Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why are these two friars smiling?

Because they’ve just been ordained as transitional deacons, that's why. On Friday evening, November 16, our brothers Raul Alejos and Martin Ibarra began their diaconate year at a liturgy presided by Bishop Gilberto Chavez, retired auxiliary bishop of San Diego, and in the presence of friars, family, friends and hundreds of well-wishing members of Mission San Luis Rey parish in Oceanside, California. Our provincial minister, Fr. Mel Jurisich, ofm, as well as the pastor, Fr. Peter Kirwin, ofm concelebrated at a Mass which featured musical accompaniment from the parish’s thriving multicultural community. And of course, a fantastic fiesta followed.

Deacon Raul, 39, (photo, left) is a native of Cerritos, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Fellow deacon, Martin Ibarra, 37, (photo, left below) hails from the town of El Encino, Aguascalientes, Mexico. The journey which brought both of these men to test and ultimately realize their vocations in the Franciscan community is a separate story in and of itself. Suffice it to say, both arrived in the United States as immigrants, and struggled hard with the challenges of making a living, helping their families, and adjusting to a new culture while at the same time maintaining their faith and a deep sense of pride in their culture. These are passionate, yet patient and perservering men. “If you only knew their history!” one friar remarked to an inquiring parishioner. (I do know their history, as a matter of fact. Raul and I were classmates, entering postulancy together in 1993). Even after entering the Order, both he and Martin have had to labor for more than a decade to acquire English language skills, complete initial formation as friars, then finish college and theological studies, before reaching the stage of diaconate as part of the realization of their vocation.

“Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” With these words, Bishop Chavez presented both Martin and Raul with a copy of the Gospels to hold and venerate. In doing so, he charged them to immerse themselves into the ministry of proclaiming and preaching the Word which is so essential to the role of the deacon. In fulfilling these functions, our brothers will be following in the footsteps of our seraphic father, Francis of Assisi himself who himself, his official biographer Thomas of Celano informs us, was not a priest, but rather a permanent deacon (“dressed in the vestments of the Levites” (i.e., deacons -ed). Francis delegated to priest-friars those sacramental functions he could not fulfill himself.

Since Raul and Martin are transitional deacons, however, they will be assigned to parochial responsibilities for the coming twelve months as they prepare for priestly ordination. In the past, this transitional period has been regarded by many as a somewhat tedious, even annoying marking of time. But in our province today, deacons are assigned to a mentoring pastor who will work intensely with them as they integrate their theological education with hands on experience in parish life. The preparation really makes a difference.

Raul has been assigned to the parish at Mission San Luis Rey. Martin will be living and working at St. Elizabeth Parish in Oakland, California. Felicidades, hermanos! Congratulations, Brothers! In the words of Beato Junipero Serra, ofm: “Siempre adelante, nunca para atras!/ Always forward, never backward!” Or as Raul would say, “Just keep going.”