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home : features : people of faith

6/22/2017 9:00:00 AM
A deacon's life

Life comes at you fast. Sometimes, what comes is good and sometimes bad, but either way life comes fast. Before you know it, your first child is about to be born, college graduation is upon you, or, in my case, I found myself vesting May 20 in the sacristy of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, preparing to be ordained a transitional deacon of the Church.

Four years of seminary formation had flown by. Having now been ordained to the diaconate and heading toward priestly ordination, I can definitively say, "I am not the man I was."

People ask frequently, "What does it feel like?" If I go by feelings, there is a certain excitement and joy in being able serve the people of God in a very different way, an excitement in being able to encounter people in every stage of their life and be Christ for them.

There is a feeling of awe while serving at the altar and being one very literal step closer to Jesus. There is also a feeling of the weight of responsibility; more and more people are being placed in my care, for whom I have a role in their salvation.

But feelings only can convey part of the whole picture.

Another side of being a deacon is much harder to articulate. It has to do with "becoming." Perhaps an example is best. Soon after my ordination Mass was over, as I was basking in the glow of being newly ordained, my mother and father asked me to bless them! What an incredibly profound moment that was. A mere two hours earlier, I was their son, and then, with the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, I was no longer just their son, but a son of the whole Church who has power to bless in Jesus' name.

Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who's known for his "Word on Fire" ministry and writings, used to tell us in seminary, "Your life is not your own." How true that is today! People look at me differently and talk to me differently. Little kids stare up at the man in black with the white patch at his throat.

Being "set apart," consecrated for service, has immediate, real-world effects.

Some of those effects are visible in the various ministries that a deacon is capable of doing. I can now assist the priest at Mass in a special way. I can preach homilies, pray and bless people; I can offer benediction with the Blessed Sacrament; I can baptize, witness marriages and perform all the funeral rites outside of Mass.

Other duties include visiting the sick and homebound and bringing communion to them. Each of these moments is ordered to the spiritual and physical well-being of the people of God.

Yet, beyond the outward activity of being a deacon, I have an awareness that God's grace is working in a special way in me and through me. In subtle ways, God's help is present, opening my heart and the hearts of those I encounter. Christ is drawing me to Himself, so that others might be drawn to Him.

So, while the actual working out of daily life as a deacon is often somewhat routine, it is at the same time mysteriously full and full of mystery.

May the peace of Christ be with you this day.

(Deacon Chichester, a native of Columbia County, has been studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. He is expected to be ordained a priest in 2018.)

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