Serving the Church and the world
POST BY KJoseph
Friday, April 27, 2018 - 00:00
Kensy Joseph SJ explains why it affirmed a vital part of his ministry as a deacon when he was recently told, ‘you’re a student – you’re one of us!’
After delivering a Sunday homily recently at the Holy Name Church in Manchester, I was chatting with some students when one of them commented on my ‘both/and’ situation as a deacon. On the one hand, I am on the team of the Jesuit-run Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy, ordained to specific liturgical ministries (among other things) such as preaching at Mass. On the other hand, I am a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester and so face the same joys and pressures of lectures, exams and deadlines as the students to whom I minister. A key aspect of my life and ministry as a deacon is to be a ‘bridge’ between the hierarchical Church and its institutions (even if there are a number of lay people ministering in them) and the people of God.
In Jesuit formation, the diaconate coincides more or less with the fourth and final year of theology studies before priestly ordination. After the ‘Arrupe Month’ (a privileged experience of prayer, reflection and direction in preparation for the priesthood), Jesuit scholastics begin the process of applying to be ordained. About this time, they also receive particular instruction and examination on liturgical preaching, presiding and hearing confessions. My instructor, Fr Damian Howard SJ (now my Provincial!), used to tell us, ‘When preparing a homily, always ask, “Where is the Good News in this scripture passage?”’
Whereas the aim of theology studies, as a whole, is a thorough and contextualised grasp of the faith of the Church, the diaconate starts putting in the final practical and concrete pieces of this picture. For me, this happens largely in the daily exercise of my ministry – serving at the altar (leitourgia), serving the Word of God through the proclamation of the Gospel and the homily (kerygma), and serving the poor and marginalised in the context of my apostolate (diakonia). Mostly, it is a matter of keeping an eye out for the needs of the moment and responding as best as I can: ‘What would be helpful for the celebrant at the altar?’ ‘If the priest has back-to-back Masses, would it help if I preached at one?’ ‘Does the refugee night shelter need another pair of hands?’ ‘How can I best assist this person in encountering Jesus Christ?’
One aspect of my Jesuit life that has been profoundly touched by ordination to the diaconate is my prayer. During the ordination rite, I was asked if I was resolved to ‘celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours [the Divine Office] for the Church and for the whole world’. We were trained to pray the Divine Office in the noviceship and although Jesuits, unlike other orders, do not bind themselves to praying the liturgy of the hours in common as a universal rule, communities do often use specific hours for their community prayer. Being required to pray the Office, even by myself, can be both a challenge and a liberation. The challenge is often in creatively finding ‘prayer points’ during the day. Sometimes I have to remind myself consciously that this prayer is not just for myself, but for the Church and the world.
Having done so, I am liberated to become aware of the various ways in which God sanctifies and graces my daily life.
In essence, my ministry is to help others become aware of the same in their own lives.
This piece first appeared in Jesuits and Friends magazine issue 99 Spring 2018