Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

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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: 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.

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)

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.

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.

Closing Doors, Opening Grace

doorsOne of the comments we hear most often when we tell people about Evan’s discernment is, “That’s quite a commitment.”

Yep.  Sure is.

I’ve got to admit, though, that I often have a less-than-charitable (much less) reaction.

Marriage is quite a commitment, too.  The Church makes this clear in the Catechism when it notes:

Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

The phrases “can never be dissolved” and “henceforth irrevocable” don’t leave much room for interpretation.  Marriage — properly considered — is a life-long commitment.

I’m not arguing that the religious life is easier than — or even equivalent to — marriage.  Both states have their challenges and blessings.  God’s grace is all that gets any of us through either of them.

What really bothers me about that comment, though, is the modern notion that commitment is a bad thing and maybe he ought to keep his options open.  I don’t think that’s the way God intended things to work and the research backs me up.

I stumbled over this study while preparing a presentation called “Hacking Your Happiness to be more Relaxed, Resilient, and Resourceful.”  The premise of the presentation is that there are simple things we can do to “hack” our own emotional states for the better.  One of the simplest is making choices.

Behaviorist and research Dan Ariely conducted research on making choices using materials you probably have around the house — undergraduates from MIT and a door simulation program that pays real cash awards.  Okay, you probably don’t have those things around your house, so I’ll just give you the lowdown from a New York Times article.

In the M.I.T. experiments, the students should have known better. They played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.

As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.

Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.

They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.

Ariely explains the phenomenon this way:

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities. If you are afraid to drop any project at the office, you pay for it at home.

“We may work more hours at our jobs,” Dr. Ariely writes in his book, “without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing.”

It’s that sense of loss, I think, that people are expressing when they talk about the commitment inherent in pursuing a vocation.  And, there’s truth in that.  Choosing a life built on promises does limit your options.  But, as Ariely demonstrated in his experiment, we can experience greater rewards by committing to a choice.  In the final analysis, making a choice and moving ahead in God’s grace is the path to satisfaction.

— Dad

BONUS:

A lovely post over at the Happy Catholic blog captures the truth of this better than I did.  Read it here.

BONUS BONUS:

Watch Dan himself explain his research.

Life’s full of tough little choices, isn’t it?

God’s Dreams

Do you want your dreams for your life
or
God’s dreams for your life?

proverbs_quoteWell.  Really.  That’s not the sort of question you expect to be asked in the confessional.  The deal is that you go in, confess, get a penance to help point you in the right direction, pray the Act of Contrition, hear the prayer of Absolution, and head back out.

Unless the confessor thinks you might benefit from a bit of counsel.

Which left me sitting with a kindly priest faced with a pretty blunt question.  And, in truth, after nearly a half century on the planet I’m slowly moving to the place of wanting God’s dreams for my life.  (The obvious “right” answer is that I want God’s dreams.  The more honest answer is that I often put my dreams ahead of God’s.)

If you’re like me, answering that question correctly only raises others.  Most specifically, how do you discover God’s dreams for your life?

The Bible is full of stories of angelic visitations and divinely inspired visions.  While that might seem to simplify the question, I doubt that most of us are actually prepared for that level of openness and directness in our relationship with God.  So, we must find other ways to discern what God dreams for us.

Ironically, I think the key lies exactly in seeking a relationship of openness and honesty with God.  It involves being vulnerable and willing to listen and take in what God is trying to communicate to us.  Blogger Will Duquette puts it this way:

For me, listening to God means sitting and pondering about things: my problems, a scripture reading, a book I’m studying, the weather, or what have you. And as I ponder, I need to pay attention to the ideas that occur to me, and follow the threads to see where they go. It’s about testing the conclusions I come to, to see if they are consistent with what I know about God’s word, and God’s character, and that involves more pondering. And the essential thing is that when I sit down to ponder, I invite God to come along and I make Him welcome.

This sounds like solid advice, but as before, it still raises that next question; even if you’re determined to invite God to communicate, how do you do that?  Fortunately, there are some good folks who have already walked this path and sent back field reports to point us in the right direction.

St. Ignatius of Loyola starts with the idea of a personal relationship with God.  A structure for achieving this is laid out step-by-step in the Spiritual Exercises.  One of the key elements of the exercises is prayer.  Makes sense.  After all, if you’re going to enter into a relationship with someone, you have to talk to them.  This also helps with what St. Ignatius calls the orientation of your life.  Are you trying to stay on the right path?  Are you trying to live a decent Christian life?

