On Saturday August 29, I was ordained a permanent deacon in the parish church of Saggart, by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the Dublin Diocese.
The ordination ceremony was an important event for my family. My wife, and children (aged from 10 to 17 years), had some concerns over what my becoming a deacon might mean for them. My boys were not sure if they liked the idea of me wearing the white alb in public. But there was a beautiful part of the ordination ceremony after the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration, when I walked over to my wife who then placed both the stole and dalmatic garments over my head. We embraced for a moment and we instinctively knew that all would be well.
Our celebrations after the ceremony, within our Covid-19 restricted world, consisted of a few words and a wave to those who were able to attend. That evening as a family, we had a takeaway meal together and I watched the movie Spartacus with my young sons, who were impressed with the Roman Emperor’s robes, and thought it was a little like my white alb.
The next day, I had the honour of taking up my new role as a deacon in my parish church of Ballyroan. It was an emotional but joyous moment to proclaim the Gospel for the first time as a deacon, and to share my homily with those present.
I had a chance to thank many people; parishioners who were so supportive to me over the previous years, my parish priest Fr Peter O’Connor, who had actively mentored me over the previous year by giving me the opportunity to shadow him at baptisms and funerals, as well as to prepare reflections at Mass, and tips on how to use the microphone effectively.
But it was also an opportunity to publicly thank my wife Imelda, who had made so many sacrifices in enabling me to attend lectures, retreats, and parish meetings. It was important for me to remind everyone that my primary vocation is as a married man and my first duty is to care for my family but that I also hoped to be of service to many in whatever parish I work with over the coming years.
That Monday I returned to my day job as a mental health social worker, where I am open about my parish role as a deacon and I think that this does allow a respectful place both for patients and colleagues to consider faith and spirituality in their lives, should they wish to do so.
Wednesday, September 3 was the feast day of St Gregory the Great, and I was able to assist at Mass and share my homily about St Gregory, who was arguably one of the most admired popes in history. Interestingly, while living a strict monastic life, he was called personally by the Pope to the office of a deacon in Rome, from where he began his work of Church reform and evangelisation across Western Europe.
On Saturday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism of four babies in Rathfarnham parish, where my now deceased parents had taken me to be baptised many years previously. I felt their presence in a special way as I celebrated this beautiful ceremony. It was such a powerful experience to bless the baptismal water and call upon the presence of the Holy Spirit.
From the joy of family baptisms, to the sadness of a funeral, I supported my parish priest at the funeral service for a woman in her 50s with two teenage children…”
I had the privilege to share my reflections with those present, perhaps some who struggle with their Catholic Faith but still wished to have their child baptised. I wanted them to be open to experiencing the Spirit too. I told them that while we cannot see God, touch God or hear God, we can at times in our life experience a loving God, perhaps in a quiet place, when we have slowed down a little, and are able to really look and listen to, the beauty of creation, especially the gift of your beautiful child.
I asked those present to pray for their newly-baptised babies every day or night for the next few months. I gave those present a copy of my own father’s favourite prayer and one that I hope will be an inspiration for me in living up to the values of arguably, the most famous of all deacons, St Francis of Assisi.
From the joy of family baptisms, to the sadness of a funeral, I supported my parish priest later in September at the funeral service for a woman in her 50s with two teenage children. I had the privilege to celebrate for the first time, the rite of committal at her grave.
Despite the tears of sadness, the family participated in all the prayers and there was a sense of hope based on their Christian faith.
The return to the Government Covid-19 restrictions on September 18 in Dublin meant that I had to inform two families that yet again, their baptism ceremony was postponed for a later date. As always with the cycle of life, a few days later I was involved with another funeral, again of a woman in her 50s and this time I celebrated the rite of committal at a crematorium.
The small group of 25 were mostly silent, but for a young child who enthusiastically recited the ‘Our Father’ prayer. Perhaps this family had lost the practice of their Christian faith, but nonetheless it was an opportunity for me to minister to them, to show compassion, offer a space for them to reflect upon their loved one’s life and to encourage them to be open to the loving presence of God at their time of mourning.
It is early days but I hope that through by own prayer life and with the support of my family and parish community, that I can live the words of the St Francis prayer and be an instrument of peace, sow love, faith and hope.