Tag Archives: vocations

7 Habits of Highly Effective Deacon Candidates

18 Sep

deacon candidatesArchbishop Naumann has approved the formation of a new cohort of candidates for the diaconate in 2015. This group will embark upon a five-year program that, God willing, will culminate in their ordination as deacons.

The first step in the process will be a series of information nights this fall held at various locations throughout the Archdiocese. At these sessions, we will provide more details on the diaconate and answer any questions people might have.

The decision to step forward and apply for the program is a matter of discernment on the part of both the individual applicant as well as the Archdiocese. For her part, the Church does not expect “perfect” applicants, but men who are open to the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Despite the marvelous individuality of all our deacon applicants, there are some qualities shared by all outstanding candidates for the diaconate. As we discern whether to accept them into the program, we consider many factors, including the presence (or absence) of these qualities:

(1) Disciple Anyone who would apply for the diaconate should be an enthusiastic disciple of Jesus Christ. His relationship with Christ should be the source of his interest in the diaconate. Further, his discipleship should be lived in a positive way that serves as a bridge rather than an obstacle for others who are seeking Christ.

(2) Service The most distinctive characteristic of a deacon is service. In fact, the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for servant. The diaconate is not for men who fail to pour themselves out in service of others, especially the poor.

(3) Prayer Candidates for the diaconate receive ample instruction on prayer. Still, the candidates should already manifest a desire for intimacy with the Lord through the sacraments and daily prayer. After all, we’re looking for disciples and not merely skilled bureaucrats or social workers.

(4) Virtue Of course character matters! While everyone is in some sense a work in progress, we look for men who are balanced, humble, joyful, and compassionate.

(5) Love for the Church Love for Christ is not enough; we want men who, in imitation of Christ, are willing to lay down their lives for the Church. Men with their own agendas or axes to grind aren’t encouraged to apply.

(6) Parish Deacons must come from somewhere! Most good deacon applicants have a track record of service in their parish and local community, and are typically recommended by their pastor.

(7) Leadership We want men who have the courage and generosity to assume greater responsibility in the Church. Deacons aren’t necessarily the most intelligent or skilled, but they are men open to leadership after the heart of Christ.

For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article originally appeared in The Leaven.

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.

 

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.

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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.

Pope Francis’ Intentions for March 2014

1 Mar

St. JosephFollowing are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of March, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Respect for Women.   That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
  • Vocations.   That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate  their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.

In addition, since the 16th century Catholic piety has assigned entire months to special devotions. Because of the special feast day of Saint Joseph on March 19, this month is devoted to this great saint, the foster father of Christ. As Pope Leo XIII of happy memory wrote a little over a century ago, “It greatly behooves Christians, while honoring the Virgin Mother of God, constantly to invoke with deep piety and confidence her most chaste spouse, Saint Joseph. We have a well-grounded conviction that such is the special desire of the Blessed Virgin herself.”

One way to honor St. Joseph this month is to pray the Litany of St. Joseph, individually or as a family. And if you’re looking for good Lenten reading, you might consider Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph called Guardian of the Redeemer.

St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church and protector of the Holy Family, pray for us!

Evangelical Discernment, part 2

6 Dec

Pope Francis 3In the second half of chapter two of Evangelii Gaudium (EG 76-109), Pope Francis discusses the challenges to evangelization faced by “pastoral workers”—everyone from bishops to those who perform the humblest and most hidden services in the Church. He begins by acknowledging our shame at the sins of members of the Church yet also affirming the many Christians who have given their lives in service of the Gospel (EG 76).

He then notes that all of us are in some way affected by our culture, and that we are all in need of ongoing support and renewal (EG 77). The Pope calls for a renewed enthusiasm for evangelization, which necessarily involves giving of ourselves to others (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8). In that regard, he says that a major problem today is an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation (EG 78). Often this entails a spiritual life that is limited to certain religious practices without engaging others and the world. We’re too often focused on ourselves.

Obviously such an approach is self-centered and lacking in fervor. In fact, the Holy Father says that sometimes we go about our business “as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (EG 80). Many otherwise well-formed Catholics too often become attached to their own pursuits other than bringing Christ to others.

He says that our Church culture can become obsessed with “free time” (EG 81). He pointedly says that our seeming “unbearable fatigue” is not caused by an excess of activity, but “activity undertaken badly” (EG 82). By this he’s referring to “pastoral acedia,” a form of the deadly sin of sloth, which drains our energy. He warns us not to allow the joy of evangelization to be undermined by the “gray pragmatism” of the daily grind of life in the Church, which results in what he calls a “tomb psychology” that destroys our zeal (EG 83).

Related to this is the Pope’s urgent call not to succumb to the evils around us and grow disillusioned. “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (EG 84). He decries a defeatist attitude that creates disillusioned “sourpusses” (EG 85).  One especially calls to mind the situation in Europe (and here, if we’re not vigilant) where a “desertification” has come about through the attempts in some places to destroy the Christian roots of the people (EG 86). The Pope calls forth people of faith to keep hope alive in today’s spiritual deserts.

