Eventful Weekend – Promises, Ordination, Blessings and Masses

We’re back from Washington, D.C. and I don’t know that there’s any way I can properly capture the experience for you. It was, in truth, a little overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is to share little slices of what happened to give you a sense of what it was like.

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Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulists, receiving Evan’s final promises.

Final Promises

Friday evening was the Promises Mass for the Paulist community. At present, the Paulist seminary occupies the top floor of St. Joseph’s seminary. The main chapel is a beautiful, compact space with a soaring ceiling and a sanctuary space surrounded by marble. The Mass was a celebration of the community during which two novices made their first promises, the continuing students renewed their promises for the coming year and Evan made his final, lifetime commitment to the community.

The Mass was lovely, with Fr. Andrews hitting the right notes of service and devotion during difficult times.  The voices of the congregation, led by seminarian and cantor Richard Whitney, filled the worship space giving the occasion a sense of unity.

When it came time to make his commitment, Evan spoke clearly and firmly. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional impact of the moment. I keep rewriting this paragraph over and over trying to find the words to capture the experience and I just can’t seem to manage. (Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this post as there are bigger things coming!)

After the Mass there was a reception for everyone in attendance. Kit and I had some time to meet and mingle with the Paulist community. Over the past five years we’ve gotten quite close with several of the Paulist priests and others who are associated with the community. (Shout out to the Paul and the media team who were providing great coverage for the event.) We also met the parents of a young man who made his first promises. It was great talking to them and reflecting on our own experience of having a son in seminary.

Deaconate Ordination

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Crypt Church at the Basilica.

After Final Promises, the next step on the road to the priesthood is ordination as a transitional deacon. Bishop Roy E. Campbell presided over the Mass in the Crypt church in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Evan was one of four men ordained that morning. The others represented other orders, but all of them had family there to support them. We have been to a deaconate ordination once before–for a friend who was entering the permanent deaconate in Salt Lake–but it is very different when it is your own child.

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Evan laying prostrate before the altar.

With an acapella choir of Franciscans for accompaniment, we spent about two hours in the solemn observance of the Mass and ordination. As has been the case in other ordinations, the most powerful moment came when the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. It was a few minutes of heaven on earth as we asked the Universal Church to pray for the men as they moved forward in their formation as priests.

A bit later in the Mass Evan was vested in his stole and dalmatic (the traditional vestments of the deacon) by his friend and inspiration Fr. Michael Hennessey C.S.P.

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Ian assisting in bringing forward the gifts during the ordination Mass.

Ian, Evan’s older brother, was given the opportunity to bring forward the gifts during the Mass.

It was a timeless sort of experience. We were participating in a centuries-old ritual as our son joined an organization which is two millennia old. The cool perpetual twilight of the Crypt church, the smell of the incense, the plain chant and the ancient prayers and formulas made this a moment out-of-time; at once ephemeral and eternal. We were able to be fully present as the Mass unfolded and, at the same time, it seemed to end too soon.

Kit and I wanted to be completely present to the Mass, so we didn’t take any pictures. We’re grateful to Kit’s sister Beth and to the Paulist media team for sharing the pictures they took.

First Blessings

As a consequence of their ordination, deacons are able to impart blessings on objects and people. Some time ago Kit and I realized that we didn’t actually have a crucifix in our home. We decided we’d buy one and ask Evan to bless it for us. We found a San Damiano crucifix at the Basilica gift shop. We took it (along with a few other religious items we picked up) to the seminary after the ordination. Evan put on a stole and blessed everything by following a rubric from a book of blessings he received as an ordination gift.

This was, for me, a very surreal moment. I have seen hundreds of objects blessed. I have a modest understanding of the theology involved. But, to see my own son performing the ritual was … odd. It reinforced the fact that by virtue of ordination he has been ontologically changed. Again, words fail me in conveying exactly how it felt.

IMG_2198.jpgFirst Mass

The final event of the weekend was the first Mass at which Evan served as a deacon. He’s been assigned to work at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Maryland. To this point, he’s mostly worked with the young adults and RCIA groups. As a deacon, he’ll be spending a lot more time in the sanctuary. We were able to attend Mass with him before we had to catch our flight home.

