Tag Archives: vocation

A Joyful Calling

26 Jan

marriage1In two weeks, you’ll be invited to participate in the Joyful Marriage Project, an initiative that invites and equips couples to make their marriage more joyful. In this Sunday’s second reading, St Paul exhorts us to “consider [our] own calling” (1 Cor. 1:26). What does one have to do with the other?

For us married couples, considering our own “calling” is a reminder to constantly be aware of the mission of our life. Not that we forget we are married, but we sometimes forget how much we love our spouse. When we take for granted the passionate love we have for our spouse, joy leaks out of our relationship.

Just as Christ was always mindful of His mission to bring God’s love to humanity, we married couples must be focused on bringing God’s love to our spouse.

For practical tips on how to “consider your own calling,” go to www.joyfulmarriageproject.com.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

 

The Vocation of St. John the Baptist

24 Jun

nativity of john the baptistToday is the 13th birthday of my son Samuel John. It’s also the liturgical feast of the Birth (or “Nativity”) of St. John the Baptist. It’s one of the three birthdays set aside for special celebration in the Church, the others of course being the Birth of Jesus (Christmas) on December 25th, and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th (nine months after the Immaculate Conception).

I thought I would refer our readers to this 2007 article at Catholic Exchange on the birth of St. John the Baptist. I especially appreciate the author’s focus on St. John’s vocation as it unfolded throughout the life of the herald of the Messiah:

“John was given a mission, a vocation, while still a mere babe. It would be many years before he would carry it out. He still would have needed help preparing for it. John would have needed his mother and father to help him learn about the faith of his ancestors, in coming to know of the God of Abraham and His relationship with the people of Israel. He would have needed someone to help him learn his prayers and all that the Scriptures contained. In other words, I imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth had an important part to play in helping their son discern what God was calling him to do.”

This reflection reminds all of us who are Catholic parents of the immense dignity and responsibility we have as “vocation directors” in the home.

 

New Slate of Candidates

18 Sep

deacon candidatesLast month Archbishop Naumann admitted 19 men as “candidates” for the permanent diaconate. What does that mean?

Well, it does not mean that the ordinations will take place anytime soon. This group of men–known as a “cohort”–is not slated to be ordained until spring 2017. For that matter, becoming a deacon candidate carries no guarantee of eventual ordination.

Candidacy does mean, however, that the Archbishop is asking the men to persevere in a program of human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral training for the next few years as they continue their discernment.

When we hear the word “candidate” we may think of one who is running for office. While the deacon candidates do aspire to the public “office” or “order” of deacon, thankfully there will not be the negative campaigning or smear tactics that characterize many elections.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. Rather than try to one-up or outshine their brother candidates, the cohort’s goal is to help one another succeed. In this noble effort, they are already modeling the call to service that is at the heart of diaconal ministry.

In order to understand the significance of “candidacy,” marriage may provide a better analogy than an election. The first year of formation, known as aspirancy, may be seen as a courtship, or “going steady”; candidacy is a form of betrothal or “engagement”; and the rite of ordination may be likened to the wedding ceremony. Just as marriage only begins with the wedding, so ordained ministry in service of God’s people only begins with ordination.

So this period of candidacy, like a period of engagement before marriage, is a time of intensive formation. We speak of diaconal “formation,” not diaconal “education,” because training for the diaconate–like preparation for marriage–is not merely an academic pursuit, but rather a discipleship that encompasses every aspect of one’s personality. Theological knowledge is important, but the goal of formation is to allow the theology to continually change the hearts of the candidates so that they will minister in the Church with the heart of Christ.

Before admitting potential deacons as “candidates,” the Archdiocese exercised due diligence. The candidates have already gone through an extensive application process, Virtus training, fingerprinting in Topeka, criminal and credit checks, interviews, and psychological evaluations. Equipped with the best available information and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Archbishop called the 19 men forward to candidacy.

Meanwhile, the candidates themselves have continued to test their call to ordained ministry. This discernment is not something they do on their own, but rather occurs in close, ongoing conversation with spouses, family members, peers, spiritual directors, and the formation team.

Please pray for new candidates, the deacon cohort of 2017!

