Deacons, Lay Ministers make retreat together

LOUISVILLE – Deacons Ted Schreck and John McGregor; Paula Fulton, Lay Ecclesial Minister for Louisville Sacred Heart, and Deacon Jeff Artigues, take notes at their retreat. (Photo by Pam Minninger.)

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Lay Ecclesial Ministers (LEMs) and deacons from the Diocese of Jackson made a retreat Wednesday, August 23-26 at Lake Tiak O’Kahata. This is the first time the two groups have retreated together, but probably not the last.
The Diocese of Jackson has a committee for continuing formation that helps make spiritual and educational opportunities available to its ministers. This group planned the gathering. Deacons and priests are required to make a retreat annually while LEMs are strongly encouraged to do so. The priests usually make their retreat during the Easter season. The diocese used to offer a retreat for LEMs, but the practice had fallen off in recent years.
Committee members thought gathering the lay ministers and deacons would be good for both groups. Deacon James Keating from the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University led the retreat with the theme interior life and ministry.
“We talked a lot about contemplative prayer,” said Pam Minninger, LEM at Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish. She said Deacon Keating used the analogy of training a puppy to sit. “When we get to a point in prayer that’s hard, we don’t stay long enough to let God sit, stay and heal. He used heal instead of heel for the image,” she explained. “He told us we need to bring our hurts and needs to God and sit with him long enough to let him reveal to us where they are coming from and let God pour himself into those hurts,” she added.
The retreat itself was structured to let the participants do just that. The group took breaks for contemplation, daily Mass and attended Eucharistic Adoration every night. “Deacon Keating gave us what we needed to dig deeper into ourselves,” Janice Stansell, LEM for Crystal Springs St. John Parish. She said attending adoration with her fellow ministers was especially moving.
“This let us take some time to gather what we need to do the work of Jesus in the church,” said Stansell. She said she truly appreciated that the gathering was entirely for spiritual enrichment. Stansell likes the workshops and meetings she has with fellow ministers, but thinks this kind of gathering is essential. “We don’t see each other all the time, and when we do we are usually in ‘work mode,’” she explained.
Deacon John McGregor agreed. He said it was good for the deacons and lay ministers to hear about one another’s ministries and get to know the “reality of the Catholic Church in Mississippi,” particularly the difference between larger and smaller parishes. “It was good for us to hear about the whole character of the Diocese of Jackson,” said the deacon, who is working with the diocese on putting together a new class of deacon candidates.
He also found the theme of the retreat to be a good reminder for his prayer life. “We do need to sit in prayer, but we are thinking, ‘I need to mow the lawn, I need to call that lady back.’ All those things rob us of our prayer, so one of the things we have to discipline ourselves to do is to stay in prayer,” he said.
“This was probably the best retreat I have been to in a long time,” said Deacon Denzil Lobo, who also the ecclesial minister for Jackson Christ the King Parish. He and five other men were ordained as permanent deacons a little more than a year ago. They had all spent five years in formation for ordination, which included some intense theological studies. “This retreat offered nothing academic. It was purely spiritual development,” he said. “It gave us time to work on our spirituality, to reflect on how to be leaders and how to minister,” he added.
One of the questions he found enlightening was when Deacon Keating asked “how do you help people let Jesus love them?” He also enjoyed being with his fellow deacons and lay ministers. He just began working at Christ the King so he was able to build some relationships with other ecclesial ministers.
Everyone interviewed for the story hopes the retreat becomes an annual tradition for the diocese and all expressed thanks to Bishop Joseph Kopcaz and the other priests who celebrated Masses during the week.

LOUISVILLE – Deacons Ted Schreck and John McGregor; Paula Fulton, Lay Ecclesial Minister for Louisville Sacred Heart, and Deacon Jeff Artigues, take notes at their retreat. (Photo by Pam Minninger.)

