(Part 2 of 2)
Deacon candidate working in Abu Dhabi
As I stated earlier (in Part 1 in the previous issue), I had not seriously considered becoming a deacon until after settling down in Williamsburg in 2005.
Once we were settled into our new life after having lived abroad for the previous 12 years, we began to get involved with St. Bede Parish. The size of the parish was much larger than any we had been associated with and it can be intimidating. But we were greeted by warm and cheerful parishioners who welcomed us to the area and into their very large family of believers.
Through our involvement, several parishioners began to ask whether I had considered the diaconate. Up to that point I hadn’t, and it was then that I began to assess what God was asking me to do.
Understanding that it is not so much what a deacon does, but who he is, was the first step of the discernment process. A deacon’s life is a three-fold ministry of service — to word, liturgy and charity.
It is the ministry of charity that is most closely associated with the deacon and it is here that I feel the closest to my calling.
Throughout the Old and New Testament we find many references in which the sacred scripture writers call for special care of those less fortunate, such as the poor, widows and orphans.
We can look to Jesus himself as the diakonia (Greek for self-emptying) model of service to all classes of society, but especially to those who are ostracized or neglected. Placing others ahead of oneself is the example Jesus showed us. It is that example that I am trying to follow. This attempt to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) is not so much an attempt to achieve the unachievable, but rather to be complete as God has created me to be. My attempt to follow Him is like the response of Isaiah to God’s question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me!” (Is 6:8)
In my attempt to be a true disciple of Jesus, I am hoping that as I traverse along this less traveled path through Abu Dhabi I will not wander the barren desert for 40 years searching for the promised land, but rather follow the path which may be hidden by the blowing sands of secularism.
God has laid out a path for me and hopefully on my journey I will encounter many others who are also willing to be His followers. This does not mean my companions will become deacons, but rather these fellow sojourners be able to recognize their God-given charisms and use those gifts for His honor and glory. Then maybe together we can continue to build up His kingdom so even more people will follow Christ.
Living and working in Abu Dhabi has been a gift beyond measure. The level of faithfulness here is something one has to see to believe. Faith in Jesus is alive and well. The faithful Catholics living throughout the UAE come from other countries.
I attend St. Joseph’s Cathedral which has between 50,000 and 100,000 parishioners. There is no exact figure since people are transitioning in and out of the country on a constant basis.
Worshippers primarily are Filipinos and Indians but there are others from Pakistan, France, Spain, Germany, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa and many other countries. Many are separated from their families because their spouse is working in another country while their children are being raised by relatives or friends in yet another country.
It is expensive to live in the UAE and one has to have a certain level of income prior to receiving government permission for their family to live here. This is difficult because the cost of housing forces many to share apartments and villas where several families may be living in one or two bedroom facilities.
Many make this sacrifice to keep the family together while simultaneously striving to improve their situation in life.
The majority of worshippers also receive only one day off a week from work. This is typically Friday since that is the holy day of the week for Islam. The church and the church grounds are alive with people all day, from long before dawn to after sundown.
Parishes here are dealing with problems that most parishes in the United States would love to have — not enough worship space to accommodate the people, with people filling the aisles and overflowing through the doors; not enough space for catechetical instruction with thousands of youth attending classes and youth activities or the many ministries that meet regularly.
Not all is perfect in this oasis. There are many issues here similar to issues which affect every community. Numerous people and ministries attempt to address the problems and are active in many ways supporting the community that has become their family.
The most striking difference I see is that many will sacrifice their one day off and spend it volunteering at the church. And this is in the midst of 130 degree summer temperatures!
This sacrifice of leisure time is difficult to comprehend when many Americans have come to view leisure time more valuable than worship time. Considering that most people work 12-14 hours a day, you will find many who attend daily Mass and sacrifice their meal times to support the ministries that have become a second family for them. It is the example that I see in these people which inspires and propels me towards my ordination.
When I am ordained a deacon, I have no illusions that I will be complete or that all will be perfect in my world. I take comfort in the knowledge that many fine men and women who have helped me will help keep me on this path, and I thank them immensely.
My wife of 25 years, Therese, is the most noteworthy of these supporters and it is because of her that I am where I am today.
I am excited about becoming a deacon, and yet I am nervous about what is expected of me. I continue to pray for God’s blessings in order to do His holy will, and I ask that you pray for all of the candidates as we draw closer to ordination and a life-long commitment to service. God bless.
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