The Paulists brought along the students and novices and some of the priests who had come for the ordination. We watched as the familiar beats of the Mass moved along, but with a new joy as we saw our son performing the actions of a deacon. This rendered the ordinary extraordinary in every sense of the word.

For Kit and I, the overwhelming response is gratitude to a God who has invited us to a ringside seat as our son cooperates with grace. It is humbling and beautiful to witness. We are also grateful for the many people who have prayed for Evan and for us through this experience. May God richly bless you as he has blessed us.

–Dad

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Thoughts on Obedience

(Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Megan Dahle shares a few thoughts on an aspect of the priesthood that is sometimes overlooked.)

priest-1352801_640Many Catholic parents are excited when their sons show, on their own accord, increased devotion to Christ and to his church. When many young men fall away from the truth, it can be especially joyful to see the opposite happen in your family.

They smile when their children show interest in the saints or attend mass more than once a week. They are excited to see their children partake in the sacrament of reconciliation or buy religious medals to remind them of the lives of the faithful.

When parents see that devotion turns into a desire to take holy orders, parents can sometimes have objections and worries about their son’s future life and happiness. When a young man is ordained a priest, among his vows are celibacy and obedience. While most of the conversation around the discipline of the priesthood surrounds the vow of celibacy, obedience can be difficult for parents to accept, too.

Obedience Can Be Scary

Why do parents object to the idea of obedience? We all want to think that we are independent, free to choose our own life’s path and direction. This is particularly the case in America and the rest of the west, because we often confuse the general good of political freedom with complete personal freedom as well. But the desire to remain independent is not something that God desires for us.

art-painting-285919_640Being Fully Human

To understand the virtue of obedience, one must understand what it means to be human as God designed us to be. For that, Christians across the world turn to the creation story in the book of Genesis, because it describes what God intended for his creation.

In Genesis, chapter one, we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God created humans in his image, which means that God’s image is manifest in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the image of God is made manifest when we live in accordance with the created order and obey God’s will.

The Image of God: Sin and Redemption

Independence from God’s will, however, comes from sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s will by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they marred humanity with “the wound of original sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707). Our desire to be independent comes from our desire to be independent of God.

Jesus Christ’s passion and resurrection, however, heal the wounds of sin and restore the image of God in us. The adoption we receive in baptism gives us the power to live rightly and obedient to God’s will. The life of a faithful Catholic is a struggle between the desire to obey God and the desire to sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1707-1709).

The Paradox of Obedience

We cannot be completely free, because we always obey one master, whether it be God or sin (see Romans 8). Being fully human, by manifesting the divine image, means we live in perfect obedience to God’s holy will. When we are independent, however, we end up as prisoners to sin and bound in chains of our own making.

Even St. Paul lamented how frustrating this can be for the faithful Christian when he writes, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:23). This rule is counterintuitive, and provides a seeming paradox: obedience is freedom. Independence is slavery.

The Life of Jesus

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, demonstrates this principle most completely in his obedience and submission. Though he was the eternal Son of God, he submitted himself to fallible human beings, his parents. “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Not only does Jesus follow God’s will, but he submits to the proper authorities, which, in this case, means his parents.

The whole of Jesus’ life was following his Father’s will. He says in John, chapter eight, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

We see perhaps the most beautiful example of Jesus’ total obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his disciples to pray, and he asks God to spare him. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus expressed his freedom through submission to God and His will.

The Religious Life

saint-benedict-1508869_640The religious life helps us to see the freedom of obedience, not just to God, but also to religious authorities above us. Monks and nuns across the world follow orders or rules that guide their daily existence. One of the most famous of these orders is the Order of St. Benedict. He writes about the virtue of obedience:

“not living according to their own choice nor obeying their own desires and pleasures but walking by another’s judgment and command, they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them. Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord in which He says, ‘I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me’(John 6:38).”

