PROVO — “The Spirituality of Pope St. John XXIII” was the topic for the 2022 Diocese of Salt Lake City Diaconate Retreat, held Oct. 21-23 at the Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The retreat fulfilled the canonical requirement for the deacons, who are required to attend such an event once a year.
The keynote speaker was Deacon William Ditewig, PhD, an ordained deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington, teacher and author of several books.
“Bill is really one of the foremost commentators on the theology of the diaconate throughout the Church, certainly in the English-speaking world, and he teaches, but he’s also led deacon retreats for many years,” said Deacon Scott Dodge, director of the diocesan Office of the Deaconate, who organized the retreat.
Deacon Ditewig gave five presentations during the retreat, each focused on a spiritual topic such as hope or obedience, using examples from John XXIII’s life. Although looking at spirituality through the lens of John XXIII “may not automatically seem relevant to the diaconate,” the presentation was “really honed and focused on something that is useful not just for deacons but, I think, for wives as well,” Deacon Dodge said.
The overall theme of the retreat was humility – “that humility is kind of the foundation of everything, which of course is organic to the diaconate,” Deacon Dodge said, noting that John XXIII was an example “that humility is not an obstacle to accomplishing big things.”
Deacon Ditewig said he chose the life of John XXIII because the saint, who was pope from 1958 to 1963 and who called the Second Vatican Council, “is a figure that is so important to the life of the Catholic Church that I think it’s important for us to spend time to really get to know him. … I think he’s an excellent role model on a lot of levels and one that we can appreciate and learn from.”
During the retreat, Deacon Ditewig showed clips of the movie “I Would Be Called John: Pope John XXIII,” which depicted much of the pope’s thoughts during the opening year of Vatican II. While talking about the theme of hope, Deacon Ditewig showed a clip from the movie that had the pope talking about some of his doubts and fears.
“Pope John was more than just a smiling, cheery face; he had fears, too,” the deacon said. “He was an elderly man, he was sick. He knew he didn’t have much longer, he had this ambitious project of the council … He had a lot to be afraid of, a lot to be nervous about. And he was.”
Nevertheless, the pope faced his fears and continued with the council, even in the face of some significant resistance.
At the end of each session, Deacon Ditewig posed reflection questions, such as “Consider that fear freezes; hope heals. What are my fears?” and “Spiritual subtraction is removing things that interfere and distract from our focus on God. What must I subtract from my own life right now?”
During the Evening Prayer on Saturday, the faithfully departed deacons and deacons’ wives of the diocese were remembered, with each name read aloud as a commemorative candle was lit. Deacon Dodge said that at last year’s remembrance service, he was struck by the number of candles that were lit, but “not in a sad way. You know, each one of those candles was a life of service – both deacons and deacons’ wives. … I certain think of the many deacons and deacons’ wives that I’ve known over the years, many of whom have passed on, [were] holy and good people, a true cloud of witnesses of Christian life and service right in our midst. And most of those men and women served diligently and quietly, not seeking and in fact often running from any kind of recognition, so it’s nice that we can remember each one of them now, and we will do so by name.”