Class of Twenty-Twenty-Something

Now that the “cat’s out of the bag” and has been officially communicated to the clergy of our diocese, I can say a few words about how our diaconate “class of 2020” is now the “class of 2021” or (as we started to say) “2020-something”.

We started as the smallest diaconate class in the history of our diocese – 7 men – and through the spring, two men discerned their way out of the calling and the program, leaving our class with just 5 men.

Our formation team discussed with us on our retreat last weekend the current situation and their desire to re-open our class for new applicants to become new aspirants. The new aspirants would apply and go through interviews and vetting this fall, start an abbreviated aspirancy in January, and then join with our class entering candidacy next summer.

In the meantime, our class’s academic formation will pause through the fall. We’ll still receive and begin pastoral assignments later this summer, and still meet monthly for spiritual and pastoral formation, and theological reflection.

It means that it extends our formation by about a year, and pushes out ordination a bit for those who end up called to ordination. But it’s a journey, and it’s a good one, and I think my classmates and I have come to peace with this, and are ready to move forward and meet the rest of our class!

So… do you know a possible candidate who might be interested in applying for aspirancy? Do you think you or someone you know has perceived a call to the diaconate? Please grab the announcement letter and the brochure that our director has released… and if you’d like, I’d be more than happy to talk with you personally about it too. I’d even give you a ride to the informational meeting on July 31 if you were interested.

Please join me in praying for my classmates, and praying for some more great candidates for ministry in our diocese.

Seven-Deacons

I Can’t Imagine

Prayers for Matt & Melissa Graves & family

As I read the devastatingly sad news from Orlando of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was pulled into the lagoon by an alligator and drowned, I’m overcome by intense fatherly sadness, but struck by a single line of the story:

“Demings said he and a Catholic priest relayed the news of the discovery to the boy’s parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who were on vacation with their son and 4-year-old daughter from Elkhorn, Nebraska.”

This is the second time since entering diaconate formation that my heart was drawn to the fact that a member of the clergy was there to deliver the news and be with the family in that moment. The last time this came up in a story, Suzanne and I talked about it at great length. She was drawn to the sadness of the story itself, and I was drawn to the presence of the sacred minister.

I can’t imagine the pain and sadness that Matt and Melissa Graves are feeling right now, but I join with countless others in prayer for them and for their family. I also can’t yet imagine what it might be like to be there with them and for them, but I’m curious what I will learn as my formation journey continues to prepare me to be of service to God’s people in different ways, that may include moments like this in my lifetime.

Without a doubt, in times like this, I can see the wisdom of the Church in balancing formation between its four core elements: spiritual, human, pastoral, and academic. Surely, all four dimensions are called upon deeply and put to their test in a moment like this.

Prayers for the Graves family.

Diaconate Retreat 2016 (Photos)

Chiara Center, Riverton, IL

From June 9-13, 2016, our class of diaconate aspirants had our annual retreat. These photos are from our time at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Riverton, Illinois, just outside of Springfield.

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Retreat! #ThankfulThursday

Starting this afternoon, I’ll be offline and away through Sunday for our annual diaconate formation retreat. I’m looking forward to this time away with my brother classmates as we prepare to seek candidacy this fall, and as we join with the class ahead of us who are on their final retreat before ordination in two weeks.

After the roller coaster ride that was last weekend… playing music at a funeral, Sacred Heart devotions, and my final two Masses as music director, including a baptism and a first communion… leaving for retreat this weekend surely constitutes a valid #ThankfulThursday!

I’m grateful for the opportunity for this retreat, and for the accommodations that the diocese is providing for us at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Springfield.

I will be keeping you – my family and friends – and your intentions in my prayers during this time. Please keep me in yours.

I have my copy of Coming Down the Mountain (affiliate link, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy) ready for when I return home. I think I’ll get a good run out of it this time.

Our formation team and the class ahead of us kept telling us that the church at the Chiara Center is amazing… one of the most beautiful in our diocese. I can’t wait to see it in person! Here are a few pictures of St. Francis Church at the Chiara Center that members of the class ahead of us posted last night (their retreat started a day earlier):

Taken by Mike Melton two years ago (that’s Neil Suermann sitting in the church):

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Taken by Rick Schnetzler last night:

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Bittersweet

I made it through a really rough last weekend as music director & organist at my home parish. My eyes didn’t water too much (but I’ll admit they did a little) and my handkerchief didn’t get too wet.

There’s a weird feeling of emptiness that I kept feeling. So many thoughts that kept running through my heart and mind… stuff like:

Don’t cry… You’ll be okay… You’re really going to miss this… I’m feeling so empty… Jesus, fill me up… Jesus, please fill me… I need your grace… Help me… Don’t look at them… Now they’re crying… Fill me up… 

It kept coming down to me praying, “Fill me up”, as my chest felt empty, and then a feeling of peace that would wash over me. A few times, I knew I heard a voice speaking to me, “Something greater is in store.”

