Diaconate Ordination

It’s been a wonderful Christmas for us … and I hope for you as well.

Both boys were able to come home. It’s been good to be together again as a family. We’ve had lots of meals and laughter and family time.

Evan served as the deacon for a couple of Christmas Masses and it was wonderful to see him moving farther into his vocation.

The Paulist Fathers media team has put together a nine-minute “highlights reel” from the ordination Mass in September. It was a moving event that I doubt I’ll ever forget … but it’s still nice to have the video to go back to.

— Dad (of Evan)

Facing Your Parental Fears

Parents worry about their children. It’s just part and parcel of being a parent.

We’re afraid they’ll make the wrong choices, lose out on opportunities, or have to endure needless suffering. We just want our children to be happy, safe and well.

A call to religious life can be especially terrifying because so few of us have any direct knowledge or experience in that arena. The unknown is always frightening.

In an article I wrote for Area of Effect Magazine*, I recently noted:

Both of my sons have chosen different paths from mine. My eldest is working toward an academic career as a folklorist. My younger is in seminary preparing for a life of teaching. Neither of these is a road I’d choose to travel and both seem risky. Wouldn’t accounting or business be more stable choices?

It turns out that I’m not the first parent in history to worry about my children’s choices. Thomas Aquinas, the theologian and philosopher whose work has influenced Western thought for nearly a millennium, faced serious opposition from his family. At nineteen, he declared his intention to join the Dominican Order. His family kidnapped him and kept him locked in the family castle for nearly a year trying to get him to change his mind. It would have been easy for Thomas to give in.

To keep the article family friendly (it was about Disney’s Moana after all) I didn’t tell the part about Aquinas’ family locking him in a room with a naked prostitute. The legend says that Aquinas was so incensed that he chased the poor girl out with a fire poker.

The details on that may have gotten exaggerated in the telling, but we do know that Aquinas is recognized as one of the great Christian theologians. His parents fears nearly changed the course of western civilization.

Like marriage or a career or a mission trip around the world, a religious vocation is both a journey and an adventure. In the article at Area of Effect, I trace Moana’s journey and her parent’s fears. Like all good heroes her success is bought at the price of risk and hardship. Yet, if she hadn’t taken the risk, her people would have been destroyed.

Will your child be the next Aquinas or Mother Theresa? Will they live a life of heroic virtue? Maybe or maybe not. If you block them, you may find yourself in the shoes of Chief Tui (Moana’s dad) — standing in the way of the future that needs to be explored by our courageous and virtuous sons and daughters.

* Area of Effect is a print and web magazine which explores topics of faith and life through the lens of popular fandoms.

— Dad of Evan

Discerning Out: What It Is & Is Not

Every year, young men in seminary formation  come to the realization that priesthood is not their vocation.  If you don’t have a clear understanding of the discernment process or the nature of a vocation, you might see this is a failure.  Your son has spent all this time and effort on the road of discernment and then he decides to leave seminary.

The reality for a man who discerns out of seminary is very different.   First, this decision young-man-prayinghas been reached after a great deal of discussion  with his spiritual director and other formators at the seminary.  He has spent many hours in thought and prayer on this topic. Once the thought of discerning out of seminary is on the table, men do not pack their bags the same day.  I have read blogs and spoken to seminarians who told me that when serious questions arose, they were counseled to give the decision a little more time, prayer and counsel before making a final decision.  Over time, some discerned out, while others chose to continue their discernment.

If he is in college seminary, he may choose stay until the end of the semester to earn the academic credits.  Since the  seminary is an accredited program to grant a degree, the course credit can be transferred to another college.

When a man enters seminary, it is with the question, “Is God calling me to be a priest?” When a man discerns out,  he has determined that his true vocation is not priesthood.  He has come to understand that God is calling him to a different vocation.  It is NOT that he has decided, “I guess I don’t want to be a priest anymore.”

Although other seminarians may be dissappointed to see him go, they are genuinely glad that he has made this decision.   Remember, every seminarian is actively discerning if he is called to be a priest.  The man who discerns out can leave with the knowledge that he has given this question adequate time, prayer and counsel and will not need to wonder if he really should have been a priest.

Discerning out is actually a positive decision, not a negative one.  This is a real “win” for happy-sems-1
the Catholic Church in the long run.  The church now has a man who has been given years of spiritual direction and seminary education in philosophy and theology.  He has served those in need as part of his seminary education.   He has developed relationships with other men who take their faith seriously that can last throughout his life.