Pope Francis is big on the communitarian dimension of our faith. He therefore calls us to overcome suspicion and fear and run the risk of face-to-face encounters with others, unfiltered by the many forms of social media (EG 88). He says today’s lack of interpersonal connection creates a false autonomy that leaves no place for God. He says the challenge today is not so much atheism as it is responding adequately to people’s thirst for God (EG 89).

We do not preach a Gospel of well-being or prosperity that demands nothing of us with regard to others (EG 89-90). We need to create “deep and stable bonds” with others (EG 91) and thereby create what he calls a “mystical fraternity” that enables us to see “the sacred grandeur of our neighbor” (EG 92).

Particularly compelling is the Pope’s discussion of “spiritual worldliness,” in which one hides behind the appearance of piety while really seeking out one’s own glory or well-being (93). This worldliness has two basic forms. One is a purely subjective faith that leads one to become imprisoned in his or her own thoughts (EG 94). The other form entails putting one’s trust in one’s own powers or religious observance, which can easily become elitist.

In all forms of spiritual worldliness, we end up serving ourselves or the Church as institution, without regard for the multitudes who are still thirsting for Christ (EG 95). One who falls into worldliness “would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight” (EG 96). But it’s not all about us. We must strive to have expansive hearts, recognizing that stifling self-centeredness must give way to the “pure air of the Holy Spirit” (EG 97).

Pope Francis reminds us of the need for fraternal communion with one another. When tempted by jealousy, we must keep in mind that we are all in the same boat and headed to the same port (EG 99). It may be difficult for some to accept our invitation to forgiveness, but such reconciliation becomes more attractive when accompanied by the powerful witness of Christian love (EG 100). Rather than be overcome by evil, we should “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21; EG 101).

The Pope concludes this chapter with an array of other challenges facing the Church. He affirms “lay ministry,” but cautions that it must be ordered to a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political, and economic sectors (EG 102). In other words, we need to go out of ourselves, beyond the walls of our parish church.

He affirms the indispensable contribution of women in society and in the Church (EG 103). He reminds us that the ordination of women “is not a question open to discussion” (EG 104), but stresses that sacramental or “hierarchical” power in the Church should be understood in terms of service, not domination. He stresses that our great dignity is rooted in our Baptism, which is accessible to all (EG 104).

He touches upon the need to evangelize and educate young people (perhaps today we too often assume the former and focus exclusively on the latter), and then empower them to exercise greater leadership roles (EG 106). The Holy Father attributes the vocation crisis in many places to a “lack of contagious apostolic fervor” (EG 107). Where communities rediscover their missionary joy and enthusiasm, vocations will come.

The Pope concludes his reflections in this chapter by saying that it’s important to listen to both the elderly and the young (EG 108). The elderly contribute the wisdom of “memory” (tradition) and experience, while the youth contribute a renewed, expansive hope that opens us to the future, offering new directions lest we cling to structures and customs that are no longer life-giving in today’s world.

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.

Give Us Shepherds!

7 Feb

ordinationIn our series during this “Year of Faith” on the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the first of two conciliar documents on the ordained priesthood, namely Optatam Totius, the 1965 Decree on Priestly Training. In a forthcoming post we will look at Presbyterorum Ordinis, the 1965 Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.

Optatam Totius should not be read apart from Bl. John Paul II’s 1992 document Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds”) written at the conclusion of an international synod discussing the promotion of priestly vocations and the training of men for the priesthood in today’s cultural climate.

Both Optatam Totius and Pastores Dabo Vobis provide significant teaching on seminaries and the various aspects of formation provided there–human, spiritual, intellectual (philosophical and theological), and pastoral.

Paragraph 2 of Pastores Dabo Vobis drives home the priority of this topic:

“The formation of future priests, both diocesan and religious, and lifelong assiduous care for their personal sanctification in the ministry and for the constant updating of their pastoral commitment is considered by the Church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future of the evangelization of humanity.”

Yet, I’d like to focus today on the fostering of vocations to the priesthood, which according to Optatam Totius is the work of “the whole Christian community” (no. 2). We can build the best seminaries in the world, and meticulously devise the most comprehensive formation program possible, but if young men aren’t willing to step forward in the first instance, we have a problem. A serious problem.

Now, the priesthood today is a complex topic, and any talk of a “shortage” or “crisis” must be tempered by Bl. John Paul’s exhortation that our first response must be a total act of faith in the Holy Spirit. We must be “deeply convinced that this trusting abandonment will not disappoint if we remain faithful to the graces we have received” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, no. 1). We trust that the Lord will always provide us shepherds after His own heart (cf. Jer. 3:15; 23:4), yet we are called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this great work of inviting young people to “come and see” (cf. Jn. 1:39).

For that reason, I want to highlight today this quote from Vatican II: Continue reading