Tuesday, July 31, 2007
It was a beautiful clear day to fly in to New York. I had never been to the “Big Apple”, yet here we were, my wife and I, bringing my daughter to the Sisters of Life, in the Bronx, New York. If you had told me 30 years ago when my daughter was born, that she would enter a convent, I would have laughed! As we were landing at La Guardia my memories returned to the dance recitals, school plays, and football games, where my “future Nun” was a cheerleader. How is it that my daughter goes from cheerleader to Nun? This journey has been so full of revelations, and graces from God, that I feel compelled to share it with my fellow Catholics, particularly parents.
You would expect a child who chooses the religious life to come from a “super Catholic” family, where you find statues and holy water fonts at the doors. This would not be the description of our family. In retrospect, we should have done a much better job at living our Catholic faith with our children. We were what you would call “Lukewarm Catholics”. The possibility of suggesting to my children that they consider the religious life did not occur to me. After all, as a good parent, you want your child to be properly educated, get a good job, and be as successful as possible. Becoming a Priest or Nun would be such a waste of talent, and possibly “throwing away your life”. It did not fit with my concept of a happy life for my children.
By the grace of God, my daughter was able to attend the University of Dallas to begin her career in medicine with the hope of becoming a doctor. What a deal! My daughter will be a doctor, she will make lots of money, and we get free medical advice! Yes, we were proud, and our daughter was on her way to the good life.
The University of Dallas maintains a campus in Rome, and part of the sophomore curriculum is to spend a semester in Rome. It was during this time that my daughter heard God speaking to her heart the words “You are to become a Nun”. She pushed this suggestion aside, and continued with her studies, and we did not hear very much about the subject. She eventually discerned that a medical career was not for her, and obtained a teaching degree in Art education and began teaching. The idea of a husband and family was still paramount in her life plan. God had other plans.
She shared with us her experience in Rome, and the continual tugging at her heart to follow her true vocation. When she raised the idea of the religious life I was indifferent. Although, I did not object, I was sure she would change her mind as soon as the right man came along, then the idea would vanish. I was certainly not encouraging her, but I was not openly opposed. I just wanted her to be happy. The subject was not discussed very often and I thought she would get married and give us lots of grandchildren.
During 2001 my family entered a time of crisis and great suffering. My mother was hospitalized numerous times with congenital heart failure, and we watched her suffer greatly till her death in January of 2002. This event took me literally to my knees, and it was at this horrible time, that the grace of God, and the arms of our Blessed Mother, embraced us all. Mothers seem to know what we need, and it appears to me that we were guided through the Valley of Death. We began to pray the Rosary daily, and study our faith. The graces of God seemed to flow more and more in my family, including my son and new daughter in law. Their desire to deepen their own Catholic faith was growing also.
Shortly after the death of my mother we entered another dark time in the family. My father in law was diagnosed with lung cancer and suffered with great courage and dignity till his death in November of 2003. My father in law, (a non Catholic), was a tremendous man of faith and had a profound love for Jesus. The last stage of his illness was also the final stage of my daughters’ discernment to the religious life. It became very important to him to know for sure what her choice was. When she made her final decision to enter the Convent she spoke with him. Her beloved grandfather, and an Elder in a Protestant church, affirmed her decision, gave his blessing, and even said he was honored and proud. He died two days later, but this support from her grandfather lifted my daughter’s spirits greatly.
My daughter began to contact communities that fit her spiritual and personal goals. She wanted to enter an order that was faithful to Church teachings, and wore the Habit. She spent much time researching, praying, and writing to various communities, including her final choice, the Sisters of Life, of New York. They were formed by the late Cardinal John O’Connor and have a wonderful charism for the protection of the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death. Now you might think, that a girl can go knock on the door of a Convent and say “I’m here, I want to be a Nun”. The Church is very wise in the discernment process. It takes a long time and includes psychological testing, medical physicals, and references from Priests, co-workers, and interviews with the Mother Superior of the Convent. Every effort is made to determine if it is truly a call from God. She was accepted as a Postulant and invited to enter the Convent on September 3rd, 2004.
