Friday, December 5, 2014

Welcome with Joy Our Catechumens

LaTonya Jackson
Jena Ruiz
Today we welcome LaTonya Jackson and Jena Ruiz as Catechumens in the RCIA process.  LaTonya and Jenna have been studying, discussing, praying and discerning the call of the Holy Spirit in their hearts as God beckons them into a closer relationship with Him in HIs Church.  As a Catholic Christian Community, we welcome them as fellow seekers as they journey in discipleship of Jesus Christ.  Please welcome them with the love of Christ in communal fellowship and join them in your prayers.

Deacon Don 

The Rite of Acceptance
The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (Rite of Acceptance) is the first of the “threshold rites” of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and the first public ritual. In the Rite of Acceptance, a change of identity takes place: those previously known as inquirers become catechumens. They are officially welcomed by the Church as disciples, members (albeit not yet full members) of the household of faith.The text calls this rite “the first consecration by the Church”1 of those seeking Christian initiation. They are literally marked with the cross of Christ as God’s own. Consequently, the gathered community and its welcome, as well as the inquirers and their promise of discipleship, are essential to this rite. Except in extraordinary circumstances, it is celebrated at a Sunday Mass, so that “the entire Christian community…take an active part in the celebration.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Along a Path to the Kingdom"

I recently had the privilege and joy to validate a marriage in the Catholic Church between two people who were civilly joined for over 14 years.  The groom, a cradle Catholic and his bride, a Jewish woman, made the decision together to have their marriage blessed by the Church.  

Why they did not seek a dispensation to marry in the Church all those years ago no longer matters.  What is important is that he is now eligible to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church.  He attends mass regularly and she is often with him.  They are very nice people and a lovely couple together.  Our community is much richer for their presence.

The journey that led them to stand before the altar in a Catholic Chapel began with one of those common incidents we see so often in the Church.  Someone asked him to be the godfather to their child.  A simple enough request.  Our groom was told he needed a letter from his home parish in order to be the godfather.  When he attempted to get the letter certifying that he met the qualifications to fulfill this honorable duty he came up against Church Law. 

At first he was told that the church where he regularly attended mass was not his home parish, so they could not write a letter for him!?!?!?  Now, I think there may have been something lost in the translation in this statement, but it appears that their parish’s secretary wields enormous powers over who can and who cannot be a member of their community.  But this story is not about parish secretary horror stories and poor understanding of what constitutes parish membership.

For our groom this should be a no-brainer!  After all, he was born into a Catholic family, had received all his sacraments as a student while attending the parish school, so easy-peasy!  Just call up the parish where his mother still attends daily mass and speak to the deacon.  Now you know this is where it went off the rails for him.  Those darn deacons!  
Now this was an easy fix.  After a few meetings with the deacon and the completion of a few forms seeking a dispensation from the Bishop the couple were able to have their marriage blessed in the Church.  What made this an easy fix was a husband who wanted to reacquaint himself with the practice of his faith, a wife who was willing and eager for their marriage to take place in a Catholic Church, before a priest or deacon and two witnesses (Mom also attended to make sure it all went well) and no other impediments that needed to be overcome, such as a previous marriage by either of them.
This went well and had a happy ending or rather a happy new beginning for our groom, his wife, his Mom and their entire family.  He stood up as godfather for one of the newest members of our faith community and by his witness to his faith should fulfill the duties of that honorable role very well.

The recently ended Synod of Bishops on Family Life has much buzz around it concerning its outcome, but  it is too soon to know for certain what the results of these discussions will be.  So many people are hopeful that the teachings of Jesus Christ in His Church are made understandable and applied with love and mercy, so more of God’s children can come to know Him better.  He calls each of us by name and invites us to share in His Kingdom for His way is far above our understanding, but it is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Deacon Don

Monday, October 6, 2014

From the RCIA Diaries

A young woman in the RCIA asked about the Rite of Baptism.  She wanted to know what was going to happen when she was baptized.  I started to talk about having the stain of original sin removed and was beginning to move into the story of creation and Adam and Eve when she interrupted me.

