The end of another chapter in my life…

Yesterday I was given the news by the director of the Diaconate Office here in Melbourne that I would not be continuing in formation for ordination as a deacon in the Catholic Church.

As you can probably imagine, my first reaction was one of profound disappointment, especially as this is a calling I have been discerning since my reception into the Church in 2003.

If you had asked me yesterday afternoon why my formation had been discontinued, I would have answered that “I don’t think David Schütz was quite what they were looking for in a deacon.”

Very quickly, however, I realised that my reaction to this news was accompanied by a much stronger emotion than disappointment: that of relief. So much so, that when I arrived home, my first action was to open a bottle of champagne and share a glass with my wife, Cathy.

The kids thought it strange that I was celebrating a disappointment – and indeed that I was weeping as I did so. But a dear friend, Fr Pritchard, had earlier reminded me of a story I had once told him about my daughter Maddy when she was four years old. She had asked me “Daddy, you used to be a pastor didn’t you?” I replied, “Yes…” and she had said “But now you are my daddy, right?” Fr Pritchard said to me: “She still has her daddy.”

In recent months, it was becoming more and more clear to me – partly through the comments of close friends and colleagues such as Fr Pritchard and partly through my own sense of uneasiness about what lay ahead – that I was not really prepared to enter once again into clerical service. The work load for the year of aspirancy alone would have greatly diminished the time I had to spend with my family. Only yesterday morning, I had commented to another colleague that not since I had left the Lutheran ministry had my diary been so full of work related appointments.

It was therefore, you may say, a mercy to be “put out of my misery”.

The rightness of this decision was confirmed this afternoon in conversation with my Archbishop, Denis Hart. Together we discerned that God had gifted me with many talents that can be used with great profit in the service of God and of the Faith of the Church, but that these would in fact have be hampered rather than enhanced if I were to be placed in the role of deacon.

The decision does, however, place me in a strange situation. For the first time since I was about six or seven years old, the call to ordained ministry is no longer to be a part of my self-identity. That will take some getting used to.

Nevertheless, ever since my first day at the Lutheran Seminary in 1984 when the principal had preached a sermon about the primacy of the “outer call” over the “inner call”, I have always firmly believed that a true inner sense of vocation must be confirmed by the “voice of God” speaking through his Church.

I now have that clear confirmation of my calling. Or rather, my “non-calling”. What my true calling is will still take much more discernment.

This is not a case of God writing straight with crooked lines – it is a clear case of God writing straight with a thick black marker.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “The end of another chapter in my life…

  1. Joshua

    I’d be glad to join you for a glass or two, David – I sympathize.

  2. matthias

    I know how disappointing this can be ,and will raise a glass-CUB DARK ALE now- in sympathy ,but as was often quoted to me ‘One door closes and another opens”.Trouble is soemtimes the air is thick with the sound of slamming doors for moment before one hears a “click” followed by the Voice”Follow Me through this doorway”

  3. Vicci

    Ahh..Pathways!
    The ones we want to walk..the ones
    we finally get led down.
    Invariably, we see the ‘sense’ of what has happened. Invariably this occurs sometime after the event.
    I wish you a (God) speedy transition!

    It’s lovely to hear a man wish more
    of his time for his family.
    It will be interesting to see how
    this desire translates…

    (btw: How much time DO you spend on this and other blogs..?? )

  4. Schütz

    Yes, Matthias and Vicci, I have a saying that I made up when I was a teenager: why keep banging your head against the wall when there is an open door two feet to the right? (or left, as the case may be).

    As for discerning the “sense” in things that happen, in our “Reading Paul” class on Monday night, I asked my students how they thought Luke could say in Acts 16:7 that “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” and Paul could say in 1 Thess 2:18 that “Satan hindered us”? How did they know it was the Spirit or Satan? After they suggested voices and visions etc., I suggested: “How about hindsight?”

  5. Schütz

    Vicci, as for the time I have for writing this blog and reading other blogs – it isn’t so much my family time that suffers, as, well, um… have a look at the motto of the Amateur Catholic B Team in the right hand column and you will get the idea.

  6. Ben

    I don’t think I understand why the Church would not want to ordain a orthodox and well-spoken man. Unless your internet presence is very different from real life, you seem pretty pastoral and able to communicate the truth of the faith, what else is needed?

    I guess this is shocking to me because I’ve seen some of the… what’s the word… uh, deacons that have made it through seminary in the past few years. They’re very very… can’t think of anything charitable… I’ll say this, someone somewhere is weeding out orthodoxy.

    I know that you’re probably going to say “I just wasn’t called,” which is definitely the correct personal attitude… But certainly there has to have been some reasoning process of the behalf of the hierarchy of your local church.

  7. Christine

    I guess this is shocking to me because I’ve seen some of the… what’s the word… uh, deacons that have made it through seminary in the past few years. They’re very very… can’t think of anything charitable… I’ll say this, someone somewhere is weeding out orthodoxy.

    Ben, that’s certainly true in the Catholic Church in the U.S., too.

  8. Schütz

    I think Ben is in the US, Christine. Welcome to the discussion, Ben.

