Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Spiritual Entrepreneurs

Nearly a decade ago, for many different reasons and circumstances, I decided to embark in a whole new direction in a career as a full-time chaplain in healthcare, at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.  I remember being tremendously excited as well as terrified leaving all that I had ever really known for my own family’s livelihood.  It also happened right before my Dad’s health suddenly declined, leading to his own death.  I often think of a conversation that we had after I had told him of my decision to go in this new direction.  I am forever grateful for his blessing on this new journey and how he told me that he thought I was acting like an entrepreneur.  His words resonate today as he demonstrated his point to me by saying “…not many men do what you’re doing…you will make a big difference in people’s lives!”  Those words of affirmation gave me the courage to move in a new direction and lead to life that I would have never imagined for myself.  A way where the person I strive to be and my faith, are fully integrated daily, while representing the Church, my Bishop, and St. Vincent’s, at sometimes critical junctions in people’s lives.  Serving in hospital ministry is both humbling and privilege as a chaplain/deacon.  I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do what I do.

As I have been reading Bishop Sean McKnight’s newly released book about the Diaconate, one of the things that attracted me was one of his descriptions about deacons.  It immediately reminded me of my Dad.  McKnight says: “Deacons are messengers. They are go-betweens, they are intermediaries…I see deacons as spiritual entrepreneurs in getting ministries started that are needed but currently don’t exist.”

Deacons here in the Diocese of Bridgeport serve is so many different ways.  All these manifestations of what it is like to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’ confirm what Bishop McKnight is saying. Here are just some examples of the kinds of ministries deacons are involved with throughout the diocese: Deacons work to help get homeless people out of shelters and the streets into housing with programs like ‘Off The Streets’—or have ministries in their parishes that provide necessary food, toiletries and dignity to the homeless—deacons work full time in hospital ministry, or visit the sick in hospitals, nursing homes, in their homes, deacons serve as high school chaplains, or teach full time in our Catholic high schools—deacons work in campus ministry in colleges and universities—deacons are Certified Spiritual Directors—deacons use their financial and business background to serve as parish administrators—deacons serve meals at the Thomas Merton Center and other shelters—deacons serve in prison ministry—deacons run men’s ministry programs in their parishes—deacons serve in various capacities in social justice programs some that provide support to women and children suffering from domestic violence.  All these manifestations of ministry and many more not mentioned, plus the ones waiting to be addressed and enfleshed are examples of the endless possibilities that describe what it is to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’.

The diaconate has made it possible for me to serve as both a chaplain at St. Vincent’s and as the Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations in the Diocese.  These roles were not career paths that I took, they appeared along the way as a result of saying yes many times on my journey. There was a time in my life when I never could have imagined myself serving in either capacity.  I recall the afternoon when Bishop Frank asked me to consider serving as coordinator of vocations, again I felt my Dad’s presence, right there in the room with me, saying to me: “You are an entrepreneur!”

Do you wonder sometimes if you too are called to serve as a deacon here in the Diocese?  You owe it to yourself to explore that.  Come to one of our Diaconate Discovery Evenings here in the diocese.  Who knows?  Perhaps you too are called to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur!

Dn Tim Bolton
Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations
Diocese of Bridgeport
Dnbolton@diobpt.org

So, what is a deacon anyway?

So, what is a deacon anyway? What’s the difference between a priest and a deacon?  How long have there been deacons?  Are there deacons because there is a shortage of priests?

These are just some of the questions that I’ve heard in the past about being a deacon.  I was ordained a deacon in 2006 and in my experience I have found that ‘what is a deacon?’, is one of the common questions posed by curious people who aren’t too sure about us and what we are about. As Vocations Coordinator for the Diocese over the past year, one of the things that I’ve learned is that the identity of the deacon and education for the faithful would go a long way towards helping others come to a different understanding about questions like these.

You can trace the origin of the diaconate all the way back to the early Church, but for starters let’s first look at the recent history of the diaconate.  It was in the Second Vatican Council that was called by Pope John XXIII in 1959 that the Fathers of the Council established that the clerical major order of deacon should be restored as a permanent clerical state and that the order could be conferred on mature married men (35 years of age and older). At their Spring 1968 Conference, the Bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See for authorization to restore the diaconate as a permanent order in the United States. On August 30, 1968, the Apostolic Delegate informed the Bishops of the United States that Blessed Pope Paul VI had granted their request.  It was 10-years later on February 25, 1978, that Bishop Curtis ordained the first class of permanent deacons for the Diocese of Bridgeport.  While each of these men expresses his life of service in various ways, all deacons share a common purpose in their ministry.