These orders prescribe a pattern for daily life including the most mundane details like the clothes one wears. The order prescribes daily life in such detail, because obedience in small things trains the heart to obey God when temptation arises. Following the rule helps the faithful Christian obey God when it counts.

Thomas a Kempis wrote about this in his famous book, Imitation of Christ. “Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many.”

For people who are used to talk of freedom, obedience can seem scary. We imagine harsh dictators and cruel oppression.

In the Catholic Church, however, obedience is a great virtue. Obedience to Christ and to religious authorities opens the door to manifesting the image of God by submitting our wills to the will of another. In this way, we train ourselves to be obedient to God.

Megan Dahle is a Catholic Blogger who likes to emphasize in her writing both the life of prayer and how to live bravely as a Catholic in modern society. She is a devoted mother and wife and a Catholic business owner. Before this eCommerce adventure, she was an accountant. She enjoys coaching robotics for her daughters’ FLL teams and gardening.

Paulist Ordination

God willing, three men who have been in formation to become Paulist priests will be ordained on Saturday.

In anticipation, the Paulist website been running some profile pieces and reflections by these three men. Here are some handy links:

Please join us in praying for these men as they prepare for their ordination. May God bless them and their ministries!

— Kevin (Dad of Evan)

 

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)

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.

Objection Series: “But people are so critical of priests!” Super Human or A Human of Faith?

It must be hard to live your life and do your job while under a microscope. When every human failing is on display for others to comment and judge, you can lean toward one of 2 extremes:  defensive, self righteous arrogance on one end and humility on the other. Humility is a virtue everyone needs to work on and some of us have to work harder than others. During seminary formation  and ongoing spiritual direction, priests have to work on this just like everyone else.

Priests are not the only ones under a microscope today.  Police officers arepolice traffic stop under scrutiny on a daily basis.  In some areas, there is suspicion and mistrust with or without provocation.  How would you like to wear a body camera at work  documenting everything you say and do which could easily end up on the 6 o’clock news?   Since  priests won’t be wearing body cameras any time soon, perception is reality for people.  Many people find it necessary to voice their unsolicited opinion of their priest whether it is charitable or not.  “Who am I to judge?”  is not heard very often in our culture.

Whether you are a priest, police officer or politician, you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone and someone will always be less than satisfied.  How can you be expected to hit the perfect balance in every interaction with every personality across the spectrum of human experience?  You can’t; it is impossible.

So what do you do when everyone expects you to be “super” human?   A good place to start is to find where your heart is on the continuum between defensive, self righteous arrogance and  humility. Since this can be a moving target, we should make it a practice to check our location periodically.   Having the humility to know who you are and what you are called to do goes a long way  in dealing with this reality in the workplace, with your family or in a life spent serving  others.   Below is a post that describes this beautifully to give you a different perspective on this objection.

 

NewPriestNJ
Super Humans
06/26/2015

by Matthew Higgins

When I was a kid, I thought it was extremely odd that the priests at my parish took vacation time. I had no clue that they were allowed to do that. I did not see priesthood as a typical career, but something that took a great deal of sacrifice—including sacrificing any personal time for the service of the Church. For instance I knew that a priest could not get married and have children of his own. I knew that a priest lived simply and was at the service of the Church, mostly through the parish where he was assigned. To me, that meant he was at the service of the Church 24/7.

Now that I am older and understand a little bit more about the workings of the Church and parish as an institution as well as the Body of Christ, it makes perfect sense to me that priests are “allowed” to take time off. From my professional and personal relationships with priests, I know how important it is for priests to take time off—whether that means a day during the week or a
week’s vacation.

My childhood image of the priest and one that is shared by too manysuperman flag people is that these men are super human. The priest is not super human, but a human of faith. Not being super human does not mean he does not do super human things. In fact, through faith in God (who is very super human—not contained or restricted by human limitations), humans can do some super human things.

