Easter Monday, 2011
The Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist
Easter Monday is a full holiday in many parts of the world. Here in the USA it's back to work from the Good Friday and Easter celebrations, if you were fortunate not to have to work either or both days. (Yes, I'm sure there are many people who had to work both days.)
I arranged to take today off to transition from service mode (seven events between Thursday evening and Sunday morning) back to working mode. While people are encouraged to reflect during the Lenten season now behind us, I tend to look at the sequence of short-term past events and use it as a springboard to see what direction my life is taking and what I should (or shouldn't) do.
Previously in this chronicle I posted that I lost two members of my extended family in March, less than two weeks apart. There were also three funerals in my Catholic community (the last of which is actually tomorrow). These serve as reminders to me that life patterns are not meant to be static or stagnant. Even behind the scenes, there is still movement and direction.
At the funeral of my wife's uncle, I vested as a deacon and served in that function for the first time in six years. One of the things I noted about this occasion was the utter simplicity in which I was able to 'get back on the bicycle.' Today that is followed by the thought that being liturgically present as a deacon set a prayerful example for those who witnessed it. At least I pray it so. I have managed for the most part to maintain the discipline of daily prayer of the Divine Office, and kept my daily schedule routine enough to catch daily Mass on the radio while driving to work. Trust me, I need these reminders. I once complained about what I saw as a lack of Catholic presence in modern media sources, but that has caught up. I now believe that Catholics have a larger presence among social media (internet, radio, and television) than any other mainstream Christian denomination, save only the independent evangelical movement.
The services in which I participated this year all had new spins placed upon them, given this is the first year under new pastors in both my Catholic and Methodist communities. One of those differences allowed my son and I to participate in the Good Friday service in the Methodist community. The rest of the weekend, my son took a more than passive interest in the high church liturgies on EWTN, the Catholic cable TV channel. I didn't miss much myself as the time difference between Rome and Chicago allowed me to watch significant parts of "church on TV" including a sung proclamation of the Passion according to John, 'performed' in Latin by two deacons, a priest, and a full a capella choir. It is always impressive. I asked him if he'd like to see high liturgy in person, if it were possible, and he said yes, he'd like that.
Meanwhile, my wife is continuing to work on the family ancestry, a 'song that never ends' sort of thing. Just when you think you have run all the lines to the point where there is no longer any reliable or verifiable information, those little 'leaves' pop-up with all kinds of new suggestions where none existed only a day or two earlier. What was originally thought to be a two or three week project is now in its third month! An interesting theory has come up as a result of all the research she has done and what she has uncovered about our collected ancestry. For openers, a significant portion of my wife's lineage figured in the settling of Quebec in the early 17th century. Some were involved in the building of the cathedral of St. Anne du Beaupre in Montreal, and other churches in the French colony. After more research, it was learned that my lineage on my mother's side held high positions in many churches in England in the pre-reformation period. Ironically, these churches were named after (St.) Mary, the mother of Jesus. St. Mary was the church I was active in during the years leading up to my ordination as as deacon in 1994 and for the five years I served actively in parish diaconal ministry. (You can now start humming the theme music to The Twilight Zone.) Strange as it seems, that whole thing about personality traits, the stuff of the soft occultism of astrology and past lives, may have its real basis in the building blocks of life, the DNA molecules that determine what color hair and eyes we have. That there is a spiritual dimension to DNA should not startle anyone, but it is one of those areas few on either the side of science or the Church dare to cross.
The fast of Lenten discipline over, my wife prepared a lavish (understated) Easter dinner. In years long past we would spend Easter with extended family. Over the last few years it has become necessary for many reasons to redefine how much extended family can gather at one place for one banquet. It's not that we wouldn't like to be present; but it's challenging to figure out how to seat everybody, and it gets really hard to host such an affair when the guest list increases exponentially. The only person I know who handled that easily was Jesus himself. Needless to say, the planned meal here exceeded all expectations. My wife worked very hard timing all the cooking and preparation, and she is indeed a blessed woman to be able to pull it off.
After all that, the two of us are exhausted and, wanting to spend a few minutes quietly with each other, went to our room to stretch out for a few minutes. But once there, the conversation took a quick turn I didn't anticipate.
Would I consider returning to the active diaconate?
That's the question my dear wife asked me. She told me she had been prompted by my service at her uncle's funeral, and seeing how much connection to church I seem to have inherited through what we have uncovered in my family's roots.
While I had not deeply considered the question, it had also come to me as a result of serving at that funeral. Add to that the dimension I believe I bring into ministry at present as a musician. I am perhaps the only cantor at an Easter Vigil service who is ordained, as opposed to an ordained deacon assuming the role of a cantor for one portion of a specific rite. Not that I am perfect, or that I want to sound my own horn here, but I have observed how seriously I take this, putting as much of myself in these moments as a minister as I'm able to allow. So the question, while something of a momentary surprise, was not unexpected.
Where I would probably have jumped eagerly to this question had it been asked twelve years ago, I'm not able to answer the question just now. Something about the character of the soul because I have been ordained compels me to address it. It's not simply a matter of 'hey, I missed you, so I'm back' - or even like the return of the prodigal son. It's something like an estranged relationship that is going to require steps to restore and maintain. Then there's the question of what to do about the relationships I have cultivated over the last twelve years - why I cultivated them, and why they're important today. On top of that, there are two larger issues that require resolution before anything else. First, we have outgrown our current dwellings, and want to find a new place to live. The advantages we have here are being eclipsed by the higher cost of living and other disadvantages of living in the same county as Chicago. There's also the question of being closer to my parents. The situation is awkward at best; my dad tells me not to feel guilty about not having time to see them - but that comes off making me feel guiltier. Just the same, I know that the issue is not whether to move, but where to move; and it has to be answered first.
Then, it looks like the bicycle and the horse I fell from twelve years ago is looking for its rider. The problem is, when I last rode them at length, I had no idea where they would take me. God is asking me to go through this again; because I said I could all those years ago. But can I willingly do it all - and all that goes with it - again?