By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
As ministers of the Word, of charity and of the altar, deacons have a pivotal role in helping to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.
To see photo gallery on this story, click here.
But in order for deacons to fully carry out their roles as ordained clergy among their families, faith communities and ministries, they must first embrace a solid faith life that’s rooted in a deep relationship with Jesus.
Such was the focus of the Oct. 27-28 convocation held for deacons of the Diocese and their wives, an event which this year gave them a chance to be spiritually renewed through hearing insights from the keynote speaker, Father Herbert Sperger, and Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who celebrated Mass with them and then hosted a forum in which the Bishop addressed concerns and questions.
In the homily he preached Oct. 28, Bishop O’Connell honed in on what it means to be followers of Jesus by reflecting on the day’s Readings and the ministries of the apostles, Sts. Simon and Jude whose feast the universal Church commemorated that day.
While not much is known about the two apostles other than their names appear on lists in the Gospels and, “we only have stories and legends as the source of our information and devotion,” Bishop O’Connell spoke of how Simon and Jude as being “among the Twelve who were, as the Letters to the Ephesians observes, ‘the foundation of the household of God, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.’”
Noting that Simon was called “the Zealot,” to distinguish him from Simon Peter, and Jude was called “Thaddeus,” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, Bishop O’Connell said after they were referenced in the accounts of Pentecost, they were never heard from again, but tradition states that they had traveled to Persia where they evangelized and ultimately were martyred for being witnesses to the faith.
Bishop O’Connell noted how the feast day and the Scriptures centered on some “important truths of our faith,” such as how Christ is the cornerstone of the Church.
The cornerstone, he said, is “the most important stone since all the other stones are strategically placed in relationship to this one stone.
“The whole structure is fitted together on the Lord Jesus and is built together spiritually into a dwelling place of God,” he said, reflecting on Ephesians.
“The feast of the Apostles recognizes the role of these saints in how the Church came to be, stone by stone, for 2,000 years,” Bishop O’Connell said. “What we are today comes from the holy women and men who came before us, the building blocks of the Kingdom of God, the community of faith in the Lord Jesus. We are the living legacy.”
The Bishop then pointed to the Gospel which told of how Jesus spent time in prayer, especially before taking any great actions.
“That was the pattern of his decision making, that was how he faced the most important moments of his life,” such as when he set out for Jerusalem following his Baptism; as he instituted the Eucharist; in Gethsemane before his Passion; from his Cross before his death he prayed to the father.
“The Church; our call as deacons and spouses of deacons; our call as priests came about as in Jesus’ prayer,” said the Bishop. Following Jesus “means we consider the present and future on his terms and with his grace.”
Recognizing The Call
As “Walking in the Footsteps of Christ in Word and Deed” served as the convocation’s theme, Father Sperger, in his keynote address, also looked to the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude and Scripture stories such as the Samaritan Woman, the Man Born Blind and Jesus’ Resurrection to drive home points about what it means to recognize a call by Jesus, accepting an invitation from Jesus to follow him and to share God-given gifts with others.
After one realizes he or she is being called by Jesus, the next step is to become evangelizers and spread the Good News to others.
“As ministers of the Church, we all have the mission to be sharers of the Word,” said Father Sperger, who director of spiritual formation in the Theological Seminary in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa.
Noting that evangelization is accomplished not only through priests and deacons but through “every single member of the Church community,” Father Sperger emphasized how Jesus calls the apostles by name.
Looking to the Man Born Blind and the Samaritan Woman as examples, Father Sperger told of how Jesus does not wait for people to tell him of their personal desires; Jesus instead comes to the person to help them meet their desires.
“God needs to help us see what it is we desire,” he said, then added that what may inhibit one from obtaining their desires are being in need of forgiveness or healing.
“Jesus comes to us as the Good Shepherd and lifts us up out of our suffering, sorrow and stress,” he said. “Jesus fills us with grace and gifts and then it’s up to us to share those gifts with others.”
Father Sperger reminded the deacons of how they are ordained to be “men of the Resurrection, men of hope.”
“A deacon is one who has hope, lives in hope, knows hope and speaks of hope,” he said. A deacon is a servant and is called to evangelization which is the “greatest charity.”
“Caring for someone in need is the most powerful form of evangelization,” he said.
Deacons agreed the convocation was an opportunity for them and their wives to reflect on the significant calling and spirituality of the permanent diaconate.
Elise Hobson, wife of Deacon Rich Hobson of St. James Parish, Pennington; St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and Peggy Schwoebel, wife of Deacon Ron Schwoebel of Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, Florence Township, expressed similar sentiments on how the convocation is a way for all deacons and their wives to gather and reconnect with one another.
“I take my ministry as a deacon’s wife very seriously and anything I can do to help my husband strengthen his ministry I will do,” said Schwoebel, adding, “I also enjoy seeing the love between the brotherhood of deacons.”
Of this year’s convocation, Hobson said she thought the time given to reflect on parts of the Readings and sharing in the follow-up questions was key.
“In life we don't get enough time or make time to do this and it was a great way to listen to each other and share in our thoughts about the reading and how it reflects on our life,” she said. “I learned a little bit more about my husband this weekend in discussing his spiritual journey.”
Deacon Schwoebel remarked on how beneficial it is for him to be “refreshed by a well-versed speaker like Father Sperger,” saying that the priest’s admonition to give witness rather than to straight-up teach "struck me as [being] a contemporary corollary to the advice of St. Francis -- to preach always and if necessary, to use words.” Deacon Schwoebel added that that he believes he can apply that concept in his ministry of directing two parish cemeteries where he is continuously present to widows and widowers. Another salient point Father Sperger made was about always be open to the movements of the Good Shepherd who desires us to take hold of his gifts and graces, Deacon Schwoebel said.
Similarly Deacon Mark Micali, who attended the convocation with his wife, Ann, remarked on how wonderful it was to see and speak with the many wives in attendance.
“It’s especially great that many wives share with others about their husband’s ministry and how they are an integral part of that ministry,” Deacon Micali said, adding that he was impressed with how Father Sperger “brought to life, the Scriptures and how sharing those various bullet point questions with others makes one reflect on how we can not only see Jesus in our daily lives, but also, how we can bring Him to others in many different ways.”
As he has in past years, Bishop O’Connell, following the Mass, addressed the deacons in which he gave updates on the diocesan Faith To Move Mountains and Faith In Our Future initiatives, and answered several questions including: if he anticipates the role of the deacon changing within the next 10 years; his observations on the way in which deacons minister in their respective parishes; the feasibility of deacons being able to conditionally administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and about the survey conducted on the celebration of marriage ceremonies outside a church setting.