With that as a starting point, you can begin to listen to “the movements of your heart.”  What do you feel when you pray?  What are the thoughts that come to mind then and throughout the day?  Test them to see if they are consistent with what you know of God.

One of the interesting things that St. Ignatius pointed out is that these movement (he called them “spirits”) change depending on where you are in your spiritual journey.  William A. Barry, SJ, puts it like this:

Now let’s take up the orientation of most of us, who are trying to live honestly and uprightly to the best of our ability. In this case, Ignatius says, the good and bad spirits act in ways opposite to how they act with those turned away from God’s path. The bad spirit raises doubts and questions that cause inner turmoil and self-­absorption, while the good spirit tries to encourage us and to increase our peace, joy, faith, hope, and love.

If you are trying to live as a good Christian, you might have thoughts like these: “Who do you think you are—some kind of saint?” “Everyone else cuts corners in this office. What’s the matter with you? Are you ­holier-than-thou?” “God doesn’t have time for the likes of you.” “Most people, even if they believe in God, don’t try to live the way you do.” Such questions and thoughts have only one aim, to trouble your spirit and keep you troubled and questioning. Moreover, you will notice that all the questions and doubts focus on you, not on God or God’s people.

The good spirit, on the other hand, might inspire thoughts like these: “I’m genuinely happy with my decision to make amends with my estranged sister.” “I wish that I had stopped drinking a long time ago. I’m much happier and healthier now, and easier to live with.” “God seems so much closer to me since I began to take some time every day for prayer, and I feel less anxious and insecure.” I hope you can see in your own experience how these two spirits have led you.

Sometimes, that spirit that wants to distract you from God’s will comes dressed in pious clothes.  It’s easy to get distracted by that voice and decide that God doesn’t have any big dreams for you.  It’s safer and easier just to sit quietly.  Along the way, Ignatius tells us that we will likely experience Spiritual Consolation and Spiritual Desolation.  These, too, are part of that journey of understanding God’s dreams for us.

As a practical matter, you can take St. Ignatius’ road map and put it into practice with a low tech tool; a notebook.  Over at www.godinallthings.com , Andy Otto outlines a simple practice which involves jotting down your thoughts and feelings during the day and reviewing them regularly to see where God might be speaking to you.

Like they used to say, “Knowing is half the battle”.  Once you know (or have a good idea) you can begin to seek out ways to cooperate with God in bringing about his dreams for your life.  You might be surprised by what you discover.  The theologian Parker Palmer understood that when he said:

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

–Dad

Reflection: Vocation and Discernment

Novice Prayer Service Wednesday October 23rd, 2013

On Discernment

God, come to our assistance. Glory to the Father. As it was in the beginning. Alleluia.

Psalm 25

Antiphon: Lord, allow your guiding spirit to enter our hearts.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Reading from Hecker’s diary, June 6, 1844

What would the spirit have me to do? To say? It seems to give me no rest, would it have me to be still, quiet and peaceful?

What is the work that the spirit is doing now within me?

The spirit draws me ever inward and will not permit me to read, think, or do anything else but attend to it. It is like a young bride; it would have me ever in its presence speaking of its charms.

Responsory

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Speed my steps along your path,

according to your will, O God.

Glory to the Father…

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Intercessions

We pray for all of us present, that we might discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for all earnest seekers to find where God leads them in life.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for the young men joining us this weekend who are discerning a life with the Paulists.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray that all leaders, civil and religious, listen to the people and to God

Lord hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

Our Father…

O God, who enlightens the minds and inflames the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, grant that through the same Spirit we hear in our hearts where you are guiding us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.
Amen.
Let us bless the Lord.
And give God thanks.

— Novice

Following Francis’ Lead

Papa_Francisco_na_JMJ_-_24072013 (This photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. Used with attribution under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.)A while back, I noted that Cathy and I had been invited to take part in a catechist training course offered by our diocese.   We’re following the Echoes of Faith (Plus) curriculum and each week we prepare by watching a couple of videos and complete homework out of the workbook.  The real meat of the course, though, comes in the discussions we have when we meet with the other students — some from our parish and some from other parishes in the area.