It is easy to see how a priest serves the church, but this man will be able to serve the church and his community in ways a priest could never do. How?

  • Living out the sacrament of marriage faithfully if he is called to marriage
  • Acting as the spiritual leader of  his family
  • Raising his children in the faith
  • Supporting charities with his time, talent and treasure

father-son-talking-1081076-wallpaperDay after day, he will go places and do things that a priest cannot.  He will be able to live and share his faith in ways a priest cannot.

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A priest easily stands out in a crowd and is recognized by believers and non-believers

A man  can choose to stand out and live his faith in a thousand places and ways on a daily basis to believers and non-believers.  How?

Whfamily-praying-in-churchile he is busy making a living, supporting and nurturing his family,  he chooses what kind of  jokes to join in on and his attitude toward women in general and his wife in particiular and how he treats people with disabilites.

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He chooses how he acts in the locker room as well as his response at work when something “questionable” is proposed as a strategy to increase sales.

He chooses how he spends his free time, how he spends his money and what kinds of movies, books or entertainment he enjoys.

How blessed is the parish to have the man who discerned out of seminary as a member! dad-and-cub-scoutHe is well schooled to participate in the life of his parish. He may teach Religious Education to children, act as a sponsor in  RCIA, run for parish council, act as a lector or extraordinary minister, help run the Cub Scout pack or coach a sport.

Discerning out of seminary can be the best thing to happen to a young man as the opportunities only expand for him to live his faith and serve his family, his parish and his community.  Discerning out is one outcome of the discernment process which allows the man to serve in different ways which will have a powerful impact on others.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection Series Part 2: But, I just want him to be happy!

How do you measure happiness?

This post should appeal to those who are interested in hard data from reliable sources.book-why-priest-happy  If your objection  arises from a belief that your son will not be happy as a priest, take a look at the current research published in:
Why Priests Are Happy: A Study  of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.  This book has been described as a “groundbreaking study…(which) finds that American priests enjoy an extraordinarily high rate of happiness and satisfaction, among the highest of any profession.”

This book presents the findings of survey research done in 2009 of 2,482 priests from 23 diocese in the US.  It is supplemented by a previous research study from 2004 of 1,242 priests from 16 dioceses. The focus of the study was the psychological and spiritual health of Catholic priests in the US.

Standardized pyschological tests and modern statistical analysis were used to compare priests to norm samples of the general population and then identify the elements which significantly contribute to happiness in priests.

A central finding of this study is the exraordinarily high rate of priestly happiness and satisfaction.  The findings are strong, replicable and consistent.  They like priesthood…are committed to it..and find much satisfaction in their lives and ministries.  The satisfaction of priests are among the highest of any way of life or vocation in the US.

The statement “Overall, I am happy as a priest” had a response of Stongly Agree or Agree by 90% of surveyed priests in 2004 and 92.4% in 2009.

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Another central finding of the study was that the psychological health of priests tested slightly better than the laity on standardized tests for depression, anxiety and general psychological health.  Priests  reported high rates of close friendships with both other priests and with laity.

Factors Contributing to Priestly Happiness

Fourteen factors were found to be signifiant and account for almost 50% of what makes a happy priest.  The strongest predictor of priestly happiness was the priest’s own sense of inner peace apriest-book-2nd joy which was closely linked to their spiritual health.  To be a happy priest necessarily includes having a strong relationhip with God and daily nurturing that relationship with spiritual practices: celebrating the sacraments, private prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, rosary and spiritual reading. Personal celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation and a relationship with a Spiritual Director also contribute to a healthy spiritual life.

Other factors which contribute to priestly happiness include a healthy view o2-priestsf celibacy, a positive relationship with the Bishop, having close friends (both priests and liaty), feeling supported by happy-sems-1other priests, attending priest gatherings, family support of their vocation. making an annual retreat and a regular day off as well as vacation.  Each one of these factors is described and discussed in depth if you want to investigate these factors on a deeper level.

Lest you think the research outlined in this book is self serving
happy-mid-life-priestand slanted to show priesthood in a positive light, other social research backs up this study.   While researching this concept, I was surprised to find this very topic the subject of a homily by Fr. Jonathan Meyer  posted online titled “The Secret to a Happy Life”.  Click HERE  to watch the video. Fr. Meyer references a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago on job satisfaction and overall happiness.   The findings demonstrate that clergy rank #1 in both these areas which is well above the #2 rank held by firefighters.

