Deacon’s Retreat for Charlotte, NC

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB, PhD

On the weekend of October 9-11, 2015, I gave the annual retreat for Permanent Deacons and their wives for the Charlotte, NC, diocese.  The venue was the pastoral conference center at Hickory, NC, one hour north of Charlotte.  Seventy Permanent Deacons and their wives were the audience.

Fr. John Putnam, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, for whom I had given a 4-day parish mission on the CCC in the Lent of 2013, had recommended me. 

The theme:  How to Effectively Preach on God’s Plan for Marriage, Spousal Love and Family.  It was a coincidence that the Synod on the Family at the Vatican (October 5-25, 2015) was taking place simultaneously.

There was one conference on Friday evening, three on Saturday and a final one of Sunday morning.  On Saturday afternoon, the Sacrament of Reconciliation was made available (with the help of a nearby pastor).  Mass was provided on Saturday afternoon. Deacon Ron Steinkamp gave the homily. On Sunday morning, I preached.

The sequence of conferences:

  1. Why Preaching on these topics is so important
  2. God’s Plan for Marriage
  3. God’s Plan for Spousal Love
  4. God’s Plan for Family
  5. Sample homilies and online resources

Deacon Ron Steinkamp made copies of all four conferences and made them available at each conference.  He also made copies of 6 of my sermons, and made these available for the 5th conference.  At the 5th conference, I used a computer with a connection to a large screen to explore the resources of three websites:  NFP Outreach, God’s Plan for Life and One More Soul.

The Deacons understood how fragile and frail marriage and family life are today.  They knew that these issues must be addressed from the pulpit, but they were not confident on how to do this.  By the end of the retreat, they had a wealth of material to use, as well as a methodology that is very natural and based upon 1) the words of Jesus, 2) the living Tradition of the Church (especially as found in the CCC) and 3) the teaching Magisterium.  I stressed using examples drawn from real life to illustrate the values of marriage, spousal love and family.

After each presentation I opened the floor for their comments, questions and criticisms.  A very honest exchange took place.  I think that each of the Deacons felt reassured that his fellow Deacons were very serious about addressing these pressing concerns from the pulpit in the future.   They also realized that because of their lived experience with marriage and family life, they enjoy real credibility.

As the retreat progressed, I had the opportunity to explain the serious harms that contraception has brought about to marriage, spousal love and family.  The connection between contraception and the mess we are in became very evident and clear.  NFP was seen as a workable solution to the problem of responsibly spacing pregnancies, while remaining open to the goodness of life.

I stressed that there are many resources to draw upon in every parish.  The Deacon, his wife and the Pastor are not the only active agents in the parish.  Retrieving God’s plan is a massive project in our culture.  The process of retrieval and renewal begins with the proclaiming of God’s plan from the pulpit.

I explained how effective it is to have a couple, who live NFP, give a living testimony at the end of Sunday Mass, when NFP is being promoted.  They give a brief (5-7 minutes) presentation on the many values that NFP has brought into their marriage and into their relationship.  They always receive a spontaneous applause.  People expect to hear the Plan of God for important matters in the House of God, from the pulpit.

I asked for a brief evaluation of the retreat from the Deacons and their wives.  I also asked them to indicate if they were using NFP.  These evaluations will be given to Deacon Ron and then forwarded on to me.  I received many complimentary remarks throughout the weekend.