My Pentecost: tongues of flame, and the heat of a minor crucible

So, how was your Pentecost?  Here’s a window into the world of a deacon — or at least, this particular deacon.

Last Sunday, my pastor and I agreed that he would preach the “high” Mass on Pentecost, since at that Mass he was going to be doing the confirmations for about a dozen adults.  (My pastor has serious health problems, and I preach for him on many Sundays.) But later in the day, the Czech priest in residence at my parish pulled me aside and asked if I could preach for him on Pentecost Sunday.  His week was crowded with  deadlines and he struggles sometimes with English.  He could use the help.  I said sure.  “Which Mass?”  “That is bad part,” he said sheepishly.  “Early.  8:30.”  Okay, I replied.  I’ll do it.

Well, then things got interesting.  On Friday, another priest in the parish learned that his mother had died. The schedule of celebrants for the weekend changed.  And with that, I ended up being busier than usual.  Here’s a rundown:

Saturday 3:15 pm.  The sacristan calls.  “The boss is doing the 5,” he says, referring to the pastor.  “You should probably be there.”  I ask if the pastor is planning to preach.  “Dunno,” the sacristan replies.  “But you might want to prepare something just in case.”   I look at the clock and flip open my laptop and check the readings on the USCCB website.  As I suspected, the Vigil readings are different from the ones for Sunday.  My homily for Sunday wouldn’t really work.  To quote Scooby Doo: “Ruh roh.”  Whispering a prayer and taking a deep breath, I decide to take a crack at a quick homily.  I have just enough time to finish it, proof it, and read it aloud once (making a few modifications along the way) before finally printing out the finished version and dashing off to church.  I have no idea if it is even remotely coherent.

Saturday 4:45 p.m.  My pastor is surprised to see me arrive in the sacristy.  I explain that I’d gotten the call earlier in the day that he would be doing that Mass.  “Are you going to preach?,” he asks.  “I will if you want me to,” I say.  He narrows his eyes.  “That’s not answering my question.  Are you going to preach?”  Sure, I say.  And I do. The homily goes over just fine.  I head home after Mass to meet my wife for dinner.

Sunday 8:15 a.m. I arrive for the early Mass and throw on my dalmatic.  I won’t take it off for another five hours.

9:30 a.m. I finish up the 8:30 Mass.  The priest whose mother has died is, understandably, tired and stressed.  He asks if I can preach for him at the 10.  Sure.  I’m already vested and ready to go.  I reprise my homily from the 8:30.

When my pastor shows up at 11, he suggests that I preach again my homily from the night before, which I can’t really do — different readings, remember — but he sparks an idea. I take a pen and ruthlessly whack away at the text of the two homilies, rearrange some paragraphs, scribble some transitions, and create a messy Franken-homily, constructed of many stray parts.  I whisper a prayer to the Holy Spirit that somehow, some way, this mess in my hands will make sense in the pulpit.

11:55 a.m.  I deliver the hodgepodge Franken-homily and nobody throws any vegetables.  I hear the words coming of my mouth and they actually make perfect sense.  (Memo to Holy Spirit: whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough.)

12:45 p.m. The long Mass, complete with confirmations, ends as I process down the center aisle carrying the Paschal candle.  I’m roasting.  I can feel my tee shirt sticking to my skin.  The candle is dripping hot wax onto my hands.

I make it back to the sacristy and finally take off my dalmatic and alb, but stay at the parish to help with communion at the 1:15 Mass, the last one of the day.

2:45 p.m. With the switch in Masse celebrants, there’s also a last-minute switch in who will teach the monthly baptism class.  I take that on in the rectory basement — which, thank God, is air conditioned.

3:45 p.m I arrive home and take a nice long power coma.

Yet for all that, I was continually reminded of one beautiful, awesome, humbling truth: the Holy Spirit never lets us down. Ever.  What I said in my Pentecost homily — despite the daunting challenges we face, we are not alone — was abundantly in evidence all weekend.  I couldn’t have done any of that on my own.  The Counselor, Comforter and great Ghost Writer (Holy Ghost Writer?) undoubtedly made what seemed impossible possible.

Periodically, people will ask, “What’s the point of deacons, when we have so many lay people doing most of your work already?”  I can answer that in four words: the grace of orders.  There is an indefinable and elusive something that keeps the engine humming, the pistons pumping, the wheels turning.  I can’t explain it.  But this weekend, I experienced it.  Big time.

I’m sure there are others out there who can vouch for the Spirit’s surprising presence in their lives, in ways they can’t really put into words.  But speaking for myself, I’m happy and grateful to report: He’s real, and He’s there.

And I remain forever in His debt.

Comments

  1. Notgiven says:

    Beautiful! Yes, indeed, the Holy Spirit was with you.

