4th Sunday of Easter
22 April 2018
55thDay of Prayer for Vocations
For the past 55 years the Church has designated the Fourth Sunday of Easter, as the Day of Prayer for Vocations, to the vowed religious life and to the priesthood. I look forward to this Sunday annually. It presents an opportunity to recall my own vocation journey, to consider the vocations of friends, and to encourage other young, and even middle-aged, men and women to be open to vocations to the religious life as nuns, brothers, and priests.
The word vocation derives from the Latin root: Voco, vocare, vocatus. To call. To name. To summon. To invite. To challenge. Every vocation story, every description of what brought a man or woman to a particular order, congregation, monastery, or diocese taps into the different meanings of these words. We spend the rest of our lives parsing those meanings.
I arrived in Sydney, Australia on 10 January 2011 to begin tertianship, the last thing a Jesuit does before he pronounces final vows. There were twelve of us including:
A Belgian professor of canon law in Rome.
A Korean Jesuit who became Catholic in high school and entered after college.
A Vietnamese man who escaped to Germany and entered there.
An American physics professor who was also a Penn State grad.
So as to get to know each other we shared our vocation stories in great detail. Aspects of the individual stories were unique. But the stories shared certain characteristics. These included, a persistent sense of being called . . . even when we tried to ignore it, the anxiety upon beginning the application process, and the challenges of the two years as novices. We all talked about the importance of prayer, the critical role of the Eucharist, the need for contemplation, and, ultimately, a willingness to say, 'Yes, I will follow you.'
One of my friends, a cloistered Benedictine nun, wrote with great insight about what a vocation is well after she entered the monastery. “Many people don't understand the difference between a vocation and your own idea about something. A vocation is a call – one you don't necessarily want. The only thing I ever wanted to be was an actress. But I was called by God.”
Shehadbeen an actress. A young, beautiful, successful, and increasingly busy actress. Ten movies in five years. But when Dolores Hart walked through the cloister door at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT in 1963, where she is now Mother Dolores, it was years before she appeared in public again. She celebrated 50 years of monastic profession in September of 2016. I chatted with her this past Holy Saturday after celebrating the Vigil Mass at the Abbey. At 78 she remains chatty, witty, sharp, and happy. She was truly called by God.
As was Chase Hilgenbrinck, now Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck, who, after playing pro soccer first in Chile and then with the New England Revolution in Boston, left pro sports behind to enter the seminary. He is now a priest in the Diocese of Peoria, currently assigned as Newman Center chaplain at the University of Illinois.
After considering what a vocation is we must ask, 'How do we encourage and nurture vocations, particularly in a sadly secular and increasingly amoral American society?' The single most important element, besides praying for vocations, is asking. It is critical that someone ask. It may be a parent or grandparent who sees something or a friend who recognizes a spark. It may be another religious or priest. Someone needs to ask.
I'd been considering the Jesuits for two years. No one knew. On the Friday before Thanksgiving 1992, George Murray, SJ, MD under whom I was a psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, didn't feel like rounding. The other fellow was away. It was just the two of us. He suggested coffee. As we sipped it he cleared his throat and stammered: "There is something I have to ask. You don't have to answer but I have to ask. Have you ever considered becoming a priest? Have you thought about the Jesuits? Have you given up on the idea?" The rest is history. I entered in 1997, three days before turning 48. He vested me as a priest ten years later. I celebrated his funeral Mass six weeks after he witnessed my final vows in 2013.
In 2002, I took a young Taiwanese friend, a grad student at Georgetown, to lunch. There was a reason. While driving home I asked the same questions George asked me. What I didn't realize beforehand was that asking a man about becoming a Jesuit included the dry mouth, sweaty palms, butterflies-in-the-stomach and stammering that recalled asking for a date to the junior prom at PHS. He was thinking about it. No one knew. We talked for 2 1/2 hours. He entered as soon as he got his green card. I didn't even try to hide the tears as he pronounced his vows a few years ago.
The prayer and support of family and friends is crucial. Many of us have stories of ruptured friendships or broken family ties because someone didn’t understand or accept the decision to enter religious life or the seminary. We've all been bullied with arguments about throwing our lives away, wasting our educations, or the ever-popular whine, “But you would be such a good father, or "You would be an awesome mother.”
The arguments don't dissuade. They don't convince. They disappoint. They hurt.
They hurt a lot.
What I ask of you today is to encourage others to consider life in a religious order or congregation. Don't insult or devalue a decision to say yes to a vocation. Say something like "That's great. Tell me more about it." The other request is to pray that young men and women will say, with Mary our Mother,
"Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
“May it be done unto me according to your word.”
And, finally, as I am a shameless opportunist, if you know any young man wondering about becoming a Jesuit, he can call me at any time. And, I'm on Facebook. Send a PM.
Was in PA for a quick trip over the weekend. Planned to post this last night. However, by the time I got back the concept of exhaustion had taken on a whole new meaning. Could barely move.
The photos below are from the Boston Marathon last week. The weather was beyond ugly. It was the slowest marathon in forty years. Many elite runners dropped out along the way. The temperatures were in the high thirties to low forties. The wind was hitting 25 mph. It was a headwind. And the rain varied between gentle and downpour. Wretched running weather. The only reason I got the photos was the proximity of our community to the course: one block. Was out there for much of three hours but that was it. See last photo. It was pouring. Went back to house and up to bathroom. Five layers of clothing did not prevent getting soaked to the skin. It was worth it.
BC is just below the crest of 'Heartbreak Hill." This inflated sign was a challenge given the wind.
BC is 5 1/4 miles from the finish of the 26 1/4 mile race.
The wheelchair racers begin earlier and finish in under two hours. I can't imagine the challenge of figuring out what is a puddle and what is a pothole.
The elite men were behind this truck. Not a good photo technically. As I was using the camera under a "rain bonnet" made of plastic bag and rubber bands, I couldn't necessarily see what I was doing with the buttons. Changed autofocus to manual. Had many photos out of focus until I figured out the problem.
Hundreds of paper cups on the ground. This was well before the hoi polloi that made up the bulk of the 30,000k runners came by. They would present quite a hazard on wet pavement.
I can't imagine being cold, hungry, thirsty, and having 5 1/4 miles to go.
A representative of the Navy.
These three Army guys were enjoying themselves, waving, laughing, high-fiving. . . .
Not sure I would want to run a marathon in combat boots.
The volunteers who hand out the water are unsung. And they hung in there for hours.
It was getting ugly as a band of heavy rain was moving through.
A man after my own heart who wears a proper fitted baseball cap rather than those silly things that are adjustable in the back. Not much of a baseball hat wearer in the first place but the two I have (with Penn State on them, no surprise I'm sure) are fitted.
It was starting to get real ugly with the rain at this point.
And then I said: "I'm done."
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD