Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mid-Term Elections and "Gaudium et spes"

As another election cycle comes to an end here in the US, I thought it would be a good time to post something from the Second Vatican Council on the subject of politics.  Shortly after I started this blog I posted something about the possibility of deacons serving in political life, and that drew some interesting reactions, often negative, suggesting that deacons could or should never serve in politics.  I'll get back to that later. 

For now, here are a couple of citations from the wonderful document Gaudium et spes from Vatican II.  This document, although promulgated in 1965, could easily have been written this morning.  Among five issues raised which the bishops of the world considered of "special urgency", politics and political life are included.  Consider the following:

"The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.  Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one's freedom and sense of responsibility (#74).

"It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens" (#74).

"According to the character of different peoples and their historic development, the political community can, however, adopt a variety of concrete solutions in its structures and the organization of public authority. For the benefit of the whole human family, these solutions must always contribute to the formation of a type of man who will be cultivated, peace-loving and well-disposed towards all his fellow men" (#74).

"All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. The Church praises and esteems the work of those who for the good of men devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of this office" (#75).

"Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations" (#75).

"All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good" (#75).


Back to the question of deacons and politics: Perhaps deacons could help us move away from a "politics as partisanship" modality.  Does politics in the US have to be a matter of raw partisanship?  I don't know, but I am an idealist and an optimist: I believe it could be.

Finally, a word on Gaudium et spes.  As anyone who knows me will already realize, I am a "Vatican II" guy.  I was in high school seminary during the Council, and in college seminary during the early years of its implementation.  All of the various ministries I've been involved with over the years, and my own graduate studies, have all been influenced by the study of the Council.  This December we will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the solemn closing of the Council, and the jewel in the crown of the Council's documents is Gaudium et spes.  Perhaps we could all benefit from an intense re-examination of the teachings of this powerful document and its agenda for reform.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy 45th Anniversary: Nostra Aetate

45 years ago today, 28 October 1965, five documents from the Second Vatican Council were formally promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  Arguably the most significant of the five was Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christians.  This was a groundbreaking document on many levels.  For one thing, the document proclaims that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy" in other religions.  It also deplores all forms of racism, prejudice and persecution.

The document was hotly debated, and it went through several drafts.  It began life as a rather straightforward statement on the church's relationship with the Jewish people.  It was later broadened to include ALL non-Christian religions, specifically remarking on Hinduism and Buddhism, with special attention paid to Islam and most especially, Judaism.

The document calls of dialogue and for respect of our shared foundations, and it's a message that's still needed today.  It's probably the shortest of all the Vatican II documents, and you can read it here.

Given the fact that World War II, and the Holocaust, had ended less than 20 years before, and the fact that most of Europe was still recovering from the effects of that devastation, the document grew of the bishops' desire that such things must not happen again, and the text ends:

"The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men and women, or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.  On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to 'maintain good fellowship among the nations' (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all, so that they may truly be children of the Father who is in heaven."

Hard to believe it's been 45 years since this document made headlines.  We still have a long way to go!

Gone, but not forgotten

At the right is a picture of the system of Catholic ordinations from about 1000 AD until it was radically changed in 1972.  This system is often referred to by its Latin name, the cursus honorum, or "course of honors."  It basically reflected the same kind of "coming up through the ranks" system that was being used in civil society as well.

Prior to this system coming into favor in some parts of the church as early as the 3rd or 4th century, ordinations took place only to a specific order, as the needs of the community dictated.  This was known as "absolute" ordination.  So, if a community needed someone to serve as a presbyter, they ordained a lay person to the presbyterate; if they needed a deacon, they ordained a lay person to the diaconate, and so on.

With the "new" system (the cursus honorum), things were much more rigorously controlled.  A lay man became a cleric, a member of the clergy, through a ceremony (NOT an ordination) called tonsure.  This was a rite in which the new cleric's hair was cut as a sign of humility and service.  A good example would be how we see "Friar Tuck" depicted in all those Robin Hood movies: Friar Tuck was just bald; he had been tonsured.  Under canon law, a tonsured person was no longer a lay person, and was now eligible and able to receive ordination.