In the Gospel… we encounter something that is very super-human: faith and the consequences of faith known as miracles.  What is important to look at in these readings is who displays their faith and who does not. First, Jairus comes in faith to Christ on behalf of his jesus and little girldaughter. Jairus is looking for Christ to help. He has faith in Jesus’ power to heal and that faith has a consequence—healing for his daughter. Think for a second of the tremendous faith and courage it took for this man to leave his daughter’s side as she was at the point of death. With full knowledge that he may not be there with his daughter until the very last moment, he leaves and goes to Jesus. What selfless faith!

Second, the woman suffering from a hemorrhage has tremendous faith in Christ’s power. Her faith has a consequencewoman with hemorrhage—healing and salvation.  Each act of faith draws people to Christ. Each act of faith results in a miracle. Sometimes, like in the case of this woman, it is our own faith that moves us to act, that moves us toward Jesus. Other times, like in the case of Jairus, it is the great faith of others that leads us closer to Him and allows Him to miraculously heal us in big and small ways.

When we look at this connection between faith and healing through the lens of the life of the priest, we can see how these men can sometimes be mistaken for being super human….Fr Johnson at mass

Every time a priest says Mass, a miracle takes place. Through the priest, Christ becomes present on the Altars of our Churches and through faith we draw nearer and nearer to Him.  

Through the priest, Christ brings healing to those weighed down by sin in the Confessional and those sick and dying through the Sacrament of Anointing.

When a man, who is all things worldly and impure, through the constant prayers from his mother or grandmother, has an encounter with Jesus and repents…that’s a miracle. (When that man enters the seminary and becomes later becomes a priest…that’s a miracle too)

When society makes champions of sexual immodesty and immorality and then a priest, through His faith in Christ, makes a promise to and lives out a life of celibacy…that’s a miracle.

priest and  preachingWhen society becomes more and more divided under a false flag of hateful relativism disguised as “equality” and “tolerance” making others feel discouraged or afraid to speak the truth and a priest stands up and preaches God’s love strengthening our faith…that’s a miracle.

When a loved one dies suddenly, and your priest is there to help you not only in celebrating the funeral Liturgy but also on a personal level, following up with you as the months go by when it seems like everyone else is going on with their lives…giving you hope and encouraging you in faith…that’s a miracle.

Yes, a priest is human—a human with sins, struggles, and pope frances going to confessionbrokenness. But he is also a human that recognizes he needs to go to Jesus in faith to heal his brokenness. He is a human that allows Christ to work in and through him in these various situations. He is a human that shows an example of faith, attracting others to the super human person of Christ, increasing our faith in the one, true God—God who performs miracles big and small in those who have faith in Him.

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

Pope Francis on Formation

At a conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy, Pope Francis shared a few thoughts on the formation and role of priests.

One thing that he said struck me as particularly important:

“A good priest is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history – with its treasures and wounds – and has learned to make peace with it, gaining a profound serenity, characteristic of a disciple of the Lord,” he said. “Human formation is therefore needed for priests, so they may learn not to be dominated by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use.”

The idea of that priests are in need of human formation is important and I think that many people don’t see priests as human.  Each priest is a man who has his own particular set of limitations and talents.  Some are great homilists.  Others are gentle and thorough confessors.  Others have the gift of communicating the Gospel to a wider audience.  Still others toil quietly in administrative jobs behind the scenes.

Whatever their gifts, these men need to take the time to understand themselves and find their place as servants in God’s kingdom.  Pope Francis’ words on human formation emphasize that formation goes well beyond theological training and the practicalities of being a priest and pastor.  The process of formation — in a way that doesn’t seem to exist in secular training — addresses the totality of the person being formed.

A Proper Reason?

Picture courtesy of Matthias Ulrich via Wikimedia CommonsThere have been a number of reports of a surge in vocations for priests and other religious.  The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported that an estimated 595 priestly ordinations in the U.S. in 2015.  That’s a 25% increase over 2014.  That’s a good growth no matter how you slice it.

Naturally, when people hear about the increase they tend to wonder what’s up.  Dominican brother Dominic Bouck, O.P. has certainly heard the questions.  In a recent blog post he says:

One thing that I’ve heard from several people when I mention the surge in Dominican vocations (and the surge of many dioceses and orders male and female) is “Oh, it must be the recession.”

That’s a natural reaction — particularly for us in America who tend to evaluate a person’s success in terms of professional or material accomplishments.  It also has a whiff of “well, he can’t make it in the real world so he’s going to retreat into religious life.” Except, as Dominic explains, those perceptions are completely wrong.

Truly, I have not met one religious who set aside marital joys, self-determination, and wealth because he or she couldn’t find a job.The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying “no” to the world, but saying “yes” to a renewed life with God … there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.

Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.

A similar phenomenon is taking place among religious sisters.  Another CARA report (cited as part of the Global Sisters Report) points out that the age of women professing final vows is creeping upward.

In 2010, 47 percent of women professing final vows were aged 40 to 59. Another 26 percent were between 30 and 39. The median age for the class was 44.

Those numbers have steadily changed in the years since, reflecting an increase among younger women: By the class of 2014, only 27 percent of women taking final vows were aged 40 to 59 and those younger than 30 had increased from 18 percent to 25 percent. The median age of the class had dropped to 35.

But 75 percent of the class was still 30 or older.

The report tells the story of Marie Racine.

Marie Racine was well established, a software engineer for 17 years, when something happened.

“We had a meeting, and all of the sudden when they introduced the new projects, I just wasn’t interested anymore,” Racine said. “It just no longer mattered to me.”

That awareness propelled Racine onto a new path — and into an emerging trend about women committing to religious life: Racine entered a Benedictine monastery the day before her 40th birthday and made her final vows seven years later, in 2007.

All of this is consistent with what I’ve seen among the Paulists.  Among the students and priests in the Paulist Community we’ve met Financial Advisors, Mechanical Engineers, Park Rangers, and an actor. Some of them entered formation after they had established themselves in “respectable” careers and (to a worldly point of view) were on a successful path.  Yet, for all of them, God’s call drew them into a new venture which allowed them to use their gifts in service of the Faith.

When you’re looking at your son or daughter who is in discernment and you’re wondering what’s going on with them — set aside your notions of success and consider the work that God may be doing in their life.

— Dad of Evan

Dinner with a Side of Answers

meat-569073_320Want to know what seminary is like?  Ask someone who’s been there.  Ask a priest.

Cathy and I stumbled into this accidentally a few months after Evan told us he was in discernment with the Paulists.  Our pastor, Fr. Clarence, had invited Fr. James DiLuzio, CSP to come to the parish to present the Luke Live mission.  A couple of weeks before the mission date, the parish office put out a call for people willing to feed Fr. DiLuzio a meal.  If circumstances had been different, we might have glanced past the notice and hoped that somebody stepped up to help out.

As it was (and since Fr. DiLuzio is a Paulist) we jumped on the opportunity and scheduled a lunch and a dinner with him.  The lunch was Saturday at noon, so Evan came down to join us.  At lunch we talked about the seminary, the discernment process, and life as a priest.  We continued the conversation over dinner a couple of nights later.  It set our minds at ease on many of the questions we’d been asking.

Since then, we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to dine with visiting priests.  We’ve talked Star Trek with a geek priest, interfaith politics with a priest who worked at the Vatican for ten years, genealogy with a priest who has traced his family back to the Mayflower, life in the Holy Land with a Franciscan, formation with a man who attended minor seminary (high school seminary), travel with a retired priest from California and seminary with several.  We’re learned about their backgrounds, how they were called to the priesthood and what their formation was like.

To a man, they’ve all been good company and we’ve enjoyed our time with them.  Getting to know them has given us insight into Evan’s journey and let us see the human side of the priesthood.  Those informal conversations have been a real blessing for us and I imagine they’d be a blessing for you as well.

So…next time you have a visiting priest in your parish, offer to take them to dinner.  Oh, and don’t forget your pastor as well.  You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from him.

— Dad (Evan)

P.S.

We took the Franciscan — in full habit — to a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating.  The habit got all of the looks.  In Utah (where the LDS church makes up the majority of the population) you just don’t see men in habits that often.

