Thursday, May 28, 2020


“St. Paul VI” credit Catholic News Service

Readings and Commentary: [2]

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly, I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the Gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use of my right in the Gospel.
Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the Gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.
Commentary on 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

St. Paul continues to exhort the church at Corinth to follow his example. He begins this selection with a restatement of his own imperative call: to proclaim the Gospel is a “divine compulsion.” His reward for responding to that call is that he “too may have a share in it.” His clear message is that the Gospel he proclaims and the work he accomplishes should bring glory to Christ, not to himself.

CCC: 1 Cor 9:5-18 2122; 1 Cor 9:19 876; 1 Cor 9:22 24
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Sing to the Lord; bless his name.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise;
give to the Lord the glory due his name!
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Say among the nations: The Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. Proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all the nations.

“Announce his salvation, day after day.” This song of praise to the Lord invites all humanity to participate in God’s salvation. “This psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with Isaiah Chapters 40-55, as does Psalm 98. Another version of the psalm is 1 Chronicles 16:23-33.” [3]

CCC: Ps 96:2 2143

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Commentary on Mt 16:13-19

St. Matthew’s story of how Jesus asked about what people were saying about him has a profound impact on the Church. Here, when challenged by Jesus with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The second title is not present in St. Mark’s version of this encounter. The title adds an understanding that Jesus is not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God. Given this response, Jesus confers upon Simon a new name “Kephas” which comes from the root Aramaic word kepa or “rock.” When translated into Greek it is petros, and from there to Peter. The name, however, becomes the foundation for the Church. As a consequence of this exchange, Peter is given Christ’s authority, an authority that is passed down through papal succession to the Pope who sits on the Chair of Peter today.

CCC: Mt 16-18 1969; Mt 16:16-23 440; Mt 16:16 424, 442; Mt 16:17 153, 442; Mt 16:18-19 881; Mt 16:18 424, 442, 552, 586, 869; Mt 16:19 553, 1444

Especially for Catholics born in the 1960’s or later, they may look at St. Paul VI and say, “Ah, another pope sainted for his piety and service to Mother Church.  Because he was beatified on the same day as St. John Paul, the Great, many will overlook his incredible contributions to our life of faith entirely.  We desperately hope the faithful will take the time to appreciate his gift to us and to the Church he loved. 

All saints of the Church are revered because of their “heroic virtue.”  What virtues best express the gifts of St. Paul VI?  We would point first to his ability to live up to the standards of love for others that his Savior and ours most clearly exemplified.  In his life as Pope he was vilified multiple times by those he served and was the first pope to relent from excommunicating those who challenged his leadership and were openly hostile to his reforms.  It might surprise those who are brought up in our time to know that one of the most vicious attacks came because of his encyclical Humanae Vitae. A work that also showed his incredible dedication to life.

There are many other tremendous efforts of his papacy that need to be remembered, not the least of which was that he faithfully shepherded the Second Vatican Council to it’s conclusion (even today those reforms reverberate and are misunderstood).

For our part, as we celebrate his feast day, we ask for his intercession.  We pray that we might as faithfully live the values and life of Christ as he did, carrying the same keys given to St. Peter, Apostle and our first pope.  May we also be given the strength to endure all things in union with Christ, faithful to his teaching and loyal members of the living body of Christ, the Church.


[1] The photograph is “St. Paul VI” credit Catholic News Service
[2] The readings are taken from the New American Bible, with the exception of the psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This republication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[3] NAB footnote on Psalm 96

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Parish - Deacon Relationship

The Parish - Deacon Relationship

(Negotiating Roles in Parish Ministry)

By: Dcn. Jim Miles

Each time a deacon is ordained or reassigned, the parish to which he is assigned receives something new; a new resource to be applied; a new force to build the body of Christ.  The incorporation of the deacon changes things for a number of people, the Pastor, the staff (professional and volunteer), the deacon and his family, and the faith community. 

Each time a new priest is assigned to a parish in which a deacon is present, the parish changes.  The deacon’s identity within the faith community must be reaffirmed, and new directions and goals for the parish will be established.

We all wish to establish a ministry environment of mutual respect and cooperation in a truly collaborative setting.  The process outlined below has been shown, through the application of successful interpersonal and organizational analysis techniques, to work effectively to develop just such an environment in a variety of situations.  While some of the steps listed may be uncomfortable and difficult, the outcome should provide results that will at least allow us to examine our ministerial options, and make some informed choices.