Service as deacons makes better priests

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The ordinations to the transitional diaconate of Nick Adam and Aaron Williams were joyful celebrations for all who have nurtured their vocations throughout their lives. Most of all we are grateful to their families of origin, and especially their parents, who planted the seed of faith in baptism and raised them in such loving ways that they were open to the call of the Lord Jesus to follow him in the vocation of ordained ministry.
Surrounding the newly ordained deacons and their families at Saint Patrick’s in Meridian and in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson were many others who accompanied them through the years. Seminarians and faculty, priests and deacons, parishioners from around the diocese and friends, all part of the Body of Christ, the people of God, who embraced them in a joyful expression of faith, hope and love in both Eucharistic liturgies.
On the path to priesthood the transitional diaconate passes quickly and Deacons Nick and Aaron then will be ordained as priests for the Diocese of Jackson. Yet the enduring character of the diaconate will remain as a distinguishing mark of the priesthood. They have been configured to Christ the Servant as deacons and will strive each day by God’s grace to follow the Lord who came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20,28) As I have done, so you must do, (John 13,15) are the timeless words of Jesus at the Last Supper after he washed the feet of his disciples.
They will serve the Lord in a threefold manner: in his Word, as heralds of the Gospel and preachers, as ministers of the sacred mysteries at the altar and as dedicated disciples of charity and goodness in manifold ways. This ministry of service will deepen their call to become priests who will be servant-leaders with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.
Deacon Nicholas Adam was ordained on the feast of Saint Patrick, March 17, and the name of the great missionary apostle to Ireland was added to the Litany of Saints. Besides the gift of corned beef on a Friday in Lent, the gift of Saint Patrick’s inspiring words nourished the Eucharistic celebration of ordination. Like the Irish missionary who came from elsewhere to evangelize and serve, so Deacon Nick has embraced the people of Mississippi, having come from another land to the east.
Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that you worked through me with such divine power? You did it, so that whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God. God is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of the Gospel, bearing witness to all the nations.
Heralds of Good News indeed. The ordained deacon is given the Gospel of Christ at the culmination of the ordination ceremony to bear witness to the nations in the 21st century. “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.”
On the following day Deacon Aaron Williams was ordained at the Saturday evening liturgy of the third Sunday of Lent. As the Gospel of John narrates, Jesus sat down to rest at Jacob’s well at the same time the Samaritan woman arrived with her bucket. As we know the encounter transformed the train wreck of this woman’s life. She arrived dragging her bucket in the noon day heat which we know a little bit about in our Mississippi summers, and departed with winged feet into her new life as a missionary disciple. She understood that the Messiah did not need a bucket to immerse her in the spring of water welling up to eternal life. She is our paradigm during Lent as we thirst for the Lord to stir the waters of our own Baptism, knowing that he is already waiting before we arrive.
Another outstanding saint invoked during the Litany of Saints in the ordination liturgy is Saint Ephrem, a deacon of the Eastern Church who lived in the fourth century. He loved the liturgy and composed an enormous compilation of hymns and poetry which are replete with biblical wisdom and theology. He is a fitting intercessor for Aaron who loves the liturgy and has also written liturgical pieces. The following is from the works of Saint Ephrem and we recognize the harmony with the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

The breath that wafts from some blessed comer of Paradise
gives sweetness to the bitterness of this region,
it tempers the curse on this earth of ours.
That Garden is the life-breath of this diseased world
that has been so long in sickness; that breath proclaims that a saving remedy
has been sent to heal our mortality.

Thus it is with another spring, full of perfumes,
which issues from Eden and penetrates into the atmosphere
as a beneficial breeze by which our souls are stirred;
our inhalation is healed by this healing breath from Paradise;
springs receive a blessing from that blessed spring which issues forth from there.
‘If you knew the Gift of God’ are the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman revealing his deep thirst for her faith and salvation. We celebrate the Gift of God through faith, and the hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5,5) May the Lord renew our faith during this season of Lent as we follow the Samaritan woman from darkness into the light of a new day.