I have had a quite unique experience.
During the period of my diaconal formation and continuing during the first 4 years of diaconal life, I have witnessed the then approaching death of two very holy deacons. Reverend Deacon George J Collins died on May 6th, 2011. Reverend Deacon William H. Cresswell died on May 27, 2015. In the case of Deacon Bill, I was honored to be present and praying for his safe passage even at his last breath.
Deacons George and Bill were dedicated to their ordination and public ministry.
Service during incapacitation – George
I remember once visiting Deacon George in the hospital. I cannot recall the reason for his hospitalization but I do recall the multiple IV bags hanging from the pole and running into his arm. In the years leading up to that day I had been working for Deacon George in the various ministries he was responsible for at the parish. Almost absent minded I asked George, ‘Do you think it is time to retire?’ George responded, ‘I am waiting for a sign from the Lord’. Without a pause I asked, ‘Don’t you think this is the sign – the person to be taking over your ministry is standing next to you with you in a hospital bed with an IV drip in your arm?’
I guess subtly is not my usual play.
We went on from there continuing to serve until it was clear it was time to stop. His daughter came to claim him and bring him home to her household to enjoy the time to come.
When George and were discussing his exodus he assured me he would continue to serve with holding bible studies and other home based ministry. He never stopped wanting to serve the Lord.
He died within a few months.
His last writing only weeks before he died can be found here: https://deacongeorgecollins.webs.com//Documents/To%20Pay%20the%20Debt.pdf
Service during incapacitation – William
Deacon Bill was a holy deacon as well. Deacon Bill serves without complaint even if there was a lot one could complain about!
Whenever he was asked how things were, he would always respond ‘Wonderful!’
Deacon Bill had Parkinson’s disease. If memory serves he suffered a decline that lasted about 5 years. It was difficult for him and his very supportive adult children. Time and again I would visit Bill and we would have long and private conversations about the gift of suffering and dedicating one’s suffering for Christ. He was uniquely called to devote his suffering for the world and I suspect great graces have been dispensed to us from his willingness to see his pain as something beautiful contained within the passion of the Lord.
Many times when he served the Altar he would lift the chalice during the elevation of the elements. His hand was uncertain at best and ire call praying most fervently for him and the Church that his hand and arm remain strong that no scandal would result from a spill. Always his hand would straighten like a bar of steel. To this day I recall his courage as service unto the end.
I was praying the prayer of commendation over Bill at 8:45 AM on May 27th 2015 and reciting the Hail, holy Queen… when I reached ‘that he may be made worthy of the promises of Christ’ he drew his last breath.
Tough Act to Follow
I don’t think I will do the same.
For me I see decisions to serve after being informed of serious health issues should contain a certain degree of discernment and discovery.
What can I do, one might ask? What is different than before? What is best for the transitions?
For me I see the infinite possibilities of diaconal service in non-traditional ways that break out of the existing framework and bring one to the marginalized that much more closely.
I don’t hold my diaconal ordination as a thing to be possessed but a gift to be dispossessed. In fact I will say the Permanent Diaconate is a bridge between the Church of the 21st century and the 22nd century. Not long after will we see the married priesthood and ordained deaconesses. I am certain that the permanent is in fact a different transitional diaconate based on the needs of the Church in a specific time of her history.
With that framework in mind what to do?
By the way, it’s not like I have a timeline in mind. That is the point. There is no timeline only capacity and competency. Knowing incapacity is coming what is the Spirit calling me to do?
For now I will keep my counsel. In fact since my blog is not actually read this is almost my personal diary at this point!
What should I unwind?
My first instinct is to complete the projects already in flight in the Philippine and Haiti. In each case ending them so to speak at a good place seems the tidy thing to do. Like Deacon George train and hand over my local ministry to competent parishioner lay persons. These steps seem fairly obvious.
I need to unwind some dreams too. Travel to Rome to study (not a big tourist person but rather to read and study in the bosom of the Church). Day dreams of various ministries that have always captivated my spirit and to stretch and expand my otherness with Christ. These too must be put aside.
I read Pope Benedict XVI Declaratio (10 February 2013) announcing his resignation of the Bishop of Rome hoping to gain some insights. It isn’t that same thing but it was worth a look.
What should I wind up?
Ah, the fun part!
Can we fail to quote the saying ‘When the Lord closes a door he opens a window’?
Returning to making Music as from my youth. I love music and making music. I plan to practice and perform where uplifting. This is fruitful living.
Deepening the Prayer and learning from Deacon Bill the necessity for a deacon to offer gift in suffering.
Continue teaching school as a profession. While still practical I think I would like to continue. What a great transition our teens need to witness less fear of the future and more embracing life as life.
Continue Clinical Pastoral Care as a practice. I am certain (as much as one can be at times like this) that Lord wants me to continue to minister to the sick and dying.
Most of all I will enjoy the silence that comes from ignoring the world and its distractions and seeing the kingdom already present among us.