The steps recommended will include;

·         Know Thy Self (Self Assessment)
·         Know Thy Parish (Parish Needs Analysis)
·         Understand the Other Ministers in Your Parish
·         Developing the Contract (Agreement)
·         Negotiating from Understanding (Integrating Your Ministry)

For those of us who have been working in the same parish for a long time, our first response to the title might be: "I have already established myself.  I don't need to 'negotiate a role.'" All of those who work in ministry know one basic axiom:  The Church, for all its historical constancy, is a living organism.  And like all things that have life, it changes.  Parishes seem determined to change.  They are constantly looking at programs to facilitate change, to make them more vital, and better able to be the Body of Christ present to the world.

Know Thy Self

The first step in successfully participating in a collaborative environment, and indeed in any ministry, is to understand our own strengths and weaknesses.  Through prayer and discernment we must come to understand, as best we can, what God has called us to do in his service.  Now, take out a sheet of paper.  At the top of the paper, put down headings for two columns; strengths and weaknesses.  Write down those skills and personal strengths that you believe will support your ministry and those limitations and weaknesses you will be challenged to overcome.

Those who have had a secular occupation have learned where some of these strengths may lie.  Many skills developed in the secular work place translate very effectively into a ministerial avocation.  However, knowing what those skills are and where in ministry they are likely to be useful requires self-assessment. 

All skills developed in the secular work place do not translate into all areas of ministry.  In fact, some skills and attributes so developed are actually detrimental to effective ministry.  When referring to skills here, the reference also encompasses the means by which one gets tasks accomplished. 

In most secular organizations, the goals we are to pursue require a certain level of insensitivity to what individuals not involved with the task or project feel or think.  Those considerations are theoretically taken into account before the task is assigned.  It is also assumed, in a business environment, that if a member of the organization or a customer has a problem with what or how we are doing something, they will engage in a frank discussion about their objections.  Not so in a ministerial environment.  There is much more humility and less assertiveness displayed.  What this means is that a strength in a secular occupation like "goal orientation," or being "results driven,” might become a weakness in a ministerial environment.  Our style of accomplishing tasks must be taken into consideration when we assess our strengths and weakness.

As part of this self-assessment we should attempt to identify skill areas in which we are weak.  An example of a skill area might be something like in-depth knowledge of the New Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Code of Canon Law as it pertains to the Sacrament of Marriage.  Once these areas are identified it is logical to try to put together a plan to strengthen them.

As part of assessing one's attributes and limitations, it is important to keep in mind that balance in life is crucial.  Balance in this instance refers to insuring the time spent with one's family is balanced against the secular job and ministry. I call this the Family-Job-Ministry (FJM) Balance.  If you are married, it is wise to involve your spouse in this whole assessment process, but especially when trying to determine where the FJM balance needs to be.  First the spouse will help you understand if you are balancing appropriately, or if you have gone off in one direction or another to the detriment of others.  Second, your spouse may see strengths (and weaknesses) in you about which you were unaware. 

On your sheet of paper (or a new one if it is needed) put down a heading called FJM balance.  Under this heading, put down the three major activity areas: Family, Job, and Ministry.  Since, in a normal week, there are roughly 84 productive hours (12 hours per day times 7 days per week) set up either daily blocks of 12 hours or the weekly block of 84 hours.  It might be easiest to begin by blocking out your normal work schedule.  For individuals working a regular job this will take up 50 to 60 hours of the productive time (don't forget commuting time).  That leaves between 24 and 34 hours per week to be divided between family and ministry.  Next block out time you need for family activities.  Finally, start listing areas of ministry involvement.  When you run out of time, (your 84 hours) stop.  Is there something left out?  Do you need to adjust priorities?

As sort of a side note, this assessment, once completed, should be repeated periodically.  The demands of family, job, and ministry will change depending upon the stage of life you are in.  Activities, which once were quite acceptable, might become "too much" later in life.