  2. Deak Pete says:

    This is what happens when you prove you excel at something…

  3. Deacon Greg,

    I’m one of the strangest types of permanent deacon. I’m also a religious! A Benedictine monk since 2001 and a deacon since 2008, with no plans for presbyteral ordination. I’m probably the only permanent deacon in Ireland, but I know I’m not as ‘in the world’ as deacons with secular jobs, families etc. I’m glad that the first batch of proper permanent deacons will be ordained by the Archbishop of Dublin next week.

    I have an RSS feed to your blog and so see all your posts, but this one particularly struck me. What a wonderful testimony to the reality of your calling! Keep up the good work, brother!

    Martin OSB

  4. Thanks for your service!

    (Interesting re: the readings changing for the vigil Mass. Here in Canada it is optional to choose the different readings for Saturday, or to use the same ones as on the Sunday. As you might imagine, this made my life a lot easier for my 3 Masses this weekend. I wonder if it’s possible to apply the same thing in the USA?)

  5. Deacon Moore says:

    “Periodically, people will ask, “What’s the point of deacons, when we have so many lay people doing most of your work already?” I can answer that in four words: the grace of orders. There is an indefinable and elusive something that keeps the engine humming, the pistons pumping, the wheels turning. I can’t explain it. But this weekend, I experienced it. Big time.”

    I’m sure all of us who have acquired the first name, DEACON, know exactly what you went through this weekend and the reason we do what we do is because of the “grace of orders”. And then, having the Spirit with us doesn’t hurt one bit either.

    Who knew when the Bishop put his hands on us that this is where we’d be, but I’m guessing not one of us would change a single moment.

    Peace.

  6. Deacon Lou Malfara says:

    Greg, thanks for sharing. I have been in this situation any number of times over the last 18 years. It is a blessing that your pastor and the other priests have so much confidence in you. They need your help and God blesses you greatly. Thankfully, I’ve been able to cut back as I near retirement. God bless, Deacon Lou Malfara, Phila, Pa.

  7. “…who have acquired the first name, DEACON….” Really? As deacons at their ordination to the presbyterate and some priests at their ordination to the episcopate, you were given a title at your ordination, not a new name. Surely, your wife/children/relatives/co-workers/neighbors and friends still call you by your baptismal name. Or should I ask, do they?

  8. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    True story.

    When I was working as a news director in Brooklyn, one of the first people I hired was a gal who had only known me, really, as “The Deacon.” Her first day on the job, the phone rings. She picks it up and calls out, “Is there a GREG here? Anybody work here who’s named GREG? Anybody at all?”

    I had to tap her on the shoulder. “That would be me.” She was mortified and nearly crawled under the desk :-) She never made the connection between “Deacon” and “Greg.” To this day, she and a lot of my former colleagues still call me just plain “Deac.”

    So, yeah. I can relate to the commenter. It’s rare nowadays that someone talks to me at work, at church, or in the supermarket without appending “Deacon” to the beginning of my name. I’ve even joked about it myself and called it “my new first name.” If I even hear the word “beacon” or sometimes “bacon,” I perk up and look to see who’s calling me (though, I admit, the bacon part may be for other reasons…)

    My wife, though, still calls me “Greg.” (And a few other choice names, when necessary.)

    DGK

  9. Gary Murray says:

    No offense, but the priests in the parish need to communicate with you better.
    Can’t they call.

    And the Czech priest had just 1 Mass on Sunday?
    And, he couldn’t find something to say something about the Holy Spirit?

    But, remember, you don’t have to preach “on the specific readings.”
    You can preach on doctrinal topics tied to the feast day.

  10. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    1. Yes, they do need to communicate better. I’m always the last to hear about anything.
    2 The Czech priest has an apostolate in Queens; he goes to another parish to say Mass for them in Czech.
    3. I wasn’t anticipating preaching at four Masses on two days. I wasn’t even supposed to preach at one. Stuff happens.

    DGK

  11. I have to confess, one of my first thoughts was, “Dang– three priests at one parish?” Out here in the Midwest, it’s the other way around…

    I’ve heard a number of people say that the vocations crisis won’t be confronted seriously until things are this bad “out East”…

    Nonetheless, I’m glad to see your gifts recognized and used for the benefit of the whole body.

  12. Wow. Power coma indeed. Really great story. Nice work!

    It reminds me of my childhood. My dad was (well, IS) a Lutheran minister, and Sunday afternoons are indeed ‘power coma’ time. :) I’m going to relate this story to my dad. He’ll love it.

    @Gary:
    “No offense, but the priests in the parish need to communicate with you better.
    Can’t they call.”

