Deacons from around the diocese attended the 2015 Annual Deacon’s Retreat, entitled “God’s Mercy in the Lives of His Ministers,” at San Pedro Center in Winter Park January 16-18. Deacons are required to attend retreats at least annually, and this is the first of three diaconate retreats to be held at San Pedro Center in 2015.
Deacon Norm Levesque of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Winter Park was part of the planning committee for this retreat. “The message from Pope Francis is to be a merciful church,” he said. “To us, it starts with ministers. We have to be proponents of a merciful church.”
Father Anthony Aarons, TOR, the retreat leader, agreed. “Mercy is Pope Francis’ vision for the church,” Father Aarons said. “We are here to listen to what God is saying to us in terms of mercy, and to discover how we fit into that vision.”
The weekend, filled with prayer, talks and reflection, allowed the deacons ample time to discern that call to mercy.
In his opening talk, Father Aarons shared the story of the Good Samaritan, where a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan passed by a man who had been beaten and left for dead. Only the Samaritan stopped to help.
“Which of these persons was neighbor to the man in need,” Father Aarons asked the group. “It was the one who showed mercy.”
He drew the connection between being neighborly and showing mercy.
“God’s mercy is tangible,” he added. “To the hungry, it is food. To the thirsty, drink. We need to be aware of what’s happening around us, so we can see the needs of the various persons.”
Father Aarons suggested his audience reflect on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which include, among others, the needs to forgive, pray for others, counsel the doubtful, feed the hungry, visit the sick, and shelter the homeless.
“This is how the church is merciful,” Father Aarons said. “A merciful church is an authentic church.”
Saturday morning’s presentation connected Scriptural references to mercy and had attendees thumbing through their Bibles.
Father Aarons opened with a reading from Lamentations 3:22-23. “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.”
Referring to the passage, Father Aarons encouraged his audience to never feel as though their concerns aren’t important to God or that any situation is hopeless.
“Each morning is a new beginning,” he said. “It’s a new day to experience the mercy of God.”
Indeed, Father Aarons saw the mercy of God alive that day, noticing that the response to that day’s readings (Deuteronomy 7:9) just happened to address God’s mercy.
Father Aarons looked out at the group.
“This is the way in which God works,” he said. “Isn’t it interesting that the response to the readings today just happened to address God’s mercy? This retreat is something God had ordained. God knew on this very weekend you’d talk about mercy. All things work together to carry on that mercy. So, in our day and our time, God’s mercy is alive and active.”
In closing, Deacon Al Castellana of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Winter Park found the retreat to be very spiritual. “I could sense a spiritual awakening,” he said. “You could see it in all of us, the people, the presider and the helpers.”
“The diocese is emphasizing the message of being a merciful and understanding Church.” added Deacon Paul Volkerson of St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Orlando. “It’s a good subject to be reminded of.”
Deacon George Mattison of St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lady Lake, had a simple takeaway. “When I was reading along in my Bible, my particular translation used the word ‘kindness’ in place of mercy,” he said. “That brought it home for me. Mercy has to do with kindness. It’s all about being kind to people.”