Raphael Pubillones, Deacon Candidate

This is the next in a series I will be posting on the candidates for the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Knoxville. My hope is that these brief introductions to the men preparing for ordination to the diaconate will help introduce them to the people of the diocese.

Today, we hear from Raphael Pubillones from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Lenoir City.

Tell me about your family. My family’s from Cuba and we came to the US in 1964. I revered my parents, Felipe and Maxima, who had been married for 49 years when my mother died unexpectedly. My father, who wasn’t Catholic, loved her very much, which served as an outstanding example for me as one of the things I’ve read is that the best example a father can give his children about treating women is the way he treats his wife, and his love for her was palpable. I have three brothers, Felipe and Jose, who are older, and Jorge, who’s younger. Felipe’s a CPA with the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office in Atlanta, GA; Jose’s a retired US Navy commander and lives in Corpus Christi, TX; and Jorge works for Fulton County Department of Transportation and lives in Calhoun, GA. I’m married to my high school sweetheart, Michele, and we’ve been married for almost 46 years; we have two grown sons and four grandchildren, one son and one granddaughter are here in Tennessee and the other son and three grandkids are in Florida. Finally, I retired from the US Air Force after having served 27 years on active duty and then I worked for Lockheed Martin Corporation as a program manager and later as a business development manager in the Washington, DC area.

What brought you to Tennessee? A combination of factors: weather, cost of living, quality of life, location, and our older son who’s lived in East Tennessee since 2000. Since we lived in the Washington, DC area from 2001 to 2008, we visited our older son almost every federal holiday weekend, resulting in our liking this area more and more and culminating in our building a house in Tellico Village where we’ve been since we moved here in 2008. (Our younger son was a career Air Force officer when we moved to Tennessee, so his location didn’t play a role since we knew he’d be transferred periodically; he’s no longer in the Air Force and he now lives in Florida which, thanks be to God, has been another blessing from the Almighty, since Michele preferred not to be farther than a day’s drive from either of our sons.)

What kind of work did/do you do? I spent the majority of my Air Force career in intelligence. I also had assignments in intercontinental ballistic missile operations, nuclear command and control, and politico-military affairs.

What brought you to your parish? It’s absolutely world-class adult formation (AFF) program! We’ve been members of St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City since 2015 and from 2008 to 2015 we belonged to St. John Neumann parish, an awesome parish. As a result of our involvement with the Knights of Columbus and living in Tellico Village as well as St. Thomas being half as far as St. John Neumann and our being hungry to know more about Sacred Scripture, we got to know many St. Thomas parishioners and St. Thomas programs and activities, one of these being its AFF classes.

In what ways do you serve/have you served your parish? I’m privileged to serve the local Body of Christ in the following ways:

a. 9 a.m. Sunday Mass rosary lead (pre-COVID)

b. AFF facilitator

c. AFF Steering Committee member

d. Altar server

e. Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

f. Eucharistic Adoration (first Friday of the month at St. Thomas and weekly adorer at St. John Neumann – pre-COVID)

g. EWTN Media Missionary

h. Knights of Columbus

i. Lector

j. Sacristan

k. Youth Ministry

In what ways do you serve/have you served the diocese? I have the honor of serving and having served the diocese in the following ways:

a. Prison ministry (weekly Catholic prison ministry at Morgan County Correctional Complex – pre-COVID)

b. Taught citizenship classes under the auspices of the Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s Office of Immigrant Services

What drew you to the diaconate? The Church called me. I believe the Holy Spirit had been calling me for a while through several clergy, religious, and friends, especially my wife and older son, consistently asking me if I had thought about becoming a deacon. My consistent answer had been yes, but that I was afraid to embarrass my bishop or pastor over something I may do or say. The reason I say this is that I always have been outspoken, sometimes not subtle at all, and I was concerned with doing or saying something I shouldn’t have done or said. So what changed? As a result of my unceasing love for Scriptures, I had been pondering the Letter of James, which is one of my favorite Scriptures – and which talks about taming the tongue (3:1-12) and teaches to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19), and I came to the conclusion that I had been rationalizing and that I needed to start to listen to all these voices – the Church – who had been telling me the same thing: Have you thought about becoming a deacon? I also thought about the fact our Creator gave us free will and, as a result, it is fully within my power whether I do or say or don’t do or say something as easily as it is to rationalize an action or lack thereof. Finally, Sr. Marie Blanchette, the principal of St. Mary’s School in Oak Ridge, told me at a clergy and religious appreciation dinner at St. John Neumann that God doesn’t call the qualified, but He qualifies the called (I Cor 18-31), and we also read this throughout Scripture, eg: Moses. And I ran out of excuses.

What has been most meaningful or rewarding about the diaconate training program? There have been at least three very meaningful experiences so far. The first experience took place when we had our liturgy practicum and we simulated being in procession, approaching the altar to pick up and show the Book of the Gospels to the congregation, and proclaiming the Gospel. The second experience came about at our baptism practicum when the celebrant touches the water with his right hand and says, “May the power of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, we pray, come down through your Son into the fullness of this font, so that all who have been buried with Christ by Baptism into death may rise again to life with him, who lives or reigns forever and ever.” And the third one was during the block of instruction on ecclesiology when members of The Paraclete staff joined us to explain to us the different ways they can help us, show us the vestments and options available, and measure us. The reason these three experiences have made an impression on me is that they all related directly to the awesome charge of being a deacon: to proclaim the Gospel, to confer the Sacrament of Baptism, and to vest accordingly.

Have there been any special challenges during your time in the diaconate training program? Yes, and my answer is related to the question above about what drew me to the diaconate. As I’ve gone through the past almost four years of formation, a thought that recurs is: “Will I be up to this charge?” The reason this thought recurs is that as I get closer to ordination, Lord willing, I can’t help but contemplate future scenarios and ask myself questions such as, “Will I be able to comfort a grieving family?”, “Will I be able to say what a person needs to hear?”, “Will I be able to be the witness God has called me to be?” And, as I mentioned above, I must remember what Sr. Marie told me and more. I must remember that He’ll be with me always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20), that with God all things are possible (Mt 19:26), and to be still and know that He’s God and I’m not (Ps 46:10).

What are your hopes as a deacon? That I may never forget the moment when, Lord willing, I kneel before Bishop Stika, and he places the Book of the Gospels in my hand and says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

Please pray for Raphael and his wife, Michele.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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