After ordination, deacon takes his ministry to the airwaves
For 10 years now, the words “Welcome to the luxurious corner booth!” have opened up “The Catholic Cafe” radio program. If you would have told me 25 years ago that I would be a fired-up and zealous Catholic deacon, I would have scoffed at the suggestion. But if you would have told me that I eventually would be the host of a weekly Catholic radio show heard by 3 million people, I would have deemed you certifiable.
So, how did I get here? It’s so amazing to me how God has worked (and continues to work) in my life.
Like all other deacons, I wasn’t born wearing an alb and a stole. In fact, I wasn’t even a “good” Catholic most of my life. Sure, growing up we went to Mass every Sunday (because we were supposed to), but I couldn’t see the importance of the Catholic faith in general or its relevance to me in particular. I knew little of what the Church taught, and I didn’t particularly care. I carried this nonchalant attitude into my adult years when two life-changing events took place: I got married, and I found Jesus. My wife, Bess, always has been a faithful and devoted Catholic woman, and she is the reason I am who I am today.
When I had my “born-again” experience, I thought I didn’t need to be Catholic anymore. After all, I found Jesus. Why would I need a bunch of statues, incense and dusty old creeds? I chose instead to join a nondenominational evangelical church. This, of course, did not go over well with my good Catholic wife, and we experienced some significant stress in our marriage.
As a man, I knew that with some duct tape, hot glue and a Band-Aid, I could fix anything. So I endeavored to fix things by leading her out of her old, irrelevant church, with its man-made traditions and Hail Marys, and bringing her to my new evangelical church with its worship bands and cool pastors wearing quarter-zip pullover sweaters. But, God had other plans.
Finding the Way Home
I was studying a lot at the time. I was reading Protestant writers like R.C. Sproul and listening to radio shows like “Bible Answer Man” with Hank Hanegraaff. I thought that if I could find some theologians from way back — from the early years of Christianity — I could share them with Bess and prove she was in the wrong church. To my surprise, I found not only a few, but literally hundreds of writers from the first 800 years of Christianity: writers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons and Augustine. The only problem was … they were all Catholics. They spoke of bishops, holy Mass, incense, confession and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In truth, I could find no significant, respected and enduring writer who was not Catholic. I could not prove my wife wrong. Rather, I proved myself wrong. So, Bess is the reason I am the Catholic man I am today.
I came back to my native Catholic faith with a zeal and fervor I never had known. I experienced a radical and total conversion. I started reading every Catholic book I could get my hands on: Scripture and commentaries, saints, doctrine and dogma, conversion stories, histories and the like. I went back to confession after having been away from that sacrament for 20 years. (I am thankful for the mercy and kindness of Father Gabriel DeFederico, God rest his soul, who sat with me in the confessional. I sometimes wonder if my long overdue confession had something to do with his death.) I not only attended Mass, but for the first time I truly appreciated its supernatural graces and benefits. I prayed the Rosary. The graces flowed into my marriage with Bess. I began evangelizing and telling people all about what I had discovered. I wanted to shout from the mountaintops, “I am Catholic!”
I soon discerned a call by God to be closer to the ministry of the Church in word, sacrament and charity, and so I entered formation for the permanent diaconate. Thanks be to God, I was ordained in 2008 as a deacon for the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee.
A New Calling
The story could end here and it still would be a good story; thankfully, it doesn’t. When God plants seeds and we nourish them, they certainly can flourish.
My coming back home to be a deacon in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church was a miracle in and of itself, but I felt I was being called deeper still. I knew in my heart that all of my discernment, study and conversion was destined to serve an even greater purpose. God was not done with me.
As I reflect back, I realize that God is always calling us, loving us and, most of all — if we’re willing and open to it — preparing us. Remember Moses. God prepared him to shepherd his people to the Promised Land by first making Moses an actual shepherd of actual sheep. Certainly, all of my newfound knowledge — the Scripture quotes, the Church Fathers, the conversions, the arguments, the logic and reasoning, the big picture all of it — was preparing me for something, and God would put it all to good use.
Just a few months after my ordination, Robert Hutton approached me after I had preached at Mass and asked me, seemingly out of left field, “Hey, deacon, have you ever thought of doing a radio show?”
Who, me? But wait — remember Moses. God prepared him. God also prepared me. I knew a lot of stuff about Catholicism I didn’t know before. I knew so much Scripture now. I experienced a lot of conversion over the last several years, and I had lots of conversations with others about why I was Catholic. But, a radio show? Wait — remember Moses. God prepared me by letting me be a film and video producer, a communicator, for 30 years. This whole “doing a radio show” thing was no longer out of left field; it now made perfect sense.
Hitting the Airwaves
Robert Hutton was part of a Catholic organization called the Order of Malta — a 900-year-old religious order that lives out a twofold mission to serve the sick and the poor and to defend the Catholic faith. The first part of the mission, Hutton told me, was easy. They started supporting the soup kitchen at St. Mary’s downtown. The second part? Not so easy. How does an organization defend the Faith in this day and age? Perhaps in the same way that the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, God had imparted on Robert’s heart that the Memphis region of the Order of Malta needed to sponsor a Catholic radio program. Why he asked me, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps the first 10 guys on his list said no. I said yes.
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I thought that if I was going to do a radio show about the Catholic faith, what kind of show would it be? I remembered how most of the discussions about the important things in life — politics, sports, social issues and God — took place sitting in the corner booth of a late-night diner over a cup of coffee with friends. I decided that’s the atmosphere I wanted to re-create. And so, “The Catholic Cafe” was born. Amidst the piped-in sounds of a bustling cafe at lunchtime, complete with clanking dishes, you’ll hear a hearty mix of engaging conversation about the Faith, approachable theology, orthodox doctrine conveyed in an easy manner and practical advice for living your Catholic faith day in and day out, all while sitting in the “luxurious corner booth” of “The Catholic Cafe.”
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Together with my co-host and good friend Tom Dorian, we strive to make the program fun, friendly and faithful. We like to think that we are evangelizing the world one cup of coffee at a time.
DEACON JEFF DRZYCIMSKI is a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee, and is host to the nationally syndicated radio show and podcast “The Catholic Cafe.”