Vocations, Journeys, Paulists and Bread

As of this writing, we are one week away from (God willing) Evan’s ordination to the priesthood. To be completely honest, it’s all a bit overwhelming.

Earlier today the Paulists released a brief video profile of Evan in which he talks about his calling, how this blog started, the broader Paulist family and how he prays with bread. If you have four-and-a-half minutes, I think it’s worth watching. (Of course, I’m Evan’s dad so my opinion in this matter is not especially objective.)

Thank you all for your prayers for Evan and for all of us. Please continue praying and, if you can, please join us for the livestream of the Ordination at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, May 18, 2019. You can find the stream on the Paulist Fathers Facebook page or their YouTube channel.

Finally, if you think you might be called to be a Paulist, you can learn more at the Paulist Fathers Vocations page.

— Dad (of Evan)

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)

 

Bless Me, Father — A Review of Sorts

dvdSome parents object when their son declares an interest in a vocation. There are lots of reasons given, but I suspect that the root of the problem is lack of understanding of the priesthood. For too many of us priests are remote, mysterious figures who occupy some other plane of existence. We don’t see them as human beings. Fortunately, it’s easy to get past that – just spend some time getting to know the priests in your life.

Last year we suggested taking a priest to dinner as a way to better understand your son’s vocational journey. That advice still stands, but it may not always be practical or possible. A few months ago I stumbled across a bit of light entertainment which gives a surprisingly good insight into priestly life.

I was poking through the used DVDs at a local music store and came across the British comedy series Bless Me, Father. A quick check on Wikipedia gave me reason to believe it was worth watching and the price was much lower than retail, so I snatched it up. Kit and I watched all 21 episodes over the summer and found them to be both charming and honest.

The story – which was written by a man who had been a priest – centers on a newly ordained priest assigned to a small parish in post-war London. It begins with his first time hearing confessions in the parish and traces his life through most of his first year. The parish pastor is a clever old Irishman by the name of Fr. Duddleswell. Together they deal with a neighbor who runs a nightclub and is a bookmaker on the side, the bookmaker’s black Labrador,  the local Mother Superior who completely lacks sympathy and empathy, affairs of the heart, affairs of the parish, and Mrs. Pring the rectory housekeeper.

coverWe were so taken with the series that I dug a bit and found out it was based on a series of books which had been published in the 1970s. Fortunately, they are available as e-books. The first two Bless Me, Father and A Father Before Christmas served as the direct inspiration for most of the episodes.

There are a couple of interesting takeaways from both the books and the series.

First of all, they are set in the 1950s, so they are steeped in the Catholic world prior to Vatican II. This becomes most obvious in the area of interfaith relations. Fr. Duddleswell talks about his Anglican counterpart as a “doubtfully baptized Anglican layman.” Yet, most of what goes on in the books could be taking place at any parish in any part of the world. Fr. Duddleswell and Fr. Boyd deal with all the same human fears and failings as every other priest – and they do so with a wonderfully pastoral approach. There is a particularly touching episode in which Fr. Duddleswell contrives to find a way to comfort a child who is fearful that his grandfather is damned to Hell. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I will note that Fr. Duddleswell’s solution is clever, compassionate, and colors juuusst inside the lines.

Secondly, Fr. Boyd is honest about his insecurities and fears in the books and it is clear that the author is writing from his own experience with only the smallest of embellishments. He meets up with old friends – including one who left the seminary to purse an outside life. He visits his family in the second book and we learn about his upbringing and vocation. We walk beside him as he struggles to understand his feelings for a pretty, young nurse when he is hospitalized for an extended period. By the end of the two books I had tremendous sympathy and respect for both of the priests.

The books are authentically Catholic throughout, fully faithful to the teachings of the Church and also authentically human, fully faithful to the characters. Reading them is about as close to spending a year with priests as you could get without actually moving into the rectory. If you want to better understand the priesthood, you’ll find your time well invested with this series.

The Miracle of Priesthood

prayer-card-jesus-prayer-for-vocations

 

 

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.

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.

This is just a phase… or… I don’t want another trumpet in the attic.

As a parent, how do you know if your son’s  interest in discerning a vocation is the real thing or is it just a phase?  When he is  young, it is  hard for a parent to believe this could be for real.  I always thought this kind of decision took years of struggle.  How could this happen so fast and still be real?   Is this just a whim?  An idealized fantasy?  Is this going to be like the trumpet lessons that he was so desperate for and then lost interest within a few months?  Here is a little bit of my son’s story and how I came to understand that this was a serious desire and not just a phase.