The mix of people in the class is fascinating.  Some ar very young, others have been around the block a few times.  Some are cradle Catholics and others are converts.  There are representatives of various cultures and occupations and world views.  The first couple of meetings felt a bit like Junior High dances — everybody sat on the edges and didn’t seem to want to get too involved.  The last few weeks, though, the conversation has gotten much more energetic.

A couple of weeks back, the topic of discussion turned to our involvement in our various parishes and someone asked Cathy how much Evan’s process of discernment influenced our own involvement in the church.

I’ve thought a lot about that question since then.

First of all, if you’re being honest with yourself, you can’t have a child working through discernment without calling into question your own commitment to the Faith.  The same would be true if you had a good friend discerning a vocation or contemplating marriage or thinking about moving across the country to take up a new career or applying to grad school or whatever.  We live in relationship with others and, while comparing ourselves to others isn’t necessarily a healthy thing, it is useful to learn from their experiences.  So, yes, Evan’s discernment has given us pause to reflect.

There’s another influence, though.  Pope Francis is an inspiring leader.  His humility, patience and authentic Christian love are both comforting and challenging.  Most of all, his admission that he is a sinner as much as any of us, is a provocative statement that requires us to make a self-assessment of our own response to God’s call to personal holiness.

Pope Francis shows disarming honesty when he talks about how he was formed into the leader he has become.  In an article covering the incident with the child who approached him during Mass on October 26th, the author cites an incident from Francis’ past:

This kind of patience is something the pope has said he learned over time, according to his biographers Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti. As the auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio once had a train to catch to a retreat at a convent on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. After finishing his work in the diocese, he had given himself just enough time to walk to the cathedral to pray for a few minutes before getting to the train station. As he left, a young man who appeared to have mental health problems approached him and asked for a confession.

He says he felt annoyed, but tried to hide it. Bishop Bergoglio told him to find a father to confess to because he had to go – even though he knew a father wouldn’t be in right away (admitting to his biographers that because the man appeared to be medicated he probably wouldn’t notice). The auxiliary bishop walked away, but then after a few steps turned around with a “tremendous sense of shame.” He recalled later that he was “playing Tarzan,” trying to do too many things, that he had “an attitude of superiority.”

Today he uses it as a lesson to “travel through patience,” he told the two Argentine journalists. “Traveling with patience is allowing time to rule and shape our lives.”

Most of us would likely forget such a moment — perhaps intentionally. Few of us would take it as an opportunity to learn.  To his credit, Pope Francis is trying to spare us the pain of learning such lessons through unpleasant experience.  One of the constant themes in his homilies is the need for inclusion, for ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table of the Lord.

The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching. . . We all have qualities and strengths. But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I familiar with. . .’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church!

And there it is.  Right in the middle of the paragraph.  Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast.

In case any of us missed it, the Pope goes on to say:

To enter into the Church is to become part of a community, the community of the Church. To enter into the Church is to participate in all the virtues, the qualities that the Lord has given us in our service of one for the other. To enter into the Church means to be responsible for those things that the Lord asks of us.

Like I said, challenging.  The natural human reaction when called to serve is, “Gee, I’d like to help, but I don’t have the time.”  If that’s your go-to move for getting out of service, Pope Francis has your number.

Open up your heart and listen to what God is saying to you. Allow your life to “written” by God”. Just as the Good Samaritan did when he stopped to help the stranger, we must all listen to God’s voice and sometimes put our own projects on hold to do his will.

Another common objection is, “I’m not really good at that sort of thing.  You don’t want me to mess it up.”  Um…hate to be the one to tell you, but Pope Francis anticipated that little dodge, too.

“The future of a people is right here…in the elderly and in the children,” he said. “A people who does not take care of the elderly and children has no future because it will have no memory and it will have no promise! The elderly and children are the future of a people!”

Pope Francis warned that it is all too easy to shoo a child away or make them calm down with a candy or a game – or to tune out the elderly and ignore their advice with the excuse that “they’re old, poor people.”

“The disciples wanted efficacy; they wanted the Church to go forward without problems and this can become a temptation for the Church: the Church of functionalism! The well-organized Church! Everything in its place, but without memory and without promise! This Church, in this way, cannot move ahead. It will be the Church of the fight for power; it will be the Church of jealousies between the baptized and many other things that occur when there is no memory and no promise.”

So…God doesn’t want our perfection, he wants our service.