    True enough, but as my dad always says, clergy are overworked and underpaid (or in the case of a Roman Catholic deacon, NOT paid, n’est-ce pas?) . Always cut them some slack. :)

    And anyway the virtues of a good minister are not necessarily the same as a good ad-ministrator. Sometimes a good pastor is also a good admin. But sometimes, not so much. :)

  13. Paul Gutting says:

    Deacon Greg,
    What a blessing your parish has in you. I preached this weekend as well. As usual I get a smattering of nice homily deacon comments after mass which are great to hear but I always worry about being singled out. At my last mass I decided to let the Spirit flow mainly because we were honoring a youth director for her 17 years of service. I came down from the Altar and did the homily from the floor of the church. Since I was not miked let us say I hit the sermon with gusto. I got lost in the story of the spirit being alive and working in the church I was using an example from my life. When I concluded my homily I received an ovation. After mass my Pastor exploded. 27 minutes you talked. I had no idea. I agree 27 minutes is way too long, yet I worry that giving your parish only 7-10 minutes a week to help them connect the dots between the church and their life is insufficient for the parishioners. We are under attack yet their seems to be a great concern for keeping the mass under an hour. BTW I feel the same way about always opting for the short readings? Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Any suggestions for a great book on Homilectic Mechanics?

  14. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Thanks, Paul. The ticking clock is one reason (among many) why I usually work with a text :-)

    Two very good books on preaching that I encountered just after ordination: “How to Make Homilies Better, Briefer and Bolder” by Fr. Alfred McBride…and “Preaching Better” by the late Bishop Ken Untener.

    For kicks, there’s also this piece that I wrote last year about how I prepare my homilies.

    Good luck!

    DGK

  15. Dcn Luis says:

    What a red letter day, brother Deac! Since you’ve closed comments for the summer I thought I would try here. I know that ugliness often crops up in the comments but I for one will miss them. If it was not for comments I would not get the wisdom of Deacon Bill and Dr. Peters just to name 2.

    Have a good summer and if God wills you will return to us the privilege of commenting.
    in Christ,
    Dcn Luis

  16. oldestof9 says:

    11:15 – Made me Laugh right Out Loud.

    Yet more foder for my homilies.
    Thankis, Deacon Greg.

  17. I just finished my homiletics class, and one of the deacons responsible for our formation recommended the Book “Heaven is Like” by Jay Cormier (http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Like-Writing-Preparing-Delivering/dp/1580510728). I started reading it this weekend, and it presents a great model for developing brief, powerful homilies. His copy was dogeared and you can tell that he has referred back to it many times over the years.

  18. Deacon Luis: Be sure to check out Deacon Bill’s blog:

    http://pilgrimsfootsteps.blogspot.com/

    Lots of good insights there!!!

  19. Dcn Luis says:

    Joe M.,
    I am aware of Dcn Bill’s blog but guess what happened today?
    “Tuesday, May 29, 2012
    Signing Off. . . at least for now
    Gentle Readers,

    As has been obvious, I have found it increasingly difficult to post on this blog with any regularity for quite some time. “

  20. Art ND'76 says:

    Thanks for sharing your Pentecost this year – it sounds both exhausting and wonderful. It was a clear reminder to me of that which I have experienced before – the humanity of those in pastoral leadership – and the willing hard work on the part of others to serve them in trying situations.

    I, too, will miss some of the comments. Believe it or not, one of the big reasons I frequent this blog is for the comments. Also, believe it or not, the comments here are WAY more sane and civil than elsewhere (in contrast, any major news web page seems to attract lots of comments that are both uninformed and ad hominem in nature, not to mention those that are just vulgar). Just to repeat myself, I find the majority of the comments here to be very reasonable by comparison. If that is largely a result of your own efforts to keep it that way, thank you.

  21. Since I’ve been on the parish staff (and ‘on duty’ just about every weekend throughout all the Masses), I’ve grown in such appreciation for the Holy Spirit pouring over so many priests, deacons, liturgy directors, lectors, ushers, altar servers, musicians, choirs, cantors, catechists, DREs and RCIA directors (such as myself). Unless you’re ‘in the trenches’ like that, you really have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. This is why every day, I pray (by name) for all our staff and the people who lead our various Sunday ministries in particular.
    Thank God your parish has you, Deacon Greg, — and your homilies have inspired me to teach better on Sundays at our RCIA dismissals.
    Many a time, I’ve been ‘at the ready’ or teaching from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., then again from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. We live 20 minutes from our parish, and often I would drive home JUST to lie down and ask God to help give me the energy and the words I needed for the next class. I can only imagine how difficult it is for our clergy. Sunday is the most powerful and draining day of the week…but love for those who need to hear the Word of God anew, keep one going.
    As others have expressed, I thank you,Deacon Greg, for your blog — I, too, have refrained from viewing comment for quite a while (there are other Catholic blogs I visit at which I can read comments to my heart’s content — but I do pick and choose which comment boxes I open. Things have gotten quite toxic. Good for you for abstaining for awhile. Perhaps until after the elections? :)
    Praying for you, Deacon. Every day.

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