Jan. 13-19, 2005
Worthy of Service
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
“As a deer longs for streams of running water, so my soul longs for you O God.”
I thought of the opening verse of Psalm 42 one Saturday morning as I saw five deer in the shadows. They were ready to cross Route 81 near Whitney Point on their way for a drink in the Tioughnioga River. My journey toward the Permanent Diaconate has been like those deer, but the thirst I’m looking to relieve relates to God. Dozens of roundtrips to Syracuse on the interstate for classes have allowed lots of time for reflection on where I’m headed. I wonder how that couple from my parish knew it was time for me to have my own four-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours. They gave it to me just before I started in the Permanent Diaconate Formation program in 2002. The Psalms, Canticles, and writings of those who’d gone before us in faith were now in my hands. My Spiritual Director has helped mold my prayer life since then, reminding me how important it is to read just one Psalm at night if I’m too tired to do the entire Evening Prayer. That’s advice coming from someone who has recited each Psalm thousands of times!
I also find myself picking up many books by contemporary and timeless Catholic spiritual writers, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Meister Eckhardt, St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others. Most recently, I’m focusing on St. Benedict’s Rule. That one’s a gift from the Camoldese Benedictine Sisters of the Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor. I’ve found that my prayer life fits in with the Benedictine model. In November, I became one of many lay people around the world linked with a Benedictine Monastery as an Oblate. November is also the month that Bishop Thomas Costello accepted six of us as candidates for the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Syracuse. We’d heard the day was coming since we first became aspirants more than two and a half years ago. The bishop reminded us of our call to service and that we still have work to do to prepare ourselves for ordination in 2006.
We also received the Order of Acolyte that day. As the bishop held out the paten with the unconsecrated host and I put my hands on the opposite side of the plate, he said: “Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and His Church.” That’s when it really began to sink in. This road which has been filled with challenges, isn’t as long as I’d thought. Just a year and a half to go. We’ve been busy with academics too, since that first day at Christ the King Retreat Center. The upperclassmen were quite nice. I’d already been in contact with my classmates. But the pile of books we received that day! What did I get myself into? Seems like no time at all before we passed into year two, more books, more assignments, more juggling of work, family and study.
The opening of year three passed several months ago. A dozen more books, but none of us flinched. In fact, you might think we’re all headed to the airport when we arrived for class with our wheeled carry-ons, just for the texts! “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.” — Psalm 119 We’ve taken so many courses, in church history, spirituality, scripture, theology, psychology and more. There’s a lot of reading; some of it has to be done more than once to comprehend. We’ve written plenty of papers too. The classes flow into each other. It’s a unified educational experience. This year we started a somewhat dreaded, but now very interesting, course in canon law. I’ve been challenged in my knowledge of Christology by presenting a paper orally, then taking criticism and rewriting it. History has come in handy several times already, to share learned matter with a variety of people. Homiletics was scary at first. I wasn’t sure how to react to criticism of my writing and delivery, both aspects of my professional life over the last 25 years. And the first time I had to deliver a reflection at the parish, I was shaking. That must be why they put the handrails on the ambo, to keep a person steady.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” — John 10:10
I’ve carried this passage with me since a sister in high school emphasized it those many years ago. It makes me think now of where I’ve come in relating to those whom I encounter every day. Perhaps it’s the emotionally troubled young man who came to the church two years ago when Father was away. He was afraid to walk two blocks on his own to the rectory. So I went to meet him at the corner. We talked and I helped him get some food. I’ve seen him several times since, as has my pastor.
Maybe it’s the fellow parishioners who have worked so diligently over the years with so many projects. They look at a somewhat younger person with a bit of skepticism as he tries to work with them to accomplish a task. Sometimes there’s a different approach, but we get the task finished together. Or it’s the many people I say hello to at church. The daily morning Mass group, the students as they rush into religious education class, the young adults of the Upper Room at Bible study.
And just those chance one-on-one encounters. Like the woman who said I had a good voice for being a lector. I smiled at her as she was leaving a coffee hour one Sunday. She’d just recently come back to Mass after a lengthy illness. I asked her how she was doing; she said well and reminded me about that voice again. I wished her well as she left the hall for the last time. You see, that very night, God called her home.
Editor’s note: This is a reflection by SUN contributing writer Tom Picciano who is currently in the Permanent Diaconate formation process