Then I’d have thoughts like:

Why are you having such a hard time with this? This was never YOURS anyway. This isn’t for you. This is for Him. Thank you. Fill me up… Something greater is in store.

It was a blessing to be joined by so many friends and singers who had been with me through the years… (Art would have been there too, but they had already booked a family vacation through the weekend). This is my music family:

And Suzanne brought the boys up to the loft for both Masses… we got one last picture of me with the boys at the organ:

As it was written, though – as it relates to my music ministry, “It is finished.”

I look forward to my first diaconate retreat this coming weekend.

I trust that something greater is in store.

See You in the Eucharist #ThankfulThursday

A farewell open letter to Holy Family

Appropriate for a #ThankfulThursday, because of how thankful I am for this chapter of my life…

Dear Holy Family parish – Father Jeff, Father Stone, musicians, singers, staff, parishioners, friends…

Music ministry at Holy Family has been at the heart of my life, my faith life, and my family for as long as I can remember. I remember taking my first 16-key Casio keyboard to St. Margaret Mary School in 2nd grade to try to pluck out John Foley’s One Bread, One Body by ear for show and tell. In middle school, Mr. Vizer successfully talked me into playing a duet with him at the school Christmas program.

In 7th grade, I remember John Huff asking me, after seeing me at a piano recital, if I’d come play with the guitar group at the church. Shortly thereafter, he asked if he could put a microphone in front of me. I said, “I only sing in the shower,” and he replied, “I could rig a shower up over you too.”

For six years I played with the guitar groups, and then in my college years I fell away from the faith a bit. Years later, after I had returned to the Church, I heard that a priest that I had connected with was heading to my home parish of Holy Family. I remember calling Jeanne Schnefke and asking if the guitar group was still around and could use a keyboardist again. I remember her immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!”

Within the next year, we had formed an offshoot “ensemble” which started taking on more responsibilities around the parish. I remember when we were starting and Carol Reagan called and said, “We’ll all be there to sing with you. You just tell us when and where.” I remember Frances & Mario Rossi & Rich Koerper’s, “You want to try a youth-oriented group? Let’s try it!” The next 15 years or so, until today, have been a whirlwind of joy, happiness, friendship, and accomplishment in ministry. I remember magnificent Advent concerts joining our adult choir & ensemble. I remember re-meeting Suzanne here after a Wednesday night practice and Mass, leading to our marriage and family. I remember Christmas Eves and Triduums.

You don’t really keep count when starting on a journey like this, but some rough math tells me that in the last 15 years, I’ve had the honor of helping lead our community in song at some 1,500 liturgies – Sunday Masses, weddings, funerals, graduations, Confirmations, Anointing Masses, and more.

Now, I must say “farewell” to this chapter of my life in order to move on to the next to which I believe I am called. As I progress into years two through four of the diaconate formation program, I am excited to go where our diocese chooses to send me to help me grow in my parish experiences and pastoral ministry. This change carries the bitterness of a “goodbye” to my music ministry at Holy Family, but the happiness and excitement of the future that could come.

I will miss climbing the stairs to the choir loft a few times each week. I will miss the friends in the choir loft – and now my own sons playing instruments and singing with the ensemble and choir. I will miss our parish community, and our liturgies, and hearing the sound of you singing along loudly from the pews. (Yes, we can often hear it in the loft!)

THANK YOU to all of those who came and went through the years: Carol, John, Judy, Mario & Frances, Carolyn, Art, Kristin, Katie, Tracy, Jacqui, Suzanne, Leta, Kathy, Steve, Charlie, Jeff & Gay, Jeff, Doug, Maggi, Mary Jo, Richard, Misty, Justin, Joe, Chris, Thomas & Matthew. THANK YOU to Pat, my partner in music and ministry, and the adult choir. THANK YOU to the pastors I’ve had the pleasure of serving. THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us, especially Suzanne and our boys and our whole family.

Holy Family is my home – it will remain our family’s home. I’ll just be away learning more about how to help serve our Church in new ways. I won’t be gone entirely, though, and still look forward to being around from time to time at Masses, events, dinners, school events, and the like.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to be a servant – a servant in music ministry – to you for so many wonderful years. Know that you remain in my daily prayers, and I beg you to please keep me in yours.

I recall the words of a long-time friend of mine, Father Steve Arisman, who said something like, “I don’t believe in saying ‘goodbye’ – I say, ‘I will see you in the Eucharist.” Because when we are gathered at Mass, no matter where we are or when it is, we are all joined together in the mystical Body of Christ formed through the ages. I will see you in the Eucharist!

With love and prayers,
Michael

Open My Eyes

Discernment & a song as a sign

Signpost in the Mountain - iStock.com/Mimadeo

Signpost in the Mountain – iStock.com/Mimadeo

Fifteen or so years ago, when I had returned to church and was starting to seriously discern God’s will for my life and vocation, a certain song hit a chord with me and became deeply intertwined with my prayer life and discernment. The song was Jesse Manibusan’s Open My Eyes:

There were nights that I drove around, praying the words. One night in particular, after leaving an evening of coffee and Scrabble with Suzanne, “praying” that song opened my heart to God and helped me clearly “hear” and understand that marriage with Suzanne was my first vocation.

