Chapter Four: Prophet In His Own Land, part twoProphet in his own Land
Father and I wished people well on their way out. Several people stopped long enough to tell me that they liked my homily. Some of them referred to me as "Father". One person stopped long enough for me to explain that I wasn't a priest, but a deacon. I gave the young man a brief description of the difference, but he didn't really seem interested. He was probably more interested in trying to catch the opening kick of the Niner game.
An older woman game up to me and said that she really enjoyed my sermon. After which she asked...
"Forgive my ignorance, Father, but what is a deacon?"
"Well first, my title is actually Deacon, not Father. And second, please don't apologize, I'm rather glad you asked.
There are three levels of ordination: deacons, priests and bishops. I have received that first level of ordination. If a man is single when he is ordained a deacon, he takes a vow of celibacy and is eligible to become priest. If the man is married, he stays a deacon, but cannot marry if, God forbid, something should ever happen to his wife.
"Deacons can baptize and marry people, but they cannot perform any other sacraments. A deacon's primary ministry is performing corporal acts of mercy... feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc..."
"Thank you, Deacon. Even at my age, you can learn something new about your Church. Do you have another ministry other than serving at Mass here?"
"Yes, I was assigned by the bishop to serve at the prison in Banta. The prison you can see as you drive south on the 5."
"What will you do there?" the lady asked somewhat worriedly.
"To be honest, I'm not sure. I go to meet with the Catholic chaplain there on Wednesday night. That will be my first time there."
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before the lady's taxi arrived.
"Have a nice day, ma'am."
"You too, Deacon, I'll see you next week."
As the sweet old lady drove off, I felt pride and accomplishment in my homily, and my first day serving as a deacon.
I walked along the outside of the church building to enter from the side where the sacristy was. As the last cars were leaving the parking lot, the first arrivals were already pulling up for the next Mass. Among them were Ann and the kids.
We always arrived early for Mass. Less because of any preparation we felt we needed to make spiritually, but more because we had to jockey for a good place to sit, where it was easier to manage the kids.
I went to meet her to tell her about my first Mass experience and to help her with the kids.
"Well 'Deacon' Stephen, how did your first homily go?"
"I think it went well." *kiss*
I proceeded to tell her about my thoughts and feelings during the celebration of the Mass and about the reception my homily got judged by the many comments I received afterward. I got Ann and the kids situated in a pew then I went into the sacristy.
Father Roberto was a Jesuit priest from Mexico. He was a hard man, but at the same time, very spiritual...even holy. He embraced me and joked that he was happy that he was the first priest I was serving with, so he could "break me in right." I corrected him, telling him I had served with Father Jeff at the 8:45 Mass, at which point he rolled his eyes, saying "Now I have to break you of all those nasty habits."
Mass went much the same way as it had before. Every time I tried to share a glance with Ann, she was preoccupied with one of the kids. When it came time for my homily, I felt much more confident, and as such, I felt things went more smoothly. I didn't even need to hold on to my notes.
I finally shared a glance with Ann during the Presentation of the Gifts, blanket over her shoulder nursing Michelle. The glance was short lived however, as Denise and Paul had to be separated yet again.
The Eucharistic Prayer experience was nice, but nothing like the first. I attributed this to the fact that I had just received communion two hours before. This being the Mass that Ann and I normally attended, I recognized many faces in the assembly. I began to feel nervous again. It's one thing to be in the sanctuary in front of people that for the most part know you as nothing other than a deacon. However, my friends really know me...both good and bad. I felt a little bit as though I was under a microscope.
At the end of Mass, as Father Roberto and I processed out of the church, I started to wonder whether I would get the same reaction to my homily as I had the Mass before.
In front of the church, I got a few "nice homilies", along with a couple of "interesting homilies". I didn't quite know how to take those. It was hard to determine the tone in which they were said. Depending on the tone, I could take it as either as a nice rejection or a genuine compliment.
After I finished saying goodbye to those exiting, I went to the sacristy, removed my stole and alb then went to the church hall for coffee and donuts.
At the church hall, Denise and Paul were running around, donuts in hand. Ann was sitting at a table with Michelle in a portable rocker, asleep. She was talking to John and Alexandra Drzewiecki.
