“Do Whatever He Tells You”

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and nd to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28)

ACCEPTING a new appointment and coming to a new parish community will always be a challenge to any minister of the Church, whether a bishop, a priest or a deacon–especially a deacon. Unlike a bishop or a priest, who comes to a new community with powers and prerogatives given to them by the Church to exercise their ministry effectively, deacons come to a new parish with none of these. And after establishing ministerial routines, habits and attitudes, a deacon needs to realise that when arriving at a new parish he needs to reevaluate and even put those habits, and attitudes aside and be prepared to adjust.

Depending on how a deacon’s ability to cope and adapt, changing parishes could be very stressful. And if the deacon is not mindful of his role in the church, this period of adjustment could very well set the tone for his ministry in his new community. Given this reality, what could a deacon do to be able to fulfil his diaconal ministry and truly be the sign of Christ who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28)?”

Deacons are “associates” of the bishop rather than co-workers

When I first heard our then newly installed archbishop say that we, deacons, are his “associates” rather than co-workers, I immediately looked for the etymology of the word. It strikes me to find the word to mean “to join with”, “to combine intimately”, “unite with”, “companion”, and “an ally.”

I am aware that some have the opinion that being merely associates seem to have a pejorative denotation. But reflecting on it, I find it more in accord with the nature or essence of a deacon. A deacon is an icon of Christ the servant. Jesus himself says, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (cf. Jn 5:20). I am not sure what the archbishop means by this term applied to deacons, but for me, it is both a description of an intimate relationship with him and a reminder of humility in carrying out our diaconal ministry. On a diocesan level, yes, I only do what my bishop tells me to do. But to do this, therefore, I need to know my bishop’s vision and hope for the local church.

I take the term associate as a call as a deacon to be my bishop’s eyes, ears, hands and feet to whatever parish I serve. Since my ministry is to serve and be the extension of the ministry of the bishop in looking after the faithful as priest, prophet and king. It is also a source of comfort for me, especially during this period when resistance to the vocation of the deacon is still alive. No one can accuse us of being “too prominent, too aggressive” or “too out there” (oh wait somebody did accuse me of this… Hahaha.) because deacons can always say (and it did help me) “I am just doing what my Archbishop set me to do”. In cases like this, it is helpful to be able to say: “Just following orders, mate!”

This term “associate”—this intimate relationship, this constant reminder of humility—juxtapose with the term “co-worker”, which for me indicates certain freedom, on doing something based on one’s choosing, is preferable because of the danger of turning onto oneself. Pride, putting oneself at the centre—my style, my understanding, my preference—instead of the Traditions and teachings of the Church, is constantly hovering over the heads of those in authority. In the parish, the deacon follows the lead of his parish priest—good or bad—because he is given the office to lead the community. The parish priest is the centre of the community while the deacon is the boundary rider, ensuring that everyone is included in the love of God. This too is applying the term associate to the ministry of deacons.

Cana, Mary and the Deacon

Turning to the Gospel, I find the story of the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-12) very helpful in reminding me about diaconal friendship with the Lord. Those who are waiting at tables at the wedding feast were in a terrible bind. They fully know the consequence of running out of wine for the couple’s reputation in the community. But what can they do?

The wedding feast at Cana

Reading and reflecting on this passage, especially focusing on the waiters at the Cana feast who served Jesus, gives also illuminating insight into the deacon’s role in service not just to our Master but also to the community. In his book, “A New Friendship: The Spirituality and Ministry of the Deacon,” Monsignor Edward Buelt described the waiters as men of blind faith. Because of this, they were able to do exactly what Jesus told them to do, with the reassurance of Mary that they would be okay if they obeyed our Lord’s command. Buelt adds that the waiters were obedient; they “did not hesitate or place limits on or exceptions to their obedience to Christ.” Because of their faith, which the mother of Jesus elicited from them, they were able to take great risks to their livelihood, their social standing and their relationships with others.

Although blind faith may be attributed to the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana. The same cannot be attributed to deacons. But the call to obedience is applicable. To obey is to give an ear to, to listen and listen attentively. A deacon’s obedience is not simply the submission of one’s will to the dictates of another. The deacon’s obedience should always come from the sincere acceptance of another’s will for the sake of a greater good. And in a parish or community context, obedience should always be at the service of charity. As the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once said, obedience in the Church is “nothing other than love.” Obedience for the deacon establishes a loving relationship between him, the icon of Christ the servant, and his bishop, who is the overseer, and his co-worker, the priests for the sake of Christ, the church whom they all love.

I said earlier that a deacon’s faith cannot be called blind faith. And yet deacons may, indeed, operate in a sense of blind faith. We may be often called to muster blind faith and to serve to others what we might think illogical, even contradictory to our formation and training. But just like the waiters in the gospel, the deacon may not know or understand what “good” a particular directive or practice will do, we still are called to nonetheless hear, heed and obey whether it be our bishop or our parish priest so as to enter in a loving relationship with them so that Christ and the Church might be served.

The more I think about it, the more I come to the realisation that the deacon’s ministerial objective is not success but fidelity. We serve not to be the centre of attention but to be the centre of service and of charity. Our place is not alongside men and women of power but with the powerless. Yes, a deacon is first and foremost a man of faith and one who trusts in the Lord. Like the waiters at Cana, we might be called to risk much, even all, to do whatever our Lord tells us. But then again, like the waiters at Cana, deacons may also have that privileged position to be the first to see the glory of the Lord. For this, let me be always reminded of the words of our Lady, “Do Whatever He Tells You!”

Saying ‘Thank you and Farewell’

Today is officially the day when both my appointments to the Parish Community of Caroline Springs as parish deacon and pastoral associate end. Tomorrow, I am officially the parish deacon of the Catholic Parish of Melton. Last Sunday, 27 December, during the 9:00 am Mass, I delivered the following speech:

A couple of weeks ago Father Richard mentioned when introducing Father Simeon to this parish community, the importance of the first parish to ordained clergy. Speaking from personal experience I can indeed say how fortunate and blessed I am to have St Catherine of Siena Caroline Springs as my first parish.

Six years ago, I was ordained to the ministry of the diaconate by Archbishop Denis Hart at the St Patrick’s Cathedral with two other Filipino men. Our families, communities, a Filipino choir and our brother deacons and priests came to witness and bless our ordination.

Fr John (third from the lest) during my ordination in 2014.

My first mentor and friend, Fr Minh Tran SJ, came to vest me, and in one of his early demonstrations of support for me our first parish priest, Fr John Tollan, also came on that day. It was my first encounters with our parish priest now, Fr Richard, who was then the Master of Ceremonies (we actually met before for the rehearsal), and Tien who was a sacristan, at the Cathedral, who served during that ordination Mass. It was a day of many firsts, and indeed a foreshadowing of things to come. But even before the ordination, Fr John actually initiated our first meeting. He was the one who first called and to inform me that I’ll be going to Caroline Springs. He invited me for a meeting at the presbytery, welcoming me to this parish. Not long after offering me employment, with the question, “Would you like to work for the parish?”

I will forever be grateful to Fr John for this, and for supporting me in my role as deacon not just during the Masses, and other church activities, but also in other ways and circumstance. I remember during one of the clergy meetings, when two of my deacon brothers were acknowledged by the vicar general for their attendance, Fr John’s voice boomed loud from somewhere in the room, saying loudly, “Deacon Chris Creo is also here!” Receiving such visible public support, I felt proud to be his deacon and committed to serving him, even developing a liking for Chelsea, even though I am usually cautious with dogs, having been bitten by one when I was young.

Fr John with the family

The foundation Fr John set for me as a deacon for this parish paved the way for six years of continuous service. I have loved getting to know you, develop friendships, and provide for and moreover receive your care. My family have truly been blessed with your companionship and friendship through the years.

We’ve had a few changing of the guards through the years, and our parish priests have all enriched our life here at the parish. Personally, I consider myself fortunate to have served each and every one of them. Serving under different styles leadership has provided me with an enriching experience and contributed to my spiritual and pastoral growth as a deacon just as meeting and working with different people in the parish also influenced and contributed to that same growth.