  9. Tony

    David,

    On the one hand I want to congratulate you for taking it on the chin and having faith that it will lead to a better outcome down the line, but on the other I find it fairly infuriating that you should cop it sweet. (Life is a paradox ain’t it!)

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not rooting for any more additions to the ‘conservative’ ranks of the ordained, but I just can’t understand why the church wasn’t flexible enough to make something work for you.

    We have former Anglican priests with families who’ve been given a gong (as priests not deacons); what boxes don’t you tick?

    It may well be that there other factors not mentioned — or intended to be mentioned — that make sense of the decision from the church’s POV but it looks like a crock to me.

    If it is, don’t pretend not to be well p****d-off for loyalty’s sake!

  10. Schütz

    Dear Tony,

    I take your point. Regarding “the Church’s POV”, I think I can state fairly clearly that there was not one but two points of view on the matter put forward by those who speak for the Church.

    The first view was (as I have said) that I was “not quite what they were looking for in a deacon” (which, as you understand, is a paraphrase, but gets the sense very well), the second was that I had gifts to offer and a role to play in the Church that would in fact be frustrated by ordination to the diaconated.

    The fact is that both points of view pointed to the same result – a result which, when I was honest with myself, I found resonated with what I was slowly coming to know (deep down inside, as they say) myself.

    In the mean time, one may be quite justified to ask questions about the process by which this result was achieved, but I have no doubt that in my case it eventually produced the right result.

    (And, in fact, re the “conservative” thing, there is just the odd chance that I might be able to do more damage to the liberal cause as a layman than as a cleric, so you might not have got off scott free on that one either!)

  11. Tony

    David,

    I’m not going to comment any more on your personal situation. You’re in the hot seat, you’re the only one who can assess the situation.

    More broadly though, I think there is an issue with lack of flexibility including not knowing how to exploit (in the best sense of the word) men (and women for that matter, but that’s a whole other can-o-beans) who don’t ‘fit’ the 110% devoted full-time non-married model.

    If someone like you could only realistically spare 5 hours a week for duties as a Deacon, some parish is going to be 5 hours a week better off for your services.

    Re the ‘conservative’ crack. It was tongue-in-cheek and I’m glad you responded in kind. From my reading of your blog, I sense that you’d make a fine deacon (or priest, but I won’t go there either!). I regard the tension between what we too casually label as ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ as a good thing.

  12. Joshua

    It’s not a “model” – priesthood or diaconate, like the episcopate, is a vocation, a state of being, not just “doing” something, so it’s far more than a full- or part-time job: after all, ordination (like baptism and confirmation) imparts a character to the soul, gives the grace of state, and so marks one permanently as a recipient of the sacrament of Order. I think this is why the idea of a 5-hour-a-week deacon’ is profoundly unCatholic (dare I say aCatholic?).

  13. Tony

    Say what you like Joshua. We have a Deacon in our parish — last time I checked there was no suggestion that it was not Catholic — who is a young(ish) father with a debilitating disability and who runs a business part time. So I don’t know if fits your high fallutin’ definition, but he contributes and he is witness in his unique way.

    In a nearby parish, we also have a former Anglican who, when he was ordained, still had the pressures of children in his family (they’ve all grown up now) and all that being married nonsense.

    So you can put up fine sounding barriers — and in the end, that’s all they are — or you can find ways of facilitating people’s talents.

    Again, I don’t know if there are other issues that mitigate the church’s decision re David, but even a liberal like me suggests it’s the church’s loss.

  14. Joshua

    Don’t sneer at me for “high falutin'” definitions – if there’s one thing I detest it’s ignorance being paraded as a virtue. I could do without anecdotes being waved about as if a crippled deacon were a most meaningful statement to become emotional over.

  15. Joshua

    Sorry, Tony – feeling grumpy, I’ll leave the comment up to show how badly behaved I can be!

  16. Schütz

    Now, now, boys… behave yourselves, or Papa Schütz will have to press the “delete” button! We wouldn’t want that now, would we?

    🙂

    Seriously, even if a deacon were to only devote 5 hours a week to work that is obviously “ecclesiastical” rather than “secular”, the fact is that he is a 24/7 deacon. The whole of his life is to be conducted within the character of the diaconate. It isn’t a “job”, it is an office, and anyone who is in an office is in it full time. A secular example would be the chair of some rural shire council. If he is (for eg.) a farmer, he is mayor just as much when he is cleaning out the cowshed as he is when he is sitting in the council chamber.

    The priesthood is a little different from the diaconate, because it has with it what Christine keeps going on about: the care of souls (which is just as important among Catholic pastors as it is among Lutherans, even if Lutherans, on the whole, might do it better). This care is such that the care of a wife and family can suffer due to a lack of attention. (Don’t take my word for it, read St Paul in 1 Cor 7).

  17. Tony Bartel

    David,

    I was away last weekend and have been playing catch up all week, so I haven’t had a chance to say that I was sorry to read your news.

    You are taking with a fair dose of Christian resignation, but as you have indicated it means coming to a whole new understanding of your vocation and the way in which you will now serve the Church. That will not be an easy process.

    You and your family will be in my prayers.

  18. Schütz

    Thanks Tony. I know you know what it’s like.