And, by the way, am I the only one who thinks it’s kind of cool that the Pope talked about it being “too easy to shoo a child away” in a homily about a month before he was faced with that very situation during a Mass in St. Peter’s square?  Not that it was prophetic, but that he laid out exactly how he thought it should be handled and then handled it exactly as he had laid it out?  There, again, is the authenticity which makes him so inspiring as a leader and such an example of the lives we are to lead.

So, in our own way, following the lead of Pope Francis and acknowledging the call of our pastor, Cathy and I try to find ways to be open and accepting and to put ourselves in service of others.

— Dad

Question: What is a Vocation?

imageWhen I set out to write this particular post, I thought it would be easy.  You hear about “vocations” all the time.  Except, when I started researching, it seemed to be more subtle and complex than I expected.

I’m going to take my best shot and hope that if I stray, someone will be kind enough to correct me.

I’ll start with a quote from St. John Paul II.

What is a vocation? It is an interior call of grace, which falls into the soul like a seed, to mature within it. (Angelus message, December 14, 1980)

The Lumen Gentium, (one of the principle documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council) explains that there is a sort of universal vocation:

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history. (40)

My first thought was, “Oh.  Is that all?”  The “perfection of charity” and “holiness” seems like something of a tall order.  But it’s right there in black-and-white and (just in case you missed it) there’s a reference to this in paragraph 2013 of the Catechism.

Both those quotes contain within them the notion of a “call” from God; an invitation to live a life of holiness.  What’s interesting is that the Lumen Gentium acknowledges that there are many different ways that this life of holiness can be lived.  Section 41 speaks eloquently about bishops and priests, other consecrated clerics, lay ministers, married couples, widows, single people, “those who engage in labor”, the poor, the infirm, and the sick.  It concludes by sweeping them all up into a final paragraph:

Finally all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world. (41)

This is often referred to as the “universal vocation” and I’m taken with this notion that we are all encouraged to pursue holiness as our primary vocation, by acting out our calling.  It’s the word “calling” that most Catholics think of when they hear the word “vocation”.

Traditionally, Catholic thought turns to three different vocations as “primary” vocations or callings; holy orders, consecrated life, or marriage.  Holy orders refers to those who are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops.  Consecrated life refers to those who have taken vows to live “the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience“; the most common of which are those who live in religious communities such as monks or nuns.  Marriage is also a vocation, although one that is often held in too little regard in the common culture.

All of these primary vocations — these paths to holiness — are a response to God’s call and all of them involve a total gift of self.  For married couples, we are called to give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to our spouse.  For those taking vows, they are giving themselves totally to God.

I found a wonderful article on OSV.COM that explains it very eloquently:

In the case of each primary vocation, that gift of self is not a transitory or temporary thing. It’s not given one day and taken back the next. Rather, the central relationship of each is spousal. It’s exclusive, total and enduring. When the gift of self is made to God, enduring is a “for all eternity” kind of enduring. When the gift of self is made to another person, it’s just an “until death to us part” kind of enduring. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: You fully and freely give yourself to another, and through that giving you pursue your universal vocation, holiness.

One of the keys — if not the key — to working toward holiness is surrender.  It’s that wonderful paradox that comes up again and again in Christ’s teachings — the idea that to attain the most that God has for us, we have to give up our self.

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Which doesn’t mean that we turn our backs on life.  Most of us have bills to pay and families to raise and (yes!) parishes to support and that means taking up some form of worldly labor.  You’ll sometimes see this referred to as a “secondary vocation”. Having a job (or even a career) facilitates our survival and it can also be part of our journey toward holiness  The Lumen Gentium recognizes this when it says:

Finally, those who engage in labor—and frequently it is of a heavy nature—should better themselves by their human labors. They should be of aid to their fellow citizens. They should raise all of society, and even creation itself, to a better mode of existence. Indeed, they should imitate by their lively charity, in their joyous hope and by their voluntary sharing of each others’ burdens, the very Christ who plied His hands with carpenter’s tools and Who in union with His Father, is continually working for the salvation of all men. In this, then, their daily work they should climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity. (41)

There is — as I discovered in writing this — a lot more territory to cover when it comes to vocations including the question of discerning God’s will for our lives.  I’ll end this now, though, with an encouraging quote from Thomas Merton.

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

Thomas Merton

–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