“No,” she said, “that’s not what I want to know. I want to know how I will be baptized.”  Now I started on the use of water and the Trinitarian formula when again she stopped me.  “Deacon,” she said with some exasperation.  “I want to know if you dunk us under the water!  Will my hair will get wet!”

Many years ago before I was ordained, I attended a workshop on the Triduum given by a priest who’s name I’ve misplaced, but who talked about the Triduum, especially the Easter Vigil Mass which continues to stay with me.  His description of this celebration on this mystical night fired my imagination; making want to share in the experience of the Vigil in the same way.  There was darkness, chanting, fire and candles, processions, proclamations, light, more singing, readings (all seven of them), Glory and praise, ringing bell, prayers and more prayers - all lasting until the early hours of the morning when the celebration greeted the rising sun and the empty tomb.  Envisioning this celebration of our Lord’s victory over death made the heart swell and the eye tear.

He described the baptism as beginning in a very solemn way.  The Candidates lined up in white robes (with bathing suits on underneath) ready to step into the fountain in the vestibule of the church with the whole community watching.  As they entered the chest deep pool the priest held them, saying in a loud voice, “I baptize you in the name of the Father (dunk), the Son (dunk), and the Holy Spirit (dunk)!”  Each newly baptized Christian emerged from the pool dripping from head-to-toe and smiling from ear-to-ear.

Now the moment arrives when the newly baptized are anointed on the crown of their head with the Oil of Salvation, as Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King.  On a tray are small carafes of Chrism Oil – one for each.  The fragrant oil drips and runs down their hair onto their faces and shoulders as the priest pours the saving oil over them: investing each as a member of the Body of Christ; sharing in everlasting life.

As I remembered this workshop and the impression it made on me, not just on the way the Vigil was celebrated, but on the awesomeness of the Vigil itself and its significance for all people, I smiled.  I am reminded of Peter, when the Lord wanted to wash his feet at the Last Supper.  As Jesus explains to him why it was necessary, he cried, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head."  

Would only that each person approach baptism with this same full, heart-felt presence of what God is doing in our lives – freeing us from darkness and death in sin – up into light and new life; raising us up to be with Him and the joy and peace of heaven forever and ever.

Deacon Don

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The 'N' Word

The cross is the enduring symbol of Christianity.  It is on the cross that our Lord, Jesus suffered and died.  It is from the cross that He rose up to new life.  In His body on the cross is our redemption from sin.  On the empty cross is our resurrection to new life.  It is the cross that gives us hope.  It is the cross where we find God’s love.  It is the cross around which the Shepherd gathers His sheep.  We are one in Christ in the cross.  The cross, a symbol of suffering and shame became the symbol of glory and triumph where the love of God was made visible in the sacrifice of his Son for the redemption of his people and the gift of Life Eternal in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Today, another symbol has emerged for Christians everywhere.  It is a symbol of hate, a symbol of intolerance, a symbol of destruction; assigned to Christians everywhere.  It is the symbol formed by the letter ‘N’ in Arabic, pronounced ‘nun’; standing for Nazarene, a derogatory term used by Islamic militants for Christians.  It is spray-painted on the homes, businesses and property of Christians under the control of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Our sisters and brothers, believers in the Truth, the Way and the Life, Jesus Christ have this symbol spray-painted on their property; identifying them as Christians who are then threatened, robbed and murdered.  They are forced at gun point out of their homes, churches and lands, denied livelihoods: their property confiscated, girls and women raped, children abused, all beaten, shot and killed in a cleansing of the countryside of all that is Christian.  Churches are burned and torn down, religious shrines desecrated, graveyards plowed under, monasteries demolished – almost 2,000 years of Christian presence eradicated.  The action and intent of these Islamic militants is the complete erasure of Christianity – a holocaust, reminiscent of the Nazi treatment of Jews whose property was marked with the Star of David.

