Today, we introduce a new regular series, A Deacon’s Diary, that will follow Steve Molvarec, SJ, in the year from his diaconate ordination until his priestly ordination next June.
Proto-deacon. The pastor said. Almost deacon. I returned. Pre-deacon? I asked. Pseudo-deacon! He exclaimed.
Father Kevin, Catholic chaplain at Boston University, and I were standing in the narthex of Marsh Chapel as Boston’s T-trains navigated Commonwealth Ave., trying to figure out how to explain that I was assigned to Boston University’s Catholic Community for my diaconate year. They’ll want to use a title for you. He said.
It’d been a while since anyone asked how to call me. Around the School of Theology & Ministry at Boston College, everyone was always first names, even some faculty. At Marquette University, students usually resorted to doctor or professor and some used my first name. Deans and administrators sometimes called me father, surely a reflex in response to the clerical collar that I wore when teaching. At various times in Jesuit life, when I’d worked with homeless folks in Detroit, or Chicago, or Milwaukee, people tended to call me brother—it went with my scruffy work clothes and was more relatable and friendly.
One night, we were on a “Cannoli Pilgrimage” with some BU students. We were headed to Mike’s, in Boston’s North End, a landmark location for Italian pastries. About forty students assembled after rosary and Mass and we made our way on the T. I tended toward the back of the crowd, to make sure that no one got left behind and I walked with various students as we progressed on our “pilgrimage” for pastries. We stopped and prayed, too, outside a church in the North End.
In various conversations, since I was new, students kept asking me the same question: “How did you know you were supposed to be a priest?” “I wanted to serve the Church and God’s people,” I told one. To another, “It was my deepest, holiest desire.” Another student probed a bit more and I said: “Well, one morning, the year before I entered the Society [in 2012], I sat down to pray before grading my students’ papers and I noticed that all of the reasons I had given myself not to enter novitiate—career, romantic relationships, family—all seemed to have evaporated.” To yet another, I confessed: “I’ve wondered if I’m not nervous enough about diaconate ordination.”
One Sunday, recently, I was at Marsh Chapel with BU’s Catholic Community for Mass. I’d begun serving Mass there, to meet people, to be seen and introduced, to get to know the community and the place where I’ll be serving as deacon for the next nine months. The time came to help distribute communion and I realized that it’d been a while. At school, it was something that my lay classmates and friends enjoyed doing at our liturgies. Some of them even baked the bread we used. At home, in our community’s chapels, generally our priests did it.
The experience became new again for me as I watched Christ’s people come up the aisle of the chapel to meet Him, to meet me, to receive the bread that was body, to become part of His Body. I felt a little awkward as each approached and bowed and I held the small disk of bread before them, reminded them of what it was, reminded them of who they are, and placed it on hands and tongues outstretched.
I felt a little awkward. Maybe because I was out of practice. Partly because I worried I would drop the Sacrament. Mostly because as I placed the wafer of bread onto Christ’s people’s palms, a little clumsily, a little firmly, a little gently, I felt as though I was eavesdropping on something. That I was overhearing a conversation between God and the people gathered for Mass.
Standing on the Marsh Chapel Plaza after Mass, greeting students and parents as they left, someone asked me: “How long does it take?” I replied: “I’ve been a Jesuit for nine years. And have less than two weeks until diaconate.” He said: “That’s a really long time.”
My mom and her sister texted:
Hi honey, how’s everything going and have you started school?
Less than 2 weeks until we’re together in Boston celebrating your Special Day!
Is there anything special you want me to give you for a gift?
Let me know.
Have a great weekend.
Love you xo.
With family, my vows had gradually reshaped our conversations. Almost exactly seven years after professing poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus, , however, not as much as I might think. “What will you do for work?” an uncle would ask. “It’s up to my provincial to decide where I’m missioned,” I’d say. “Can we get you something?” my mom and aunt would ask. “No,” I’d offer. And they’d persist until I replied: “Clothes. But only what I need. Only what the community would already buy for me. But no cash. If you give me cash, I have to turn it in when I get home. Or give it to someone on the way back.” Vows were sometimes still hard to explain to family in their nitty-gritty. Especially obedience, jobs, work, and relocating. And especially poverty, when it came to gifts. Chastity seemed straightforward for them in comparison.
So I replied:
We started last Monday.
Honestly, I’m not sure about gifts.
I’m trying to sort out if there’s anything I need.
Diaconate ordination has seemed really psychologically far away as we’ve moved through August and the start of school—on both campuses, at BU and BC. Time has begun dwindling down. I don’t expect some transformation as by magic. But even knowing that, I can’t help but wonder what it will be like on that morning of ordination.. And how it might shape and reshape me for people who know me and God’s people I’ll meet this year. God’s people, whom I’ll greet at the chapel doors on Commonwealth Avenue and see over the top of the pulpit. God’s people, who will continue to let me eavesdrop on their conversations with Christ as they meet him. Already, some of the folks I’ve met have begun to drop the “almost” in front of deacon. Already, they call me “Deacon Steve.” Prematurely. Proleptically. Even as I still number the days approaching a mid-September Saturday morning in Chestnut Hill.
The next installment of A Deacon’s Diary asks, “What does ordination feel like?”