The year 2018 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate and along with that celebration came several excellent resources that delve deeply into the theological roots of the diaconate, along with its rightful place within the hierarchy of the Church.  I will be referring to these resources in ensuing articles as a means to answer some questions, perhaps stimulate more questions, allow others to see how they too, in their works of charity for the Church demonstrate the traits of the deacon.  Who knows, perhaps this may stimulate interest in men of faith to discern their own personal call to serve the Church as a deacon?

Dn Tim Bolton
Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations
Diocese of Bridgeport
Dnbolton@diobpt.org

Surrendering to the Truth

Bishop Frank, brother Deacons and our wives, brothers-in-formation and your wives, brothers and sisters. I am honored to have been asked to preach at this Mass.

Peter denied the Lord three times, as Jesus said he would, on Holy Thursday night, as he stood by a charcoal fire. On Easter Sunday, standing by another charcoal fire, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. This time, Peter replies “yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep…follow me.”

St. Augustine, preaching on this gospel, said, “Here is the Lord, again appearing to the disciples after the Resurrection, and questioning the Apostle Peter, and he obliges him three times to confess his love because three times he had denied him through fear. Christ rose again in the flesh, and Peter in the spirit; because when Christ died in his Passion, Peter died by his denial. Christ the Lord was raised from the dead; out of his love he raised Peter…If Christ loves you, it’s to your advantage, not Christ’s; and if you love Christ, it’s to your advantage, not Christ’s.”

As baptized Christians, Jesus calls each of us to follow him in missionary discipleship. St. Augustine continues, “So let us love him, let there be nothing dearer to us than He. So do you imagine that the Lord is not questioning us? Was Peter the only one who qualified to be questioned, and didn’t we? When that reading is read, every single Christian is being questioned in his heart. So when you hear the Lord saying, “Peter, do you love me?” think of it as a mirror, and observe yourself there.”

Each of us who have discerned a call to Holy Orders as Permanent Deacons have been asked by the Lord to love Him in an even greater way, to become configured to Him as a servant of all. Our journeys to discerning and accepting a call are all unique. I’d like to share a bit of my own journey.

From the time I learned to talk, I had a pretty severe stammer. I was very shy. In grammar school and high school, my speech impediment was mocked by my classmates. As a result, I was especially terrified to have to read aloud in class. As an example, in my sophomore year, I had an English teacher who would go around the room, having each of us read aloud one paragraph from the day’s lesson. I was in the last row and I would pray silently, begging the Lord to have the lesson be completed before it got to me.

In college, and during my early career as an engineer, I still stammered, but not as much, primarily because I had learned how to breathe when approaching words beginning with certain letters, how to add conjunctions to preface certain words and how to inject humor to feel more relaxed in my speech.

I was raised as a Congregationalist. I met a good Catholic girl, named Marianne, in 1970. We were married a year later at St. Edward the Confessor in New Fairfield. Sixteen years after that, I was received into the Catholic Church. The story of those intervening years will have to wait for another homily.

As for my stammering, I was able to manage it well enough to be able to take on increasing responsibility in my career, including speaking to large groups of employees. As long as I knew my subject matter cold, I was OK. It’s important to note that I was managing this all on my own. I had virtually no prayer-life at that point. I had not yet had an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

That all changed in 1993 when I made a Cursillo. I had a powerful encounter with the Lord that weekend. I came to believe that Jesus really did love me, warts and all. Marianne had made a Cursillo that year as well and we both began a new and beautiful phase of our life together, along with our daughters, working to live-out our faith each day.

But even with all of that, my deep-seated fear of stammering in certain situations remained an obstacle. I hid that fear, even from my spiritual director. As I became more actively involved in my parish and the Cursillo Movement, some people would tell me that I’d make a good deacon. I would respond by saying thank-you, but I’m not feeling called, or I’m too old. I also had a few interior promptings, but I rejected them as well. In the context of a call, I denied the Lord in those moments, like Peter, out of fear. The thought of stammering in proclaiming the Gospel, preaching or serving at the altar was a powerful deterrent for me.

