By Deacon Thomas Berg Jr.
Those moments are absolutely clear, even years, sometimes decades, later.
Holding my wife’s hands as we stood before the altar of her hometown parish and exchanged our marriage vows, beginning my mission in life as a husband. Cradling my oldest child in my arms right after her birth, starting my mission as a father. Kneeling before my bishop as he ordained me, undertaking my mission as a deacon in the Church. Talking to my doctor about the cancer I had just been diagnosed with, being impelled into a mission of treatment and recovery.
These are some of the significant missions I have been blessed with during my life. And, yes, I use the word blessing even for something such as cancer. The different facets of life intersect with who a deacon is and how he will minister and serve in the Church and the world.
Within these mission moments, I trust the Lord is present. His grace is there for us to provide the strength and wisdom needed to be faithful and successful missionaries in all we undertake. As followers of our loving Lord, we are disciples. And having an understanding of fulfilling our missions in life as disciples, we can embrace the concept of missionary discipleship, not just deacons but all of us no matter who we are and what we do with the gift of our lives.
Bishop Robert Brennan initiated Real Presence, Real Future to answer the call “to increase the presence of Christ throughout the Diocese and uphold the Faith for future generations of Ohioans.” This gives deacons the perfect opportunity to fulfill their fundamental diaconal functions of word, sacrament and charity, both by increasing our understanding of how we are to serve as well as helping others understanding this in their own lives.
For me, this as an opportunity to look back on where we have been and what God’s action and grace have done in our lives and to look ahead with new insights and deeper commitments to the life of faith and discipleship.
When I became a husband, I reimagined myself as a person because of my new understanding that in marriage two become one and are called to love and serve each other with unified minds and hearts. We were called to serve others as one and model God’s love for all as effectively as possible, and it was an experience of grace and strength.
As a new dad, I reimagined my life and how I would give myself over to raising the children we were blessed with. This was an unconditional self-giving that was very different from the mutuality of marriage, and I had a new realization of how God loves each of us simply because we exist. I was and am called to be an effective father, and it has also been an experience of grace and strength.
As a new deacon, I reimagined how I would serve the Church, specifically as a deacon, a sacramental sign of Christ the servant. A lot of activity has flowed from my ordination, and I was and am called to do that effectively. And though I am far, far from perfect, I have learned a lot about fulfilling that mission despite my flaws, and that, too, has been an experience of grace and strength.
During cancer treatment just a few years ago, I reimagined the realities of suffering and serving. Severe illness immersed me deeply in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and grace and strength were there, too. I went from being the one making visits and praying over the sick and suffering to being the one prayed over and with. It was humbling and brought a much deeper understanding of the reality of pain and suffering.
These experiences became integral to who I am and guided me from “familiar surroundings to the exciting horizons of missionary discipleship,” as the Real Presence, Real Future prayer for guidance says. Sometimes those exciting horizons are joyful, and sometimes they are perilous. From this I have learned that a healthy life of mission and discipleship means moving forward and being willing to step away from the comfortable so that we can embrace fresh opportunities that draw us closer and closer to the Lord.
In sacred scripture, we are told that, “It is God who, in his good will toward you, begets in you any measure of desire or achievement” (Philippians 2:13). Real Presence, Real Future is an opportunity to do exactly that: letting God’s will and grace shine brightly so we can discern what we, both individually and, more important, as a family of faith here in the Diocese of Columbus, need to embrace and integrate into our lives of faith and missionary discipleship.
Deacon Thomas Berg Jr. is the Diocese of Columbus’ chancellor.