These suffering sisters and brothers of ours, martyrs for their faith in Christ, cry out to us in Jesus’ name.  They plead to God for relief of their suffering, rescue from their plight and refuge from their oppressors.  Jesus calls us to minister to their needs; giving them aid and comfort, treating them with compassion and mercy, loving them as we are loved, children of God.

In this new symbol of hate and oppression Christians stand together in support of those who suffer and in defiance toward all oppressors.  By this new symbol of hate and oppression we are fortified by the Holy Spirit with courage and strength to bring the Word to all nations.  For this symbol of hate and oppression is countered by the Cross, the symbol of God’s love and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ in who’s crucified Body we are one.

Deacon Don

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mother of Mercy - Pray for Us

One more day!  We have only one more day before our bishop arrives to celebrate mass with us.  The occasion?  The naming of our new parish – Mother of Mercy.

Mother of Mercy parish is a gathering together of four communities – two churches that closed for a variety of reasons, including buildings that were no longer habitable – Our Lady of Providence and St. Peter Claver and the two Churches with beautiful, but aging buildings, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Holy Spirit.  This is the final – on paper – step in merging of these four distinct Churches into one new community of the faithful.

In reality, the merging together into one group of followers of the Way, is only in its infancy.  With three predominant languages - English, Spanish and Creole, defined cultural distinctions, - Haitian, South and Central American, old European (Italian, Irish and others) and African-American and differing worship practices (the Mass, may be the Mass everywhere, but our approach to it certainly has diverse local traditions) and separate world needs – immigrant, retired, youth, poor, wealthy and diminishing middle-class, etc., the most encompassing description of us that can be said of people of the new Mother of Mercy parish is that we are all Catholics.

When you come down to it – that is the best description of all.  We are one – holy – catholic and apostolic – One Body in the One Lord, Jesus Christ.

Hail Holy Queen,
Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping
In this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy towards us.
And after this, our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement O loving O sweet Virgin Mary.

V. Pray for us, oh holy Mother of God. 

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I spent most of last weekend on retreat. Each year deacons are required to experience a retreat to renew spiritual batteries, revisit old acquaintances and connect with fellow clergy. I went kicking and whining all the way to The Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA.

I usually make my retreat at San Alphonso in Long Branch, but there were too many church event things I wanted to attend during the work week this year and I only have so much vacation time.  So, an additional four day vacation to attend a priests and deacons retreat was off the table this year.  I look forward to going again next year, if only because attending retreat at San Alphonso allows me to sleep in my own bed each night instead of the medieval torture rack found in the cells of most monasteries.

I hadn’t been to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa since I was ordained.  The diocese uses The Shrine for many of their formation retreats for those who are hoping to become priests and deacons.  It is a beautiful place set on a hillside in rural Pennsylvania.  The views are marvelous, especially in the evening and early morning.  There is plenty of room for quiet contemplation and prayer and this past weekend the weather was the BEST!

The Shrine offers a wonderful opportunity for quiet thoughts and contemplations, a prerequisite for discerning a vocation.  One is able to find a quiet spot to pray or snooze; searching for an inner peace that seems to escape most of us in the hectic pace of life – both in the parish and in our personal lives.  To help achieve this blissful state I strongly suggest leaving your cell phone, iPad and/or laptop home or at least locked in the car for the weekend.

My fears and dread of attending retreat at The Shrine with a bunch of my fellow DoT deacons came up (or down) to my expectations.  Deacon John, whom I haven’t seen in several years, was there with his bag of stories – always entertaining and usually thought provoking.  When listening to John one should have a notepad for the homiletic ideas that sprout from his life stories.  Good fellowship and camaraderie abounded with most of my other fellow deacons (even those who fouled the air with their cigarette and cigar smoke outside the main doorway – ugh!).  Several fellows I didn’t get an opportunity to meet (though I really would like to meet the fellow who stayed in the cell above mine, who’s evening habit of clog dancing was a challenge!).