Next come the four "minor" orders: these were ordinations, but they were not permanent sacraments.  Porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte were all received in turn, with men serving in each order for some length of time before being ordained to the next one. 

Then come the three "major" orders: these were ordinations, and it was at ordination as a subdeacon that a cleric made his promise of celibacy.  Then came deacon, which was (and remains) a sacramental ordination, and presbyter.  Notice that under this system, the bishop is not included in this depiction of Holy Orders.  That's because bishops were not seen as part of this system; they were simply PRIESTS who had been given greater administrative responsibilities.  As well, bishops were seen as above this whole system, since it was the bishop who ordained people to all of these orders.  For this reason, the ceremonies involved with all of these orders were called "ordinations" while the ceremony by which a priest became a bishop was called a "consecration."

All of this changed with the Second Vatican Council.  First, the bishops declared that bishops ARE a part of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  They also decided that, at least in the Latin church, tonsure, the four minor orders, and the major order of subdiaconate were no longer needed, and they were "suppressed."  What had been called the "orders" of lector and acolyte were retained, but now as lay ministries, not ordinations.  So, the new system was: deacon (it is through ordination as a deacon now that a person becomes a cleric, since tonsure is no more), presbyter, and bishop.

The reason I bring this up is simple: Since this older system was around for so long, it is what most people have in their imaginations: everything "ends" in priesthood, and everything else is subordinate to it.  This is still the way many people act.  So, deacons get asked all the time: "When will be ordained a REAL priest?"  My wife was once asked, "When you die, will Bill become a REAL priest?" 

Imagination is a powerful thing, and until people's imaginations are changed about how the church now views ordination, bishops and deacons are going to struggle with "identity" issues.  Notice that the Second Vatican Council spent a lot of time talking about the sacramental identity of the laity, the episcopate and the diaconate: things CHANGED, but imaginations change more slowly.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deacon Pope

OK, I just had to post this picture.

It shows the Pope, at last year's Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, washing feet in response to the command of Christ to the Twelve at the Last Supper.  What is important to note here is, of course, that the pope is vested as a deacon: that's a deacon's dalmatic that you see him wearing.

For those who might not realize it, many bishops wear a dalmatic under the chasuble (the priest's outer vestment); the pope has here removed his chasuble, so that his dalmatic is clearly visible.  The dalmatic, by the way, was originally a vestment of a bishop, and bishops gave the dalmatic as well to their principal aides, their deacons.  This shared vestment was seen as a sign of the close bond that should exist between bishops and deacons.

Just thought the picture was worth a thousand words.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Deacons: Ministers of the Diocesan Church

Most deacons, just like most priests, are assigned by their bishops to a parish ministry.  However, there are some things that should be realized, especially by anyone interested in a vocation as a deacon.

First, once ordained by the bishop, deacons are ministers of the entire diocese, and may be assigned by the bishop to any ministry the bishop chooses anywhere in the diocese!  This doesn't surprise us when we experience the assignments of priests: we expect priests to be transferred around the diocese throughout their life of ministry.  What few people realize is that this is exactly the same situation with deacons.  Once ordained, deacons are no longer parish-centered ministers; ordination, among other things, confers a responsibility for the entire diocese, what theologians refer to as "a participation in the diocesan ministry of the bishop."

Second, this means that one of the first things new applicants to the diaconate have to realize is that they will NOT be ordained for service in the parish from which they are applying, and that there is no guarantee that they will be assigned to that parish should they be called to ordination.  This is something the applicant and his family need to consider carefully!  If they've been lifelong members of the same parish, they may be unwilling to change that reality.  Of course, what many families decide to do is keep their parish membership at the original parish, while the deacon accepts his diaconal assignment to another parish.  Now, in reality, no bishop is going to assign a deacon to a ministry that would require his family to uproot themselves to a different part of the diocese.  But he may very well determine that a particular deacon's talents are needed more in a parish across town, or in a ministry outside his original parish.

