Tag Archives: consecrated life

Vatican II on Fostering Religious Vocations

3 Jun

religious sistersIn paragraph 24 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965), we find this summary of what we might call ”vocation ministry”:

“Priests and Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster religious vocations, thereby increasing the strength of the Church, corresponding to its needs. These candidates should be suitably and carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the life of the evangelical counsels and the religious state should be treated more frequently. Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in their children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.

“Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.

“Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.”

Three things jumped off the page to me when I recently reread this document:

(1) Vatican II encourages more preaching on the evangelical counsels and the religious state, yet how often do we hear anything from the pulpit on the splendor of consecrated life?

(2) Parents not only nurture but protect their children’s vocations by instilling Christian virtue. One wonders how many religious vocations have been lost by parents’ failure to foster Christian virtue in the home through their own words and actions, and through the appropriate exercise of discipline.

(3) Religious have the right to promote their community, but in the end the most effective means of attracting young men and women is through their own personal witness of lives completely and joyfully given to the Lord.

What Is a Vocation?

9 Apr

vocationVocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” A vocation is a calling from God and to God. A vocation naturally includes what we do “for a living,” but it goes much deeper than that. God has a personal plan for each one of us. This “plan” is our personal vocation, as God invites each one of us to a special relationship with Him through Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at how this plays out.

All the faithful, by virtue of our Baptism, have a vocation in the Church. All of us are called to a deep, personal, and communal relationship with the Lord and His family, the Church; all of us are called to holiness—to become saints; all of us have a role to play in bringing the Gospel to the world, one precious soul at a time.

Continue reading

Great Vocations Site

27 Mar

IRLIn celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Institute on Religious Life (IRL) has launched a completely redesigned and rebuilt website at ReligiousLife.com.

The new site, made possible by funding from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, is more dynamic and user friendly than the older site, with many more audio and video features to complement existing features. In my estimation (and admittedly I’m prejudiced as a long-time advisor to the IRL), it is the premier vocations information portal on the Internet today.

I invite you to visit the new IRL site. You can sign up for an eight-day “virtual” vocation discernment retreat, browse the entirely new online catalog, or read the new e-version of Religious Life magazine.

Check out the “Speak Lord” vocational download of the month club, and VocationSearch–the IRL’s searchable database of great religious communities.

Visit ReligiousLife.com, too, for complete information on the upcoming 2014 IRL National Meeting, featuring guest speaker Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., who left her life as a top Hollywood actress to become a cloistered Benedictine nun.

Commitment Matters

18 Jun

Young men playing gamesI’m very concerned about the direction of many teenage boys today. They seem to lack motivation, focus, and religious sensibility, as they idly pass their time on their iPhones and X-Boxes.

Granted, this is to some extent a perennial issue. Many young men (like me!), after sowing some wild oats, eventually make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood and accept the responsibilities that come with it.

The present generation of teens has it a little tougher in some ways. Too many are raised without a strong sense of faith and family. They seem to have no mooring, no anchor to draw them back from the pagan society that has enveloped them.

And they have never learned about commitment. Instead, they have been brainwashed by the “anti-commitment” ideology of the culture of death and the entertainment industry.

I have much more than a passing or speculative interest in all this. I am the father of three daughters who are still single. I presume that not all of them will be called to the religious or single life, so I wonder about the “pool” of young men that will be on the scene as I wake up to find that my little girls have one-by-one become young women. After all, this is largely a post-divorce culture. While divorce is the tragic consequence of a commitment gone awry, many young people today (perhaps children of divorce themselves) don’t understand the point of commitment in the first place.

And then there are my young sons, and I wonder how they will navigate through this cultural morass and become men of honor and commitment.

As I completed law school I had a “re-conversion” to the Catholic faith, and I became very serious not only about the practice of the faith, but also about my attempt to live a God-centered, purpose-driven life. Yet even then I occasionally experienced the erratic tendencies of my adolescence. This was especially the case in my vocational discernment as I pursued, in quick succession, a legal career, religious life, and secular priesthood as a seminarian.

But then God put into my heart a love for the woman who would become my wife. Now, over 22 years later, despite my own limitations and sins, He has continued to give me the grace to love and serve Him through my faithful, self-giving love for Maureen.

All vocations in Christ are responses to God’s invitation to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him. This is nothing other than an invitation to love. How do we love Christ? How do we authentically love anybody? By giving completely of ourselves: by committing ourselves to the other.