If you’ve stayed with me this long I now come to the highlight of the retreat.  Capuchin Fr. Remo, our retreat master.  Resplendent in his brown Franciscan habit, draped rosary and hood (called a capuche, henceforth the title Capuchin – wow, learn something new every day!), Fr. Remo is a humble man who brought alive for me, at least, the memories of our call to the diaconate.  He reminded us (all of us, clergy, religious and lay) of God’s call to each of us and the gifts we are given to enable us to give life to that call – in service to God and one another.  No matter what our station or role in life is, we serve the Lord in loving one another and bringing the love we receive from Him to each brother and sister.

Fr. Remo also reminded us of our need to be in communion with God and with the Church, His holy people.  God’s love for us surpasses anything we understand and He desires us to be in close union with Him always.  His love and mercy is all we need and restores us to life – abundantly.

So, after all my reluctance, the Holy Spirit (who always knows best) finally penetrated my stubborn heart by knocking me down; sitting on me, saying “Listen up, my child! You need to hear and understand this!”

Next year, I’ll be back at San Alphonso, or wherever the Spirit leads me.  No matter where I am I look to the Spirit to guide and protect me; always leading me back to greener pastures with the voice of the Good Shepherd.  And when I am found, I am scooped up in His arms and embraced with the love I need and desire.

Come Holy Spirit, come!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pentecost Sunday

Three members of our Christian community will complete their sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church at Holy Spirit Church this Sunday.  Daniel, Eulysis and Amy, after having spent time in study and prayer will receive the Holy Spirit as the Apostles did in that upper room after Jesus rose into heaven.

While, tongues, as of fire, may not be visible coming upon their heads (but do we not just hope that they do appear!), they will be filled with the Spirit of the Father and the Son.  Each will be given the power of the Spirit to bring the Good News of Salvation to the world through word and action in living the Christian life.  

As their guide and protector, the Spirit will give them the confidence, strength and peace to live as disciples in the world, but also as guide and protector, the Spirit will help them resist the temptations of the evil-one, so they may not be of this world, but live in Christ in this world.

Let us congratulate Daniel, Eulysis and Amy and welcome them into the fullness of discipleship. And let us too be reminded of how the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us; giving us the courage and strength, love and peace to live truly as disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Deacon Don

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Praise the Lord! The Power of Prayer

A quick note - 

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag - the Sudanese Christian woman who was condemned to receive a 100 lashes and then be executed will be released from prison, the Sudanese government has announced.  No mention was made in the government's statement of the disposition of her sentence for marrying a Christian man in this predominantly Muslim country.  

While in prison Meriam gave birth to a daughter.  Her sentence was to be carried out when the child reached 2 years of age.

We thank the Lord for hearing the prayers of His people and changing the hearts of Meriam's tormentors.  Let us continue to pray for all people of faith who suffer persecution and for those who have been martyred for love of God.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"This Church"

There is a parish not too far from here where the pastor prefaces each Sunday mass with, “Welcome to the house of the Church of The Holy Angels” (not the actual name).  I always thought this a curious statement until I realized the point he was making: This building is where the people of this community gather, but it is not the church. It is the people who are Church, where they gather is just a building.  We are Church no matter where we are, in an auditorium, in the school gym or, as in my early Church experience, worshipping together in a public school cafeteria because we were a new community just being established.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus speaks of the two ‘churches’- the one a physical building and the other metaphysical, 
"We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with (human) hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'" Mark 14: 58.  
Jesus is our center, we are Church in Him.  Jesus established His Church in us, not in a building.  We are the temples in which He dwells; where the Holy Spirit with the Father and Son reside.  We are a living Church.
We cannot contain God within the confines of a building.  A building is not ‘holy’, but it is where holiness dwells; dwelling within its people who gather to worship in communion with God and one another.  We are Church, not inside these four walls and behind these beautiful windows which are monumental symbols of our love for God, but Church in our love for God reflected in our love for one another.  We are Church to the whole world.  We recognize God in one another, not in the fa├žade of a building.  Our community and fellowship with all the children of God is our Church.  As this community is Church in our town or city, we are all Church in this diocese, in this country, in this world.  We are connected, as Church, to all our brothers and sisters in and through Jesus Christ. 
We are pilgrims on a journey, passing through this life and these buildings in just a moment in time.  It is in the kingdom of God where we will dwell for all eternity.  Our desire is in rejoicing in the embrace of God for eternity, not in leaving a marker of our earthly existence.  As we hear in Matthew 6: 19,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .”
In these buildings we gather to worship God (the first of the two greatest commandments) and to love one another, in our journey to the gates of heaven (the second commandment).  Be Church with one another: gather, pray, worship, work and love - for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Deacon Don