Another practical note here, if you have children, it's important to insure there is time for what I will call "normal fun."  Very often, individuals involved in ministry spend much of their family time involved in church activities.  The parents might feel this is healthy for their children.  After all, what better place for them to learn values and see their faith demonstrated in action than at church functions?  However, more often than not, children will rebel against this "boring" regimen of meetings, prayer, and worship.  Some of this participation is indeed not only healthy but a necessity.  Getting out of balance, however, will have a detrimental affect.  The children should not be brought up in a cloister and expected to enjoy it.

Know thy parish

Now that we understand, in broad terms what we can offer in both specific service and time, we need to look at the needs of the parish community we serve. 

While this sounds like a fairly straightforward function, there is an underlying definition that must be mutually understood before addressing it.  That question is: in the eyes of the Church, what is the role of the local church or parish?  I do not think I can improve upon the words of the Second Vatican Council which, said in Gaudium Et Spes (The Role of the Church in the Modern World # 40):

"Coming forth from the eternal Father's love, founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit, the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world. But she is already present in this world, and is composed of men, that is, of members of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God's children during the present history of the human race, and to keep increasing it until the Lord returns. United on behalf of heavenly values and enriched by them, this family has been "constituted and structured as a society in this world" by Christ, and is equipped "by appropriate means for visible and social union.

Thus the Church, at once "a visible association and a spiritual community," goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family."

And then again in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we hear:

2179. "'A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.'[CIC, can. 515 # 1.] It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ's saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love: You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests.[St. John Chrysostom, De incomprehensibili 3, 6: PG 48, 725.]"

To put these two statements into a working definition: the parish is to the people it serves as Christ was to the disciples.  It feeds them spiritually, and sends them out to bring the good news to all people.

There are several questions we need to answer before we systematically determine where our skills, abilities and call can best be put to work in the parish setting.  The first question is: "What does the congregation believe is needed to better provide for the spiritual needs of the parish?"  Unless your parish has done a recent survey or held some sort of open forum to solicit this information, that may be a difficult question to get answered.  If you have spent a significant amount of time in the parish, however, you may know how to get a read on this from a representative sample of parishioners.  If you take this approach be careful to be as objective as possible.  It's easy to talk to a couple of friends and hear what you wanted to hear.

The next question to ask is: what response is your parish already making or preparing to make?  Members of the parish pastoral staff, the Pastor, and the Parish Pastoral Council are the best supplemental sources of information to help you answer this question.  Researching this particular question should also yield the answers to other important questions.  These include:

·         What financial resources can the parish bring to bear? 
·         What physical or material resources can be used?
·         What human resources are available?

The answers to all of these questions will become important as you pursue an effective ministry.  Don't be too surprised if you find the answers to be disappointing.  Parish budgets and facilities are usually very limited and the people overworked.  But you need to know what you may have to work with.

A final question to deal with in understanding your parish's ministerial needs is to look at the community in which it resides.  What factors or issues from the community at large impact the parish?  Is there a large population of needy (i.e. homeless, migrant, or impoverished) in the immediate area?  Is there a large population of seniors or youth who, while not members of the parish community, look to the Church for support?

These may not only be possibilities for ministry, but will also affect any ministry within the parish itself.  The local non-parish community always affects the parish culture and resources to a greater or lesser extent.

Take some time and write up your observations and lay them aside.  There is more to be done before launching a ministry program.

Understand the Other Ministers in Your Parish (Top Down & Bottom Up)

This is perhaps the most crucial step in the process of successfully developing a truly collaborative ministry in the parish environment.  Anyone who has been involved in ministry knows that individuals tend to get very possessive about areas of ministry in which they are involved.  As deacons, we are taught that one of our principle objectives is to empower the laity.  We are also told that the graces given in ordination equip us for a specific set of duties.  These two imperatives come into conflict if we find ourselves in situations were the area to which we are either assigned, or feel called, is already being served by a lay minister or a professional pastoral staff member.

There are two ways of approaching this search for understanding.  The first is the Top-Down approach.  The second approach is from the Bottom-Up.  The approach you use may be determined by your relationship with your pastor, and how long you have been associated with the parish you are serving in.  Let's look at the Top-Down approach first.