On May 16, 2005, Marianne and I attended a Cursillo Day of Reflection and gave a talk together. After the talk, one of the facilitators, Deacon Tom Masaryk’s sister, Annette, came up to me and said, “You’re going to think I’m nuts, but every time I’ve seen or heard you today, I’ve heard the word deacon.” When she said deacon, I felt this very strong sensation in my heart, like it was being tightly held in someone’s hand. In that moment, I absolutely knew that I had to say yes to the Lord, not because I wanted it, but because He did. I knew in that moment that I had to trust him. In that moment, He lifted from me my fear of stammering, and I felt free. And because He knows my heart, He didn’t completely heal my stammering itself, which remains the “thorn in my side”, lest I become prideful. But that’s OK because I know that His grace is sufficient.

Before that fateful day, I had been holding back from completely surrendering to the Truth, the Truth that is Jesus Christ.

I’ll close with an excerpt from Deacon James Keating’s book, The Heart of the Diaconate:

He states, “The kind of deacon needed today is not a “back-slapping buddy” but a man who has suffered the coming of Christ and lived to tell about it. The deacon needed today is one who reaches out to other husbands, dads, or single men to lead them into the spiritual life – a life of freedom from the current, the new, and the now. As the Church lovingly and dangerously teaches, we are only free when we are in communion with the Truth, and the Truth is a Person. Truth has been revealed; it is Jesus…”

Deacon Keating then quotes Pope Benedict XVI, who said during a visit to Dunwoodie in 2008:

“Truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is the discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.”

Brothers, may we continue to “opt in” to the Truth that is Jesus Christ, trusting that His grace is sufficient, as we live out our call, serving Him and His people.

Amen

Deacon Brad Smythe of St. Joseph Parish in Shelton gave this homily on the Third Sunday of Easter Year C May 5, 2019 (given on Sat. May 4 at Diaconate Convocation, Fairfield Univ.)

Grateful to God

Over my 31 years as a deacon, the Lord has blessed me with many varied opportunities to serve Him at the Altar and to serve the people of God through my ministry. I have spent my ministry at two parishes during that time. One parish was a national Italian church in the inner city of Bridgeport and the other was a very large territorial parish in Fairfield. Each parish was a unique experience that helped to enhance my diaconate and helped me to grow spiritually

As a Parish Deacon, I assisted at Masses, preached, and visited the sick and homebound with the Eucharist. I have baptized over 800 children, witnessed over 100 marriages, and shared in the happiest and saddest moments with my parishioners.

I have had the opportunity to lead Bible studies, teach in our Catholic school, lead prayer services, prepare couples for marriage, help couples through the annulment process and to simply be available to sit and pray with the young and old in the parishes where I serve and within the larger community.

In 2003 as the spiritual leader, I accompanied our Youth Group on a mission trip to Jamaica where we ministered to homeless people who lived on the garbage dump in Kingston. After Katrina hit the Gulf coast the Youth Group traveled to Biloxi Mississippi where we assisted a family whose home needed to be rebuilt. Many of these kids who are now adults still reminisce about those trips and the spiritual growth they experience.

I have been invited to participate in many interfaith community activities such as memorial services and prayer services. Now that I am semi-retired and have more free time, I have begun a new ministry as a volunteer hospital chaplain.

Perhaps for me personally, I have been fortunate enough to have officiated at the marriage of my son, baptized two of my grandchildren and baptized my first great-grandson.

I am so grateful to God for all that He has given me in my ministry.

By: Deacon Dan Ianniello

Repeat After Me

I know I am getting older.  Most days I don’t feel it, but there are markers in my life that remind me that the years are passing by.  One of those markers is being asked to witness a marriage.  It began for me a little over 12 years ago and I recently witnessed my 15th wedding, which happened to be my son and his fiancée, now wife.  But more about that later.

As we know, most marriages are presided over by the parish priest.  And we deacons are typically asked when we have a personal relationship with the couple.  I find myself solidly in the age demographic where friends of my children, children of my friends, nephews, nieces, and even my own children are getting married and asking me to witness their vows.  I have witnessed marriages in five states, within Mass, outside of Mass. and even outside of the church with special permission.

Of all my diaconate duties and functions I have come to find this ministry one of the most rewarding on a number of levels.  First of all, who doesn’t love weddings?  And so, to be asked to participate in a special way in a couple’s life at the beginning of their sacramental life together is a joy and a blessing that I never could have imagined until I actually did it.

Beginning with the marriage prep, whether it’s the PMI (Pre-Marriage Inventory) or the Prepare & Enrich couples program, I take great joy in sharing my life and experience as a married man with them.  And most have shared with me that I bring a level of experience and credibility to the discussion of what it means to be a Catholic married man or woman.  And I find our conversations always take me back to my own wedding and married life.  In fact, I most often conduct the PMI at our home, which is a comfortable atmosphere for them.  And while I meet with the bride and groom one at a time, my wife Ellen will meet with the other and talk about any and all things wedding.

