought it would provide the greatest opportunity to have the Holy Spirit work through me, as it was something I had never done before and would have me traveling in parts of the city I’d never ventured into.

The typical Saturday started at 7:30 in the morning and ended anytime between 10:30 and 11:00. I and several other volunteers provisioned the church van with several gallons of coffee, and depending on the weather, Gatorade or hot chocolate. We also loaded large bins of sandwiches made earlier in the week by other volunteers. Sandwiches were typically bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly on white or wheat bread. At times we might also have cookies or bags of chips. On rare occasions we might have socks or underwear to pass out along with the food and drinks. After the van was loaded, but before we started out on the road, if Jennifer was there, she would make sure all the volunteers held hands and we would pray for guidance and protection. On Saturdays when Jennifer was not there, no one, including myself regrettably, led a prayer. If I were to ever do this again, or something similar, I would make sure we prayed before going out, as well as ask for a blessing over the food we were serving.

While there was no set route, we frequently stopped by the Mariners’ Church, near the entrance of the Windsor Tunnel, the Rosa Parks Transit Center, Cass Park, across from the Masonic Temple Theater, Mariners Inn (an addiction recovery facility), Manna Community Meals, kitty corner from where Tiger Stadium used to stand, and the NSO – Neighborhood Service Organization – on 3rd Avenue. There were usually ten to 20 to 30 or more people at these different locations. If we happened to see someone along the road, or in an alley, we would stop and offer that individual something to eat and drink.

Encounters with the people on the street could be humbling or challenging. One Saturday we had men’s socks to give out along with food. It was truly humbling to see how appreciative the men were just to get a new pair of socks. It made me realize that something I take for granted, the ability to clean my clothes, could be completely unavailable to these men and women. There were other instances where the individual we were speaking with and providing them with food and a drink was so unclean that they smelled. Many times I said a quiet prayer asking for the strength to carry on, and to remember, as soiled as the person might be, they too were part of the Body of Christ. Other individuals were challenging in that there was a sense of entitlement to what we were giving out – a sense that was conveyed when they became specific in what they wanted in the way of sandwiches or chips or a drink. These encounters were typically the exception, rather than the norm.

The drive home was always surreal for me. I spent the 30 minutes it took from downtown out to Farmington Hills in quiet reflection, in part, reflecting on the culture change between where I had been serving and where I was going. Many times the John Bradford quote, “There but for the grace of God go I,” came to mind. The experience made me realize the small things in life that I take for granted, and the many blessing for which I should thank God. The ministry experience also made me think about what might be done to make a more permanent change in the lives of some of these people living on the street. I also found myself reflecting on what Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-40 with regard to clothing and feeding him through our least brothers, and what St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 regarding anyone who doesn’t work should not eat.

In closing, while circumstances and the ministry work itself didn’t lend itself to 40 hours, the time spent was invaluable. It provided me with many opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work through me through up-close exposure to parts of our community that previously I would only hear about and see in the news or on TV, where the experiences are sanitized and distant. The work gave me experience that will allow me to speak the homeless, or those suffering with addictions, more comfortably, with more compassion and empathy in the future. 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Loss in the Family

I learned this afternoon that one of my fellow Aspirants passed away Saturday.  During Morning Prayer at the start of our second Aspirant Saturday yesterday we included him in our intentions,  as we were aware he was undergoing a medical procedure that day.  Today, leaders of our Formation team passed along the news of his passing.

"Welcome to the Diaconate Family," is the way my acceptance letter from the Archdiocese of Detroit back in July started.  It continued, "Even as you begin a very intense year of discerning whether or not you have been called to be come a deacon, the diaconate community considers you to be our brother and sister in the diaconate family."  Indeed it is a family, and this weekend our family suffered a loss.

Eternal rest grant unto him Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Aspirancy Formation Saturday - #1

Met with the other ten men and their wives at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  It is the first of many Saturday formation meetings, to be held the second Saturday of every month, with a "break" in July and August.  The "break" is for our summer ministry work. 

For our meeting this month most of the day was spent with each of the couples speaking for ten minutes on their background, how we got to where we are today, a concern we might have regarding diaconal discernment, and hopes that we hold.  I am humbled by what I heard today.  The faith, the spirituality, the love of the couples to one another, and the variety of ministries these men and their wives have fulfilled was just inspiring.  When you are constantly bombarded with horrific acts man perpetuates on his fellow man during the evening news (or on one of the many 24 hour news channels), it was refreshing to hear of act of love, hope, and charity.

The afternoon we spent time going over how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  While there are numerous electronic versions of the Liturgy of the Hours, the formation team wants us to learn how to pray the Hours out of a book, either the four volume set, or the single volume, Christian Prayer.  Our wives are encouraged to pray the Hours with us, so after the session Juanita and I stopped and picked up a copy of Christian Prayer for her.  We took Juanita's copy with us to Mass to have it blessed.  Fr. Vic was presiding.  He had spoken to the Aspirants at the retreat in August, so having him bless Juanita's Christian Prayer was fitting.

Next Sunday we are attending the Rite of Candidacy which is being held at St. Isaac Jogues in St. Clair Shores.  While our attendance is not mandatory, it falls under the category of "Also-Expected Events" it will be a good to witness this rite.  A year from now I could be going through the Right of Candidacy along with the other ten Aspirants.