The vocation to love God plays itself out differently in every person. For most of us, it will lead to another invitation—to enter into a marital relationship that reflects the union of Christ with His Church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). For others, it may lead to an invitation to the consecrated life or to the priesthood.

But the point is, love without commitment entails using God and others, not giving of ourselves to them. Without a sense of commitment, we are a culture, as C.S. Lewis would say, of “men without chests.” Without a sense of commitment, all vocations—including the primordial vocation to Christian holiness—fall by the wayside.

The current vocations landscape—and here I refer to the relative dearth of committed Catholic marriages as well as to the shortage of priests and religious—indeed poses serious pastoral challenges to the Church. Yet I think a concerted effort to restore a sense of commitment to today’s youth will go a long way with God’s grace toward fostering a new springtime of vocations in the Church.

One good place to start is by exhorting and equipping parents, teachers, and mentors to devote themselves to the youth, after the pattern of St. Paul: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). When we authentically share the Gospel with the next generation, we are also sharing ourselves, becoming a gift to them.

This of course entails a challenge to the “older generation” to live what we teach. Young people don’t have any use for teachers unless they are first and foremost witnesses. Our own Christian commitment must be continually renewed through the Eucharist and manifested in virtuous lives of service to others.

These brief reflections on Christian commitment also have an obvious application to the goal of Catholic formation. So often the concern is about numbers (how many baptisms, RCIA candidates, seminarians, etc.) or about what catechism series is used or having the most up-to-date catechetical methods and technology aids.

While all those things are important, the goal of all Catholic formation, especially when it comes to youth, must be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Any so-called “vocation crisis” goes hand-in-hand with a “commitment crisis.” The perennial response of the Church to this challenge, amplified in recent years by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is to introduce young people to the captivating person and life-giving teachings of Christ and let him or her fall in love.

The Book of God

1 Apr

Sisters win!In our series on the documents of Vatican II during this “Year of Faith,” we have spent some time examining Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

The success of my daughter Sr. Evangeline and her team of sisters on The American Bible Challenge has given our culture a wonderful witness of how Catholics—and all people!—should come to know and venerate Scripture as God’s love letters to us.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Librum (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving work of Christ. Dei Verbum therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit (no. 9).

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible . . . ?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated.

Tragically, there are millions of Catholics raised since the mid-20th century in this country who have left the Church. Many, for one reason or another, have simply abandoned all religious practice, as the poor formation many Catholics have received has proven to be no match for the relentless secularism of our society. Some, however, have met “Bible Christians” who have found in these biblically hapless Catholics easy targets for their proselytism.

In my own life–despite 12 years of Catholic school–I found myself as a young adult woefully ignorant of Christ. Scripture was not a priority in our home and was not convincingly proclaimed at school or at Sunday Mass. Our beautiful, large, family Bible was used mostly to keep important documents and newspaper clippings flat (because of its size), and safe (because no one would ever think of opening it).

Even as the Holy Spirit was gently leading me home in the 1980s, it was difficult to find sound Catholic materials on Scripture. The first book I picked up discussed how St. Paul didn’t write many of the Epistles the Church attributes to him. The second book said we had to focus on the human Jesus and proceeded to explain away the miraculous occurrences in the Gospels. The third book went so far as to deny the Resurrection, saying that it wasn’t a historical event, but basically, “It’s the Church’s story and we’re sticking to it.” These were all considered mainstream “Catholic” books that I later encountered, among others, in seminary. No wonder we’re confused!

While there’s much more work to be done today, the climate is already subtly but unmistakably changing. My kids (not just Sr. Evangeline!) and their friends not only know the Catechism, but are quite at home–where they should be–in the Bible, and in fact have more of it memorized than I do. The Liturgy of the Word–not just at Mass, but also in other sacramental celebrations and the Liturgy of the Hours–now receives greater attention. The faithful are exposed to more of the Bible than before, and in its natural habitat to boot: the sacred liturgy. Catholics in unprecedented numbers are engaged in life-changing Bible studies. Catholic apologetics, thanks to Karl Keating, Pat Madrid, and so many others, has undergone a remarkable renaissance, such that Catholics are increasingly able to explain the biblical basis of our beliefs. Continue reading

Undivided Heart

25 Jan

religious sistersThe next document in our series on the documents of Vatican II is the 1965 Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis). A few preliminary thoughts on this document:

(1) One blogger has noted that the document could really have benefited from having headings, and happily did the work for us. If you choose to read this document yourself during the “Year of Faith,” you might want to use these headings to help keep the “big picture” in mind.