This article originally appeared in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Priests

31 Jul

Pope with childrenLike many parents, I’ve heard the incessant pleas of my children to get a pet (or in our case, another pet). With these pleas come all sorts of promises and assurances that the dog, cat, or gecko will receive abundant love and impeccable care. All will be right with the world–or at least with our home–if we simply were to adopt Rover or Princess.

Then, of course, we get the pet, and the enthusiasm diminishes with the first accident on the carpet. The kids are still fond of animals–they love the zoo or Animal Planet, and maybe would like to own other pets. But the pet or pets they already have are taken for granted, and what was previously considered loving care is now experienced as a burdensome chore.

Pet Seminary

When we think about it, there’s a similar dynamic at work when it comes to our parish priests. We’re concerned about the looming priest shortage in many areas. We have vocation directors and parish committees on the constant lookout for prospects. We come up with 101 ways to support our seminarians. We esteem the priesthood and like the idea of getting a new priest.

Yet, as a pastor in California once confided to me, priests tend to fall off the map after ordination. The priests that we do have, day in and day out, are easily taken for granted. Over time their personal quirks or shortcomings overshadow, in our minds, the graces that come to us through their ministry.

In short, the idea gives way to the reality.

Like anything else, the best way to act upon the godly inspiration to support our priests is to make good, practical resolutions and carry them out. What are some resolutions we can make when it comes to supporting our priests?

Prayer Necessities

Most practicing Catholics would readily accept that the first order of business would be to pray for our priests with renewed ardor and consistency. But while the intention is there, we often fail in the execution. What we need is a concrete resolution to incorporate prayer for priests into our daily routine, so that it becomes a habit-even more, a virtue. To that end, here are some suggestions we might wish to consider.

Mass. There is no better way to pray for priests than to remember them in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This can be done whenever we attend Mass on Sunday or other days, but maybe we can even pick out a particular weekday or Saturday each week or month in which we go to Mass specifically to pray for our priests.
Special prayers. We can offer specific prayers or novenas of our own choosing–anytime, anywhere–for the sake of our priests. It’s especially appropriate to seek the intercession of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. And offering our daily sufferings, crosses, and inconveniences for priests is a good idea, too.
Eucharistic adoration. Praying for our priests in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass is highly recommended by the Church. And on a larger scale, parishes may want to sign up adorers for each hour of the day specifically to pray for their priests throughout the year.
Prayer chain. Even if Eucharistic adoration is not presently available, parishioners can divide up among themselves the hours in the week, such that at any time, day or night, there is at least one person praying for the parish priests in that community.
Family prayer. Prayer for priests should find its way into the rhythm of family prayer. One excellent time to remember priests is during the family Rosary. Most people pray for the intentions of the Pope during the Rosary, but why not also include our bishop and our parish priests? This prayer would also instill in us–and even more, in our children–a greater sense of the Church as being both universal and local.

No Strings

How we pray also matters. I’ve met people whose prayer for priests imposes their agenda upon God. They pray that the pastor will be transferred to another parish, or that he will (finally) fire the flamboyant liturgy director, or that he will bring in program X and/or dump program Y in the diocese or school.

There may, on occasion, be some validity to such agendas, but more fundamentally, with a humble, childlike faith, we should simply lift up our priests in prayer without any strings attached.

Let’s look at it this way: We know that Jesus is the physician of our souls (cf. Mk. 2:17). Even more, He’s a surgeon, always willing and able to repair our brokenness. But further still, He’s the diagnostician par excellence of the human heart. We do well to let Him figure out how to draw individuals to Himself.

When a loved one is injured or very sick, our job is to call 911 or drive to the closest emergency room. In other words, we take him or her to the doctor, knowing that the doctor is the one who is able to diagnose and treat the ailment.

How much more is it important for us to spiritually take our priests–and all the people in our lives–to the feet of Jesus and let Him take it from there. May He give them strength in the face of temptations, consolation in the face of loneliness or setback, and courage in the face of opposition. And may He give them the grace to be holy, faithful priests who bring Christ to us in Word and sacrament.

Our Just Desserts

In one sense, we don’t “deserve” priests, any more than we deserve grace. But in another sense, we get the priests we deserve. In a real sense, our priests are a reflection of us (as are, often to our shame, our Catholic politicians).

