Earlier this month I went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, L.I., where Cardinal Dolan was leading a retreat for the archdiocese’s permanent deacons. I arrived in time to attend Morning Prayer in the chapel with the cardinal and the 90 or so deacons. It was nice to be able to join them in praying and singing.
One of the benefits of our work at Catholic New York is that many stories involve a Mass, as this one did later that morning, and occasionally we also turn out for longer prayer and Scripture study experiences. It’s a perk of the job.
In case no permanent deacons serve at your parish, they are men who are ordained after four years of formation study. Families, especially wives, offer support to the deacons in their study and service. In 2020, there were 376 deacons serving in the archdiocese, although that figure includes retired deacons.
Last fall, the priests of the archdiocese had a lengthier weekday retreat led by Cardinal Dolan, and Auxiliary Bishops Edmund Whalen and Gerardo Colacicco also led retreat sessions for other priests. The deacons’ retreat began on Friday evening, Feb. 11, and concluded with Mass on Sunday morning, Feb. 13.
In his morning conference, Cardinal Dolan taught on the reading from Matthew’s Gospel, 14: 28-33, in which Jesus walks on the water toward His disciples in the boat.
When Peter sees Jesus, he asks Him “to command me to come to you on the water,” which Jesus does. When Peter begins to walk on the water toward Jesus, all is well until the wind gets stronger. Peter gets frightened and begins to sink before crying out, “Lord, save me!”
Drawing on a commentary by St. Gregory of Nissa, the cardinal told the deacons, “We shall be blessed with clear vision if we keep our eyes on Christ…” The cardinal added, “Do not let the winds and waves of life distract us.”
He went on to offer some practical ways “to keep our eyes on Jesus.” Here are a few:
1) Be continually aware of God’s life within us, and don’t ever take it for granted. Some have called it too good to be true, but it is, the cardinal said.
2) Through the Mass: “The Eucharist is a way we can restore that life of Christ within us,” he said.
3) Through our prayer, especially by pondering the face of Christ, through icons or by Scripture readings that show Jesus looking directly at people. Another helpful way, the cardinal suggested, is by seeing Christ in the face of “our people,” especially those who are suffering, poor, sick or alienated.
It was good to be with so many deacons, and not only because a few shared how much they enjoy reading Catholic New York. Another proposed an idea for our monthly Católico de Nueva York section.
It’s not exaggerating to say the deacons seemed very excited Cardinal Dolan was serving as retreat master.
“I was so happy the cardinal is meeting with all deacons in New York, and not just for a day but for the whole weekend,” said Deacon James Francis of SS. Peter and Paul parish in the Bronx, who added that he had shared the big news with his youngest brother, St. Claire Francis, who also serves as a permanent deacon in Antigua.
In the constant swirl of today’s world, Deacon Francis said he focuses on an important lesson Jesus imparted to Peter. “In spite of all that’s going on around me, I always focus on what Jesus told Peter: The gates of the netherworld will never prevail against the Church,” said Deacon Francis, who was ordained in 1992.
Deacon Nicholas Ramoni, ordained in 2015, serves at St. John the Baptist and Most Holy Trinity parish in Yonkers, where the parish church is just down Seminary Avenue from St. Joseph’s Seminary. Hearing the cardinal say, “You guys are important to us” and “Allow yourself to be loved by God,” was uplifting, especially at a time when Covid-19 has put distance and barriers between clergy and the faithful they serve.
Joining his fellow deacons at a retreat led by the shepherd of the Archdiocese of New York was just what Deacon Ramoni needed. “It was a chance to slow down and remember what’s most important.”
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