(2) Some readers may not be disposed to reading this document, because they assume, based on the precipitous decline of religious life in the years immediately following Vatican II, that Vatican II must not have said anything worthwhile on the subject. This decline in religious vocations had several causes, but Perfectae Caritatis isn’t one of them. Some religious communities have struggled not only in keeping their numbers up, but even more importantly, in remaining faithful to their religious charism and to the Church. We see some of this playing out in the recent controversy involving some aging members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. However, the communities that have embraced the Church’s teaching in Perfectae Caritatis and Pope John Paul II’s follow-up document Vita Consecrata (“Consecrated Life”) tend to be the ones that are thriving in our time. Click here for one such example.

(3) In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) we have an overview of the various states in life in the Church. In some of these subsequent documents, specific members of the Church (e.g., laity, priests, bishops, etc.) are addressed. Perfectae Caritatis takes the broad teaching of Lumen Gentium and then focuses more specifically on consecrated life. This approach models for us the importance of viewing religious vocations from within the larger context of the Church.

I especially invite readers to consider this passage from section 12 of Perfectae Caritatis:

“The chastity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.”

This idea of consecrated persons having an “undivided heart” is further amplified in two passages from Vita Consecrata, the 1995 apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II that reflects upon Vatican II’s teaching on consecrated life. The Holy Father magnificently sets forth the beauty and depth of loving God with an undivided heart:

First, from section 1:

“In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided’ heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.”

Later, from section 21:

“The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.”

Praise God for the call to love and serve Him with an undivided heart! May many young men and women generously respond to this unique call!

For more information on this subject, I strongly recommend the Institute on Religious Life.

Giving What We Got

7 Jun

Sr. Evangeline with her family

Last month my family drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit our daughter, Sr. Evangeline. This was our first opportunity to visit her since she received a new name and religious habit as a novice with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist last summer. We were all so excited to see her!

With this upcoming visit in mind, I was recently pondering a light-hearted comment that one of the Dominican sisters once made at a gathering of Catholic leaders. She said, “We need your prayers. We need your money. We need your daughters.” On all three counts, I can’t think of a better recipient than this thriving, faithful religious community.

Yet, our society and especially our government are competing for the same things!

The money, of course, is a no-brainer. The government wants as much of it as it can get away with taking, and our consumerist society is ready to pounce on whatever is left.

But what about the others? What does our secular society, let alone our government, care about our prayers? It would seem that if anything they don’t want us to pray or acknowledge God at all, especially in public.

Maybe instead of prayer we could say our “hearts.” They want our “buy in.” They want our allegiance, our adherence to their agenda. They want us to be Americans who happen to be (nominal) Catholics, not Catholics who happen to be Americans.

As sincere Catholics, we pray to God, trusting that our heavenly Father knows what”s best for us (cf. Mt. 6:31-32; 7:11; Lk, 12:7; Phil. 4:19). We want to grow in union with Him.

Society and the government want us to trust them instead (never mind what it says on our money!), because they think they know what’s best for us. They don’t want us to be counter-cultural witnesses to Christ. Instead, they want us to “go with the flow” and follow the fashions and political correctness of an increasingly “godless” society in the West.

And, like the good sisters, they want our kids. That makes sense economically, not only when it comes to selling them (with us picking up the tab!) things they don’t need, but even more in ensuring a labor force as the effects of reproductive “choices” affect us on a macro level. Immigrants as well as large Catholic families are prime sources of the next generation of children, which is America’s greatest resource.

But it’s not enough for them to wait for a pay off on this resource (when our kids become laborers/consumers/taxpayers). They want to “program” them now, which makes things a lot easier on the back end. That explains much of the indoctrination that goes on in public schools (and before that, in daycare), as well as some of the institutional hostility to private Catholic schools and especially homeschooling families.

More on all that later. The question I’d like us to consider today is who gets our hearts, who gets our money, and who gets our kids? As much as we’d like to think so, we can’t have it both ways (cf. Mt. 6:24). May Our Lord Jesus Christ truly be the center of our lives, and may we truly give Him our best in all that we do.

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” –Matthew 6:33