When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, he was  17 years old and finishing Junior year. About 3 months before this, he attended a Kairos retreat held by his catholic high school.  When he returned, I knew something was different by his attitude and behavior.

Within the first week after the retreat, the group decided to all go to 7 am mass every day before school.   Now, any catholic mother would be pleased to see a teenager do this.  For my son, something else made it significant.

Prior to this, I could hardly get him out of bed to get to school.  Normally, we had to leave home by 7 am to get to school by 740.  It was common for me to check on him at 630 am…still in bed, 645 am… still in bed.  “I’m up , I’m up”…  then still find him in bed at 7 am.

Going to 7 am mass meant that he would need to get up at least an hour earlier to get to school.   Since I was driving him, getting to school by 7 am meant that he had to be ready to leave the house by 615 am.  It was significant to see him up and ready to leave at 615 am and worried if I would make him late.

This change in behavior was surprising to me, based on his love of sleeping.  But I still thought, “This is  great!   But I know my son, how long can this possibly last?  This is a phase.”  On the weekends, my son could sleep in as late as noon or 1 pm if I was not home to get him up.   By the first weekend, I was surprised to hear that he was planning to go to morning mass on Saturday and meet some of the Kairos kids there.  That gave me pause, but I still thought,  “This is a phase.  I’m glad he is doing this, but I don’t see this lasting for any length of time.”

As the weeks wore on, he continued to go to the 7 am mass at school even when no other Kairos kids were attending.   Right after the retreat, the group would meet in the chapel after school to say the rosary or just to pray together about 2 – 3 times per week.   Gradually this petered out about 6 weeks later.  My son either stayed after school to go to the chapel, or he would get in the car and ask if we could stop at our parish church on the way home.  Although surprised, I was happy to do it.

The first time he asked, I said, “Sure, how long do you think we will be there?  I have to get dinner in the oven.”  His response was “I don’t know, it is not up to me”.   “Okay,” I thought  “I’ll just respect the time he needs and not push.”  This happened at least 3 times per week during the next few months where he would stay between 30 – 45 minutes.

At this point, my attitude was pleased, but still watchful and waiting to see how long it would last.   My son  was different is some ways, but not others.  He seemed much more pleasant and cooperative at home for a typical 17 year old boy. But he would still fight with his brother, grumble over taking out the garbage, and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.

At this point, he did not have his driver’s license, so whenever he wanted to go to church, confession or daily mass, he had to have someone drive him.  Most of the time, it was me.  This meant that during that first summer, I went to mass with him every day, including Saturday.

Sometimes we would sit together and sometimes we wouldn’t.  After mass we would go out for coffee and talk about this idea of being a priest and applying to seminary.  This was a very special time for me to be able to listen to his concerns, fears and excitement.  If he had been able to drive, we would not have had that time together.

Prior to these events, getting his license was not a big issue.  Now he became much more aggressive trying to get enough hours of practice in so he could get his license.  Once he did, it seemed he asked to use the car to go to church frequently. I admit, I did think this was a ploy to get to drive more, but at least he was going to church.

During the summer, he would drive to confession once a week.  I have never gone to confession once a week in my life.  Again, I was impressed as he always had a better attitude when he returned.   By the end of the summer, he was going to confession on Wednesdays and Saturdays; twice in one week.  I think this was the point that I knew this was serious and not just a phase.

Please know that I am not as cynical and callous as this story may sound.  Remember, I have 2 older children who went through their own phases of interests and passions which typically gave way to the next new thing.  Certainly, my son’s increase in a devotion to his faith was not something I had ever seen before.  But the sudden onset and fervor seemed to fit the pattern of other phases I saw in his older brother and sister.  It honestly never seriously occurred to me that his behavior would only increase over time.

My take away bit of advice for other parents is this:  Look at the behavior changes:  Is he changing his priorities, his friends, his schedule, his hobbies?  How long has this been going on?  Has it been sustained or even increased over time?  For me, seeing these sustained changes  in my son over time was what helped me realize that this was not just a phase, but a serious interest in pursing further discernment.

