Parents' perspectives on a Catholic vocation journey
Evan is back from his week long retreat in New York. He had a wonderful time of prayer, liturgy, contemplation and relaxation. This retreat — like the others he’s been on — energized him and further confirmed his commitment to the Paulist Community.
A few days ago, Michael Hennessy, made a very public commitment to the Paulists. Michael was the entire novice class in the fall of 2012. Evan had a chance to get to know him last summer at the 2012 Paulist Plunge. At a July 27, 2013 Mass at St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC, Michael made his first promise to the Paulists.
The idea of a “first promise” might sound a little strange — particularly to those who are more familiar with the idea of religious vows. The Wikipedia entry on the Paulists explains:
The Paulists are a Society of Apostolic Life, meaning they do not take the traditional vows of consecrated life; rather, by means of promises they are supposed to pursue their mission through living in community and developing holiness in their lives.
A better explanation shows up on the St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Community (Los Angeles) web page:
As a fully approved congregation in the Catholic Church, the Church looks on the Paulist Community in a very particular way. We belong to a group of congregations called societies of the apostolic life. Only 15 religious congregations have that status today. These communities do not take the three traditional vows that characterize consecrated life, but instead concentrate on their mission. The Church sees three dimensions to a society of the apostolic life.
- Our primary purpose is our mission
- We accomplish our mission through living in community
- We seek holiness through living our mission and common life
The Paulists, therefore, are not like Benedictines or Dominicans or other great Orders whose lives are grounded in the three vows. Rather than taking vows, we take a promise to obey our Paulist Constitution that lays out our mission, our pursuit of holiness, and our living simply, obediently and chastely. Fr. Hecker and the other early Paulist founders felt that taking a promise reflected more directly the way things are done in North American society.
Like a vow, the promises are an important step in the formation of a Paulist. By making the first promises, Michael Hennessy has stepped away from the title of Novice and is officially a member of the Paulist community and a seminarian. At various stages of their formation, the seminarians make additional promises until they reach the final promise which is the penultimate step before ordination.
Each of these promises — as momentous as they are — is but a milestone on the journey toward God. All of us are on that same journey and we each have our own milestones. For me, one of those milestones was Evan’s revelation that he felt called to the priesthood. Certainly it was an important part of his journey, but more than that, it caused me to reflect on my own faith — on the promises that I had made at my Confirmation. Had I lived up to them? Could I do better? What role was God expecting me to play in my son’s lives now that they had become adults?
Honestly, I don’t have all of the answers to those questions; I’m not certain I even have complete answers to any of them. What I can say is that the very act of seriously asking those questions has deepened my faith and brought me closer to God. I expect that the promises the Paulists make do much the same for them.