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.

The Eye of the Storm

320px-Hurricane_Isabel_from_ISS.jpgSeems like we don’t post as much here as we did when our son first informed us that he wished to enter the priesthood. It occurred to me that we are in the eye of the storm right now. The quiet time after a storm hits and before the storm ends. He is on his pastoral year getting a taste of what it would be like to work in a parish setting. Next year he will return to D.C. to go back to the seminary and continue his classes toward getting his master’s degree. He is a little more than half-way through this process. We have become accustomed to the thought of his life’s calling and where it might lead him. We are now seasoned seminarian parents who know where he is, how he is being treated, and where he is headed. In a few years however, we will enter the backside of the storm as he approaches ordination. When will he receive ordination as a deacon? What are his responsibilities at this point? What if he changes his mind between the deaconate and priesthood? At his final ordination as a priest, what is expected of us? Are we involved in the ceremony or merely attendees? What is the traditional gift from the parents at ordination? (We think it is the chalice and paten.)  Where do you find such thing? Can you get them made special just for your child? Are we expected to have a party for him?

The back of the storm is coming but right now, I think we are content to bask in the short burst of quiet and sunshine that is the now. Soon enough, we will batten down the hatches again and return to riding out the storm. As we enjoy this quiet moment, we realize others are just entering the whirlwind of their child’s decision to enter religious life. I pray our earlier posts will be signposts through the turbulence for these people and that they will find the answers they need.

— KitC (Mom 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

The Patron Saint of Seminarian Moms

296px-gerbrand_van_den_eeckhout_-_anna_toont_haar_zoon_samuc3abl_aan_de_priester_eliThe first reading for today (December 22, 2106 – Thursday the fourth week of Advent) is from first Samuel (1 Samuel 1:24-28) and deals with Hannah bringing three year old Samuel to the Temple and leaving him there. She had promised the priest that if she had a son, she would dedicate the child to the Lord and she held to her part of the bargain.

When my son Evan entered his novitiate, these were the first readings I heard upon going to Mass. Right then and there, Hannah became my new favorite saint. I admired her strength in giving her child over to what she knew was right. The reading don’t say how she felt on leaving Samuel behind but I imagine there were tears and possibly even regrets but she still followed through. (Officially Hannah is the patron of childless wives and infertile women, but there doesn’t seem to be a patron for seminarian moms so I’ve adopted her.)

How often in both my children’s lives I have wished to keep them close so I could protect them. Every mother feels that mix of joy and sadness when their child moves away and leaves their protection. For most children, they eventually form a bond with one special person who enters their life and is there to help them. For my son, that isn’t an option and I fear him having no one to help him.

This is of course not true. Besides the counsel and wisdom of the brothers within his order (for a secular priest it would be the formation group and his peers), he has the Holy Spirit to guide him and be his counsel. This does not mean I stop worrying about him, or wanting to know he is safe, but I remind myself that I must give him fully to God.

This year my husband and I approach our first Christmas without him home with the family. While we grieve his absence during the holidays, we are lifted up but the words of Mary “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” and realize our son is in good hands.

A Merry Christmas to you all and a Blessed New Year.

— Mom 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.

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

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.

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.

Priestly Formation: Basic Supervised Ministry

When we started this blog, one of Evan’s seminarian brothers commented that there’s a lot to write about at the beginning of the journey and a lot more at the end — but not much in between.

There’s some truth to that.  After the novice year, it’s mostly about being a graduate student.  Like all graduate students seminarians have books to read and lectures to attend and papers to write and tests to take.  Some of the content is what you’d expect; close readings of scripture and a good understanding of Christian history.  Some of it, though, is more practical that you might realize.

Students preparing for the priesthood at CUA are required to take a two semester course called Basic Supervised Ministry.  This course is practical in every sense of the word.  Much like the clinical rotations of those training for health care, the Basic Supervised Ministry course gives those in formation the opportunity to learn and practice the skills involved in being a minister.

