Deacon candidates enter a new stage on their journey

Barb Arland-Fye
Angel Hernandez of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City receives a vessel with wine to be consecrated from Bishop Thomas Zinkula. Hernandez and six other men took another step toward becoming deacons for the Diocese of Davenport on July 11 at St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

The Christian journey of seven deacon candidates led them to St. Mary Catholic Church of Dodgeville, an unincorporated town in Des Moines County, where the corn grows up to the road’s edge.

Around 55 people — family, relatives, friends, clergy and candidates — gathered here July 11 to celebrate Mass and the institution of the seven deacon candidates as acolytes, an important stage of their journey toward ordination to the diaconate, God willing. Ryan Burchett, Kent Ferris, Andrew Hardigan, Angel Hernandez, Gary Johnson, Michael Linnen­brink and Andrew Reif began this journey five years ago as inquirers.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided at the Institution of Acolytes, a ministry of service at the altar, assisting the priest and deacon. Greeting the people gathered, the bishop joked that he is usually passing by Dodgeville on his way to somewhere else. When he approaches the Dodgeville exit on U.S. 61, he thinks of the game “dodgeball,” the long-ago TV western “Gun Smoke” (“Get out of Dodge”), and Andrew and Tracy Reif, members of the Dodgeville parish.

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Teasing aside, “journey” served as a metaphor for the candidates’ discernment of their vocation, and as the centerpiece of Bishop Zinkula’s homily. “I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned on my Christian journey thus far,” he began. He took his cue from the Sunday Scripture readings, Amos 7:12-15, Ephesians 1:3-14 and the Gospel of Mark, 6:7-13. The bishop identified stages of the journey, followed by some “rules of the road.”

“All of us are on a spiritual journey, which God initiates,” he said. In the first reading, the Lord took Amos from his role as a shepherd to “prophesy to my people Israel.” In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God “destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” In Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.” “God likewise calls each of us in Christ to follow him. We spend the rest of our lives responding to that call.”

Called, chosen, redeemed and sealed, “we are sent out into the world at the end of Mass. Go; get the heck out of here. Live the Good News of Jesus Christ and share it with others. Keep the faith and pass it on. Like the 12 apostles did when Jesus sent them out, we reach out and lift up the least, the last, the lost, the lonely and the lowly.”

The bishop identified rules of the road he has learned on his spiritual journey. A thankful attitude toward God, praising God’s glory through action and participation in the Mass, a willingness to be led by God, traveling lightly to avoid getting bogged down by “excessive stuff,” embracing community and stopping along the way to rest, especially on Sundays. “Take time for silence, reflection, prayer,” the bishop said. “It’s hard for God to get our attention in a busy, noisy world.”

After the homily, the congregation prayed in silence for the candidates. One by one, each candidate knelt before Bishop Zinkula to receive a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated.

“The bishop’s homily hit home,” Hernandez, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, said after Mass. “Everything is a journey. I couldn’t ask for a better band of brothers on this journey. Everyone who has supported Deacon Class VIII and me, personally, is just amazing.”

“All along, I’ve been following the model of one step at a time,” Reif, of the Dodgeville parish, said. “This is one more of those steps and all of this has led me closer to Christ.” He sees this stage on the journey as increasing the realization “of what’s expected of us as we get closer to ordination.” The discernment process helps him to accept “what God opens up for you” on any given day. “That’s what we’re called to do, to serve no matter what.”

For Ferris, a member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, the celebration reinforced the ministry of serving at the altar, the importance of the Mass, and preparing to minister to the sick. “It all comes back to being at the altar.” He found it meaningful to receive the pyx, a small round container to carry the consecrated host to the sick.

The celebration marked the culmination of a lifelong commitment to the Catholic faith for Hardigan, of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. His parents set the example, stressing the importance of Mass and being of service to others. This commitment has continued in his family, with his wife and children. Institution of Acolytes “is the next step on the journey. I don’t know how it will end, but it’s been fun. It’s been glorious.” Most importantly, is doing everything for the glory of God, he said.

“Today is as much a celebration about being back together as a group after COVID,” said Burchett, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Dav­enport. He appreciated “seeing all of these families and celebrating as a larger community of faith on this journey for five years and gearing up for the home stretch.”

Johnson, a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burl­ing­ton, also appreciated being together again with everyone in person. A convert to Catholicism, he has always enjoyed the church-related activities in which he participates. That led him to wonder whether he had a call to the diaconate. He appreciated Mass at St. Mary and the intimate setting in which it took place.

“It was awesome,” Linnenbrink of St. Boniface Parish in Farmington, said. “All of my brothers in this class, we’re all on this journey together. So it’s nice to have the opportunity to visit each other and see what’s happening in each other’s lives.” He and his wife, Liz, also appreciated the intimate feel of the Mass.


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