The wedding ceremony is the culmination and high point of all the planning (sacramental and otherwise) that has taken place.  And my role tends to become multi-faceted.  Of course, I serve as the Church’s (and state’s) official witness, but I often take on the additional roles of wedding planner, florist, and furniture mover.  Perhaps most importantly I try to the calming influence for two often very nervous young adults.  I smile a lot during the ceremony with the hope that they smile back.  I share with them the advice that I received on my wedding day. “Relax, enjoy and be present in every moment.  It is so easy for the day to become one big blur.”

As I witness the vows and ask the couples to repeat after me (none of the couples I have married has ever attempted to memorize them!) I am reminded again of my own wedding, when those very same words coming from my mouth were my own personal commitment to Ellen.  That too brings a smile to my face.  But I am especially cognizant of the now grown up woman and man standing before me.  In most cases, I have known at least one of these “kids” since they were little.  And now, here they are as adults publicly professing their love for one another before God and his Church.  What a blessing and privilege it is to be part of that.

Here’s the part where I come back to my son’s wedding.  As much as I try to assume a posture of distance and calm, I never imagined that hearing my son profess his marriage vows would have had such an emotional effect on me.  Not weepy emotion (although my eyes did get teary) but heartfelt emotion.  In the deepest recesses of my heart, I found myself giving thanks for my own marriage vocation and for my life with Ellen, through which we both played a part in bringing him to this moment and place.  It was a pride and joy that I cannot adequately express in words, but one to which I’m sure any of my brother deacons who have experienced the same thing can attest.  My prayers and best wishes for him and his wife were no different than those for any other couple, but I must confess that they were more special.

I am happy to say that all 15 couples whose vows I have witnessed are still happily married, most with young families.  It’s an accomplishment that gives me great pleasure but for which I take no credit.  It is one that I don’t take for granted either.  As a married man, I know well the difficulties that marriages can face, especially at this time in our society.  In my homily, I always remind the couple (and all married couples in attendance) that by their desire to receive the sacrament of matrimony, that they have invited Christ to their wedding.  I encourage them to invite him also to their marriage.  I can only hope and pray that these couples have taken those words to heart.

Ellen and I collect nativities.  We bought our first one in our very first year of marriage, and we now have close to 75 (it hasn’t been one a year for those of you doing the math. I’m old, but not that old!).  It has become a tradition for us.  And we now give each couple that I marry a “starter” nativity as a wedding gift.  As they now begin their own marriage and family traditions, it’s a way, we tell them, of expressing our ongoing love for them and our desire to continue to share in some small, personal way in their married life, if only once a year.

As I look ahead I see that same marker of being asked to witness marriage vows now reminding me that I am aging out of that very demographic.  I am most definitely am getting older.  My marrying pool is dwindling.  My kids’ friends, my friends’ kids, and that generation of our family are now mostly married.  There are only a few left.  But I take hope that this special ministry is not ending for me.  As a deacon in Campus Ministry at Fairfield University, I engage daily with young college students.  Who knows that someday one of them might ask me to witness his or her marriage vows?

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage.  I don’t know any and am convinced that one does not exist.  Every married couple experiences their share of joys and sorrows, their measure of successes and disappointments.  I speak from experience.  While Ellen’s and my marriage may not be perfect, it has been truly blessed.  And so as I witness the vows of these young couples I ask blessings on them.  I pray that their marriage sustains and prosper, as mine has.  I pray that it will never stop growing in love for one another, as mine has.  I pray that their marriage not only survives but thrive, as mine has.  And so, in a way, I’m praying that by those words “repeat after me” that their marriage might be as greatly blessed as mine.

By: Deacon Tom Curran

Are you being called to be a Deacon? Join us for our monthly Diaconate Discovery Evenings, the space to wonder, explore, share and come to an understanding about these and any other questions that you may have regarding serving the Church as a Permanent Deacon.

The next Diaconate Discovery Evening will take place at St. Marguerite Parish,  138 Candlewood Lake Rd., Brookfield on Thursday, March 14, 2019 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm.

Serving God and His Church

When I first began to discern my call to the diaconate several years ago, I knew that I had a strong desire to serve God and his people in a permanent and consecrated way and that God had placed this desire in my heart. I didn’t fully realize at the time what answering this call would require in terms of a daily surrender to the Holy Spirit, and how it would lead me to grow in so many and different ways. Thankfully, this was one of the many times God has taught me that his plans are better than my plans!