Incorporating prayer for priests into our lives may not perceptibly change them or particular situations, but it will change us. We may find, over time, that our parish will be transformed little by little into an environment that’s more conducive to our priests’ growth as men of God.

Prayer and Feeding

If we do nothing else besides pray for priests, we have done well. Yet we also sense that our prayer should be accompanied by acts of personal affirmation.

While that sounds good in theory, we may struggle when it comes to getting close to our priests. Their lives are very different from our own, and their schedules and responsibilities can be brutally demanding.

And the fact is, serious Catholics and nominal Catholics alike–and everyone in between–can tend to depersonalize priests. We treat them as mere functionaries, as sacramental dispensers, not terribly unlike how we treat tollbooth operators, gas station attendants, and postal workers. We just want to get a “fill-up” of grace without annoyance or hassle.

So, it seems to me that the first step for us is to recognize that behind the priestly garb is a human being. He has forsaken many natural goods so as to choose the supernatural good of serving the People of God (us!) as an ordained minister.

The Church is not a private business or a government entity, but the Family of God, and the priest serves a fatherly role in the local family known as the parish. So clearly the priesthood is meant to be relational and not merely functional. We see in this reality the need to build the bonds of friendship, fraternity, and solidarity with our priests. But how? Here are a few simple suggestions:

Get to know him. Do we bolt for the door after Mass? Or even after Communion? Why not stop and say hello to him? On occasion, why not invite him out for a cup of coffee, or even welcome him into our home? Such one-on-one encounters are much more life-giving to most priests than big, noisy banquets.
Interaction with families. Priesthood and marriage are vocations that complement and draw strength from one another. A priest’s involvement in our family’s life could help during difficult phases of our lives and possibly even foster religious vocations in our children. But priests also benefit greatly from the loving friendship they are shown by families that open their hearts–and homes–to them.
Deal with difficulties gracefully. I’ve known pastors who actually hide when they see certain parishioners walking toward them. They do that because they know that these parishioners talk to them only to hammer them about some liturgical or doctrinal concern. Whatever the perceived difficulty may be, such an adversarial approach doesn’t respect the person of the priest (nor his office, for that matter). When, however, we befriend priests and treat them with respect, we have earned the right to express concerns in charity to them.
Offer positive assistance. Along with that, all of us need some encouragement at times–even priests. Affirming the good things they do (Nice homily, Father! Thanks for your time, Father! etc.) is a good start. But we can go even further: Rather than complain, perhaps we can offer (not impose) assistance to our priests, who almost universally carry a very heavy burden of responsibility in serving us each day.
As we support our priests, we will surely find that we get back far more than we give, as personally and spiritually renewed priests will return the love shown to them in myriad ways, for the good of souls and the betterment of our parishes.

Yes, we need more priests. But, with the Church, let’s remember and take good care of the priests we have!

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Lay Witness magazine.

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 Time Is Now

11 Feb

High Definition SportsCenter Graphic - 2004While getting some exercise I often get my “sports fix” by watching ESPN’s Sports Center. As I do, sometimes I wonder about how “unreal” it is.

I’m not talking here about sports’ inflated significance in our culture. After all, in the shopping mall of life, sports is the toy store, or maybe Aunt Annie’s Pretzels–surely not the end-all we make it out to be.

Rather, what I’m getting at is that while I’m watching Sports Center, there is no sporting event going on at all. Rather, we keep moving back and forth from the past (statistics, rankings, scores of previous games, etc.) to the future (upcoming games, fantasy drafts, predictions, etc.). Sure, those things have a place, but it′s interesting how caught up we can get in the past (What was their record last year?) and future (Will the Chiefs draft a quarterback in the first round?), almost to the exclusion of the present.

The same is true in all areas of life. How often do we dwell on past glory or setbacks, or on future worries that may never materialize? All the while, life happens in real time. And what is real time? It’s the present moment. And because it’s the only time that’s completely real, it’s where we encounter God, where we receive actual grace, and where we respond in Christ-like fashion to others.

A little story from my young adult years will illustrate this point: 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.