By Eric Martin
Every time a deacon is ordained to the priesthood, one question above all others generally rises to the fore among those gathered to bear witness: how did the aspirant discern the call of God on their lives to become a priest?
According to Deacon Liam Ryan, the constant influence of a Catholic family and a specific act of faith had a crucial role to play.
“The initial discernment in my life was definitely influenced by my family and the Neocatechumenal community that I have walked with for the last 20 odd years,” Dcn Ryan shared.
He was midway through a Bachelor of Commerce when he had the unusual opportunity to embark on a mission in Balgo, in the Diocese of Broome.
“It was there that I first started to feel the presence of God, calling out through the witness of a priest and his companions who were joyfully serving the Church in one of the most remote and dramatic places that I had ever witnessed.
“In those weeks I felt that God might be calling me to a different life than the one I was thinking of – it was an exciting feeling and that experience is probably the ‘first inspiration’ that has continually helped me over the years.”
Dcn Ryan said he did not immediately assume that a calling to serve God meant being a priest, since the most influential people in his life had been families and married couples, yet he began to feel that Christ was offering him something much greater, more beautiful and more exciting.
“I had to ask God for courage because I was always happy to go with the flow, do whatever my mates do and I was pretty happy to settle for a ‘mediocre’ life with a car, job, family, house and of course a surfboard.
“But slowly God lead me towards the seminary, and continued to nourish that call and well, here I am now.”
Deacon Matteo Verdi also began to consider the idea of the priestly vocation early, when he was only 17 years old, living a life of turmoil as a teenager in a broken family, when he realised that he had no expectations from life and no desires.
“I was getting by and going nowhere, but when I was at the point of least expecting anything from God, I felt that he was calling me to come out of this dark moment of life,” Dcn Verdi told The eRecord.
Miraculously invited to go to a pilgrimage in Loreto in the year 2007, he was struck by the words “Nothing is impossible to God”, which finally convinced him that God could work in his life.
This began a two-year discernment period, lived within his Neocatechumenal community, during which time the combination of God’s providence and his faithfulness in the lives of his brothers and sister of the Neocatechumenal communities built his faith on a daily basis.
“If God is faithful to Christian married couples amid trials and sufferings, so God will be faithful also in my life given up for the Church.”
Deacon Mark Rucci’s decision to follow Jesus occurred later in life, at the age of 33 and within three years, had conformed the “big ticket items” in his life according to God’s will and found peace.
“But by 2008 [another three years later], as I grew closer to God, attending daily Mass and Adoration, I was suddenly overwhelmed by spiritual restlessness once again,” Dcn Rucci shared.
“Signs appeared all over the place and through various people – a call within a call as Mother Teresa coined it – God was calling me to more.”
Recalling his Ordination to the Diaconate, Dcn Ryan explained the significance and impact of such a ceremony on an aspirant.
“Looking out at all the people who were present was a humbling experience because in their faces are the stories of people who have been part of my journey, they have shaped me, helped me, picked me up, forgiven me and in one way or another God has acted through them,” he said.
“I expect the upcoming ordination to be a similar experience, humbling, joyful and no doubt a bit emotional – probably the number one ticket holder is my brother Jos: he’s 13 and has Down Syndrome,” Dcn Ryan said.
“He’ll be over the moon, he loves all the bells and whistles in the Cathedral.”
Dcn Verdi, far from home, will be blessed by the arrival of 20 people from Italy, including two entire families from his Neocatechumenal community in Rome.
“To see the love of these two families spending hips of money for airfare, means a lot for me and shows me that I have people that love and share their lives with me: one is coming with their four kids [aged 1 to 5] and another one with their three kids [aged 2 to 6],” he shared.
“Unfortunately, my dad won’t be at the ordination because they haven’t granted him a leave from work and also because he had two heart attacks in the past 10 years.”
Honouring their spiritual guides, Deacons Rucci and Verdi mentioned that if they were able to have anyone attend their ordination, both would have their mentors present.
For Dcn Verdi, this is Fr Rodrigo, the priest that introduced him to the Neocatechumenal Way; and for Dcn Rucci, his spiritual mother Adelia Bernard, who died six years ago.