A Deacon’s Life and Vocation – Part II

Sharon, MA. I am happy to offer here Part Two of Deacon Mike Iwanowicz's reflection on the Church, its problems and possibilities, as seen in light of his nearly 35 years of ordained ministry. It builds on the personal memories placed before us in Part One, and pushes the issues further. I am grateful to Deacon Mike for taking the time to write these reflections, and please add your comments as you see fit, in light of the points he raises.

A Deacon’s Life and Vocation – Part II

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On Sunday, Sept. 5, as a guest blogger for Fr. Clooney I wrote briefly on my life’s journey (1938 – the present). Having identified myself as a product of the pre and post world war decades and one who was baptized and confirmed in the era of the pre-Vatican II church, now serving the church as a deacon (ordained in 1976; widowed in 1991), I would like to comment on two areas of critical dialogue in the church of today and tomorrow.

Inclusivity in Church Ministry

There arevoices throughout the church calling for a more inclusive church – use of gender neutral language, optional celibacy, women’s ordination, etc. As a church that is rooted in the sacraments, we invite all who follow Christ to receive the grace of the sacraments. Yet, the sacrament of Holy Orders is an exclusive giving and receiving. Canon Law (# 1024) states that “…Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination."

Despite the continuing request for dialogue to reform canon 1024, the institutional church has closed all opportunities for dialogue. Yet, voices are heard and will be a continuing reminder of the exclusive nature of this vocation. I suspect that a dynamic exists whereby the movement from a totally exclusive ministry inherent in the liturgy to our current mix of exclusive and inclusive could force change. Let’s remember the ministers at liturgy some 65 years ago.

In 1947, as an altar boy serving mass, I remember the only people inside the altar rail (the sanctuary) were the priest and other altar servers (only boys). There were no lectors or other ministers.

In 2010, at a typical weekend mass in Sharon, there will be a lector reading the scriptures (male or female), altar servers (girls or boys), folks leading the congregation in song, men or women assisting in the distribution of communion, and (optionally) a deacon.

The face of ministry has become vastly and vitally different.But, the question of listening to the voices for further reform remains. I believe that the institutional church cannot avoid calling a council to address the nature of ordination and the discipline around celibacy. The face of ministry is in continuous change.

Decision making in the Operation of the Church

A principle that guided the implementation of the Novus Ordo (The mass promulgated by Pope Pius VI) concerned the “full and active participation in of the congregation in the Liturgy’. Perhaps that principle should apply for each member of the church living out the call to follow Christ. And the institutional church might ensure that structures are in place to affirm and welcome all voices that would guide the decisions made at all levels in the ordinary operation of the institutional church.

Specifically, who selects a new pastor at the parochial level? Who is involved in the nomination and selection of Bishops?

It is basic that final decisions are made by those entrusted with such authority. Popes ‘name’ bishops and assign them to diocesan responsibilities; Bishops ‘name’ pastors and assign them to parochial responsibilities. But, the voices of the affected (those whose lives are under the pastoral care of bishops and pastors), should be sought and considered.

Concluding Remarks

Time is an elusive commodity. In a moment of crisis, we have little opportunity to ‘take time’ to weigh the consequences of one action over another. When we are given choices in life and time to act on those choices, we then have the luxury of reflection, discernment and action.

There are voices in our world and in the intramural dialogue in the church that name a critical situation regarding the question of ordination and the other concerns of inclusivity and decision making. There are other voices that indicate that it is a journey of history that has led us to our present state.

My personal history has always benefited from reviewing the past to learn from it and to see time as fluid and dynamic. The church in which I was baptized is distant in my fragile memory; the church into which I walk is yet to be consolidated from the many voices extant.

I remain faithful and trusting in the care and compassion of our God.

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