There are currently eleven men in diaconate formation for the Diocese of Bridgeport. God willing, six of us will be ordained to the diaconate in June of 2019 at St. Teresa’s Church in Trumbull after having been instituted to the ministry of acolyte in November.

For many years, the diaconate formation program was run entirely within the diocese, with most classes being taught at the Catholic Center during monthly formation weekends. Beginning in early 2016, the diocese began a partnership with St. Joseph’s Seminary (SJS) in Yonkers, New York in which candidates receive intellectual formation through an MA–Theology program on either a credit or audit basis. Having the opportunity to study at SJS has been truly a blessing, and it enables our monthly formation weekends to be focused more on spiritual formation and practical issues in liturgy and pastoral ministry.

It requires a great deal of commitment for our formation group to commute to Yonkers for classes each Monday and Wednesday evening, devote the effort needed for our reading and writing assignments and participate in our monthly formation weekends, in addition to our pastoral outreach efforts and our work and family obligations. It also requires a great deal of flexibility and understanding on the part of our families, especially our wives. Commitment and devotion are an important part of the diaconal ministry, though. The things that are most important in life require us to give of ourselves, and we can offer this self-gift as we seek to serve God and his Church.

Eric Keener is currently in his 4th Year of Diaconate Formation.  He is in the inaugural group going to Dunwoodie in Yonkers for studies.

Are you being called to be a Deacon? Join us for our monthly Diaconate Discovery Evenings, the space to wonder, explore, share and come to an understanding about these and any other questions that you may have regarding serving the Church as a Permanent Deacon.

The next Diaconate Discovery Evening will take place at St. Philip Parish, 1 Father Conlon Place, Norwalk, CT 06851 on Thursday, January 10, 2019, @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm.

Discerning A Call In Spiritual Direction

All that we do within our families, at our jobs, or within our parish ministries, begins with a healthy spiritual life. Yet, many have difficulty finding a qualified spiritual director to guide them.  A spiritual director can accompany you on the journey to grow closer to the Lord as you discern major changes in your life including whether or not you are being “called” to the Diaconate. Pope Francis refers to programs such as this as the “art of accompaniment which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5).” Our Holy Father says; “The pace of accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian Life.” (Evangelii Gaudium #169)

In order to help support both deacons and those discerning their “call” to the diaconate, we have partnered with the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality (MCIS) at Fairfield University in order to make certified spiritual directors available to all.

By: Deacon Jerry Lambert

For further information, you may contact: https://www.fairfield.edu

To enroll, download and complete the “Application for MCIS Programs.”  Be sure to indicate that you are discerning the Diaconate in the Diocese of Bridgeport. 

The Diaconate – It’s a Wonderful Life

My life changed forever in 1999 during the midst of a successful executive career and while Jeanne and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with our two children. I was convinced that I heard a call to the vocation of the diaconate. At age 49. little did I know then that all of my previous life experiences were quietly preparing me for a transformation to serve Our Lord and His Church as a member of the clergy.

Over 14 years later, I have served in 4 very different parishes on the socio-economic ladder and now reside at St Jude’s Parish in Monroe, CT. My financial and healthcare backgrounds provided me with the transferable skills to be chosen as the Director of Parish Finance Services for the Diocese of Bridgeport during a time that our 87 parishes needed a business process re-engineering solution. We became the 1st diocese in the nation to employ cloud technology for accounting services. Later, I became the president of CathoNet, a cloud technology company serving the US Church. For the last 5 years, my vocation has rewarded me with the opportunity to serve the St Vincent’s Medical Center hospital as a Chaplain.

My most rewarding diaconate ministries and experiences have been to serve the people of God in the neighborhood trenches where the sick, the homeless and un-catechized people need to know that Our Lord loves them in a very direct way.

Thinking back now on almost 20 years of my combined diaconate formation and hands on-service to Our Church, I believe that I have been truly +Blessed+ with such a wonderful life!

By: Deacon Bill Koniers – St Jude Parish, Monroe CT

Are you being called to be a Deacon? Join us for our monthly Diaconate Discovery Evenings, the space to wonder, explore, share and come to an understanding about these and any other questions that you may have regarding serving the Church as a Permanent Deacon.

The next Diaconate Discovery Evening will take place at St. Philip Parish, 1 Father Conlon Place, Norwalk, CT 06851 on Thursday, November 8, 2018 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm.