Saturday, May 6, 2017

54th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations

The Fourth Sunday of Easter has been set aside as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life since Pope Paul VI of happy memory designated it as such fifty-four years ago. The word vocation derives from the Latin: voco, vocare, vocatus,  meaning to summon, to call, to invite, to challenge.  Each of these roots carries subtly different shades of meaning.  Each root is important when trying to understand a vocation to religious life. 

Jesus challenged a young man in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 19:21) when he said, "sell what you have, give to the poor . . . and come follow me."

" . . . . come follow me." 

Those three words are simultaneously summons, call, invitation, and challenge. The simple phrase is a radical challenge, an open invitation, and an irresistible summons.  Many have heard that call and responded to it with a yes.  Each of the following vocation stories is unique.  Each story is important.

By the time she graduated from Villanova University basketball player Mary Michelle Pennefather, known as Shelley, had scored 2,408 points and made over 1100 rebounds.  After four years playing ball in Japan the six-figure salary and the things it could buy meant little.  In 1991 she walked through the doors of the Poor Clare Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia.  Now known as Sr. Rose Marie, she remains within the enclosure.

Grant Desme announced his retirement from professional baseball in 2010. He was considered such a golden prospect by Oakland that he received a high six-figure signing bonus when he went to the minors.  His move to the majors was inevitable.  That is why many found  his vocation to religious life incredible.  He entered the Norbertines (O. Praem.) in California where, known as Brother Matthew,  he is a seminarian moving toward priestly ordination.  When the story of his retirement appeared on the ESPN web site comments appeared quickly.   Some were supportive but too many were hostile, sacrilegious, obscene or all of the above.

Chase Helgenbrinck played for the U.S. National Soccer team.  After playing in Chile for several years he returned to the United States to play with the New England Revolution. He left the New England team in 2008 after playing four games to enter Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Ordained a priest for the Dioceses of Peoria, Illinois, he described the reaction to his vocation as "polarizing" and controversial.  Father appears to be a master of understatement.

The final vocation story is the oldest. It also the story of a woman I know personally. Dolores Hart made ten movies between 1957 and 1962. She gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss in her first movie in 1957 and went on to act opposite stars including Montgomery Clift, Robert Wagner, and George Hamilton.  Her parts ranged from St. Clare in the movie "St. Francis of Assisi" to a college student on spring break in "Where the Boys Are."  She was exceptionally beautiful and engaged to a man who loved her dearly. In 1963 she emerged from a chauffeured car in the tiny town of Bethlehem, CT.  The movie executives who arranged the car were unaware that when she walked through the high wooden gate of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a monastery that now has forty cloistered Benedictine nuns, she would not emerge for decades. Mother Dolores was prioress--second in command to the abbess--for about twenty-five years. She celebrated the golden jubilee of her vows in September.

The most significant thing about these stories is not that each of the four gave up money and fame.  Nor is it that each abandoned "the good life" or was perceived to have "thrown it all away."  The most important part of their stories is that they've been honest in admitting that it wasn't always easy.  Each of them struggled with doubt, uncertainties, and fear. That struggle is ongoing for all of us in vows.  But, doubt, uncertainties, and fear are elements in every life.  Religious life is no different.   A vocation to religious life is not easy. It is not an escape from the pressures of the world; it is enduring those pressures in a new way.  A religious vocation doesn't answer all questions, remove doubts, or allow us to escape problems; it asks new questions and adds new layers of insecurity.  A religious vocation is not an escape from the realities of life.  Rather, it magnifies those realities.  Even in the most silent and isolated of monasteries, life is neither stress free nor overflowing with mystical experiences.

The first several years of settling into one's vocation may be difficult. Mother Dolores admitted in her autobiography that she cried herself to sleep every night for the first seven years in the monastery.  In the end, however, the faith and hope that allow one to say yes, the faith and hope that almost force one to accept Jesus' challenge to follow Him in this radical way despite having other desires, deepen one's life. One now lives in true freedom. 

A religious vocation does not begin in a vacuum.  Others are necessary to any vocation.  Everyone must pray for vocations.  Parents and grandparents, in particular, are needed to encourage and support vocations. The lived example and visibility of members of religious orders is crucial.  Most importantly, a religious vocation requires that someone, anyone, ask.  One need not be a member of a congregation or order to ask.  However, it requires courage to ask someone "have you ever thought of becoming . . a Jesuit, a Franciscan brother, an Ursuline Sister or a priest?"  I've asked twice.  It is nerve-wracking in the same way as asking someone you just met to go out on a date:  dry mouth, sweaty palms, vague nausea, and trembling.  I cannot easily describe my feelings when the first man I asked about becoming a Jesuit pronounced his vows in August last year.  I did not even try to hold back the tears as he knelt and read the vow formula.

Choosing to follow Jesus in vowed religious life means no longer choosing my own path. It means merging my will with His.  Accepting Jesus' challenge to follow Him affects the relationship to time.  We are rooted in the traditions of our orders and the Church, we live in the present, and are pushed toward the future that was given to all of us through Jesus' saving act. 

And so it is that we are able to sing with the psalmist,
"The Lord is my shepherd,

there is nothing I shall want."

Very surprising day.  Forecast called for rain.  It is just beginning at 9:30 PM.  Th day was glorious.  Yesterday Peter asked if I would take photos of a race in which he was running.  It was an interesting race.  He was running the 29 km route--odd distance, will explain--in which all runners had to run in teams of three and finish together. Thus the team's final time reflected the slowest runner.  On paper the course looked challenging and it was.  However, there is an historical reason. 

In 1941 the Italian army wanted to squash the resistance based in LJ.  To do so they erected a 29 km barbed wire fence encircling the city.  For over 1100 days no one could enter or leave the city without documentation as to why and an extensive search.  The plan didn't work.  The resistance was able to go under and around.  However, the people of LJ were imprisoned in their city.  

While returning through PreŇ°ernov Trg I stumbled upon the "Dunking Devils."  They are a group of young Slovenians based in LJ on an "acrobatic basketball team."  Underline acrobatic.  They were doing close order drills that involved launching off of a spring board, a full front flip in front of the basket while holding a ball, and then popping it into the net on the way down.  Astonishing.  

Peter and his team.  They finished in under three hours.  The time on the clock reflects the 12.5 km (there was also a 10 k) that started earlier.  Peter is the one in the white shirt with the Darth Vader sunglasses.  Had he not waved I would not have recognized him.  The sun--which was fierce as my facial color proves--made his hair look gray.  I shared that with him.  Probably shouldn't have. 

Some of the guys waiting to start.

These are self-explanatory.  I couldn't help wondering if their mothers knew what they were doing.  Got to capture three different runs from three different perspectives with two different lenses.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


  1. All Great Father Jack!! I do like the sunglasses on Father Peter! rcf

    1. Had a hard time recognizing him. The sun reflecting off his hair made it look gray (will happen soon enough). Good thing he waved. I wasn't sure even then.