                      Job Satisfaction score               General Happiness score

Clergy                                        87.2                                                        67.2

Firefighters                             80.1                                                        57.2  

You can’t get much more secular than the University of Chicago and the National Opionion Research Center. The NORC regularly conducts social science research on job satisfaction and overall happiness by occupation.

It is important to understand that a Catholic priest is not an occupation, but a life.  It is not something you put on at 8am and take off at 5pm.  You can’t think of a priest as a job like an engineer or an accountant.  Just like being a parent is not an occupation, but your life….forever.. Do you ever stop being a parent?  From happy-black-manyour child’s birth on into adulthood, you worry and care for your child in a thousand different ways that change over time.

If your son  discerns that he is called to be a priest, it will be something  he becomes and not just an occupation or career.  As a parent, this concept will take time, reflection and prayer to understand all the implications for you and your son.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Insights from a Sister’s Father

There have been a couple of great vocations posts over at Aleteia in the last few months and I thought they were worth passing along. Both were written by Matt Wenke and they give insights into his journey as a parent who saw a child called to religious life.

The first is called When I prayed for vocations, I didn’t mean God could have my daughter! What I appreciate about the piece is that Matt is utterly candid when he talks about how he felt.

If other men’s daughters expressed an interest in the convent or the cloister, I wouldn’t have questioned it at all. I would have been respectful of their choice and genuinely happy for them. “What a noble and beautiful vocation!” or, “What a meaningful life with a holy purpose!” I no doubt would have thought.

When I heard of my own daughter’s interest in the cloister, my immediate thought was, “Oh, my gosh, I hope you get a vacation… how often can you come home to visit?”

Isn’t it sad that my first thought wasn’t about Nora’s vocational fulfillment and spiritual well-being? My initial thought was that I might be missing my daughter’s presence in my home, and her gentle, delightful company.

His honesty continues as he lays bare his struggles with giving his daughter up to God. Take a few moments and read the rest of his story.

Recently he published a companion piece called So your loved one has become a religious…now what? This is written from his new perspective a little further along the journey.

One of the consolations, he’s found, is that he has been able to experience his daughter’s community.

Best of all, the Sisters graciously welcome us at the monastery twice per year for three day visits — with very liberal visiting times. These visits are a joyful reunion, punctuated by her prayer times, to which we are invited and in which we love to participate. In the chapel, we have a chance to praise God together, and get a sense of Frances Marie’s everyday life.

Ironically, in “losing” our daughter to a cloister, our “family” has grown! It is an absolute pleasure to “touch base” with the entire community as part of our visit. The sisters have become true family to us. Our concerns and burdens are theirs and theirs are ours. In the parlor the sisters show themselves as joyful, even playful women of all ages; they are witty and funny, seriously prayerful, reflective and wise.

As with the first article, there is much more to Matt’s story. It, too, is worth the time to read.

–Dad (of Evan)

 

 

Objection Series: But I just want him to be happy!

If you have been following this series, you have seen  that the objections have been very specific. At first, I had many of these objections described in this series. When you can’t get resolution on one or more of these objections, it is easy to fall back on the granddaddy of them all: “But, I just want him to be happy!”  It is the biggest catch all for every objection rolled into one.  Even after addressing all your objections, you may still come down to this one broad, vague objection.

Ask a parent at any point in the life of their child, “What do you want for your child?” Wealth? A great career?  A happy marriage and children?

What have you said during your son’s life when this question arises?  “I just want him to be happy” is the common refrain. Well, now you have the opportunity to see if you really mean it.

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Do you really want him to be happy or do you just want your idea of what happiness could be for him?   A wife and children?  A good job?  A nice house in a good neighbrohood? Whose happiness do you really want?   If your son’s true vocation is priesthood,  he will find the most happiness in this vocation.

Whether your son was deciding on a college or a major or a job, parents routinely make the “I just want him to be happy” statement…and really mean it.  If your son is discerning a religious vocation to priesthood, you will need to take another look at that sentiment.

Understanding the Nature of a Vocation

It helps to understand the concept of vocation to get some clarity on this broad objection. The blog post Everone Has 3 Vocations  has a brief video that explains this concept.