Using the Top-Down method, the first step in understanding the roles and motivations of our peer ministers is to talk to the boss.  In the case of parish ministry, this means the pastor (or is some cases, where there is no priest, the Parish Administrator).  The pastor can do several things for you.  First, as the person responsible to the local ordinary (the Bishop), the pastor may have a set of objectives that need to be accomplished.  If this is the case, he may have already assigned significant human resources to attend to these objectives with a pre-set agenda.  If this is the case, it's really important that you find out what these objectives are and who has been given the task of pursuing results in that area.  In addition to giving you insight into who is doing what in the parish and why, this discussion will also give you the "Big Picture" about what the pastor thinks is important.  This is absolutely critical.

I like to illustrate the importance of this big picture take on parish ministry with a story.

It seems there was a man walking down a street in New York City who came upon a building site.  At the site there was a big sign announcing who the contractor was but nothing to indicate what was being built there.
Being curious, the man walked into the construction site to find out what this huge building was going to be.  He saw a construction worker laying bricks and went over to ask him.
      "Can you tell me what you are building?" he asked.
      "A wall," the man replied.
      A little surprised, the visitor clarified, "No, I mean what is this building going to be?"
      The worker said, "I'm not sure.  All I know is the dimensions of this wall and the kind of brick that's called for and where the windows are supposed to go."
      The visitor shrugged and walked over to another worker at the site.  This man was hanging a massive set of doors.  He asked the same question, "Can you tell me what you are building?"
      "Actually," he responded, "I'm just hanging these doors."
      The visitor was getting a little frustrated now but continued, "I can see that, but can you tell me what this building is going to be?"
      "Sorry," the worker said, "I was only told to hang these doors."
      The visitor was somewhat dejected at this point but decided to ask one more worker.  He saw a man working on a window installation.  He walked over to the man and asked him the question, "Can you tell me what you are building?"  Fully expecting the worker to state the obvious, he was taken aback when the man replied with obvious pride.
      "I'm building a cathedral."
The moral of this story is that only the worker who knew what the building was going to be could make good independent decisions about the task he was assigned.  If, for instance the man hanging the doors had been sent doors that had bar room symbols on them, he would not have questioned it; he would have gone ahead and hung the doors even though they were wrong for the building.

The importance of understanding the big picture cannot be stressed enough.  The pastor can give you this kind of insight.

The second piece of important information you can get from the pastor is where, in his opinion, your help is most needed.  This may or may not be in an area you considered to be one of your ministerial gifts or call.  There are two things to consider if it turns out the pastor would like to use you in an area to which you do not feel called.  First, God frequently uses others to communicate with you.  The pastor may be such a voice.  Second, if you feel strongly that the area being suggested by the pastor is not something you can or want to do; you know that you will need to overcome his objection when it comes to actually taking up your ministerial duties.

Whether the pastor has a clear objective for your ministry or not, he needs to know how you perceive your gift or call.  Let him know about your self-assessment (if the pastor was used as a source of information while you were doing this step it may not be necessary).  Explain how much time you think you can give to ministry in the parish up front.  This will prevent any later disappointment on his part.  He may, after all, have the idea that you can give more time than is possible for you to give to parish ministry.

If, at this point, the pastor does indeed have an assignment in mind for you, and it is something that is in keeping with your own perceived gifts and call, make sure you find out from him who exactly you will be working with from the parish pastoral staff.  If you will report directly to him, establish what information he wants from you and when he wants to receive it.  It is also critical that you find out if there is a mandate or finite results expected, and a time line for these results.  Some important questions you will want to get answered include:

·         Who is doing work in this ministry area now?
·         Who has worked in this area in the past? (They may, even if they have not been active for a while, believe this is still their area of ministry.)
·         Is there a Professional Pastoral Staff member assigned to this area of ministry?
·         What are the pastor’s expectations of this staff member?
·         What results are expected from this area of ministry?
·         How will results be measured (if finite results are expected)?
·         When/how often will meetings be held to give mutual feedback?
·         How will these ministry efforts be coordinated with other areas of ministry in the parish? (This can be important.  If there is a staff member or lay person in an area of parish ministry upon whom you will depend for support or information, you need to know who and how.)
·         What Commissions, Councils, or parish organizations will you be working with? (i.e. Worship Commission, Knights of Columbus, Parish Pastoral Council)

Please don't take this list as being complete, there may be other questions that need to be answered depending upon the parish situation.

Once you get the answers to the relevant questions from the list above, it may be necessary to get one final piece of information from the pastor.  This one is critical and frequently overlooked: How will those already working in the ministry area to which you are being attached/assigned be notified of your involvement?  Too often a meeting with the pastor results in an assignment and no one takes the time to let the people already involved in that ministry area know you are coming.  The results can be disastrous.