The Drzewiecki's were a couple that we used to spend a lot of time with us, until John took a night job. Because of opposite schedules, we rarely see them anymore except, of course, at church. John and Alex are passionate, faith-filled people, who feel strongly about their convictions and don't give in to injustice or pressure.
As I approached the table, the conversation stopped abruptly.
"Hi dear," Ann said in an almost too cheery voice,
"Hey fox; hey you guys, it's been awhile since we've seen you."
"We've been going to 8:45 Mass, trying to get an earlier start to our Sundays. Lately, we've been taking drives after Mass and just seeing where we end up. Funny, most of the time we end up going wine tasting in Napa"
We all started laughing. All of us enjoyed good wine and good food. Of course, Ann never partakes when she's pregnant or nursing.
"Speaking of wine tasting, it's been a long time since we've gotten together and done anything. We're going to have to put the kids to bed early and have you guys over for dinner and a little wine tasting at our place."
"Sounds great" John said. We continued to catch up, John and Alex talking about their jobs, Ann talking about the kids.
John and Alex graciously declined coming to my ordination. Alex had a niece who was being married the same day. However, they did send a gift. It seemed strange that no one was talking about the ordination that happened just yesterday, or the fact that I had just served as a deacon at Mass for the very first time.
"Stephen, you seem strangely quiet. Where are you at?" John said jokingly, but really wondering why I was not my usual talkative self.
"Oh, I'm just thinking about Mass. This being my first Sunday serving as a deacon, I am wondering if I did anything wrong during the Liturgy, like forget something or do something at the wrong time."
"You were fine, Stephen. I thought you did a great job."
After that statement, Alex looked at John, surprised, mouth agape. John continued...
"So Stephen how was the ordination? We felt bad we had to miss it, but be assured, we never stopped thinking about you or praying for you."
"It's a once in a lifetime experience. Next to marrying Ann, and the birth of the kids, it's an experience that I will never forget."
"You better talk about your most memorable experiences in that order." Ann teased, lightly backhanding my shoulder then kissing it as though she was making a child's wound better.
"I'll give you guys the details when you come for dinner."
I wondered why no one was mentioning my homily. Alex's look of surprise at John's statement had me wondering all the more. Did our closest friends, did my own wife, think that there was something wrong with the words that I said? I felt that my words were doctrinally sound. I thought I was giving a message that God would have me give...that God did have me give.
I couldn't wait for them to comment any longer. I figured I might as well ask.
"So, what did you guys think about my homily?"
John and Alex looked at each other, their eyes coaxing the other to speak first.
"The bits and pieces that I picked up I thought were good. I have to admit I didn't get most of what you said. Unfortunately, without you in the pew to help me, the kids take up most of my time."
When Ann spoke, she couldn't look directly at me. She gingerly touched my shirt as she looked at my chest.
Ann was obviously lying.
"I thought it was good," John said having mustered up enough resolve to say it with conviction.
Alex slapped John hard on the arm. John was a big man, but when Alex really struck out, it was enough to make even John wince.
"You guys are as hypocritical as Stephen's homily was. Here we were ten minutes ago saying how much we disliked Stephen's homily and now you guys don't even have the courage to tell him.
"Stephen, that homily should never have come from you. It wasn't you. We know the intent of your message was good, but anyone who knows you knows that you don't practice half the things that you preached."
"Alex, I was including myself when I talked about the things that we don't do, but should. I was not..."
"That's not how your homily came off. You sounded like a pious Sunday school teaching chastising a group of obnoxious, self-centered brats."
"Well, I appreciate your ability to be candid, Alex." I looked at Ann and John glaringly, trying to hide my frustration with Alex's words. "I'll have to think what you've said and pray about what it means."
By now the hall was nearly empty. With the excessively harsh silence that was newly created, it became obvious that Denise and Paul were becoming bored in the church hall and frustrated with each other. We said our goodbyes to Alex and John, promising to call this week to setup a dinner date.
I walked Ann and the kids to the car. I helped strapped the kids in, gave Ann a perfunctory kiss, then she and the kids went on their way home.
I got into the truck, at first sure that Alex was wrong. As I drove home, I wonder if I was wrong. Had the idea of being a deacon, "The Deacon", gone to my head? I promised myself to really pray about what Alex had said.
As I continued to drive home, the same thought kept going through my head...
"Am I on some kind of pious ego trip, or am I being treated as the another prophet from Nazareth?"