If your son is discerning a call to a priestly vocation, you need to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of a few facts:

  • The Father loves your son more than you do and wants him to be happy more than you do
  • The Father created your son for a specific purpose and a specific vocation where he will find the most happiness and satisfaction

I admit,  these concepts took time for me to accept on a deeper level.  As a parent, I believed that I knew what was best for my son: go to college first and live in the “real” world before you go to seminary.  I didn’t want him to narrow his focus at such a young age in a “career” choice.  Since my son was only 17 when he started discerning, I was still feeling very protective and wanted to guide him as he entered college and began to explore his options.

What Do You Believe?

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Do you believe that the Father loves your son more than you do?  Do you realize that the Father wants your son to be happy more than you do?  Then you need to trust the discernment process to determine if this is your son’s true vocation.  If your son discerns priesthood is not is true voacation, then he will “discern out” of seminary.  As previously discussed in the post Advantages of Going to Seminary or What is the Next Right Step?, your son  can best discern his vocation in the seminary.  You can only discern so far outside the seminary environment.

What Does Happiness Look Like in Seminary?

happy-seminarians-w-pope-cutout-1160x480Have you gone to  see the seminary or met any seminarians in your diocese?  I am always struck by how happy seminarians look.  Once you get to know them, it is easy to see that they seem happy in a different way.  It is hard to describe but easy to see.  They are not happy because they passsed an exam  or spring break is coming.  Most priests describe their time in seminary as one of the happiest times of their lives.

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If you are not convinced, visit the seminary, ask your vocation director to meet other seminarians or attend an event in your diocese where seminarians are present.  This kind of happiness is hard to describe, but plain to see.  I don’t know if even the seminarians can explain it.

happy-man-1

If your son is attending seminary, step back and look at him.  Does he look happy and content or stressed and unhappy?  If he is the later, you can be assurred that his spiritual director and/or formation director in seminary will be addressing it.

Just as in the Objection series post I Will Never Have Grandchildren, you will need to reflect on your desire for your son to be “happy” and what that  means for you and for him.  Ask yourself: “Whose happiness do I really want?”  The honest answer to this question will guide you on this path of discernment with your son as you try to support and understand him.

Part 2: But I just want him to be happy… Coming Soon! 

If your objection  arises from a belief that your son will not be happy as a priest, take a look at the current research published in:book-why-priest-happy

Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.  This book has been described as a “groundbreaking study…(which) finds that American priests enjoy an extraordinarily high rate of happiness and satisfaction, among the highest of any profession.”  I will post a part 2 to this objection to explore some of these findings soon.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Feeling Discouraged

According to a study released in 2011 a little over half of those who were ordained report being actively discouraged from their vocation by a family member. Beyond that, it is difficult to say how many potential vocations have been lost because someone who was discerning was steered onto a different path. In some ways, it seems like we are our own worst enemy when it comes to recruiting and forming new religious.

There’s a certain amount of speculation about why parents might be so selfish. Some point to cultural changes, or poor liturgies, or unbridled capitalism. I suspect there is truth to these ideas, but I think they tend to paint parents with a broad brush and ignore the very real experience of the parents.

Rachel Watkins writes about her experience of having a daughter enter religious life over at the Sioux City Diocesan Vocations site:

We will experience the same feelings and concerns most parents feel but in a different way.  We miss our children deeply and worry about them.  This worry is especially true of parents whose children are missionaries abroad.  And while their needs are taken care of by their dioceses or orders, we have concern for their well-being and support them financially with as much as our incomes allow.  Our lives can seem almost easier with the care they receive from their dioceses or orders but that is not always the case.

In truth, ours can be a difficult lot.  This is not to discourage anyone from encouraging their children to listen for God’s call.  My daughter does not know about what concerns me.  I say it only in an acceptance of the fact that our child’s choice is atypical, making us as their parents also uncommon.  Our children have chosen Christ first and foremost for their lives and their loves.  We could not be more proud, could we?  However, we know that this choice comes at a cost rarely understood.  We often find ourselves at a loss.  We may stumble when trying to tell others what our children are doing.  A teacher, a plumber, an at-home mom, even a tattoo artist, is easily understood but a monk, nun, consecrated or a priest?  These often require an explanation that extends longer than the line at the deli will allow…

…We do our best as parents to answer all the questions.  However, quite honestly, after a while, it can become distressing.  Some of the questions and comments we can receive are so negative.  My husband and I joke darkly to each other that we might have had a better reception if we had announced her decision to join a traveling band of jugglers rather than a recognized order in the Church.  In the end, all these questions come down to this: Why would anyone choose a priestly or vowed religious life?