I feel more confident through this experience as I humbly accept my next appointment and serve my next parish priest at the Catholic Parish of Melton. God must have listened when I told him that this transition would be difficult, so he didn’t bring me far to another similarly named parish. At Melton, whose main church is called St Catherine of Siena too, I hope to apply what I have learned here and continue the vision of “setting the world ablaze.”

RCIA Rite of Election 2017.

Friends, there is nothing more for me to say except thank you. Thank you, Father Richard, for our shared love for liturgy. I’ve learned much during the three years I have assisted you in Mass and other liturgies. Thank you, Margaret (our sacristan), for your motherly care. My kids and I will surely miss the prawn crackers.

Thank you to the RCIA team—Ronald, Anie, Maureen, Sheeba & Jorge for the support. Thank you, Robert, for the companionship as a colleague and as a friend. I will miss our conversations amid office busyness. Thank you to the people who at times lend their ears and understanding whenever I needed them. I will not mention you by name but you know who you are.

Lastly, thank you, St Catherine of Siena Caroline Springs, for allowing me to serve you as your deacon!

“Mass Line”

by Chris Creo

WE have a phrase we used to use in the student movement during my days in the University of the Philippines to describe a tactic or a strategy of winning over people to our cause. It’s called “mass line”. Simply put, it reminds us—yes, student activists—to always be at the people’s level, explain social realities in a way people can understand, tap on people’s concrete situations so they can identify with the imperatives of our cause and therefore they themselves decide to act. For those who held opposing views—even perceived as possible “threats”—the tactic was to isolate and neutralise.

bullying-in-workplaceMore recently, after a government benefit for fulltime students has been withdrawn from me, it was necessary that I find work. Luckily—and I took this as God’s providence for me—I immediately found one. Work was good and interesting. I got to work on a machine again in a pasta-making factory. But just like any new work environment, one gets to meet different kinds of people—some readily friendly, some aloof, and some manifestly (although may not be intentionally) hostile.

With my new job, I found two people of the latter kind. I was puzzled. Why the negative attitude towards me? Well, towards all of us new workers on that factory.

Initially, my reaction was to go back to an old tactic as an activist: Neutralise and Isolate. Consciously I cultivated friendship with other workers on my shift—especially the new workers. I was always on the alert to any actions of the two. I constantly observe them whenever they come to my machine; suspicious that they might do something to jeopardise or sabotage my work. There came a point that I had to talk to my boss about two incidents with the machine.

But at that point I came to a realisation and I asked myself: “Is this how a future deacon supposed to react?” Deacons, more than any other minister of the Church are supposed to be witnesses of the Good News of Christ in the world; in the streets; at home; and at workplaces. Deacons should always be reminded of the advice of one of its own—St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” We should witness our faith and the faith of the Church more with our actions.ET-preach-gospel-alwaysSo I decided, instead of the tactic of neutralizing and isolating them, I should instead be employing the tactic of mass line. Or more appropriately, I should be employing the mass line of Jesus. Facing negative attitudes I should respond with friendship and charity. As my wife said, teasing me: “Kill them with kindness!”

After that I tried to be more positive in reacting to my two co-workers. Instead of stressing what they could do to my machine, I learned to give them the benefit of the doubt. If I disagree with them, I tell them but always making sure to communicate that I appreciate what they were trying to do—that is to help me. After every disagreement I make sure to tell them: “We’re alright.” I also started saying “thank you” every time they helped me with something—whether supplying ingredients, packing products or fixing minor faults. I also try to show them that I am there also to help them—with simple gestures such as throwing the content of their rubbish bins after my work. Furthermore, I try to make an effort to talk to them about things other than work. For example, I asked one of them about their home country; about their language—something or anything about them! And I try communicating to them that I am interested—really interested in knowing them as a person.

It may still be premature to make a judgment but somehow, I am starting to notice small changes in their attitude towards me. They are more ready to engage in small talks with me—with us new workers. They are also more helpful than before—even giving me the usual Italian coffee that I am beginning to love!

jesus-washing-feetAlthough their sudden change in attitude could be the result of my brief talk with the boss, I would like to think that it is also the result of my effort to be more positive towards them. I’d like to think that kindness, friendship and charity have more effect. Because I believe that the friendship and charity of Christ is more irresistible than any other response. To respond to aggressiveness with equal aggressiveness may lead to more conflict, escalation of negative attitudes, even violence. But who could resist the charity and friendship of Jesus? And because deacons should be icons of Christ the servant, we should reflect Jesus in us.