Signs in my Life

I’ve always been fortunate enough to stay keenly tuned into the little “signs” that pop up around me in everyday life, and I act a lot by gut (within reason) based upon those signs. I could list countless examples of signs that came at just the right time to help me understand that something was right, or that I was heading in the right direction, or that I should explore a new opportunity.

Diaconate Weekend #5 – Let’s Pray for Each Other

This weekend is a diaconate formation weekend for my classmates and me. We’ll be studying “Prayer & Sacramental Participation”.

I’m going to try to remember to share when I’m away on these weekends, and ask you, in the charity of your own prayers, to please lift my classmates and me up in your prayers during these formation weekends.

In turn, I will be remembering you and keeping your intentions in prayer during our Holy Hour on the Friday night of the weekends. If there’s a particular intention you’d like me to keep in prayer, please comment with it here or message it to me privately.

N.B.: This first year is an introductory year – the four years that follow carry more intense college-level academic studies. This year’s topics include:

  • September: Introduction to Discernment
  • October: Introduction to Theological Reflection
  • November: Introduction to Spiritual Direction
  • December: Pastoral Identity, Skills, and Boundaries
  • January: Prayer & Sacramental Participation
  • February: Evangelization & Ecumenism
  • March: Research & Writing
  • April & May: Philosophy (formal academic coursework begins)
  • June: Retreat

Prayers for the Start of a Journey

For more than ten years – since I re-met my wife, started dating her, realized my vocation to marriage with her, and started a family with her – since I stopped considering what I had thought might have been a call to the Catholic priesthood, I’ve contemplated and discerned a possible call to the diaconate.

It’s important to note that that’s not a “replacement” calling – it’s an entirely different calling. The deacon is not ordained for the same sacramental realities that the priest is; and, in fact, a permanent deacon who is married has other sacramental realities that are priorities in his life as well, by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage. The diaconate has been ill-served in recent years by our Catholic faithful perceiving it as an “other” calling than the priesthood, though – it is in line with the priesthood, but a lower order; it is charged with helping to preach the Word (in word and action), offering the prayers of the Church, serving (but not as a priest) at the altar, and leading in taking that service and call of the Word into the world.

From time to time, the whisper that I think might be a calling gets louder, or sometimes quieter. But it’s always, undeniably, there. There’s a certain fear that comes along with it – not a fear of what accepting that call might bring, but rather a fear of whether what I’m feeling and hearing is truly a call at all. The simple fear of discerning “incorrectly” is a very, very strong fear.

That said, a few weeks ago, a series of signs happened in my life (again.) First, this – a comment thread when a priest of our diocese posted a link to a study our diocese recently co-released with Benedictine University on why some Catholics stop practicing their faith, and why others remain:

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That’s the first time the cat’s truly been “out of the bag”, as they say, other than with my wife.

Then, that weekend, the homily at Mass was very much about not withholding your knowledge, gifts and talents when you’re called to share them.

Then, that same weekend, this appeared in our parish bulletin:

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Then, I had some intense prayer around the time of my own patronal feast, the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels.

After discussing with my wife, we decided to attend. As it ended up, another good friend and his wife from our parish are also going. It should be a nice trip to our Cathedral (about 1 1/2 hours north) to find out more together.

I don’t know where this first step on this journey might lead. I don’t know if I’ll apply, if I’ll be accepted, if I’ll go all the way. But I know I’m saying my first “Yes” at this moment.

This Sunday’s Gospel is the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In the parable, the king continued to send messengers to invite his countrymen to the wedding feast for his son. Many repeatedly ignored the invitation. I hope that, if I’m truly being called, that I am aided by grace in knowing what to do and when. Also in the parable, when one man showed up for the feast, he was clothed inappropriately and thrown out. I pray that if I’m truly chosen, I’m able to be, and remain, clothed in grace and a life worthy of this calling.

IMG_20140930_165910By grace, I just recently noticed something interesting about this print that hangs just to the side of my desk in my home office.

Joseph, the dad hard at work in his shop, with his son (Jesus) playing at his feet, bears the sash over the left shoulder of his tunic – the sash of a deacon.

When we talked about the meeting with our boys at dinner last week, it was a great conversation.

The next morning, while driving somewhere in the car, our second, Matthew, said, “Dad, I think you’d be a good deacon, because you love God, you know so much about Him, and you love to pray Morning Prayer every day.”

That sums it up, I think – if this calling is real and true, I feel deeply that it’s in part because God has given me so much love, passion, and knowledge to help serve effectively: the Word, at the altar, and in the world. Such is what I know to be the service of a deacon.

Mary, ask Jesus your Son for grace and guidance for me, please.

Friends, please pray for Suzanne, the boys, and me.