This weekend presented an opportunity to preach on the concept of vocations to religious life. It was the first time I've had this chance. I wasn't handing out applications to the Society though it is a thought. The photos are from Campion Center over the past week. Lovin' the new tripod.
4th Sunday of Easter
29 April 2010
49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations
What is a vocation? Today, as she does annually on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church is observing the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This is the 49th year we are praying for vocations to the vowed religious life and to the diocesan priesthood.
Who is called to particular service within the Church? How can we encourage vocations? The who can be summarized as a cross section of humanity and a wide swath of experiences and professions. The how is prayer and support from family and friends. Some examples of who.
Three days after our 12-man class began tertianship in Australia we drove to Gerroa Beach, the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited. Every morning for ten days we met for prayer, Mass and vocation stories. In the stories we described, in as much detail as possible, the influences that brought us to the Society of Jesus, how we became aware of and accepted the call to “Come, follow me,” and how we understood the vocations we had been living for at least 15 years. The range of men was remarkable. There was a PhD in physics who now teaches at Loyola University of Chicago, a social worker from Africa, a Korean who converted to Catholicism in high school and who now works in China, a Vietnamese man who entered the society in Germany, and a Jesuit brother who had never been out of Viet Nam before his arrival in Australia.
Each of our stories was simultaneously unique and similar. The unique aspects are too many to describe. The similarities were prayer, the Eucharist, and the desire to live the gospel in service to others as fully as possible.
What about some non-Jesuit vocations stories?
In 1963, a car stopped at a gate in Bethlehem, CT. A beautiful 24 year-old woman got out. After making ten movies in five years she wanted a few days rest. But the studio that arranged the driver was unaware that when Dolores Hart walked through the gate of Regina Laudis Benedictine Abbey, she would not walk out again for many years. Today Rev. Mother Dolores is the prioress of the thriving monastery. She recently walked the red carpet at the Oscars, in her habit, because a documentary about her life was nominated for an Oscar.
There is a more recent vocation story too. In February 2010 the ESPN web site featured a fascinating and encouraging story. Twenty-three year old Grant Desme, one of the Oakland A’s top right fielder prospects, had announced his retirement. Six months later he entered St. Michael’s Norbertine Monastery in California. E-mailed comments on his vocation ranged from supportive to vicious to obscene. Perhaps ESPN should monitor the language on its website a bit more closely. Such is the response of others to our lives.
Every vowed religious sister, nun, brother or priest, and every diocesan priest has a vocation story. Vocation is the key word. Vocation comes from the Latin root, voco, vocare, vocatus for “to call.” Each religious was called by name. Each responded with a radical yes. The common factor in religious life is the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd. It could be a call to strict cloister where Rev. Mother Dolores lives. The call might be to the sometimes frenetic activity of the men in the Society of Jesus; contemplatives in action, but underline the action part. Or the call may be at a point midway between contemplative cloister and active apostolate that Norbertine novice Grant Desme has entered. Jesus the Good Shepherd unites all of our vocations.
In his commentary on today’s gospel Jean Vanier notes, “To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to help them to grow and become fully alive.” In order to help others become fully alive, those who have answered the call to a religious vocation must be willing to give their own selves in radical fashion. They must be willing to be at the disposal of those whom they serve and the needs of the order they entered. To be available religious must let go of certain things: family of origin or having a family of his or her own, free choice, security, and independence.
In the words beginning St. Ignatius’ prayer the Suscipe
“Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty,
my entire will.
ALL I have and call my own.”
We hear of that radical donation in today’s gospel, a donation that is expressed in the total fidelity of the Good Shepherd, a fidelity that calls for risking one’s life.
Risking one’s life as a vowed religious is not necessarily dramatic. Terese of Liseaux, the Little Flower, never left her cloister yet was named the patron saint of missionaries. On the other hand, a number of Jesuit friends served prison time in other countries because they were priests or religious. The risk to one’s life is in living the radical yes in the way appropriate to one’s particular religious order or congregation. The radical demands of the cloister differ from the demands on a man working in the underground Church on Mainland China. But, there is always risk.
A critical component of vocations to religious life is the prayer and support of family and friends. Many of us have stories of ruptured friendships or broken family ties because others didn’t understand or accept our decision to enter. When arguments about throwing your life away, wasting your education, or the ever popular whine, “but you would be such a good father,” “you would be a wonderful mother” failed to dissuade the discussion was replaced by silence and alienation rather than grateful prayer and support.
As Pope Benedict notes in his message for today, “The task of fostering vocations is to provide helpful guidance and direction along the way. Central to this should be love of God's word, a growing familiarity with Sacred Scripture, and prayer that will make it possible to hear God's call amid all the voices of daily life. But above all, the Eucharist should be the heart of every vocational journey: it is here that the love of God touches us in Christ's sacrifice..."
Pray daily for vocations to the consecrated life and to the priesthood. Encourage your children or grandchildren to consider a vocation to a religious order or congregation. Pray that young men and women will say, with Mary our Mother, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” And, in a moment of shameless opportunism, if you know any young men thinking of becoming a Jesuit, have them call, write or e-mail me at any time.
A retreatant was at prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Spirit. It remains my favorite place at Campion Center.
The flowers remained on the alter after Fr. Handrahan's funeral last week. There is an old fashioned Valentine's Day look to the flowers.
The columns in front of the retreat wing. The wire keeps the birds out. I enhanced the contrast and the brightness to bring out the shapes.
The benches in front of the Pierce Pavilion present an interest study in horizontal and vertical lines with interesting textures on the wood.
The cemetery is a destination for walking and prayer. The statue seems to be in the community cemetery of almost every religious order I've visited.
The new graves in the apartment as seen from the older part of the cemetery.
+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD