Giving Thanks to God: St. Matthew Catholic Church's Hispanic Ministry (Part I)
By Teresa Buzo Salas, Statesboro, Ga.
Dr. Michael McGrath is a Professor of Spanish at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro and the editor of Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs. He has made over 30 conference presentations, and he is the author of nearly 50 publications. His wife, Dr. Leticia McGrath, also works as a Spanish professor at Georgia Southern University. They have two smart and beautiful kids: Matthew and Luke.
Besides being a professor, editor, scholar, husband and father, Dr. McGrath participates actively as a deacon in the St. Matthew Catholic church (Statesboro). His contribution to the Catholic Hispanic Ministry has been and continue being extraordinary. He is a very loving and essential member of the Hispanic Catholic community.
1. When and why did you decide to become a deacon?
Several years before I was ordained a deacon, I felt that God was calling me to serve Him. During this time, I gave serious consideration to the priesthood. After much prayer, however, I discerned that God was calling me to be a husband and a father. God continued to call me, and I felt a strong desire to serve Him. In 2002, the pastor of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church (Statesboro) informed me that the Diocese of Savannah would begin a formation program for deacons in 2003. After I discussed this opportunity with my wife Leticia, I applied to the program. The program consisted of five years of classes on theology and pastoral studies. In addition, there were periodic retreats and homiletic classes. Five years later, in 2008, Bishop Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah ordained me a permanent deacon.
2. What is the difference between priests and deacons?
In the Catholic Church, there are three orders of clergy: bishop, priest, and deacon. Each order is its own and separate identity, with specific duties granted at ordination. The word deacon comes from the Greek word diakonia, which means service. The deacon’s main role is to serve the priest, the parish, and the Catholic Church. As ministers of Sacrament, a deacon can baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct funeral and wake services. In addition, the deacon has assigned duties at Mass: invokes the Penitential Rite, proclaims the Gospel, prepares the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, invites the faithful at Mass to exchange the sign of peace, distributes Communion, purifies the sacred vessels after Communion, and dismisses the faithful at the end of Mass. A deacon can also bless people and objects and expose the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration. Only a priest can celebrate Mass because a deacon cannot consecrate the bread and the wine. A deacon, however, can celebrate a Communion Service, which is similar to a Mass, except the Body of Christ distributed has been consecrated already by a priest during a Mass. Also, only a priest can hear a confession because a deacon is not ordained to absolve a person of his or her sins. For this same reason, a deacon cannot administer the Sacrament of Healing. The deacon works closely with the priest to serve the parishioners.
3. What are your responsibilities as a deacon of St. Matthew’s church?
As a deacon at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, in addition to the duties accorded me by my ordination, I prepare parents for the baptism of their child, I meet with a man and a woman several times to prepare them for the Sacrament of Marriage, I provide counseling on a variety of topics (spirituality, marriage, etc.), and I minister to the Hispanic community.
4. What brings you the greatest joy in ministering to others? What brings you the greatest disappointment?
Truly, ministering to others brings me many joys. There is nothing like baptizing a child, marrying a man and a woman, accompanying a family during a time of need, and, in general, watching a person grow closer to God. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to walk with people on their spiritual journey.
The greatest disappointment is seeing that a person who once attended Mass on a regular basis, no longer attends Mass or practices the Catholic faith. Whenever I experience any type of disappointment in my ministry, I remind myself that God has a plan and that I can only do so much. If I try to do too much, I might interfere in God’s plan. I do my best, God does the rest.
5. What are your favorite doctrinal/theological topics and why?
Great question! It is difficult to narrow the list to a few topics because there are so many that make up the fabric of the Catholic Church and apply to a person’s spiritual life. As a human being, I am particularly devoted to following Jesus’s example during His ministry on earth. Often, I think about my life in terms of the life of Jesus in order to learn more about what it means to be a Christian. In addition, I have a strong devotion to the saints, especially the Apostles, because they were people like us who found the courage to dedicate their lives to Christ.
6. What are your responsibilities as a Director of the Hispanic Ministry of St. Matthew’s?
In addition to my duties as a deacon, I am the liaison between the pastor and staff of St. Matthew’s and the members of the Hispanic community.
7. When you pray, what are the main global issues that come to your mind these days?
Unfortunately, due to the many problems in the world, there are many global issues. Each Mass the Prayers of the Faithful includes prayers for the Hispanic community here in the United States and abroad, as well as specific prayers for members of the community, family members, and problems facing the world, such as abortion, the death penalty, persecution of Christians around the world, poverty, hunger, etc.
For more information: http://www.saintmatthewsparish.com/
Next month: Part II.