Persons, places and things: ‘Listen, I give you the words to speak’


By Barb Arland-Fye


Members of Deacon Class VI asked me to be a reader during the Mass at which they would be ordained; their thoughtfulness touched me deeply. We’d journeyed four years together through academic and spiritual formation — studying, eating, praying and worshipping, laughing and worrying.
I belong to Deacon Class VI and would have attended the Liturgy of Ordination to the Diaconate on July 13 even if I weren’t covering it for The Catholic Messenger.
Deacon Frank Agnoli, director of deacon formation, provided me with the Scripture I would read. Professor Corinne Winter of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, who played a major role in our academic formation, had been asked to do the second reading.
The reading I’d been given, Jeremiah 1:4-9, happens to be one of my favorite Scripture passages:
“The word of the Lord came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
“Ah, Lord God!” I said, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord answered me,
Say not, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
Then the Lord extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying,
“See, I place my words in your mouth!”
Four years ago, I could have imagined hearing the prophet’s protest coming from the mouths of the deacon candidates. It was a privilege to witness their growth in confidence and spiritual depth as they proclaimed a reading from the Gospel and preached a homily reflecting on it during deacon formation classes. Their experiences benefited my spiritual growth as well.
But I also appreciate the Scripture from Jeremiah for other reasons. Verses of it are contained in a prayer I’ve prayed during Christian Experience Weekends (CEWs). The prayer is intended to give courage to individuals preparing to give a talk to CEW participants. Five years ago, my father-in-law died of cancer on the day I was to give my talk. I believe the verses from Jeremiah, and the people praying them on my behalf, bolstered me through the talk.
The reading from Jeremiah also reminds me of the time when my son Patrick, now 18, had been asked to be a reader for his fifth-grade religious education class during a Sunday Mass. He’d practiced his reading, but when we got to church that Sunday, he bolted out into the parking lot. Like Jeremiah, he didn’t think he had the words to speak. With a pep talk from his religious education teachers, he mustered the courage to read. God placed the words in Patrick’s mouth!
On occasion, I’ve been apprehensive about being a reader during Mass. By reflecting more deeply on the reading, by allowing God’s words to enter my heart, I imagine the Lord extending his hand, touching my mouth, and saying, “See, I place my words in your mouth!”
Preparing to do the reading from Jeremiah for the Liturgy of Ordination to the Diaconate, I focused on the men I had come to know so well. Soon, they would be proclaiming the Gospel in their parishes, nursing homes, prisons and elsewhere. I knew in my heart that the Lord would be with them.

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