Deacon Allan Shanahan is one of the two Permanent Deacons for the Billerica Collaborative (consisting of the St. Andrew, St. Mary, and St. Theresa Parishes).
Deacon Al has technical degrees from Boston College and the Catholic University of America, as well as spiritual and academic formation as deacon. Deacon Al was ordained in 1986 and assigned for the first 28 years to St. Mary Parish in Pinehurst and now to all three parishes in Billerica. In addition to his ministerial duties, he has taught the faith at all levels at St. Mary, and this has continued for the Collaborative, participating now in Baptismal catechesis, Adult Faith Formation, Marriage preparation, Bible Study, and the St. Theresa Confirmation program, as well as adult Confirmation preparation and RCIA, when needed.
Let me tell you about how convinced I became over my lifetime that God was moving me in directions he wanted to move me in, for his purposes, directions I did not will or even understand.
I was born and brought up in an Irish Catholic family, living first in Watertown, then Roxbury, then Charlestown. I went to public schools through the eighth grade until I was blessed with an offer to go to B.C. High, a Jesuit high school, where I learned to say the Morning Offering prayer, to make a morning offering of myself to God, at the beginning of each school day. I did this for years and then went to Boston College–and promptly forgot about making my morning offering, although I continued to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, which I did my whole life. I married my Charlestown sweetheart, Judy, graduated from college, and took my first job in Washington, D.C. We had our two daughters there, Debbie and Eileen, and moved back to this area, eventually moving into Billerica 44 years ago.
I must admit that when I moved into Billerica those many years ago, I was not an “intentional” disciple of Christ, someone who made it a policy to continue to get to know God better, love him more, and show that love by serving Him in one way or another. I went to Mass every week, yes, but that was it. I still remember the realization after a half dozen years attending St. Mary’s every week that the only time I prayed during the week was when I entered the church for Mass. When I left, I wouldn’t think about God again until I went to church again the following week. I recognized that something was seriously wrong with my week. There was an emptiness. I had no relationship with God, except in church; I had no appreciation or even awareness of the presence of God around me during the week. And so, I worked hard at trying to restore the daily prayer life I had in high school; I recovered the Morning Offering the Jesuits had taught me there. The last part of the Morning Offering was to pray for what I needed, so I started to pray for the dead, my parents, relatives, and friends who had died. I prayed for my wife and children and all my relatives, friends, and acquaintances. I even prayed for my enemies and all those I had never met. I did all that in the shower or getting dressed for work. I added the rosary, turning off the radio in the car on the way to work and counting the Hail Mary’s on my fingers. I started to go to Mass on Saturday mornings as something extra for God. “Coincidentally” at a Daughters of St. Paul book fair in the Billerica Mall, Judy thought I might be interested in a book she bought: the Liturgy of the Hours, the public prayer of the Church. I started to pray Morning and Evening prayer every day. And over time something wonderful happened. I realized that I was conscious of God 24/7. I could feel his involvement in my life and I felt I was tuned in to His life. When I went to Mass, the readings were finally really speaking to me; in the famous parable of the man who gave various amounts of money to invest while he was away, I was the “worthless, lazy lout” who was giving God no return on his investment in me. I needed to do something for God, not just go to Mass, even though that is of course necessary, but I had no idea what that might be. The parish seemed to be running like a top under Father John T. Lawler.
Miraculously Fr. Lawler called me one night, out of the blue, and asked me to become a lector—I said yes. Then, after a while, since I was only a lector every other week, he asked me to become a choir member during the off-weeks. Judy and I both said yes. Then, after some more time, he asked me to be a Eucharistic Minister. I said yes. Then, even later, he asked me to be a religious education teacher. I said yes. Eventually he asked me to consider applying to the deacon formation program. I said yes. I didn’t think I was the best candidate in the parish by a long shot. He said just apply and see what happens. I said “If God wants me, he can have me!”
All I had to be was open to the invitations to serve that God was placing in front of me–and to say yes when they came along!
God is inviting all of us to be open to his calls as we go through life. Please God, may we always say yes.