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)

 

 

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What’s Your Catholic Habit?

Over the past couple of years, Evan has become a savvy traveller.  He skips packing a suitcase and manages with a carry-on and “personal item” as defined by the airlines.  This suits him well — of course — except when he needs something special like a suit.

Which he wanted for the 11:00 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve.  Fortunately he and I are about the same size.  Well, to be honest, he’s a bit taller and thinner, but I have a couple of suits which fit him not-too-terribly.  It’s a “make do” sort of situation.

He’d chosen a blue wool suit of mine and was muttering a bit about what shirt and tie to wear.  Cathy drew me aside and said, “We’ve given him shirts and ties for Christmas.  Should we have him open them early?”

We discussed it and decided against the idea, I had shirts and ties enough and surely he could find something among them.

Around 9:15 he disappeared into the guest room to get dressed.

And emerged wearing his habit.

What’s a habit, you ask?  Let me show you a picture.

That sharp-dressed fellow on the left of that picture over there is Fr. Thomas Ryan.  He is the Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Paulists and he’s dressed in the high-collared, five button habit that has marked the order since the 1800s.

When Evan completed his First Promises this past summer, he earned the right to put CSP (Congregation of St. Paul) behind his name and the privilege of wearing the habit.

I can tell you this.  When you go to Mass with a guy in a habit, you get all the looks.  That suggests to me that people — even practicing Catholics — may not be overly familiar with the history or function of the habit.

So…a short summary with an interesting side note from St. Pope John Paul II.

The Wikipedia article lays it pretty well when it notes that “A religious habit is a distinctive set of garments worn by members of a religious order.”  Most folks, if they think about habits at all, identify the with religious sisters.  Aside from the sisters, you’ll often see Franciscan priests in their distinctive hooded robes with their triple-knotted rope belts.  (Bonus internet points for anyone who knows the meaning of the three knots…or just keep reading.) Or you might be a fan of Thomas Merton and remember pictures of him in his Trappist habit.

That’s as good a place as any to start with the question of why anyone would want to wear something so unusual.

Msrg. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of DC puts it beautifully when he says:

Religious life is not hidden, neither is it occasional. To enter the priesthood or religious life is to publicly accept the consecration of one’s whole self to the service of God and neighbor. That is why the most traditional religious garb covers the whole body. It is more than a tee-shirt, a hat or an emblem of some sort. It is a covering of the whole body to indicate the entirety of the consecration.

Further, each habit is distinctive since each religious community has a particular charism or gift by which they collectively serve the Church. Religious and priests do not merely consecrate themselves for their own agenda. Rather they join others with a similar and proven charisms in communities recognized by the Church.

The word “habit” also suggests that religious life and priesthood are not an occasional activity, or even a 9 to 5 job. The are the habitual identity and life of the one who receives the call. That is also why the habit is usually worn at all times.

As Catholics we embrace the idea of visible signs of things which cannot otherwise be seen.  Habits make vocations visible to the world.  They remind the world that there are people who are dedicating themselves to the faith.

And the reminder the wearer of their own vocation.

Remember the question about the three knots of the Franciscans’ rope belt?  The obvious answer is that they stand for the Trinity — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That was my guess, anyway.  And I was wrong.  They stand for the three vows of the Franciscans — Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.  A constant reminder of the promises they have made to God.

In a 1996 Post-Apostolic Exhortation called Vita consecrata, St. Pope John Paul II encouraged the wearing of habits by saying:

§25 … Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place. Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.

As I said, when you’re with a man in a habit, you get all of the looks.

Which got me thinking.  Although not all of us are consecrated, we all have a vocation — a call to live as God wills and to carry out our Baptismal mission.  What habits — or at least outward signs — do we show to let the world know that we are living out the identity of our faith?

— Dad

Question: What is a Vocations Director

riceOne of the things that’s impressed me the most about Evan’s journey is the level of support that he’s had.

See that smiling fellow on the left of the page?  His name is Fr. Larry Rice and he’s the current Vocations Director for the Paulists.  His job is to guide men in the process of discernment.  He talks to them, prays for them and with them, and assists them on their journey.