In these cases, the deacon, viewed by some professional lay ministers and religious as being, at best, a gifted (or not so gifted) amateur, can walk in looking like a prima donna intent on usurping the  task or call in which they have been working.  Remember, the diaconate is still in its infancy and some of our forerunners were not as well prepared as they might have been.  If there are religious or professional lay ministers in your parish, it’s a good idea to try to determine if they have had previous experience with the diaconate and if so, what kind of experience that was. (Oh, don't expect to get a frank answer if you approach this question with them directly.  They are trained ministers and as such will generally avoid any overtly negative responses.)

In order to avoid the sticky scenario painted above, it is suggested that you meet with the pastor to determine the best way to insert yourself into this ministry function.  A simple notification from the pastor to the staff may be sufficient.  However, a better way may be for you to approach the individual(s) involved and allow them to respond to your offer of assistance.  If you get a positive and welcoming response, then you can become involved with the pastors blessing.  If not, and if the pastor still wants you in that role, at least you will know you have some negative attitudes to overcome and  you will understand from the onset that, from the perspective of your peers or co-workers, they have no input about your presence or participation.

The ultimate goal in this step is to develop an understanding of your ministry involvement with the pastor and any professional pastoral staff or lay ministers.  The Top-Down approach was just discussed above.  That is when you start with the pastor and work down to the existing ministry teams.  There is also a Bottom-Up approach.  Basically, this means you start by evaluating what you have determined to be your strengths in the self-evaluation and the parish evaluation looking for intersections between the two.  Once you have determined what you believe is an area where you have strength and the parish has an apparent need, go to the individuals already involved and determine if you help would be welcomed.  Once you have determined that you can either empower a lay ministry team or get the support of a professional lay minister (as opposed to being viewed as an interloper or a usurper) , you can then go to the pastor with a proposed ministry the ground work already having been laid.

The major draw back to this Bottom-Up method is that you may, if the pastor is not aware of what you are doing, be establishing expectations in a ministry team or yourself that will not be realized because the pastor has other plans for you.

Regardless of which method you decide to use, the important outcome is that you arrive at an understanding of what kind of environment you will be entering as you pursue your ministry.

Developing the Contract (Agreement)

Once the work of evaluating personal gifts and call, looking at parish needs, and understanding the people involved is done, the next step is to develop an agreement with your pastor (or Parish Administrator).  This is important for several reasons.  It insures that what you have agreed to do for the parish based upon your conversations with the pastor and pastoral staff is, in fact, what they thought as well.  It should establish:

·         Goals and objectives or, if concrete goals are not part of the ministry area, specific levels of responsibility
·         A clear statement of scope (for each area of involvement)
·         Time commitments
·         A feedback mechanism (meeting schedule or review period)

Not included in the list above is any commitment to liturgical involvement (i.e. assisting at mass, preaching, paraliturgies such as Stations of the Cross and other prayer services, weddings, and funerals).  Assuming faculties have been given for all of these areas, time (including prep time), involvement, and schedules should be included in your agreement.

Many dioceses have forms developed specifically for the purpose of recording this information.  If such forms exist in your diocese, make sure to use them.  If they do not, create one of your own.  Once it is filled out, give a copy to your Pastor and keep one.  Each time your ministry changes, a new one should be filled out.  An annual self-evaluation is also a good thing to do.  It helps us formulate continuing education plans.

Negotiating from Understanding (Integrating Your Ministry)

Now that ministry areas have been agreed to, it is necessary to establish the ministry in your parish.  Regardless of the ministry or the ministry environment (hostile or welcoming) the deacon (and deacon's spouse in some cases) must focus on the servant Christ, upon which the diaconate is modeled.  I use a piece of scripture to help get my mind set on the right path: (Phil 2, 5-11)

"Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.
He was known to be of human estate,
and it was thus that he humbled himself,
obediently accepting even death,
death on a cross!
Because of this,
God highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
above every other name,
So that at Jesus' name
every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:

The Kenotic (emptying) Hymn from Philippians needs to direct our mindset.  If we approach our parish ministry from an attitude of humility and true service we are not likely to be perceived as a threat. 