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Building Saints Since the Beginning of Time" Friday 5.23.14

There is much going on this week.  Planning of the Liturgy for the merger mass with Bishop O'Connell on June 29, the last training session on multiculturalism in the Church from the diocese (held at our wonderful St. Peter Claver facility) and catechetical sessions with our candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation on Pentecost (June 8).

Our parish is alive and very active, but as usual - while the harvest is plenty, the workers are few.  We could always use more members of the communities to share the joy of being Church.  We are called to share the gifts we each receive from God with one another, to build up the Body of Christ and help bring one another into the peace of God's kingdom.  We could hang a sign out on the front of every church, "Building Saints Since the Beginning of Time."

'Jack would be a dull boy' if all he did was work, so I direct your attention to the Dinner Dance scheduled for May 31st.  What's not to love - Good Food - Laughs - Fellowship - Great Music and Dancing! So come out and share the joy of community with one another and the bounty of God's grace.

One last item - I direct your attention to an article on the Catholic channel at Patheos ( entitled, "Influential Ugandan Nun Shine Light on Sacred Tradition of Black Catholic Women."  This is a very informative and interesting article on the struggles of Black women religious (which has been going on since at least the 5th century!) and how this movement is re-emerging and influencing the Catholic Church and transforming the world.  Do yourself a favor and read this.

Deacon Don

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  All Christians should know this name and pray for this woman every day.  She is our sister in Christ Jesus.  She is one of us.  She is a believer in the promise of salvation and the glory of God, the Father.  She is a Christian, a wife, a mother, a doctor and pregnant.  She is a human being, a creation of God’s love.

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag. She is sentenced to receive 100 lashes (Jesus received 39) and then be hanged until dead. 

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  Her crime – Christian!

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  She was born to a Muslim father and Christian mother.  Her father abandoned the family when she was very young.  She was raised as a Christian by her mother.  She married a Christian man.

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  She refused to recant her faith.  She told the court, “I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian.”

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  She will become one of the many martyrs of the Christian faith.  People, who for their love of Christ are harassed, persecuted, driven from their homes, economically oppressed, burned out of their churches, intimidated by their governments, shot at, legally executed and hanged in the streets remain  faithful disciples unto death.

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag.  We pray for you and for all who die for being a Christian, believers in Jesus Christ.  By your blood may we grow stronger in our faith and love; coming together, standing, as brothers and sisters, children of the One God to spread the Good News to the world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Like a Beggar Who's Found Bread . . ."

In the last month I've attended three very interesting and engaging training programs offered in the Diocese of Trenton.  The first was a 5 hour class (hardly time to get more than an inkling on the topic) on Multiculturalism in the parishes.  This is a new reality for many parishes, especially ours (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Holy Spirit in Asbury Park) or will be in the near future.

The next program was an all day session with Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples and co-founder of the Catherine of Sienna Institute.  Her work on getting to the depths of discipleship are having a major impact on parishes and dioceses around the country.