The Vocation Network website puts it this way:

A vocation director is designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation, and to oversee the application process of new members entering the community as a postulant. They assist those who are considering the possibility of religious life by providing support, discernment counseling, and information.The Vocation director for a religious congregation answers to the elected superiors of their congregation. The National Religious Vocation Conference is the professional organization for vocation directors of religious communities.

Vocation Directors who work on behalf of a diocese answer to the bishop.They have  their own professional organization, the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.)

It might sound (a little) like Vocations Directors are recruiters, looking to grow the ranks.  This isn’t the case.  In fact, anyone who has been pressured is not (by canon law) permitted to take vows.  The ordained life — like marriage — is only legitimately available to those who choose it freely.

It might interest you to know that there are Vocations Directors for nuns as well.  Sister M. Consolata is the Vocations Director for the Sisters of St. Francis of Alton, Illinois.  She describes her role in working with young women in the process of discernment.

My role is to help you.  Do you feel a tug on your heart to give everything to Jesus?  Do you desire to live only for Him?  Or maybe you are just wondering what religious life is all about.

I am here to help answer your questions and walk with you during your time of discernment.  Remember, the Lord takes the first initiative.  He loves you.  Yes, YOU!  Then He invites you to make a response to His love.  Be not afraid! I would love to hear from you and about your journey with of faith.

Whether you’re a woman considering a vocation as a nun or a man considering the priesthood, your first contact should be with a Vocations Director.  There will likely be one in your diocese and there are plenty of links on the web that you can use to contact them.  Communicating with a Vocations Director will be an important step in the vocation journey — not just for the discerner, but also for that person’s family.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Evan’s current Vocations Director, Fr. Rice.  We did get to meet Fr. Rice’s predecessor, Fr. Dave Farnum when he came through Utah to meet with Evan a year ago last spring.  Fr. Dave is a wonderful man who told us about his own call to the priesthood.  He reassured us about the process of discernment and gave us insight into what the ordained life would be like.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him and are grateful for everything that he — and Fr. Rice — have done for Evan.

–Dad

Question: What is an "Order" Priest?

In an earlier post, we mentioned that our son will be attending the Paulist seminary.  That invites the question, “What is a Paulist?”

Before we can get to the answer to that, it might be helpful to explain the difference between diocesan priests and order priests — sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests.

The word “priest” often conjures up the image of a kindly fellow in a roman collar who works at the local parish.  Sort of a latter day version of Bing Crosby’s character in Going My Way.  There’s a bit of Hollywood hyperbole going on with Bing Crosby, but the image of a diocesan priest is essentially correct.

A man who is ordained as a diocesan priest promises to obey and respect the diocesan bishop and his successors and to live a life of chastity.  His task is to serve the people of the diocese primarily by administering the sacraments.

In a 2009 article from the Catholic News Service, Father Brian Doerr, vocations director for the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana says:

From the beginning, you’ve discerned that you’ll be ordained and be in the world living and working

Most diocesan priests serve as pastors or associate pastors at local parishes, but some are assigned to other ministries such as teaching in parochial schools.

Order priests, on the other hand, belong to a particular religious community.  Religious communities are formally organized catholic groups working on the particular mission or charism of their founder.  For example, Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  That means he is a member of a religious community for men that is known as The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyla in 1540.

Fr. Warren Sazama (a Jesuit) uses a healthcare metaphor to explain the differences:

One diocesan priest I know referred to diocesan priests as the general practitioners of the clergy and compared religious to specialists. As in medicine, the Church needs both. So, while for the most part diocesan priests serve in parishes, religious can serve in a variety of ways according to the “charism,” or unique vision and mission of their founder. That might be in schools, hospitals, orphanages, missions, retreat houses, social justice centers, or other ministries in accordance with the inspiration, special vision, mission, and spirituality of their founder

Finally, just because I find it amusing, I wanted to share something I found while researching this post.  The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Department of Labor includes Roman Catholic Priest among the many thousands of other job titles it lists.  I’m not sure it’s proper to refer to a priestly vocation as a “job”, but I can’t disagree with the government’s assessment that:

Many priests will be needed in the years ahead to provide for the spiritual, educational, and social needs of the increasing number of Catholics.

–Dad