If the “mass line” tactic of activists is good in winning over people, how many more people can we win over if we employ the “mass line” of our Lord? Besides, being friendly is also good to the health. ###


Post script: Today, I was admitted to the Ministry of Acolytes by our Archbishop together with two other men preparing for the permanent diaconate and five seminarians preparing for the priesthood. Please pray for all of us so that we may be worthy to be God’s servants and the Church’s ministers.

 

Into the Ministry of Lectors

by Chris Creo

LectorInstallation-4May2014-10LAST SUNDAY, 4 May, was a special day for me and my family—and two other families. On the 11am Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne our Archbishop installed me and two other Filipinos to the Ministry of Readers or Lectors. This is the first step in our formal preparation for our diaconal ordination, come November. The next step is the installation as duly instituted Acolytes, which we will be undergoing on the end of the month.

As we were on our way to the cathedral, my wife said to me: “Dad, this is it…after six years!” I did not know how to react. As I drove, I was searching my feelings but I can’t feel anything—or more precisely, I cannot explain what I was feeling then.

The clarity of feeling came to me when I was sitting listening to the Archbishop’s homily. Yes, indeed! The fruit of six years of formation and discernment is coming to its conclusion. That realisation came especially when I recall just two years ago, I was one of the faithful witnessing the same liturgical ceremonies for the two groups who were ahead of us. Two subsequent years, I was sitting on the side aisle watching them as they responded with the same “AMEN” as I did when the Archbishop entrusted to me the responsibility of being a proclaimer of the Scriptures.

LectorInstallation-4May2014-18

From left: Me, Danny, Archbishop Hart and Neil after the Mass.

During the homily I tried to reflect; digest and internalize every word the Archbishop was saying. But in particular I will try to keep in mind—and heart—what he said about the responsibility of one who is to be proclaimers of God’s good news and that is to love the Word of God in order to “see the people with the mind and heart of Jesus.”

The Archbishop also reflected on the significance and appropriateness of that 3rd Sunday of Easter for our installation as Lectors. The gospel reading was about the two disciples on their way to Emmaus. Just like the two disciples, the three of us are also on a journey; a journey that seeks to change us to be more Christ-like.

The diaconal journey is not just to gain knowledge about the Church, Church teachings, liturgical rites, etc. but as a journey of conversion in order to reflect Christ as we serve his people. See the people with Christ’s mind and heart so that as deacons we may serve them as Christ would have.

And so, the journey continues…

 

Me, a teacher?

by Chris Creo

photo credit: catholicislander.comIt’s been a while since my last blog entry. That is because I got my attention at the moment focused on starting my teaching degree. Yep! I am going to be a teacher! And I think this would be a positive step  or decision in my preparation for the diaconal ministry. Because one of the main tasks of a deacon is evangelisation–proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. What a better way to respond to the Church’s call for New Evangelisation than to actually know how to teach!

Part of the teacher training is to have an e-journal, reflecting on the many dimensions that are related to the students’; my journey to becoming a teacher. Below was the reflection I just wrote for my first journal entry.

First week of school is almost over. Coming out from my class on “Effective Teaching and Professional Practice (EDFD548),” I have come to a realisation that:

  1. That I am actually and officially following a “family tradition.” I said in my first entry to this e-journal that it feels like teaching is in my blood. True, I get that “feeling” whenever I conclude a gathering session of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and that catechumens and candidates tell me they have learned or understood something new about the Catholic faith–even just being able to clarify questions as trivial as “why do Catholics make the sign of the cross with our right hand,”–I never imagine that I will actually be choosing Teaching as a profession.photo credit: http://okcs.schooldesk.net
  2. It just dawn on me the irony in the educational system not only here in Australia but even in the Philippines or even in many parts of the world. The irony is, as I was reminded by an article I read for another class, in hiring teachers it is expected that primary and secondary teacher candidates have teaching qualifications (in the case Victoria, one needs to be registered; in the Philippines one needs to pass the teachers board exams) but no such requirement for teacher in tertiary education. Personally this is true for me. I recall when I just have to do a demonstration teaching in one of the universities in Manila to be able to teach journalism subjects/course. I was not even given any feedback! After the demonstration, I just received a call from the dean saying I got the job. On reflection, I wonder what would be the effects on students if I were not exposed to teaching practices (from my mother and other relatives) or not received training during university years (it’s a common saying among the students that my school–University of the Philippines–not only teach their students to be competent in their chosen degree but also teach them to be teachers)? I also recall a couple of teacher evaluations I filled out when I was doing my Theology degree. For lecturers that “read” their lectures, I put on the item that asks “What is the thing that you like in this course”: The Library! But I also recall those classes where I really enjoyed and participated in actively were the courses where the lecturers were able to engage the students. I guess this is why I keep hearing, not only in this particular class, that teaching is both a science and an art. And I am keen on mastering this art–I owe that much to the students I am going to teach in the future.

The Way Towards a Diaconal Ministry

by Chris Creo

deacons path1IT just dawned on me when I finished setting up this blog and viewed it for the first time. This is my final year of formation to becoming a deacon. In fact, as the countdown widget shows in the upper  right corner of the blog page, it’s actually just nine months to go before our diaconal ordination.

For this, I found myself wondering and reflecting on the things I gained for the last six years. I also reflect upon the changes I have undergone in this diaconal journey.

As the maxim says “grace builds on nature.” When I first started considering the diaconate, it was in the sense an answer to the question of how can I serve the Church more. Since childhood, the Church has always been a part of me. When I was recruited as a junior member of the Legion of Mary, I was immediately drawn to the joy of having that sense of community; of belongingness outside my own family and clan. I found another “family” where the bonds are not based on blood relations but on the sharing of the same belief, of the same expression of religious piety; and of the same inner urge to serve. I even thought that the feeling I was having was a call to the priesthood. But that was dashed immediately when I first fell in love and realized that I want to raise a family and that I’d love to have kids of my own.

So I must admit, the initial attraction of the diaconate was that it represents an alternative to what I thought to be a vocational calling for the priesthood. For me then, the diaconate “is the next best thing.” Imagine my surprise and discomfort when I heard our program director told the enquirers during the orientation meeting to reconsider our decision of pursuing the program if we think deacons are “almost a priest”.

That is why, for six years, I’ve been asking myself: WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS? For me, the reason should be the right one or else I am just wasting the Church’s resources and time, my time and my family’s sacrifice–especially my loving and supportive wife.

The discernment process was very helpful to me to crystalize my intention and refine or redefine my understanding of the diaconate. And with the help of our director, our resource persons and formators,  my teachers, and even my fellow enquirers and friends, I was able to discover–or rather rediscover–the reason why I am committing myself to this ministry. And it is the same inner urge or calling  as in my childhood: to follow Jesus and to serve; to be the icon of Christ who serves; to let others see Christ in me and therefore be able to lead them to God.

And all this time, I really feel God is with me. Sometimes to encourage, sometimes to test my resolve and my trust in Him–like a precious metal being purified by fire but definitely guiding me in every way. I always tell people in the program the palpable presence of God in my discernment. Everything seems falling into the right place at the right time. When a seeming problem starts to manifest, a solution also presents itself at just about the right time.

Even during my lowest state; when I was beginning to doubt due to problems, disappointments and concerns of daily living, He comes to me as a comforter as if saying: “These are the problems of the people you are going to serve. These are the sorrows of the people you are going to help. You have to carry the same cross they are carrying to be able to understand them; to be able to help them.” Pope Francis aptly described the diaconal ministry when he likens the Church to that of a field hospital.

For the last six years I have learned to put my trust in God being constantly reminded by his Words: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6: 25-26)”

To begin this final year of formation, I once again say the same prayer I said when I started this journey: “Here I am Lord! Send me!” I only pray to God for His continued presence in our lives and His grace to make me a worthy servant for His servant church.