The course descriptions sums it up this way:

652A: A student spends a minimum of four hours each week at a designated ministerial placement and two hours in a supervision seminar. Through the use of verbatim presentations, the seminar explores communication skills, interpersonal dynamics, theological reflection on issues raised, and the student’s emerging pastoral identity. Students receive a written evaluation at the end of each semester.

652B: Building on TRS 652A, the seminar explores how to communicate the gospel in an appropriate, pastoral, caring way. Through the use of verbatim, video and role-play, attention is given to the process of theological reflection on ministerial encounters. Students receive a written evaluation at the end of each semester.

In simple terms, this means the student is assigned to go into a pastoral setting such as a hospital to minister to those in need.  After each encounter, they document and reflect on their experience in writing so they can discuss it later in a classroom setting.  As the course descriptions note, they also use video and role-playing to further hone their skills.

It sounded pretty intense to me and, I expect it can get that way at times.  I was encouraged, though, by a recent blog post from Msgr. Charles Pope.

As a younger priest I felt a lot of pressure to “have the answers” when tragedies occurred or when people experienced persistent setbacks in their lives. In more recent years I’ve learned to say less and to be more willing to sit quietly with people in their pain. To be sure, we have some answers, but explanations are poor substitutes for understanding and acceptance. Whatever explanations I can offer still leave even more things unexplained.

This seems consistent with the two principle texts that Evan is using; Availability and The Good Listener.  In the end, it seems, the beginning (and perhaps end) of ministry is the simple act of being mindfully present to those who are suffering and need a companion on the journey.

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

Come and See!

Pam’s post about visiting the seminary with her son reminded me that I’ve never mentioned the “Come and See” weekends.

A “Come and See” is a retreat which offers discerners the opportunity to taste religious life.  The Dominican website OpCentral.org describes it this way:

Information is always helpful, digitally, in print, or otherwise, but there is no substitute for a real human encounter. That’s why a Come and See Weekend is a must for anyone seriously discerning their vocation. Dominican Come and Sees are a sixty-four hour immersion experience into the very rhythm of religious life. It’s that “gut” experience which offers the visceral clarity that is the goal of discernment and the only true test of whether or not your home is here.

Fr. Larry Rice, the Vocations Director for the Paulists, confirms this:

When a man is contemplating a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, most of the discernment is internal work: prayer, reading, prayer, spiritual direction, and prayer. This is a good and necessary process. But it can also feel a bit isolating, as if no one else is wrestling with these issues and questions. And it can also take on a hypothetical and imaginative quality. What will life in the novitiate be like? Is the seminary a strange place where I’ll feel uncomfortable? Will I be out of place, surrounded by people who are so much holier than I am? Can anything good come from Nazareth?

Come and see. That’s the invitation that the Paulist Fathers make three times each year. Come for a visit. See and experience our common life. Pray with us. Dine with us. Come to class. Come to the chapel. Have a soda or a beer, and ask your questions.

Evan participated in a couple of these weekends early in his discernment.  He came back enthused about the community and taken with the beauty of the liturgy of the hours.  Each visit increased his conviction that he needed to pursue the call.

Now that he’s a member of the community, Evan gets to experience these weekends from the other side.  Meeting potential seminarians is a great opportunity for him to share part of his journey and to remember his early days of discernment.

“Come and See” weekends are pretty common.  A quick Google search turns up a long list of possibilities.  Some of them are associated with particular communities like the Dominicans, Paulist and Mercedarian Sisters — yes, there are “Come and See” retreats for women discerning religious life as well.  Some of them are associated with diocesan seminaries.   All of them follow the same basic pattern of welcome, prayer and participation.

The point, I guess, is that discernment is something to be lived.  That means actively exploring religious life.  Don’t just sit in a pew and say “I think God is calling me”.  Get up and answer the call.    Find a “Come and See” weekend, talk to a vocations director, immerse yourself in experiences that will let you encounter God.  You might be surprised at what you learn!

— Dad (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.