Formation Update from Brian McMahon – April 2012
Hello! I thought I’d give you a bit of an update as to where I am in the formation and discernment process for ordination as a permanent deacon. I think the last time I wrote a formation update must have been about October last year, so you’re due an update. Some of you might have thought I’d given up or been booted out of the programme!? Well, I haven’t given up and as far as I know I haven’t been booted out! The only reason I’m doing this is because I am about as certain as I can be that God has asked me to do it. So it’s all up to him. And it hasn’t involved hearing voices from heaven or seeing angels flapping around – I’d run like crazy if that stuff happened! God speaks to us through the ordinary and everyday circumstances of our life, all the up and down stuff. That’s why we need to review our lives on a daily basis in prayer, and read our Bibles, or we won’t hear what he’s saying.
In February I graduated with a foundation degree in pastoral ministry, from St Mary’s University College in Twickenham. That covers the first two years of the academic element of formation. I know you will have seen the graduation pictures on this blog already! I now have to push on with further study in theology until February 2013 to get the honours degree in Theology and Religious Studies. This involves the production of a Long Essay and Dissertation. I have decided that both will focus on the Church’s Social Teaching, particularly looking at the ‘preferential option for the poor’ and theologies of liberation. It’s too much to go into detail here and I don’t understand it all yet until I’ve completed the research. However, I can tell you that Matthew 25: 31-46 is a good guide. So you might want to open your Bible and read that chapter and verse. Tell me what you think when you’ve read it. I think it’s quite challenging and a bit scary.
In the last few months I have also completed my third and final year appraisal. Each year of the formation programme has an appraisal process and each man must pass it, or he will probably be asked to leave or make significant changes. This has happened in this diocese in the past and in other dioceses. The formation process for ordained ministry as a permanent deacon is demanding, when you have to balance it with everything else going on in one’s life. My PP and three parishioners write their separate reports on me each year, which go to the director of the permanent diaconate formation programme for the diocese. The formation team discuss all the reports from the dean of studies, academic tutor, parish priest and parishioners, significant others and read my own seven thousand word (!) self-appraisal and then decide whether I should go forward. Without being presumptuous, I am pleased that they have recommended that I should see Archbishop Vincent on the 26th May for a final interview. They haven’t actually confirmed to me that they have recommended me for ordination, but reading between the lines, it seems unlikely they would be putting before the archbishop someone they are not recommending, whilst also talking about plans for ordination. Also the five day pre-ordination retreat at Douai Abbey in Berkshire starts but a few days after the final interview with the archbishop. It’s also a useful way for him to see again one of the men he might be ordaining on 21.7.12 at Westminster Cathedral, rather than meeting him fifteen minutes before Mass in the sacristy at the cathedral!
In the whole process the last word rests with the archbishop. It’s not quite like going into the boardroom with Lord Alan to hear those immortal words, ‘you’re fired!’ or preferably, in this instance, ‘you’re hired!’
There are also other matters to consider over the coming months, such as the purchase of liturgical vestments, and coordinating with the PP on the sanctuary during Mass, because, as you know, the deacon’s role at Mass is more active than the role of an acolyte. I also have to make a public ‘Profession of Faith’ which is similar to the Apostles Creed we recite at Mass. I will probably do this at Mass sometime before ordination. I also have to swear an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the Church,’ which is also completed before ordination.
I love this time of the year. Every year we are used to many of the members of our parish community preparing for and receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick and Confirmation. It was great to see so many people received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass? What a blessing for them, their families and us. Sadly, in many parishes, young people and even those received into the Church drift away. The reasons for this are sometimes complex and sometimes very simple. Let’s pray that everyone stays and gets stuck into the work of living the Catholic life in their area and at school, college and work, and whatever else they are engaged in. We have to be ‘fit for mission’, that is making disciples for Jesus Christ by the way we live our lives and always being able to explain to others why we believe what we believe.
That being ‘fit for mission’ involves living the Life in the Spirit by celebrating Mass and the other sacraments regularly, praying daily, reading our Bible, having a special care for the poorer members of society, and keeping ourselves up to date about what the Catholic Church teaches. If we don’t know our faith we have nothing to tell others when they ask us why we are Catholics and what the Church’s position is on various matters. We live in an age where there is increasing disbelief in God and Christianity seems to be dying out or going through dramatic changes in Europe. As he promised, Jesus will one day come back and ask us how we have been doing at making disciples and caring for the poor. I must admit that if he came back now I’d probably be off to a hot place!
Anyway, that’s enough of the sermon! I’ll write a final update after I’ve seen Archbishop Vincent...even if he boots me off the programme! So there, you are now updated along with a few of my thoughts and ramblings!