On Sunday, September 27, twenty-five candidates for the permanent diaconate, from among the various nooks, crannies and parishes of the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, were instituted into the ministry of lector by Bishop Richard Stika at the Cathedral of the Most the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was among their number.
I began this journey formally in September, 2017. Hearing the call and desiring to serve Jesus Christ and His Church more deeply and powerfully, I applied and was accepted into the diaconate program. Since then, I have had the privilege and honor of joining this group of remarkable men in prayer, reflection, study and service, the goal of which is ordination to the permanent diaconate. By God’s grace, we will be ordained in June of 2022.
Each month we travel to Christ, Prince of Peace retreat center near Benton, TN to spend a weekend in academic and practical studies, as well as prayer and worship together. We have studied the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, Philosophy, Trinitarian theology, Christology, Mariology, Sacraments, Church History, and Liturgy – and we’re not near done yet! It has been such a marvelous journey, and a joy to gather regularly with men who love Jesus, love the Church, and want nothing more than to do good things with their lives.
Last Sunday we gathered at the cathedral with our wives and families to be instituted as lectors. As Deacon Tim Elliot, Diocesan Director of Diaconate & Deacon Training, called our names, we each stood and responded, “Present.” This was not the first time and will not be the last we will stand and respond “Present” to our names being called. For each of us, our “Present” was a way of saying both “Here I am, Lord!” and, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
It can be a risky business standing before God and answering “Present” when He calls your name. You are making yourself available. You are answering the call to a mission that is not your own, but His. You are turning yourself over in obedience to something much larger than yourself, and over which you do not have ultimate control. You are responding to God and desiring of Him the opportunity, the privilege to be His instrument in His designs. Part of that process is letting go of your own designs. It’s natural to have big plans for your own life, and to imagine how best you can serve Christ and His Church. But we only think we plan our lives. God has in mind the big picture of what is best for the kingdom and for your place and mine in bringing that kingdom to fulfillment. Part of the challenge of faithfulness is to continuously be about the work of forming our will according to His will.
Practically, this commitment takes concrete shape in the commitment a deacon makes to the bishop. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus Christ formed His Church under the teaching and governing authority of the Apostles, and that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. As a deacon in the Church, it is the bishop to whom I will pledge and owe obedience, as the embodiment of the teaching and governing authority of Christ and the Apostles. In the person of the bishop is the authority of Christ for the local Church. As a deacon, then, obedience to the bishop is obedience to Christ. It makes little sense to say to God, “Here I am, Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” if my intention is to follow His will and respond to His word on my terms. My faith is not in myself, after all. My faith is in Christ, and that Christ founded His Church for the purpose of serving the gospel.
So it was that, after the proclamation of the Gospel, we each were called forward to kneel before Bishop Stika, who sat with his hands on the Book of the Gospels. We each individually placed our hands on the Book of the Gospels with the bishop’s while he prayed, “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.” To this prayer, we each responded, “Amen.”
Christ is present in His word. He is the Word made flesh. We are saved by that word. How awesome and powerful and momentous a responsibility and honor to proclaim the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the people. May we each do so faithfully, that all might be saved.
Please pray for the men now in formation for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville:
David Anderson, Holy Cross, Pigeon Forge
Shawn Ballard, St. John Neumann, Farragut
Jim Bello, Sts. Peter & Paul, Chattanooga
Peter Chiaro, St. Theresa, Clinton
Humberto Collazo, St. Dominic, Kingsport
Ken Conklin, All Saints, Knoxville
Roberto Cortes, St. Thomas, Lenoir City
Eric Dadey, Good Shepherd, Newport
Gianfranco DellaSantina, Holy Cross, Pigeon Forge
Bob Denne, All Saints, Knoxville
Leon Dodd, Our Lady of Fatima, Alcoa
David Duhamel, St. Mary, Oak Ridge
Wade Eckler, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chattanooga
Michael Gray, St. Elizabeth, Elizabethtown
Jim Haselsteiner, St. Mary, Johnson City
Joe Herman, St. Anthony, Mountain City
Bob Hunt, All Saints, Knoxville
Vic Landa, Blessed Sacrament, Harriman
Greg Larson, St. John Neumann, Farragut
Pat Nakagawa, All Saints, Knoxville
Augustin Ortega, All Saints, Knoxville
Rafael Pubillones, St. Thomas, Lenoir City
Chad Shields, Christ the King, Tazewell
Salvador Soriano, All Saints, Knoxville
Dave Venesky, Immaculate Conception, Knoxville
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.