Third, it needs to be remembered that, increasingly, deacons are given assignments in SEVERAL areas.  Many deacons now serve in more than one parish, or in at least one parish in addition to assignments to regional or diocesan ministries.  For example, I currently have an assignment to a local parish, but also an assignment to serve in campus ministry at the University in which I teach.  In fact, many dioceses now expect their deacons to have at least TWO assignments: one to a parish (at least one) and another to a diocesan or deanery-based ministry (e.g., jail/prison ministry, hospitals, and so on).

Applicants to the diaconate and those in formation must expand their sense of church and the role of deacons within that church.  Ordination in the Catholic Church is NEVER to a parish alone, but to the diocese as the bishop directs.  This often requires quite a shift in thinking.

In 1996, the bishops of the US published the results of a year-long study of the diaconate in the United States.  The study included responses from lay leaders, priests, deacons and the wives of deacons.  One of the many interesting things that was revealed was this: Many people, when asked about the ministry of PRIESTS, described them as diocesan ministers currently assigned to a parish.  When asked the same question about DEACONS, they were almost always described as parish ministers only.  The bishops listed this misperception as something that needed to be corrected as quickly as possible.

Why is this such a big deal?  Well, first, because of the challenge this presents to those in formation; they need to understand what they're getting into!  Second, because the reasons the diaconate was renewed in the Catholic church was to extend the reach of the bishop's ministry into areas not currently being met.  In other words, parish priests are focused on parishes; that's what we expect of them.  Deacons, on the other hand, are supposed to extend BEYOND the parish; that's what we should be expecting of them.

One final note: Deacons as parish ministers has been the experience of many churches and denominations other than the Catholic church.  Protestant deacons, for example, are often more like congregational trustees, although in many "high churches" (such as in the Anglican communion) and increasingly in many Methodist and Lutheran churches, deacons are understood as ordained for more than parish ministries.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Deacons with Wives (and Without)

I can still remember how shocked I was.  My wife and I were at a small dinner party with several other deacons and their wives.  We had just moved to the area and we were still getting to know our new colleagues and friends.  While we were chatting and sharing our stories, one of the wives made the comment, "We were ordained in May."  WE were; not "HE was ordained"; "WE were ordained."  That took me aback.  I didn't say anything, of course, but I've thought about it ever since.  Of course I knew what she was saying: They had journeyed together throughout the formation process, and both of them had to make firm commitments involving diaconal ministry.  Furthermore, our theology of matrimony, which holds that "two become one flesh" enters into this equation at some point as well.  Still, only the husband had been ordained, albeit with her full participation and support.

As my own experience with the diaconate has grown over the years, including service at the national and international levels, I have heard this kind of comment repeatedly, although not nearly so much as I did in the past.  This expression, "we were ordained" seems to have peaked with those ordained in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  As more than one person has observed, "Even though a couple is married, one spouse may still celebrate a sacrament without that sacrament having effect on the other spouse."  Consider two unbaptized persons who are married.  Should one of them be baptized, we wouldn't expect to hear the other spouse say, "WE were baptized."

Another expression that still has traction is that of "deacon couples"; we often hear this, especially in terms of  social or church events: "All deacon couples are invited."  Again, the intent here is clear enough.  Deacons and their spouses (for those who are married, of course) are invited.  However, the precision of the expression is lacking.  Only one of the two is an ordained deacon, and that does not extend to the couple.  I made a career in the Navy, and retired as a Commander.  We would not be invited to things as a "Commander couple" or even as an "officer couple."  The same precision applies here.  So, most places have stopped using that expression in favor of something more precise.

