Thirty Years a Deacon: “How Can This Be?”

Fr. Tom Henseler, Deacon Harry Clyde, Fr. Jack Smith, myself, Cardinal Hickey

A couple of days ago, on 25 March, I celebrated 30 years as a Deacon of the Catholic Church, ordained on 25 March 1990 by the late Cardinal James Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, DC. It was the Fourth Sunday of Lent as well as the traditional date for the Annunciation. Mary’s words, “How can this be?” resonate for anyone called to ordained ministry: each of us knows only to well our weaknesses, our sinfulness, our unworthiness.

The past 30 years have been filled with grace and blessing. In ways I never could have imagined thirty years ago, God has brought me into contact with God’s People in so many different places and situations. We have laughed and cried together (fortunately, I think the laughter has far outweighed the tears!), as together we try to walk the various paths we have been given, but paths that ultimately lead back to God.

With deep gratitude for these first thirty years, I thank God, my family, and the People of God, and I renew those promises made at ordination so many years ago, pledging to serve to the best of my abilities as long as God gives me strength to do so.

Holy Mary, Mother of Deacons, pray for us!


“Laudate Si'” and Deacons: Things to Ponder While Implementing the Encyclical


Pope Francis has issued his first encyclical letter to the world, Laudate Si’: On the Care of our Common Home.  For several weeks, even before its release, commentators within and outside the Church have been opining about its possible content, the magisterial weight of its teaching, and even on the role of the Holy Father (and indeed, any person of faith) on questions related to ecology and the environment.  In the hours since its release, commentary has exploded from every quarter.  I don’t intend to enter that fray until I’ve been able to read the entire document, but it might be helpful to consider how we, as deacons, might approach the study and implementation of the encyclical.  I offer a few suggestions.

  1. Try to set aside the political rhetoric of current US debates on global warming.

The encyclical is a part of the Church’s magisterium, not an expression of partisan politics.  This is not to say that the encyclical should not have an impact on our political landscape, but reading the Pope’s words through an American political lens will prevent us reaping the full benefit of the teaching.  Certainly, we should not be trying to “proof text” the encyclical to prove or disprove a particular political agenda.  In particular, as deacons, we should help the Holy Father’s words not be coopted by those who might “cherry pick” sections of the encyclical, while ignoring others, simply to meet a political end.

  1. Read the encyclical as part of the larger magisterium of the Church.

As the Pope has said repeatedly, this encyclical must be read and interpreted within the existing matrix of Catholic Social Teaching.  While there seems to be much within the text that has the Holy Father’s unique “voice,” the teaching it contains is in continuity with previous statements of the contemporary Church, including the Second Vatican Council (in particular, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), the papal magisterium (including Sts. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris and several teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), and various statements of national bishops’ conferences around the world.  We can best serve our communities, in my opinion, by helping people see the connectedness of the moral principles being addressed, a connectedness that shows the constant, recurring concern of the Church for God’s creation and our human responsibility for that creation.

  1. As deacons, how might our own ministries reflect this teaching?

What concrete steps might our own communities be encouraged to take in response to the encyclical?  Consider:

  1. Study groups among our adults and young people, actually reading the encyclical and not simply reports about it.
  2. Are there building projects in your parish right now? How ecologically responsible are those projects?  Are there ways that the building materials, energy sources, and so on might better reflect our concern for creation?
  3. How might our parishes and institutions throughout the Diocese form partnerships within the wider communities to improve our response to environmental concerns?

As deacons charged with being Heralds of the Good  News of Christ, we have a particular responsibility and a unique opportunity to serve in communicating, teaching, and acting on the provisions of the encyclical.