In the face of these kinds of objections, it is understandable if parents begin to doubt the validity of their child’s vocation call.  They aren’t villains, just parents who are in uncertain territory. It is natural that they’ll want to know how their child’s decision will impact their lives. Vocations – like any other life choice a child makes – will have an effect on the family.

The Eastern Dominican Vocations page offers some thoughtful advice to those discerning a Dominican vocation. It starts in a wise place, inviting the discerner to explore their parents’ objections:

Have you listened to your parents’ reasons? Before you try to explain the mystery of a vocation to them, allow them to tell you what their concerns are. These reasons could range wildly. They may think that you don’t really listen to them or honor them. They may want you to have a “normal” life that would include marriage and their expected grandchildren. They may think that you have abandoned them and won’t see them. They may think that you need to have several years of experience after college before you can make a decision. They may think that a religious community is full of misfits, or that religion is a scam. They may think that you will be happier and be more productive in doing just about anything else than becoming a religious.

From there, it goes on to offer several concrete suggestions for engaging in dialogue with parents. It ends on a very encouraging note:

Parents often feel bonded with the brothers in their son’s formation, and they come to realize that their son has many, many brothers. The brothers themselves look with affection on the parents of one of their own. In a sense, parents don’t lose a son so much as gain many, many sons!

(Kit and I have certainly felt that way about the Paulists. We have enjoyed meeting many of the seminarians and priests and frequently joke about all of our new “sons”.)

Answering the call to religious life raises questions for parents and we – those discerning and the Catholic community at large – owe it to them to take their concerns seriously and do our best to accompany them as they undertake the vocations journey with their child.

 

— Dad (of Evan)

A Call to Return to Mission

pathwayRecently I was privileged to participate in a week long retreat/seminar at Loyola University on the topic of Parish Health and Wellness. It was an intense time with forty of the most dedicated and special people I have ever met in my life. Each one of these people touched my soul and walked alongside of me as we grew together in our knowledge of not only the topic at hand but our own spirituality and missions as well. I hope to maintain a relationship with each of them through our spiritual journeys. One person, in particular, called me back to the mission of this blog.

While at our first dinner with some of the other participants we started introducing ourselves to each other. I mentioned my son in the seminary and one woman suddenly sat up, looked teary, and said she needed to talk to me after dinner. I was startled but said “sure”.

Later that evening when we got together to talk, she disclosed to me that her son is discerning going into the priesthood and she wanted to talk about the experience with me as a mother who has been there. Over the next four days together, we frequently touched base, she would ask questions, I would offer other questions, and I told her she should look toward our blog after we had to go home. Her emotions and distress at the unknown made me recall my similar emotions shortly after Evan informed us of his decision to join the Paulists. Six years later, I had gotten complacent and comfortable with the situation and didn’t think about the blog much anymore.

This mother’s experience brought me back to my original questions, fears, and hopes during the early days of Evan’s discernment and made me realize that there had to be others out there who are just in the first stages of discovery with their child. This blog is not just for us as we write it, but for others as they search for the answers to their questions about their child’s discernment to religious life. If you are just learning that your child is contemplating religious life, I hope the answers within this blog will help you. If you ever have a question that we don’t address, please contact us and we will do our best to get the information you need. We want to be with you during this exciting time.

My journey last month was made special by the wonderful people who joined me. This blog is for people who want to help each other as we all travel the same path at different times.

My prayers for you and your children as you enter this journey.

–Mom of Evan

Image courtesy of http://pdpics.com/photo/367-garden-pathway/

Spiritual Direction

Did you know that all seminarians are required to have a spiritual director?

Do you know what a spiritual director does?

I certainly didn’t when Evan started his journey of formation.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the role a spiritual director plays in formation and how everyone might benefit from having one.

Back then I summed it up by saying:

A spiritual director is a guide to interior growth and renewal, not counselor or therapist.  The discussions center on the relationship between the directee and God.

You might still wonder what the personal experience is like.  (Which brings me to the point of today’s brief post.)

On a recent Busted Halo broadcast, Fr. Dave Dwyer talked with producer (Brett) about the experience of interacting with a spiritual director.  If you’re interested, it’s well worth your time to give it a listen.

— Dad (of Evan)

Advice from a Seminarian

A few weeks ago an article entitled The Inside Scoop on Seminary: 3 Things You Should Know Before Entering turned up in my feed.

It makes interesting reading, so I’ll encourage you just to follow the link above and see what those “3 things” are.  I will tell you that I shared the article with Evan and he said it was pretty consistent with his experience — and the experience of his Paulist brothers.

What is most encouraging about the article is the end.  After dispensing insight and advice, the author finishes with:

In short, be the man God made you to be and then He’ll make you into the Priest He wants you to be. Don’t worry about anything, because if Jesus Christ wants you to be His priest, then no power on earth or in hell can stop that from happening.

— Dad

Holy Acolytes!

254px-Solomon_Abraham_The_Acolyte.jpgA few days ago the Aleteia blog ran an article about a group of deacon candidates who were being installed as “acolytes”.  This reminded me of a piece we ran a couple of years ago about the “minor orders” and their role in priestly formation.

Back then, I wrote:

During formation, the candidate would go through the four minor orders — porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte. The progression through the minor orders was a bit like gaining rank in the military, each of them brought the candidate new responsibilities.

I went on to point out that two of the orders — lector and acolyte — are still used today in formation for both priests and deacons.  What I failed to do was to explain these to important offices.

You may already be familiar with lectors — those who read a portion of the scriptures at Mass — but it may surprise you to learn that this can be a formally instituted ministry.  The Code of Canon law (the law which governs the Church) states:

Can. 1035 §1 Before anyone may be promoted to the diaconate, whether permanent or transitory, he must have received the ministries of lector and acolyte, and have exercised them for an appropriate time.

§2 Between the conferring of the ministry of acolyte and the diaconate there is to be an interval of at least six months.

These ministries are important steps on the way to ordination as a deacon which, in
turn, is an important step on the way to priestly ordination.

Lectors, as you would expect, are tasked with reading the scriptures at Mass.  This practice goes back to the Jewish church where the scriptures were read as a matter of course in worship.  In the early days of the church, it was necessary to find someone who had sufficient education to be able to read.  The origins of the office are found there.

Candidates for the priesthood or deaconate are installed as lectors (typically) by a bishop.  In a lector’s installation, he is given a lectionary or book  of Gospels while the bishop says, “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.”

There are lay lectors as well, of course.  Men and women who have been identified as fit for this service to the church.  They are not instituted by a bishop, but rather trained at the local parish.  They fill the role  of lector, but are not formally installed in the ministry.

The role of the acolyte is somewhat more complicated and represents a more technical level of service during the Mass.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal — the book which outlines all of the rules and rubrics for Mass– explains the role of the acolyte this way:

The acolyte is instituted for service at the altar and to assist the Priest and Deacon. It is his place principally to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if necessary, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful as an extraordinary minister. In the ministry of the altar, the acolyte has his own proper functions, which he must carry out in person.

It goes on to list specific duties including carrying the thurible if necessary and purifying the vessels used for the Eucharist.  There’s a nice summary of the duties at CatholicAcolyte.com.

Acolytes are instituted by a bishop, who places the sacred vessels in the hands of the candidate and says “Take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.”

People often express surprise at how long the process of priestly formation takes.  To someone outside of the Catholic church it can seem a long road, indeed.  Yet there are milestones as the young men move through their training and find themselves growing in both skill and dedication.  Lector and acolyte are two of the more visible milestones and it is worth remembering that each plays an important role in both formation and service to the people of God.

–Dad

 

The Miracle of Priesthood

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As it turns out, today (April 17,2016) is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Over at Aleteia.org Deacon Greg Kandra made vocations the focus of his homily.  He leads off with a quote from a letter that he received from a friend in Philadelphia:

“This morning we received devastating news at Mass. Our beloved Augustinian pastor has been diagnosed with liver cancer that has spread to his lungs. The priest who told us said that he was visiting him yesterday when a cousin came into the hospital room and told him that they are all praying for a miracle. His response was, ‘I have already received a miracle. I am a priest.’”

This is probably the best – and most honest – answer to those who have an objection to a man entering the priesthood.  Ordination is an extraordinary event and being allowed to share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way is, indeed, a miracle.

Deacon Greg speaks with great reverence and love about his own call and ordination as a permanent deacon and talks of it as an on-going source of grace and blessing in his life:

Surveys tell us again and again that clergy and religious report among the greatest job satisfaction in the world.

That’s because it’s not a job. It’s a vocation.

