This article originally appeared in the Westminster Record in 2011.
On 22nd February 2014, Deacon Jim passed away. He will be sorely missed by many who knew him in many walks of life, both personal and professional.
One of the things that a Deacon needs to be prepared for on Ordination, is to be surprised.
This, in hopefully a humorous way, is the point of the photograph of myself in the ‘stocks’, having wet sponges thrown at me as a fundraising ruse at our Parish Fete last year. It being a cold, windy summer day and becoming wet through, I certainly “earned my keep”.
In a more serious vein, though, it was also most certainly a surprise, when Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor appointed me Assistant Director to the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese, just two weeks after he had ordained me. That post has placed me in the privileged position of encountering men in our Diocese who are in formation for ordination to the Permanent Deaconate.
As Deacons, we also find ourselves called to deacon at the mother church of the Diocese, our Cathedral. All such occasions are memorable, but the Christmas Midnight Mass of 2009 particularly stands out for me, where as deacon, I proclaimed the Gospel, not just to those gathered in the Cathedral, but to those many more watching at home on TV.
So far, most of the above has been about the diocesan aspects of being a deacon. This is deliberate because it helps to make clear some of the differences between priests and permanent deacons. This may be seen in the different relationship a deacon has with his bishop, graphically illustrated when he receives from his bishop “The imposition of hands not unto the Priesthood but unto Ministry.” Moreover at Ordination to the Diaconate, it is only the bishop who lays hands on the candidate.
All this is by no means to underestimate my parish activities at Our Lady Queen of Apostles, Heston, where , in terms of time, the major part of my ministry is exercised. It is in this context that another surprise has taken place. In my three years of study and formation prior to Ordination, we were told that people would approach us to seek our help and advice. The reality though, of those encounters, is far more humbling and yes, rewarding, than one could ever imagine. It demonstrates both the deep faith of so many of our parishioners but also the confidence they have in their clergy, both priests and deacons, with these encounters occurring at times of personal difficulties, great sadness, bereavement and also occasions of great celebration and joy.
In conclusion, there are three key people in my ministry as deacon. One, the Bishop or Archbishop, I have already mentioned. The second is my Parish Priest, Fr Simon Thang Nguyen. He and I not only come from different continents and different cultures, but unlike him, I am an adult convert to the Catholic Faith. However it is perhaps these very differences that have led to such a fruitful relationship between us.
Finally, I came to Ordination as a married man, with children and grandchildren. For any marriage to be successful, the couple need to adjust to changing needs and opportunities. My ordination to the Permanent Deaconate has brought my wife, Diane and I even closer together as we try, with God’s help, to live out our individual but compatible vocations - she as wife and laity, I as husband and God’s Ordained Servant, a Permanent Deacon.