As long as we're looking at terminology, here's another.  For a long time, it was pretty common to hear about "deacons' wives", as in, "There is a deacons' wives' group in the diocese."  Now, for a while that didn't seem to be problematic.  However, some of the wives began to get their backs up.  They began to realize that their identity was being determined and described by their husband's role as deacon.  "I'm a deacon's wife" often ignored the fact that this woman has an identity, often an official ministerial identity, quite distinct from her husband's.  One wife told me bluntly: "I have a doctorate in ministry, and have been active in ministry for years before my husband even thought about the diaconate; now people simply think of me and my role as his wife, and disregard or minimize my own professional expertise and experience."  Even more fundamental, of course, is the very sacramental identity we each have, individually, through baptism.  My Christian identity and dignity is established through initiation, not through association with someone else.  So, another term has emerged as a preferred expression: "the wife of a deacon."  I should point out that this distinction is usually made by the wives themselves as they reflect on their own sacramental identities.  Some ladies are perfectly comfortable with "deacon's wife"; others are not.

I realize that perhaps much of this may seem like hairsplitting, but it reveals important developments as the renewed diaconate continues to gain in maturity and experience.  What worked to describe the reality of the diaconate and diaconal life early in the renewal is giving way to more nuanced and reflective expressions, and I hope it will continue to do so.  The diaconate, especially in the US, began with an infancy and it has now grown into adolescence and is seeking its maturity.  This gets reflected in the language we choose to use to describe all of this.

Finally, one last handful of sand to throw into the gears.  While the majority of deacons serve as married men, it is important to remember that we have a signficant number of  deacons who are celibate, either because they were unmarried at the time of ordination or because their wives have passed away after ordination.  We must always avoid the temptation to think of the diaconate simply and collectively as "the married ministry".  I actually had people call me when I was on the USCCB staff and say that, although they felt a call to diaconate ministry, they couldn't pursue it because they weren't married!  At the Second Vatican Council, one bishop actually cited this as a concern he had with the diaconate: he didn't want to create a "two-tiered" system of ordained ministry consisting of celibate priests and married deacons.  The reality is, of course, that in the Catholic Church we have married priests and celibate deacons, as well as celibate priests and married deacons.  We have to keep our perspective on ordained ministry quite broad to take in the reality of things!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cardinals and Deacons: Just for Fun

Given the news from the Vatican today about the latest crop of soon-to-be red hats, I thought I'd post a little item on cardinals that often goes missed.

1) "Cardinals" were originally the diocesan clergy of the diocese of Rome; as such, there were bishops, deacons and presbyters.  So, even today, with Cardinals coming from all over the world and not just from Rome, we still have three ranks of Cardinals: Cardinal-Bishops, Cardinal-Priests, and Cardinal-Deacons.

2) This is true, even though the vast majority of Cardinals are actually bishops; their cardinal-rank is different.  For example, most Cardinals who serve at the Vatican are bishops by ordination and Cardinal-Bishops by appointment.  Most Cardinals who serve as diocesan bishops (like newly-minted Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC) are bishops by ordination but Cardinal-Priest by cardinatial rank.  And yes, a cardinal can be "promoted" from Cardinal-Deacon to Cardinal-Priest to Cardinal-Bishop (and still remain a bishop by ordination); confused yet?  Finally, there are usually seven cardinal-Deacons: bishops who are assigned to the seven diaconal churches of Rome.  It is always the senior of these Cardinal-Deacons who has the task of announcing to the world the election and name of the new pope.

So, in recognition of this unbelievably complex arrangement, I'm posting the above photograph taken during the Second Vatican Council.  If you look carefully, you can see the three ranks of Cardinals.  In this photo, all of the Cardinals shown are ordained bishops.  At the bottom, you'll notice some of the Cardinals are wearing copes (the "capes" that they're wearing); these are Cardinal Bishops.  Then in the middle we see Cardinals wearing chasubles; these are the Cardinal Priests.  Finally, at the very top you can spy a couple of Cardinals wearing dalmatics: the Cardinal Deacons.

Now that we have that out of our system, we can get back to more important matters!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Deacons: Their Age and Their Formation

While serving at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate, I received a call from a man who told me that he felt a strong call to service as an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church.  I told him that was wonderful and that I hoped he would follow through and contact his local diocesan office to begin the necessary application procedures.  Then he floored me: "Well, Deacon, I'd like to do that, but I can't.  I'm too young!"  I asked him how old he was and he said "28."  "How old do you think you have to be to be a deacon?" I asked.  He said he really didn't know, but that every deacon he'd ever seen was always an old man, so he just figured being a deacon was a ministry designed for older men!

