Deacon Joseph Arsenault Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
Home Parish: St. Francis of Assisi, Braintree. Seminary: Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, Weston High School: Joseph Case High School, Swansea. College: Boston College, Assumption College. Hobbies: Reading, traveling. Ordained to the permanent diaconate: 1988
What were major Catholic activities you participated in prior to the seminary?
I was involved in religious education in my parish in Millis. I was also a lector and a minister of the Eucharist. In 1988, I was ordained a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Boston. Since then I have ministered in four parishes: St. Thomas the Apostle in Millis, St. James in Stoughton, Sacred Heart in Middleboro, and St. Francis of Assisi in Braintree. I have also been involved in prison ministry as a deacon at Walpole, Southeast Correction Center, and Old Colony Prisons. Being a celibate deacon, I have had the privilege to be involved in many ministries within each parish to which I have been assigned.
What is your favorite Scripture passage? Why?
Romans 8:31-39. It speaks powerfully to me of the totality of God's love for each of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It speaks of [the] intimacy that God calls us to when we enter into relationship with Him. Nothing can separate us from His love and mercy if we are open to His grace.
What are some of the most
important parts of discernment?
It strikes me that there are at least two dimensions that come to mind. There must be more, but two emerge for me immediately. One is listening to one's self. Clearing away the clutter and asking the deeper questions of what you believe is your purpose in life and what is God's will for you. If I truly believe in my relationship with Christ, what is He asking of me? What brings me peace and joy in my heart? The second dimension is to read the "signs of the times" around you. I had come to realize that what I was doing professionally, as well as ministerially, was not enough. There was something more that needed to be done. At first it seemed like a dissatisfaction with the present activities, but then upon listening and discerning further, what emerged was a voice calling me to let go of what I was doing and trust in God enough to be led to something else. In that process, I needed to speak with people I trusted as well as pray a lot.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
In terms of interests, most would not know that I love boats, especially speedboats, and I love saltwater fishing. My work has not allowed me to do any of that for years, but if I had the opportunity, I would jump at it.
How did you come to know Jesus Christ?
Like any significant relationship, my relationship with Jesus Christ is one that has evolved and continues to develop. I grew up in a traditional, ethnic and Catholic culture. I grew up, in a sense, with Christ around me everywhere. The symbols (as well as the Baltimore Catechism) were everywhere and the general culture supported it. One specific point came when I was 16 and was asked to go on a retreat. During that retreat, I had an overwhelming experience of the presence of Jesus, Jesus within me and in the Eucharist. The same type of experience happened to me as a novice in a religious community. The experience of Jesus present, where I could almost sense Him present to me. My recent experience of my health problems in which I was supposed to die has transformed, in ways I still do not understand, my relationship with Jesus.
How does the priest best follow in the footsteps of the Apostles?
As Christ was obedient to the Father, and the Apostles became obedient to Christ, so we must be obedient to the Church. That will, I believe, make us counter-cultural in terms of American culture. Thus, we must be willing to deal with rejection and criticism if we are to be faithful. Faithfulness to Christ, the Church and to the spiritual life, as well as faithfulness to God's people, is a way to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles.
The Pilot, in cooperation with the Office of Vocations, is publishing a series of brief profiles of the men preparing for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Boston. For other profiles or if you think God may be calling you to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, visit the Vocations Office Web site at www.VocationsBoston.org.