As that priest in Philadelphia knew: it is, in fact, a miracle.

Finally, he suggests ways of introducing young men to the idea of the priesthood.  The best advice he gives is that you should ask God if you (or someone you know) is called.  He points to Pope Francis who advises young people to “Ask Jesus what he wants and be brave!

In an address to seminarians in Rome this week, Pope Francis outlined the appropriate way to respond to God’s call — to be all in and not “half-way” priests.

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.”

“Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech.

“It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.”

It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so. All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

So, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, take a moment to ask God to call those whom he chooses to the priesthood and offer to be the bearer of that message if you can.

Meet the Parents Part 2: On this road with your son.

Do  you feel alone sometimes while your son is on this path of discernment?  Hopefully, this blog is one way for you to see that you are not alone and that other parents have had the same concerns and worries, hopes and dreams for their son.  The first Meet the Parents  post on this blog was about taking advantage of any opportunities your diocese provides for parents to meet or attend other events like ordinations.

 

2mothers2If the idea of a group of parents is too much, your vocation director can put you in touch with  1 or more parents that can address your individual concerns.  You will be surprised how “normal” the parents of seminarians can be.  The post Objection  Series:  “How could this happen in our family?  We aren’t the model Catholic family!”  can give you a preview of what other families of  seminarians  are like.

This post takes a different view of the experience of parents as they follow their son on his discernment/vocation journey.

This article appeared in the Catholic Sun, a newspaper for the diocese of Phoenix AZ in November 2015.

Priests’ Moms Find Peace Within Group

Carla Sperry never expected to be looked at as an expert in the Catholic faith. “Sometimes, even when my son was in the seminary, people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the mother of a seminarian!’ and they would think that I would know so much about our religion.”

A growing group of moms is finding solidarity with other mothers who not only understand that, but ride the same roller coaster of emotions as their children further discern or live a religious vocation. Sperry, whose son — Fr. Scott Michael Sperry — was ordained to the priesthood last year, is part of this group of moms who cling to their rosaries and each other every first Saturday of the month.

The group doesn’t have a formal name, but its purpose is clear: to pray the Joyful Mysteries for their children discerning or living a religious vocation.

Mom at son's diaconate ord 2015-11-17-at-12.49.54-PMRita Lee prays silently near her son, transitional Dcn. Ryan Lee, shortly after his ordination May 31. Lee organized a prayer group for moms whose children are discerning religious vocations. (Catholic Sun file photo)

Rita Lee, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle in Phoenix and the group’s founder, sits right in the middle of the group’s target audience. Her son, Dcn. Ryan Lee, is in his final year of discerning the priesthood and is living the vows of a deacon in that transition period. She learned during annual meetings of seminarian parents with the diocesan vocations director that some mothers felt sad about their sons’ calling, while others felt mad and many felt blessed.

“Fast forward a number of years and I guess the Holy Spirit finally spoke to me and gave me the grace to think that possibly we could come together as a group of mothers of seminarians, priests and religious, to pray specifically the rosary for our children,” Lee said.

The group currently consists of 30-35 members, who meet at a different parish each month, ensuring that no one has to consistently drive a long distance.

Anne Sanfilippo, a parishioner of St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Scottsdale, enjoys interacting with mothers of newly ordained priests and seminarians in the group. Her son, Fr. David Sanfilippo, has been a priest for 21 years and currently serves as the diocese’s Vicar of Priests.

“If they have any questions, it’s nice that they have somebody to fall back on … to say, ‘I’m feeling kind of sad and happy at the same time about the vocation. Did you feel that?’ And yes we did,” she said. “In our humanity, in our worldly thinking, we tend to think of it as a loss, but in the heavenly thinking, it’s truly, truly a blessing beyond words.”

Mothers who attend the meetings come to talk and laugh but mainly to pray. “We came together and we wanted to have our main focus be specifically on prayer, we didn’t want to be just another social group,” Lee said. “We pray the Rosary and we talk about problems, issues, challenges or graces that we or our children might have.”

Patty Bolding, co-organizer of the group, noted that the group meetings help ease her worries about her son, Fr. Robert Bolding, who serves as the President Rector of St. Mary’s High School.

“There’s nothing you can do for them, other than pray for them, so that’s probably what this group has been most rewarding for,” she said.

All mothers are welcome to join the group, Lee said, “Every mother whose son is a priest or seminarian anywhere in the world, any mom whose daughter is a consecrated religious, all are very welcome to join our group and we would love to have them.”