Here's another interesting observation: In the United States, the average age of permanent deacons is now nearly 64 years of age.  In nearly every other region of the world, the average age of permanent deacons is in the mid-40s!  When I travel abroad on diaconate matters, it's not unusual for me to hear how the diaconate in the US is a "retirees' club".

Let's set the record straight.  Church law states that a MARRIED man should be 35 at the time of ordination as a deacon, and that an unmarried man may be ordained at age 25.  In the United States, the bishops have had a long-standing law that ALL candidates for the permanent diaconate, married and single, should be 35 at the time of ordination.  This is a US distinction, and not one imposed universally.

The reason for the higher age for married candidates is simple and wise: The church wants to make sure that the married couple has been married for a while and has attained a maturity and stability within their marriage prior to adding on the challenges of ordained ministry.  However, while 35 is the norm, it is not absolute.  The local diocesan bishop can waive a year off of this requirement (and ordain someone at 34), and if the person is younger than that, Rome will dispense another 2 1/2 years if the bishop requests it.  This is not all that unusual.

Finally, a point from history.  Prior to the Second Vatican Council, 101 proposals were received from bishops around the world discussing the possibility of ordaining permanent deacons, and many of these proposals were in favor of opening ordination to married men "of a mature age."  When this "mature age" was discussed before the Council, it was deterimined to be 40.  During the the Council debates on the diaconate in 1963, however, the bishops decided that 40 was too old, and they lowered the age to 35.  Clearly the bishops anticipated that these new permanent deacons would still be heavily engaged in the raising of their families and in their secular jobs, careers, and professions.  The bishops did not foresee a man who had already helped raise a family and who had already retired from his secular occupations in order to "enter the Church" (that's a rather antiquated expression that used to mean "to enter ordained or religious service").

So, with regard to the age of US deacons, we can ponder about why it has developed as it has here, and even more important, what needs to be done to include younger candidates as the Council had envisioned and hoped, and which in fact, are found in other parts of the world.

This returns us briefly to the posting a made a few days ago about the formation of deacons.  I sometimes hear concerns that one reason younger men do not apply for diaconate formation is because the requirements are now too strict to permit a young married man to participate.  However, other formation programs around the world are no less strict, and the requirements for ordination no less substantive.  So, how do other countries find their younger married candidates?

It's actually quite simple, and a few US dioceses have begun to learn from this model from overseas.  Namely, the whole family comes to formation!  Most places use a weekend format, where the formation is held over one or perhaps two weekends per month.  While in the US, the deacon candidate and perhaps his wife will attend, in other countries, the whole family comes.  There is no family separation.  A team of qualified child care providers and youth ministers, often composed of qualified volunteers from within the local diaconate community, greets the family upon arrival.  The children are gathered and they play games and have their own activities while Mom and Dad are in class.  At meals, and at prayer, however, the entire family comes together again throughout the weekend.  It works, and is a blessing for the families.

Just some more to ponder and discuss. . . .

God bless,


Saturday, October 9, 2010

International Studies on the Diaconate

As I've mentioned here recently, I've been in Rome for the last few days.  Here's why.

For the last three years, two colleagues and I (one is a deacon-professor of theology from Italy; the other is a deacon and former President of the International Diaconate Center in Germany -- although he himself is from the Netherlands) have been working to establish a "studium" in Rome on the diaconate: it's theology, spirituality, history, and so on.  This will be a way for people to engage in higher research on the subject.  Since it is international in scope, students will be able to have access to ideas and work from scholars around the world.