I hope this can help other parents who are wondering if this is just a phase for a son or daughter or is it a serious desire that needs exploration.

Fr. Martin’s Confession

Noted Jesuit Fr. James Martin published a piece on CNN.COM this week called “Confessions of a Catholic Priest.”  In it, he makes a couple of interesting points.

First of all, he speaks to a fact that might surprise some:

This may disappoint some readers, but I love being a Catholic priest. And I’m not alone. Survey after survey, year after year, shows that the priesthood is among the most satisfying of jobs.

He expands on that:

Think of just three moments of deep joy and deep sorrow in life: a wedding, a baptism and a funeral. You’re invited to participate in each of those moments with all manner of people — from families and friends you’ve known for years to nearly complete strangers. By virtue of your priesthood, you’re sharing people’s most important moments.

The rest of the article is interesting and well worth reading.  Especially as it was published to promote an episode of This is the Life with Lisa Ling which will explore the call to the priesthood.

News from the Web

Global-Network-iconComing to you from around the globe via the world-wide-web, it’s News from the Web!

(Imagine that read in an urgent, nasally voice accompanied by twitchy black-and-white film footage and you’ll get the idea I was shooting for.)

This week we ran across several interesting items on the web that seemed to be worth sharing in this space.  The first is a blog post by Amy V who is the mother of a seminarian.  In part she writes:

When he was in middle school, priests would ask him if he had ever thought about being a priest someday. He hated when people asked him this and from about 8th grade until 11th grade he started saying, “No way!” He loved Jesus though, and the Lord was always leading my son more deeply into a relationship with Him. My son also loved being Catholic, and since he attended a public school, was always looking for ways to defend his beloved faith. So, right before his senior year in high school, my son felt very strongly that the Lord was confirming in his heart a call to discern the Catholic Priesthood with a deliberate and an intentional heart.

There’s quite a bit more to the post and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing.

Next up, a reflection by Paolo Puccini on his experience of the First Promises Mass.

Making my first promise to the Paulists is much like making a down payment to “buy the field.” I was led here from my encounters with the treasure that is the Kingdom of God alive in my family and my experience of church throughout my life. Though I didn’t exactly sell my possessions because the Paulists don’t make a vow of poverty, I did have to leave behind my family, many close friendships, and a job I really enjoyed in Houston.

The whole post gives some great insights into Paolo’s journey to the Paulists.

Speaking of the journey to the Priesthood, the Los Angeles diocese posted a great article about discernment and the care which is taken in identifying appropriate candidates.

The challenge for us in the Office of Vocations is to be cognizant of an ever-present reality — the need for both quality and quantity of candidates for the priesthood. Certainly we have a great need in the archdiocese for many, many more priests. 

But what the Church does not need is just anyone to become a priest. Rather, we need those who are truly called by God and recognized by the Church to have an authentic priestly vocation. 

Our previous article, “Priestly Formation and the New Evangelization: The 4 Pillars of Formation” (July 4), dealt with the four essential dimensions of priestly formation in the seminary. We need well-rounded, holy men of prayer and study and learning who demonstrate the capacity to serve God’s people well as parish priests. Thus, while a great quantity of new seminarians is a primary goal, the quality of each candidate is also of supreme importance.

Although the article is specific to the LA diocese, it is good reading for anyone contemplating a vocation.

Finally, over at The Word on Fire, Fr. Robert Baron and his team released a short film called Heroic Priesthood.  Fr. Baron explained his motivations for the project:

My goal with this film is to reach as many people as possible—certainly priests and seminarians, but especially young Catholic men. I want them to see that holiness is heroic and that Jesus Christ’s invitation to the priesthood is an invitation to an extraordinary life.

It’s a terrific film; well shot and worth twelve minutes of your time.  And — even for a sports illiterate like me — the basketball theme still worked.

— Dad

Priesthood as Exemplary Masculinity

Word on Fire posted an article this week that really needs no commentary from me.  So, other than noting that the passage below caught my eye, I’ll leave it to you to read the whole thing.

In the priest’s role we find what manhood is actually all about, that being service to the Bride. In his collar of strength he gives his life day in and day out to the needs of his fellow man and the desires of his Bride, the Church. If only more men would look to this place of encouragement and follow in the footsteps of the great men who came before them, not fearing their testosterone but embracing it and letting its great fire burn within the heart of the hero we men are called to be!

Read more.