For Deacon Tim Woods, Bishop Octavio Cisneros struck a familiar chord as a keynote speaker for the convocation of archdiocesan deacons — The Deacon, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow — Oct. 27 at Cardinal Rigali Center.
The Diocese of Brooklyn bishop, a Cuban native, reminded Deacon Woods of his father — the late Dr. Ralph Woods, a native of Belize.
“Bishop Cisneros has a gentle, pastoral voice, and Dad had a very gentle tone of voice, too — soft spoken, but with words packed with power,” said Deacon Woods, who was ordained in 2016. “Bishop Cisneros’ message resonated with me. His words were packed with wisdom.
“I was happily in the audience for what he had to say. I could picture Dad saying the same things.”
In a one-hour presentation, Bishop Cisneros focused on deacons as the “Living Icon of Christ,” being more than just sacramental ministers in serving others in their ministries.
“Bishop Cisneros’ talk made me reflect on this truism: A deacon should be ‘Who I am,’ instead of ‘What I do,’” said Deacon Woods, who serves at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington. “We have the opportunity to be so much more than presented in the sacraments.”
Pope Francis has called on Catholics figuratively — and literally, in some cases — to “meet people where they are” on their unique faith journeys in evangelizing them.
“Sacraments are important; we make them available (by) witnessing weddings, baptisms and ministering at wake services and funerals, but do we have just the rubrics and mechanics (of the sacraments), or do we really evangelize in the faith as Pope Francis reminds all of us to do as Catholics?” Deacon Woods asked. “What are we doing to make sure we’re evangelizing the faith whenever we meet the other person in that moment? To me, the ministry of diaconate is just being present to what’s going on with the person next to you.”
The culture and divisions today present trials, as well as challenges and opportunities.
“These are such uncertain times we live in; there’s so much strife,” Deacon Woods said. “But we can conquer our fear through our faith. We can conquer discouragement though the hope Christ gives us. We can conquer through love the indifference people have (about) what’s going on around them.
“I think deacons are a conduit to all the graces the Holy Spirit wants us to share, living to be more rather than less, living with the heart rather than mechanics of what a deacon has a chance to do” at Masses on Sundays and prayer services.
Deacons are in a unique position to evangelize; they’re often married and have families, and are also ordained clergy. But Christ needs to be at the heart of their ministries.
“What are we doing to make sure we’re evangelizing the faith whenever we meet the other person in that moment? To me, the ministry of diaconate is just being present to what’s going on with the person next to you.”
“We have to be in love with Christ in order to be Christ for others,” Deacon Woods said, echoing Bishop Cisneros’ words. “We have to be in love with the graces of the Holy Spirit in order to share them with others.”
Similar to the convocation of archdiocesan priests last month, the deacon confab enabled more than 200 people — including wives of deacons — to renew friendships and make new ones. Deacon Woods called the convocation, simply, “terrific.”
“I got a sense of what a terrific ministry the diaconate is, seeing old friends and seeing recently ordained deacons,” he said. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson ordained a record-sized class of 25 men in June. The previous record was 24, by Archbishop John L. May in 1987 and ‘89.
Since 2013, deacon convocations have been on a five-year cycle, with the next in 2023. According to Deacon Christ Ast, the archdiocesan diaconate director, a single deacon convocation was held before 2013 — in the late 1980s. Like priests meeting annually with the archbishop (after the Chrism Mass), deacons also meet annually with him on Deacon Day.
“The last time I saw a lot of the new guys was their ordination day, ” Deacon Woods said. “The convocation was a real chance for me to hear about their ministries and see the joy on their faces … to let that soak in and get caught up with other people and where they are in their ministries.”
The archdiocese has ordained 465 men as deacons in 34 ordinations over the past 41 years. Msgr. John Costello, pastor at St. Peter in Kirkwood, presented the convocation with a history of the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese, from the formal authorization by Cardinal John J. Carberry in 1972 to the two-year formation leading to the first ordination in 1977 to his tenure as director in the 1980s to bi-annual ordinations since 2010.
“Recent deacons like me might not have a grasp about the pioneer deacons who had the vision to get this started,” Deacon Woods said. “They paved the road for what deacons have a chance to do now. We’re next in line to build upon the road laid out before us.”
Diocese of Jefferson City Bishop Shawn McKnight joined Bishop Cisneros and Msgr. Costello as presenters. Bishop McKnight, who also recently addressed a national convocation of deacons in New Orleans, gave an historical perspective for the diaconate, from St. Pope John XXIII in the Second Vatican Council to Pope Francis today. Like Bishop Cisneros, he stressed that deacons should be “who you are,” with hearts focused on Christ.
Archbishop Carlson addressed the assembly to close the daylong gathering, which opened with morning prayer and commenced with evening prayer plus a re-dedication in the Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul. He thanked the deacons for their important work in the archdiocese and their wives and families in sacrificing time with them to enable their ministries.
The convocation left Deacon Woods and his colleagues “reinvigorated, renewed and refreshed in the role of being icons of Christ the servant.”