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.