The third program called Evangelization 101 discussed and reviewed the challenge to the Church to be welcoming and inclusive to all its members.  We need to look at our parishes as home to all disciples, like the mustard plant is home to all of birds.

Multiculturalism in our parishes will be a topic from time to time because it is so important and, afterall we are all sisters and brothers in Christ.

The Diocese of Trenton, as well as most dioceses, offer a lot of interesting training and continuing education classes and programs that engage all ages and interest levels.  While deacons are required to experience at least 15 hours of continuing education each year, I believe everyone is able to find something offered that will help them on their journey of discipleship.  How are we to follow our Lord's command to go and make disciples of all nations without being properly formed and informed in His teachings and in His Church.

Deacon Don Ronning

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 3, 2014 – Making Saints

I came across this story recently.

One evening Johnny was saying his prayers while his Mom listened.  When he finished the ‘Our Father’ he grew very quiet.  His Mom, seeing a look of consternation on his face asked, “What’s the matter, Johnny?”
“Mom,” he said slowly, “would you be happy in heaven, if I died and went to hell?”
Mom, taking Johnny into her arms said, “Johnny, I could never be happy if you were in hell.”

Who could not agree with the Mom in this story when we think about our loved-ones.  It just saddens the heart to think that we would be separated for all eternity from all those whom we love in our lives.  How could we find joy in heaven knowing our sons or daughters, husband or wife, friends and family members were spending eternity in suffering the pains of torment in hell.

This is why we are called to make saints of one another. This is why we are to live as disciples of Christ continuing His mission of salvation for all God’s people.  It is the responsibility of each of us to look out for, correct, admonish, teach, guide and live the Truth with one another in the world, so we may all dwell in the peace and joy of God’s everlasting kingdom of heaven.

We are called to see Christ and be Christ to one another with this goal in mind: That all God’s children come to be with Him in heaven.  It is all our responsibility to be the Salt and Light.  This begins in the home and with the family and extends out into the world. We are followers of Christ, the Way the Truth and the Light – everywhere, to everyone and at every-time.

This is the love of God.  This is the love we are called to have for one another.  Our love is measured by how well we loved the other, as we loved ourselves.


Deacon Don

Saturday, April 26, 2014

April 26, 2014

I have a habit of writing reminders to myself on little scraps of paper, sticky notes or in the margins or inner covers of books.  These usually are fantastic, awe-inspiring and pithy ideas for homilies, evangelization projects or other ministerial inspirations that I want to expand on at a later time.  There are two problems with this though (I was going to say ‘only’ two problems, but who am I kidding!) – (1) I lose the notes AND, when I do find them at a much later time – (2) I can’t read my own handwriting!

Welcome to my world!

This morning I found a note tucked in my wallet - head-lined GV2: Witness (scribble) Faith on a piece of scrap paper from my office desk.  There was also something that looks like ‘Apples to your life’ then something about ‘no potatoes’. So this is either a grocery list or an addendum to the Gospel Voices Project that’s been playing on my mind since before Holy Week.

I believe the internet is a powerful tool for evangelization. Everywhere we look, people are looking at their smartphones, iPads or laptops.  These are the constant cultural companions for so many people; serving as their main source of communication, information, socialization and entertainment.  I believe it is imperative for the Church and especially for our parishes to have a presence on the internet.

We are all witnesses to the decreasing number of people sitting in the pews.  While it may give us more room to stretch out during mass, it is a warning sign for the Church (that’s all of us, disciples that we are), that we need to do a better job of following Jesus’ mandate to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

One of our task and challenge as disciples in the new evangelization is to discover new and creative ways of reaching out to the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Using the internet is only one of the many channels open to us, but we need to have a presence and a competence, so we can compete effectively with the myriad messages that clog the atmosphere. 

The evil-one works hard at tempting people away from God’s love with many distractions and false promises.  Jesus relies on each of us to be His voice, His hands, and His feet to bring about His continuing mission of salvation for all God’s beloved children.


Deacon Don