Death and Diaconate
by Friar Thomas Fetz, OFM Conv.
In the days leading up to my transitional diaconate ordination, I was terrified and people asking me how I was, just made me remember how afraid I was.... but why was I scared? Everyone expected excitement, but I felt dread. Some people would tell me not to worry. Others would ask me “why?” I was troubled by the “why” because it was hard to find a good answer. Why was I afraid?? The normal kinds of fear don’t apply here. Ordination isn’t painful, so it wasn’t fear of pain. The ordination rite is not difficult to accomplish, so it wasn’t fear of failure. It was something deeper, more primal. It was more like the fear of a bride before the long term commitment. Another one after already making solemn vows! Why was this different?
In some ways, I think it is comparable to our fear of death. Why are we afraid of death? It isn’t the pain – death ends the pain! By faith, we know that in death we go to meet Love in person. “Where, death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) We of faith know at some level that we have nothing to fear in death, yet still the heart recoils from it. Death pushes us into the unknown. It is a leap of faith and it changes us.
I underwent a kind of death that day. My life, my ministry is no longer my own. It has been placed into the hands of God and the Church. So many other possibilities for my life died that day. So many other little desires died that day. Saying “God, I am Yours” means dying.
Bishop Mark Bartosic’s homily captured exactly that fear. He addressed the many deaths we die as ordained ministers. He named my struggles and the ways that saying “yes” to a vocation can be so intimidating. It was like he was giving me the last rites, preparing me for the death I was about to undergo. As he spoke, the dread which had plagued me for the past months dissipated. I was ready.
I would love to say that I went into ecstasy during the rite, that I saw angels dancing during the Litany of Saints and was filled with a joy that threatened to make my heart burst. The gift I was given was far different: the peace of normalcy. After that homily, I just felt natural, “just right,” like it was meant to be. I went through the rest of the Mass as a deacon just as though I’d been doing it all my life. Something changed in me that day, and I’m not quite sure what. What I can say, though, is that I was afraid, something in me died and then God gave it new life.
We all face many deaths in our lives, from the big “I’ll never be the same” moments to the smaller deaths of daily demands. At times, the urge to run from them can be strong. We balk at the small inconveniences of daily life and turn to any number of comforts to avoid them. It is hard to remember that these little deaths are not the end of the world and that maybe, just maybe, we’ll be better off for them. I survived the big death of my diaconate – in fact, I came out better for it! Likewise, I will be OK in the little struggles of life -- maybe they’ll make me better too. A transition to life of ministry by allowing deaths within me to occur so I can have the space for the life of the Church I have been ordained to serve.