What must not happen is to approach an existing ministry as if we are the expert and those who have been ministering in the area should bow to our great wisdom and knowledge.  Even if we are the most qualified individual involved, if we approach ministry with this attitude, we will alienate those we were sent to empower or support.

There are a few principles we can draw from our Savior that will help up successfully enter a ministry area effectively.  The first of these is a focus on the ultimate goal, the greater glory of God the Father.  If we can avoid the petty "I" centered goals we will always be moving in the right direction.

The second principle is Christ's humility.  Recall that even when he performed miracles, he attributed the results, not to himself, but to either the faith of the individual or to the Father directly.  If we can adopt that attitude as well, we will stay away from pride and not be trapped into the possessiveness that seems to be so prevalent in ministry.

Next we must remember how the Lord attacked problems and obstacles.  He never attacked people only the underlying problem or attitude.  His focus was on the mission and he attacked structures that were interfering with that mission - not individuals.  Ours must be the same approach.  His love for all people was clear to all those he met.  His tenacious pursuit of justice in systems (whether they were religious systems or civil systems) reminded those who opposed him that he was not a meek push-over.  Meek and humble are not synonymous.

The fourth principle we take from Christ is constant prayer.  Jesus spoke with and listened to the Father constantly.   It was his way of keeping his focus squarely on the Kingdom of God.  It is very clear that, for Christ the man, this was a source of strength and stamina.  We must remain as focused as he was through prayer.

Finally, we must not become disheartened by failure when we are seeking even short term results.  Christ, from his own perspective as man, must have thought he failed to accomplish the Father's will.  After all, after three years of ministry, he had only 12 ardent followers.  One of these betrayed him and the other 11 scattered when he was arrested.  In his crucifixion, he redefined the concept of success.

When all of these principles are melded into a leadership style, we come to what could be termed as "Leadership from Below".  We are, as deacons, called to be a bridge between the laity and the other members of the church hierarchy.  Our priests and bishop provide leadership from above.  More top down leadership is generally not necessary.  What was envisioned in the Vatican II Council was a means by which the Gospel could be pushed down to those who have been marginalized.  What better place for the deacon to start than with those already evangelized but in need of empowerment?


Now that successful integration into parish ministry has occurred, there is one more important point to remember.  Keep your pastor and peers informed.  Even the most proficient ministers get crossways to some people some times.  It is important that those with whom you minister do not get blind-sided by an individual or issue.  The most important skill needed for successful parish ministry is communication.  Keep the lines open.

In conclusion, if the steps outlined above are followed; assess your own strengths and weaknesses, determine your parish needs, understand the people you will be working with develop and communicate a formal agreement, and serve the people humbly; your ministry should blossom and be fruitful.  Make prayer your companion and Christ your model.

Friday, January 3, 2020



“Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.“
artist and date were not cited

No proper readings have been assigned by USCCB or ICEL. These readings are posted at the Universalis site.  Alternate Readings for this memorial may be taken from the Common of Holy Men and Women.


Reading I: Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

Abram went as the Lord directed him.
Commentary on Gn 12:1-4a

The genealogy of the Hebrew generations that ended with Abram and his wife migrating from the land of Ur (Genesis 11:27ff) sets this reading as a formal introduction. Abram (later Abraham) is chosen by God to become a great leader of people in holiness. "The universalism that marked Genesis chapters 1-11 having now failed, the Lord begins anew, singling out one Mesopotamian - in no way distinguished from his peers as yet - and promising to make of him a great nation, not numbered in the seventy nations of chapter 10.  What the Lord promises Abram (his name is changed to "Abraham" only in Chapter 17) - land, numerous offspring, and blessing - constitutes to a large extent a reversal of some of the curses on Adam and Eve - exile, pain in childbirth, and uncooperative soil (Genesis 3:16-24)." [3]

The blessing provided here is discussed at some length in the notes on this section: “Shall find blessing in you: the sense of the Hebrew expression is probably reflexive, "shall bless themselves through you" (i.e., in giving a blessing they shall say, "May you be as blessed as Abraham"), rather than passive, "shall be blessed in you." Since the term is understood in a passive sense in the New Testament (Acts 3:25Galatians 3:8), it is rendered here by a neutral expression that admits to both meanings; so also in the blessings given by God to Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:14).” [4]

CCC: Gn 12:1-4 145; Gn 12:1 59; Gn 12:2 762, 1669; Gn 12:3 706, 2676; Gn 12:3 LXX 59; Gn 12:4 2570
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
or: R. (2a) Blessed are they who delight in the law of the Lord.
or: R. (92:13-14) The just will flourish like the palm tree in the garden of the Lord.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
or: Blessed are they who delight in the law of the Lord.
or: R. The just will flourish like the palm tree in the garden of the Lord.

Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
or: Blessed are they who delight in the law of the Lord.
or: R. The just will flourish like the palm tree in the garden of the Lord.
Commentary on Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6

Psalm 1 serves as a preface to the whole book of psalms. The psalmist here exalts those who follow the Lord’s commands, and reflects upon the blessings they will receive. As in Romans 6:19ff, this selection emphasizes the contrast between the salvation of the just and the punishment of the wicked.

This wisdom psalm begins by extolling the virtue of those who follow the law. The focus is to look to God for guidance, and not to trust only in the counsel of men. Those who reject the law will be blown away like “chaff,” an image used in the Gospel as well (Matthew 3:12).

This portion of the psalm is later echoed in Isaiah 48:17-19, like an overlapped formula of covenant.  Blessed is the man who “delights in the law day and night,” but “the way of the wicked vanishes.” It also takes up the theme of following right paths and staying true to the teachings of God: “Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Commentary on Mt 5:1-12a

This section of the Sermon on the Mount begins the first of five great discourses in St. Matthew’s Gospel. He begins using a formula common in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”(Job 5:17Proverbs 3:13Sirach 25:8-9) This designation identifies those without material resources, completely dependent upon God. (This distinction is for the devout poor.) The discourse continues, blessing those who mourn, who are meek, who “hunger” for righteousness (to adopt the Lord’s law of love in their hearts), the merciful, the clean of heart (those who are reconciled to God), the peacemakers, the persecuted, and finally those who will be reviled because they profess faith in Christ.

The litany of praises for those to be blessed by the Lord has an overarching theme. It holds up the spiritual strength of complete dependence on God for life, health, and prosperity. St. Matthew captures the strength in that dependence, and God’s promise of salvation through the words of the Savior.

It is noteworthy that the word “blessed” [μακάριοι (makάrios) in Greek and beati in Latin] is translated “happy” in many Old Testament texts.  The idea of happiness or peace as a blessing from God is an important understanding about the intent of this discourse.

CCC: Mt 5:1 581; Mt 5:3-12 1716; Mt 5:3 544, 2546; Mt 5-7 2763; Mt 5-6 764; Mt 5:8 1720, 2518; Mt 5:9 2305, 2330; Mt 5:11-12 520

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) is a remarkable example of a journey of faith coupled with a dedication to her family and to God.  She is a convert from the Anglican faith tradition who discovered the Catholic Church while on a voyage to Rome because of her husband’s illness.  She lodged with a Catholic family while there and her natural interest in things spiritual were fulfilled in Catholic worship and traditions.

Through many trials she persevered, becoming the foundress of the first Catholic school in the United States, and later the foundress of the Sisters of Charity, the first religious order founded in this country.  She did all of this while raising her five children.

Her heroic virtue in the face of tremendous obstacles is an example of the lived Gospel.  Her love of God moved her to reach out to the poor, the orphan, and the children of her time.  She was the embodiment of our Holy Mother’s love for us.

What lesson do we take away from her story?  We find ourselves still in the octave of Christmas, at time of peace and joy throughout the whole Church.  Within this holy season, we are confronted by the example of one who, like the incarnate Christ, showed the love of God to the world through her example of selfless dedication to the least of God’s children while taking care of those of her flesh and blood. 

Are we not called to do the same?  Can we claim our roles as bread-winner or stay at home parent detract us from our duty to service to others?  These are of course rhetorical questions.  We are called to be saints as well.  St. Elizabeth showed us how that might be accomplished.  Today we ask for her prayers; may we find the strength to live the Gospel as she did and, in doing so, forge our bond with the Heavenly Kingdom.


[1] The picture is “Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.“ artist and date were not cited.
[2] The readings are taken from the New American Bible, with the exception of the psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This republication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[3] The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, © 2004 p. 30
[4] See NAB footnote on Genesis 12:1-4