I'm pleased to report that our work is nearly complete.  With the full and enthusiastic support of the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, we have now established working relationships with various pontifical universities of Rome, and by March we will have a fully-approved list of faculty and courses.  We hope to begin these offerings in the summer of 2012.  There will be three weeks of offerings: one week of intensives will cover various theological topics; another will cover biblical topics; and the third will cover patristic topics.  Students who wish, of course, could stay for all three weeks; or, they can come for one week.  The courses will be taught for credit either through a partner university (for example, from here in the US) or through the Gregorianum University in Rome; all faculty will be credentialed through the Congregation.

The purpose here is not pre-ordination formation, nor are the courses for deacons alone.  Rather, these will be advanced topics for any scholars who wish to examine various aspects of the diaconate in more detail.  It will also serve as a kind of clearing house for completed research.

Just thought you might enjoy an update!

God bless,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Formation of Deacons -- US and Abroad

MB recently asked:

"I would be interested in hearing about the differences in the way deacons are trained in the US as well as in other parts of the world. Seeing that your are headed to Rome, this may be something you could elaborate on."

It is frequently noted that there are roughly half of the world's deacons serving in the United States (we have approximately 17,500 deacons out of about 36,000 worldwide).  I am asked frequently why the diaconate has been so warmly received here.  Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that we have to remember just how big the United States is: we have 196 dioceses and eparchies in the US, and nearly all of them have deacons.  By comparison, I believe that there are only 22 dioceses in Germany.  When you look at things this way, you quickly realize that there are many countries who have "received" the renewed diaconate with just as much vigor as the United States: Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, most of the countries of Eastern Europe (with the exception of Poland, which is just beginning its renewal of the diaconate; that's a whole other story!): ALL have thriving diaconates.

So, how does formation differ, as MB asks?  Well, let's take a look at Germany as an example.  In Germany, anyone who wishes to pursue official ministry (whether as a lay person or a deacon) must FIRST complete either a degree in Theology or, if that's not possible, a nationally-approved certificate program in Theology (approved by the German Bishops' Conference).  The theory is simple: theology is the language of ministry, and all who would minister in any capacity is expected to be competent in it.  Then, after the degree or certificate is completed, there is a discernment process to see who should be invited to the diaconate, and who might be called to some form of lay ecclesial ministry.

Those who go into diaconate formation then go through a four year or so program, much like the US.  However, the big difference is that it is usually divided into three stages.  First is the "diaconal stage"; more about that later.  Second is the "homiletic stage", in which all deacon candidates must attain competence as preachers; the same standards are used for deacons as for priests; outside of the US, I find very little reluctance over deacons preaching: since we are clerics, we preach.  End of story.  Third, there is the "sacramental stage" in which the candidates practice how to do baptisms, weddings, prayer services, and the like.  Again, remember that there's no need to spend a lot of time on the theological basis for all of this since they've already completed a theology degree/certificate; so the formation is very practical in nature.

Now, back to the "diaconal stage".  Here, each candidate is sent back to his home town (note: NOT just to his home parish, but to his home town/city).  There, he is to identify a need that is currently not being met and do whatever it takes to meet it.  This is not a hypothetical project: the candidate is expect actually to DO it.  For example, a friend of mine went home and realized that there was nothing available for day care/ early childhood education for the children of single parents, especially single mothers.  Now, he knew nothing about how to proceed, but he put together a team of experts who did: people who understood insurance, construction, fund raising, licensing for child care providers, education, and so on.  Under his leadership, the bought land, built a building, held a capital campaign, trained professional staff and volunteers and launched the school.  Last time I checked it was still going strong, 20 years later.

To be a deacon, one has to demonstrate the ability to "see" diaconally, and to be able to identify the gifts and skills needed to meet the needs of the situation.  Notice how this approach focuses on collegiality and collaboration, as well as moving beyond simple parish boundaries.  This is not a "parish" school whatsoever; it's a community school, run by this deacon and his staff.

In the past, I have shared this model with deacon formation directors in the US.  About half of them loved it and wanted more information on it; the other half said people would kill them if they tried to introduce this system in their own dioceses!  I rather like it, though, both for its foundational appreciation of theology as prerequisite for ministry in general, and for its practical applicability for the diaconate.

Interesting, no?

Face Down at St. Peter's Tomb -- Literally!