— D

How long does it take to become a priest? Part 1

Mundelein Seminary in Chicago has posted a video on the academic steps to become a priest: from College Seminary or Pre-Theology to Major Seminary to Transitional Diaconate to Ordination.   This is a very clear explanation of the process.

Being an Educator for 25 years, I was very interested in reviewing the coursework my son would take as part of the intellectual formation in seminary.

After  reviewing the curriculum, I was struck by how well educated our priests are through this process. I always knew priests had a graduate (Masters) degree, but the course work seems longer and more in depth than most Master’s degrees.   Most full time graduate programs such as an MBA, MHA, MSW, MSN are only 2 years beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Typically, a priest graduates with a Masters in Divinity degree.  Some students also take course work to earn an additional graduate degree in Theology.  It is not uncommon for a priest to be sent for further education to earn a degree in Canon Law or a doctorate by his bishop.

When learning about the academic road to priesthood, some people have commented that it seems like a long time to go to school “just to be a priest.”  Others have expressed dismay that it would take so long with an air of “is it really worth it?”  In my experience, these people identify as Protestant or Evangelical where bible college, mission trips and service projects may be the extent of the formation process.

Other well respected career options can take as long or longer than priestly formation. The road to become a doctor is 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and then at least 2 years or more to complete a clinical Residency. A Surgical Residency is at least 6 years!  That’s a total of at least 14 years without further specialization.  Lawyers spend 4 years in college and 3 years in law school. No one seems to mind how long it takes to be a doctor or a lawyer. Scientists, college professors and others spend many more years doing research to earn a PhD.  The length of academic preparation for these careers is respected for its perseverance and advanced knowledge. These careers are attained through mainly intellectual “formation” and skill application.

For seminarians, intellectual formation is only one of the four pillars of formation.  The road to priesthood also requires the development of  personal maturity, knowledge and skills in the spiritual, pastoral and human pillars of formation.  Progress in these 3 pillars tends to develop slowly as behavior, judgement and skills become integrated into one’s personality. The 6 – 8 years required for priestly formation is a growth process that is far more than learning an advanced level of content and skill application. It is a highly structured program of comprehensive development of the entire person. The bar is set high for our future priests  which is no less than what the people of God deserve.

I will post Part 2 soon on how an average high school student adapted to the rigors of academic life in the seminary.

Lessons from the Seminary

The always excellent Word-on-Fire recently posted an essay by Diocesan Seminarian Joe Heschmeyer titled 10 Things I Learned in my First Year of Seminary.  The whole essay is worth reading, but I wanted to share his tenth point because I found it particularly encouraging.

Perhaps nothing exposes one’s lingering faults quite like seminary. It is a group of Christian men who are serious about sanctity, and have cultivated an attention to detail. Furthermore, we are encouraged to engage in “fraternal correction,” on the theory that iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), and we have a moral duty to look out for one another. But fortunately, God is there through all of this. Where I succeed, it is due to His grace. Where I fail, He stands ready to pick me up again. No matter how big my failings, faults, and sins, God’s Mercy is always bigger. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux is said to have said, “everything is grace.” 

The first year was quite a journey, but it’s one that I was humbled and thrilled to take.

I don’t know if Joe’s experience is universal for seminarians, but I have to imagine that a year spent in prayer and contemplation with a focus on spiritual growth couldn’t help but bring about a change.  And, even more encouraging is Joe’s reminder that God is always there to pick us up when we fall.

— Dad (Evan)

What’s Life Like in the Seminary

A couple of weeks back Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble linked to this video on her blog.  It’s a nice peek into life in the seminary and well worth your eight minutes.  (In case you’re curious, the video comes from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California.)

Brotherhood from Adspectus on Vimeo.

On a related note, Sr. Noble’s blog is also worth your time.  And she’s written a terrific book called “The Prodigal You Love.”  It’s a great resource if you want to help lapsed Catholics find their way back into church.  And — spoiler alert — the book says you’ll need to start by changing yourself.