— By Lindsay Wantland

 

Objection Series: Celibacy or “He’ll never have his own children!”

Letting  Go

When you look back, parenting feels like a long series of letting go of your school_bus_image
child.  The first day of school is a day of pride and tears for parents. As  the years go by, your child starts to take bigger, more serious steps away: getting a driver’s license, starting to date, working a summer job.  Leaving for college feels like the last nail in the coffin when you finally say that last good bye, give that last hug and  wipe that last tear away.

Even when they come home for vacation, their lives are not at home, but with their friends and activities at college.  Every one of these acts of letting go are a normal part of a child’s growth and maturation.  These milestones are happy but bittersweet for a parent.
large-lego-blocks

It can take years to realize that your child is not your own, they are given to you for only a  short time. It just doesn’t feel like that when you are up to your ears in diapers and  Lego’s trying to get through the afternoon.

Control

At birth, you start with being responsible for meeting their every need: physical,  emotional, psychological. Between birth and age 5, parenting is exhausting, but you can pretty much  direct their lives, their friends and their activities.   Once they take those first steps away: going off to school, choosing their own friends, you come to the realization that you can’t control every part of their lives.  With every passing year, the stakes only get higher as they take bigger steps away until one day you realize: they are not yours to hold onto forever.
mom and teen sonThey have been given to you to nurture, love, educate until you send them on their way.  This is a difficult realization for any parent and can be much harder for some parents than others.  Thankfully, the Father has designed this so that we have to learn to let go little by little over many years.  Eventually, you  realize, it takes a lot more love to let go than to hold on.

Are you worried that if your son becomes a priest, he”ll miss out on all the joys of being a parent? Below is an exert from a post by a Catholic mom on Ignitum Today who addresses this very question.

Celibates Make Great Parents                          6/02/2014

by Lauren Meyers

There are a few things that I do every day. I brush my teeth. I drink a cup, of coffee… and I kiss and pinch the cheeks of my two sons. As most parents would testify, I love my children. I love their laughs, their hugs. I love seeing them learn and watching them grow. I cherish every day with them, and I wonder how I ever lived without them. I want to take them in my arms and never let them go.

It’s times when I think about this joy that I wonder about those priests, religious, and other members of the Church who have taken a vow of celibacy. I don’t mean to make assumptions or to judge, but I wonder if it’s lonely. I wonder if they feel regret. I wonder if they feel that they are missing out by not being parents.

I get my answer when my four-year-old son opens up a new toy from his grandparents. He immediately says, “I need to show Father Kevin!” His first desire is to share the pride and joy of his new dinosaur with our parish priest. I get my answer when we are at the mall. My two-year-old sees a sister in a habit and, without ever having seen her, yells out, “Mary!” He is instantly comfortable and happy in her presence, and smiles as he reaches out his hands to her. I get my answer when another parish priest wags a finger with a smile and reminds my son not to run near the front steps of the rectory. He returns the smile and walks back to the vestibule.

I get my answer: They are parents. That’s not to say that they are parents in the same way that a man or woman who changes diapers in the middle of the night, packs lunch boxes, or spends countless hours driving to practices and recitals is a parent. These men and women, though, love immensely. They nurture, teach, and admonish. They pray for and provide guidance for countless children, youth, and adults. They care for others in any way that is needed. They are called to love in ways that are motherly and fatherly. Just like any parent, their presence is irreplaceable.

Those who are called to celibacy are not exempt from parenthood, and in some ways make the greatest parents. They are, perhaps, best equipped to be parents because they are conscious of a fact that I know I overlook all the time:

My children are not my own. My children do not exist for the sake of my personal fulfillment. Their lives are not meant to serve my own desires. My call as a parent is to protect and nurture a soul which belongs to God, so that soul might remain in the presence of God for all eternity. My vocation is to love immensely and to let go with trust.

Those who are celibate display true love and abandon. They love and are loved by God so dearly, and have abandoned themselves with complete trust in God’s will. Who better to help me return my children to God than those who have given themselves to God in such an intense way? Who better to remind me of my call to love with abandon and to return to the Lord every gift I have been given, including my children? I hope, in my life, to express true gratitude for those celibates who have vowed to love all the sons and daughters of the Church as their mothers and fathers. I hope to learn from them how to be a great parent.

Please know the authors on this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.