I got up this morning, excited to head over to Saint Peter's for the "scavi" tour at 10:00 AM.  The "scavi" are the excavations under the basilica which were started in 1939.  It's an archeological dig, literally under the floor of the current basilica.  I did this tour the last time I was here and wanted to do it again.  It begins with a short overview of the history of the site, including the original basilica built by the emperor Constantine in about 325.  In 1939, workmen preparing to entomb the recently-deceased Pius XI, uncovered a heretofore unknown series of tombs beneath the Constantinian level; a real necropolis ("city of the dead") in which Roman, both Christian and otherwise, had been buried.  The history is too long to go into here, but it is truly fascinating.  So, I was really jazzed about getting to see it all again.

I walked from the hotel to St. Peter's and prayed for us all at the tomb of Pope John XXIII, my hero.  After that I wandered over to a sidewalk cafe for an espresso and brioche; but for the first time in a long, long time, I didn't eat any breakfast.  This will feature in the adventure later on.

Shortly before 10, I went to the Swiss guards, showed my pass, and was admitted into the Vatican grounds. While waiting for the tour, I met a couple from Maryland and chatted for a while.  After we began the tour and entered into the dig itself (which is very narrow, very confining, and not for the claustrophobic, several of the ladies excused themselves and went back up.  The rest of us pressed on.  It was VERY hot, and VERY humid in the dig, much more so than last March.  Soon, I was sweating profusely, something I hadn't done in a long, long time.  At one point, since I'd already been through the tour, I walked ahead and found a place to sit down for a few mintues.  I rejoined the group and literally at the tomb of St. Peter (the real tomb, verified by DNA and all of that), I chose that minute to go down for the count.  Yep, deacon down.  My tour mates helped me up and I sat down in a nearby chapel while they summoned medical help.

I was immediately feeling better out of the humidity, of course, but not one of the people on the tour: there were perhaps a dozen folks, from the US, Scotland, Malaysia and the Philippines, none of them would leave my side until I'd been checked out.  Here's the interesting bit.  What fantastic service the Swiss guards and the Vatican medical staff provided!  They responded quickly, took my pulse, blood pressure, and tested my blood sugar.  Everything was just fine.  The recommended an EKG just to be sure, and at first I said no, but ALL of my tour mates insisted that I be checked out completely, and so I gave in.  They brought in a wheel chair, wheeled me outside of the basilica to a waiting ambulance.  I asked how far the clinic was, since I was supposed to meet my friend Rob from the Netherlands for pranzo just around the corner in a little while.  The doctor laughed and said I sounded just like a Roman!  He said he'd do the EKG in the ambulance, and it was just fine, too.  While they were doing that, the Swiss guards were calling a taxi for me.  I told them I could walk to the restaurant around the corner, and the doctor said I should first go to my hotel and change out of my wet clothes or I would catch bronchitis and he wouldn't want that!  LOL!

I was thanking the doctor and nurse for their care and assistance and they joked that "Here in Italy, the care is all free; but you're going to have to pay for the taxi!"  We had a good laugh over that.

I took the taxi back to the hotel, changed clothes, and got back down to the restaurant in time to meet Rob for pranzo (the main midday meal).  I'm feeling terrific, and none the worse for wear for my little adventure.

My advice to all: Eat breakfast!

That's all for now.  I hope not to have any more adventures like this on this trip, but if you're going to pass out, can't imagine a better place to do it!

Ciao for now,


Monday, October 4, 2010

Sorry for the Long Silence!

We all know that "life is what happens while we're making other plans."  Well, that's been happening around here lately.

I'm a college teacher, but I also travel quite a bit giving presentations and retreats, along with consulting on various matters.  Over the last couple of weeks I've been privileged to be in Detroit, then Atlanta, and now I'm packing for a rather quick trip over to Rome to finalize plans for an international research consortium on the diaconate to be located there.

So, I apologize for my lack of presence here.  I hope to share some things from Rome that we can chat about.

How's everyone doing?  Anything we should talk about?

God bless,