During her discernment period, my daughter placed her vocation in the hands of Our Blessed Mother, and this has proven to be wise. As I said, a mother knows what her children need. Now that you know the background, it is time to continue with my story as we go to New York.
The Convent is in an Irish/Italian part of the Bronx in a neighborhood of homes built in the 50’s. As we were unloading my daughters’ luggage we were greeted by Mother Agnes. She held out her hand to me and I said “I don’t shake Nuns hands, I get hugs”. She seemed pleased and gave me a hug. There are forty five Sisters of Life, and I told my wife I wanted forty five “Nun hugs”. Some of the sisters were away from the Convent, but I am pleased to report that I got at least 30 hugs. I am determined to get my remaining hugs when we visit later.
In the front yard, we were greeted by a beautiful statue of Our Lady which seemed to speak to us saying “Yes, you are in the right place, and I will care for your daughter”. Entering the Convent was a tremendous experience! It is like entering the War Room in the battle against the Devil. These holy women were so radiant, and filled with the joy of Jesus, that I was drawn to them like a magnet. We were able to see our daughters’ room and were told that these rooms are only open to the parents on the day the Postulants enter, and it would be our last time to see it. I cherished the short time as I looked at the small 8 by 10 room with a twin bed and desk. There was a flower left on the pillow as a greeting for my daughter. We were given a tour of the Convent including the Chapel. The Sisters are assigned a certain seat in the chapel, and we made a mental note of our daughters’ seat so that we might sit in the same location of our church, to share a sense of closeness with her. The day ended with tears of joy and sadness. There was no doubt that our daughter was where God wanted her to be, yet we would miss her so much. New York is just too far from Argyle Texas.
It is hard to describe the joys and graces we received that day. Saint Augustine said something to the effect that “God created us to be with Him, and our hearts are restless till they reside with Him” I truly began to realize the restlessness my daughter had felt most of her adult life, and how she was now happy to reside with the Lord. I was so full of joy and wished that every parent could experience these feeling I had. During the plane ride back to DFW, and as my wife was at the back of the plane, I began to recall the events of the day. One thing that stuck in my mind was a comment made by Mother Agnes. She had told us that many of the Postulants come to the Convent without the support of parents. Some are angry and even break off communication with their daughter. I was amazed! How could a Catholic family not want this for their child? Don’t they know how joy filled the religious life is? This overwhelmed me to the point of tears. I regained my composure before my wife returned to her seat, but that moment planted the seeds of this letter.
I am compelled to ask my fellow Catholic parents to encourage a desire for the religious life in your children. Our children do not belong to us, they belong to God. If He calls them, let it be! As parents you know your children better than anyone else, and can recognize and nurture their spiritual side. I have learned that God calls people to the religious life from all areas and backgrounds. Of the Postulants entering with my daughter, one was a Polish opera singer, one a British television personality, and the other wore a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney World! I met a Sister who had been a NASA engineer, another was a nurse, and yet another, a marketing executive on Wall Street. There is no stereotypical religious!
In the short time my daughter has been a Postulant we have received several letters sharing with us her joy in her decision. I get the feeling that she is like a seed planted in fertile soil. We feel the prayers of all the Sisters in the community. At times I feel a sorrow that she is not here, but the reality is that I have not lost a daughter; I have gained forty five more! We recently received this quote from the book “Bernadette Speaks” from our daughter.
“The good Lord does not permit the parents of religious to be damned..
He gives them a special grace in view of the sacrifices we have made”. St. Bernadette
I will be the first to agree that we have received those graces, including an increase in faith.
I encourage all parents to present the religious life as a possibility. As I shared previously, the backgrounds of religious are very diverse. I read a story about a couple who had two sons. The mother had always believed that the two most important vocations were to be a doctor or Priest. In her mind, one vocation helped save lives and the other helped save souls. One of her sons eventually did become a doctor, but the other one had other interests. He was an honor student, excellent athlete, and loved theater, hiking, and kayaking. He even worked in a stone quarry for quite some time, breaking granite with a sledgehammer. At some point in his life, someone he respected suggested that he would make a good priest. He did eventually become a priest, and a good one. His name is Karol Wojtyla.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. Please keep praying for Vocations.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Br. John on the left, Br. Gregory on the right (both pictures).
Thank you brothers for your YES! to God's call. May He continue to bless you all your days.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
That said, the articles on whole are wonderful, and beautiful testimonies to the love these men have for our Lord and our Church!
For the story about Mike Burbeck go here.
For an audio slideshow about Mike Burbeck go here.
For a story about recently ordained Fr. DeCandia (above in "good guys were black shirt") go here.
For an audio slideshow about Fr. DeCandia go here.
Pictures from News and Observer staff photographers Ethan Hyman and Takaaki Iwabu.
UPDATE 7.23.07: This story has gone INTERNATIONAL. The UPI picked up the story, but unfortunately put a more negative spin on it. See it HERE
Saturday, July 21, 2007
As I've posted before, I'm a big believer in "momento mori" - as in no matter how famous, wealthy, and powerful you get - death comes for you. So it should come as no surprise that I thought this part of his post was particularly beautiful:
"Sr. Elizabeth lay prostrate behind the grate, covered by the funeral pall and surrounded by her Sisters holding wax tapers. The Litany was chanted and the pall was sprinkled with holy water, after which I spoke words over her, which included these: “…cover with the shield of Your protection this Your servant whom You deigned to select from the entire number of the Flock, as a Good Shepherd, to preserve the crown of perpetual virginity and chastity of soul, and to prepare her for every work of virtue and glory with the aid of Wisdom, so that, overcoming all enticements of the world, she may merit the indissoluble union with Your son, Our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Photo by Karen Ceckowski
Friday, July 20, 2007
from First Things Magazine
It was a truism—universally accepted until the last decades of the twentieth century—that, wherever the Catholic Church was present, there would be representatives of the religious life: communities of vowed men and women living a frugal common life, praying and working together in Christian service, and offering a witness to the kingdom of God. They belonged to congregations that explicitly took on the responsibility of answering the gospel’s call to leave family, lands, and ownership to follow Jesus Christ.
I had been a friar for two decades when I came across some work in psychological anthropology that made me suspect that religious life was beginning to go in the wrong direction. Serious cracks were already appearing in the structures and attitudes of many religious communities, even the largest and most respected. When I studied the book The Ritual Process, by the eminent psychological anthropologist Victor Turner, I was mesmerized by some of the anthropological components of religious life, which seem to have gone unrecognized in the endless discussion on how to make orders more relevant. I discovered, for instance, that religious life is older and wider than Christianity. Buddhist and Hindu forms of this life, with the basic disciplines of poverty, chastity, and obedience, had existed for hundreds of years before the first Christian bands of anchorites and cenobites went into the desert during the early centuries of persecution.
Liminal people stand in sharp contrast even to virtuous members of the establishment. This dichotomy is not a bad thing, although there must always be a degree of liminality in any follower of Christ. We see this in the saintly members of royal families: St. Louis IX of France and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for example, who wore the Franciscan habit beneath their royal finery and served the poor with zeal and joy. Anyone familiar with religious life at the time of its collapse knows that liminality was almost entirely lost—and remains lost, except for the new communities and a few older ones that have remarkably held the line.
The more interesting phenomenon is the creation of new communities largely out of the ruins of older ones—more interesting, because it means that an entirely new approach to religious life is not necessary or even desirable. Instead, new communities can be built on the foundations of older ones by taking rejected traditions and bringing them back to life. It also means that a return to the ideals of an order’s founder and embracing the charism that had been granted through that founder (rather than dubious late-twentieth-century interpretations) can prove the difference between survival and extinction. One example of a thriving new community that is both original and traditional is Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Most others, like my own, grow out of the past.
In particular, the new communities must be careful not to make the same mistakes as the older ones. They must teach and encourage people to think for themselves without being disobedient. They must try to discuss and find a consensus within the community concerning what they do. Otherwise there will be a return of the widespread resentment that characterized religious both on the eve of Vatican II and later, when changes were forced on them. There must be an authentic and prayerful return to and respect for the following of the gospel. Finally, the anthropological signs of religious life identified by Turner and Arbuckle must be maintained: Common life, frugality, identifiable uniform dress of a religious nature (a habit), and a common apostolic work shared by all members of the community are things one must look for. Otherwise, there is no hope of a community’s revival.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
(Unfortunately it's late, I'm tired, and I can't put my hands on the picture of Br. Gregory that I wanted to post - maybe tomorrow)
I first met Br. Gregory seven years ago, through a mutual friend, Dave Myers. These two men were quite simply an answer to prayers, as God placed them in my life at a critical time in my faith life. Praying before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament I begged God for solid Catholic fellowship, as many of the people in my life at the time were very far from God, and were often especially hostile to the Catholic Church. Dave and Br. Gregory were the answer to that prayer (although at the time it was just "Greg", and he was just a fellow teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School). I will be forever indebted to them for the gift of their lives of faith, and the impact it made on my own. Unfortunately (FORTUNALEY for the Church) just two short years later, Greg left CGHS, and headed up to Loretto, Pa to become a friar. On May 31st, 2003 he made his simple vows, and tomorrow he makes his solemn profession along with Br. John Shanahan, TOR. May God continue to bless them abundantly, but especially tomorrow!
Please pray for Br. Gregory tomorrow, and throughout the year as he prepares for priestly ordination next May! St. Francis of Assisi, PRAY FOR US!
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Now it's finally back to work, and hopefully, posting about vocations!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Update: Thank you for your prayers! Liliane remains the same, but they will be transferring here from Wake Medical Center over to Duke University Medical Center sometime today or this afternoon. They did everything they could at Wake, so it's over to the specialists at Duke. Which is a good thing since Chantal is a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse at Duke, and she knows most if not all of the pediatric staff. Please keep up the prayers! Which reminds me to pray even more often for the sick and the suffering and their loved ones - this has been a very difficult and stressful time. I always forget that while our life goes on, each and every day hospitals all over the world are filled with those who are suffering physically and their loved ones who are suffering through anxiety and fear. May God grant them (and us) His mercy and peace.
Update - Monday 7.16.07: I write this update from Duke University Medical Center - Liliane is still here. The bad news is that she isn't significantly improved, the good news is that she isn't worse. Actually the good news is that the staff here have been aggressive in trying to figure out what is causing this. To say it another way, it seems as though they are casting their nets far wider in trying to think outside the box. In doing so, one of the resident doctors ordered a thyroid panel on Liliane's blood work - and they found something. Long story short it seems she has Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, and it can be easily treated with thyroid hormone pills. The thyroiditis could be the cause of her abdominal pain, but they are going to do an endoscopy this morning to make sure they aren't missing anything in her stomach or small intestines. Please pray that her stomach and small intestines are fine! Thank you again to everyone who has been praying for Liliane. We have been blessed with the prayers, support, and care she has received so far. God willing we will be able to go home in the next day or two, and Liliane will start to feel better soon.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town...
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
but is there because he's the victim of the times....
Well we're doing mighty fine, I do suppose
in our streak of lighting cars and fancy clothes,
but just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
up front there ought to be a man in black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old.
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold.
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could've been
each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And I wear it for the thousands who have died
believing that the Lord was on their side.
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
believing that we all were on their side...."
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
There is also an incredible, MUST READ, article by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR from First Things Magazine entitled "The Life and Death of Religious Life". Everyone interested in vocations should read this article!
Monday, July 2, 2007
Watch Bishop Burbidge's homily from the ordination HERE.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
But had to tear out the ceiling in the Director of Vocations office, as well as the lounge/waiting area/sitting room due to previous water damage and poor repairs. Nothing like having blown fiberglass insulation rain down on you.Note the sheetrock and metal spacers over the old plaster board ceiling...
The good news is that I think all the demolition is done, and we are finally moving forward again. On of our soon to be seminarians for the Diocese, Brendan Buckler, came by after the Diaconate ordination Saturday and helped me finish the last bits of demolition and carpentry. The drywall guys also came Saturday afternoon to start fixing all the holes everywhere, and the painters will begin as soon as they are done. Flooring guys will follow them. It's just a matter of time now. As for me, I actually start my new jobs tomorrow - please keep me in your prayers!