I never thought I would have two vocations. Prior to this month’s column, all the columns I have written were while I was enrolled in the deacon formation program when I only had one vocation — the vocation of marriage.
By the grace of God, on Sept. 10, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki ordained my four companions and me to holy orders as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I am now a man with two vocations.
You would think this would cause a conflict and a problem between each vocation, a conflict of faith and family. The reality is that when you look at the source of the vocation, there is no conflict and no competition.
The source of all vocations is God. In God, there is harmony, peace, balance and unity. The closer I remain to God, the more my vocations will show forth these same qualities.
For all married deacons, their first and primary vocation has to be their marriage. It is the vocation which called forth from them the sacrificial love and selfless service that would one day form the foundation of their diaconal call to be an image of Christ the Servant.
I thank the deacon formation program for giving me this perspective of being a man for others – to be like Christ, a man who came to serve and not be served.
As a married man I am called to embody this Christ-like self gift with my wife, kids and family. I am to give of myself, supporting, encouraging, teaching, listening, accompanying and embracing.
As a cleric, I am to sacramentally embody this self-gift in my person. That is, as deacon I receive a sacrament to show forth an essential character of the church, which, like Christ, is a servant and a companion of the least and the lost.
The three aspects of the deacon’s service — Word, Sacrament and Charity — are no less a part of every husband and father’s life. But as deacon, it is not only my duty to minister to and with my family but to evangelize the world with my words and deeds.
As a representative of the church, the whole people of God is my family, really the whole world is my family, because I represent a mission which is universal and reaches out to all — those who come weekly to our Sunday family reunions and those who do not.
My dear readers, I wish I could put into words the depth of humility and inadequacy which this mission causes in me.
Christ loves you, Christ loves your families, Christ wants to walk with you in your good times and bad. Christ wants to heal your wounds and lift you up when you are down, he wants to strengthen you in your weakness, he wants to console you when you grieve, he wants to accompany you when you are alone. In short he wants to be your all in all.
How can I possibly embody this for you when we meet? I cannot even do that with my wife and five kids who I see every day. How can I show this to you, who I may see only weekly or occasionally or maybe even never.
Nonetheless, this is the mission. Christ is saving the world. He is doing it continually, globally and locally. He is doing it in the church, in your family, among your friends, and he is doing it in you.
I need to remind you of this in Word, hence this column, I need to remind you of this in Sacrament, therefore I invite you to receive the sacraments. Whether you are not yet baptized and will seek baptism through the RCIA program or you have not been to confession for many years, or you regularly go to church and receive Eucharist, I invite you to experience the saving power of Christ in his sacraments. They are not just signs of God’s presence but actual channels of his grace.
Finally, I need to remind you of this by putting my actions where my mouth is. As Archbishop Listecki said to me at the Mass of ordination as he handed me the responsibility for carrying the Gospel into the world: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach,” from the “Rite of Ordination.”
On this last count, I know I will fall grossly short. Real service is individual, personal and specific. I am limited by time and space from physically reaching out to all of you. However, I am confident that you will feel this hand of caring and compassionate service from one of my brother deacons, perhaps one in your parish; or you will feel the support of one of the church’s priests or religious men and women, or perhaps you will feel the healing hands of Christ from a family member or friend or coworker or a caring nurse or doctor or any one of the dozens of people who by virtue of their baptismal call carry out this same selfless service in the anonymity of the universal call to holiness.
My friends, this is a special column for me, because in a very real way, before the archbishop and a sea of witnesses at St. John’s Cathedral, I gave myself to you on Sept. 10.
Please accept my very limited and humble service; please pray for me and all those who carry on any kind of ministry. In return, I will include you, your families and your intentions in my daily prayers. It is my honor and now it is also my duty.
May we all run the race to the end and fight the good fight, so that we can rejoice like the family we are in the eternal banquet of the Lamb.
(Deacon Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. He also serves as deacon for St. Hyacinth Parish, Milwaukee. Deacon Henry wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and home-schooling his children.)