Tuesday, December 29, 2009
"God is Trinity", he added. "He is communion of love, and the family - with all the difference that exists between the Mystery of God and His human creature - is an expression thereof which reflects the unfathomable mystery of God-Love. ... The human family is, in a certain sense, the icon of the Trinity because of the love between its members and the fruitfulness of that love".
Commenting then on today's Gospel reading which narrates how the twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple without His parents' knowledge, the Pope explained that "Jesus' decision to remain in the Temple was above all the fruit of his intimate relationship with the Father, but also the fruit of the education received from Mary and Joseph".
And he went on: "Here we may catch a glimpse of the authentic meaning of Christian education. It is the result of a collaboration that must always be sought between the educators and God. The Christian family is aware that children are God's gift and project. Hence it cannot consider them as it own possessions but, serving God's plan through them, is called to educate them in the greatest of freedoms which is that of saying 'yes' to God in order to accomplish His will".
The Holy Father them addressed some remarks to participants in the Feast of the Holy Family which is being celebrated today in Madrid, Spain. "God, by having come into the world in the bosom of a family, shows that this institution is a sure way to meet and know Him, and a permanent call to work for the loving unity of all people. Thus, one of the greatest services which we as Christians can offer our fellow men and women is to show them the serene and solid witness of a family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman, defending it and protecting it, because it is of supreme importance for the present and future of humankind.
"In truth, the family is the best school in which to learn to live the values that dignify individuals and make peoples great. There too sufferings and joys are shared, as everyone feels cloaked in the affection that reigns in the home by the mere fact of being members of the same family".
Benedict XVI prayed to God that family homes may always experience "this love of total commitment and fidelity which Jesus brought into the world by His birth, nourishing and strengthening it with daily prayer, the constant practice of virtue, reciprocal understanding and mutual respect.
"I encourage you - trusting in the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Families, and the powerful protection of St. Joseph, her husband - tirelessly to dedicate yourselves to this beautiful mission the Lord has placed in your hands. Be sure of my closeness and affection", he concluded, "and I pray you carry a very special greeting from the Pope to those of your loved ones who suffer greatest need and difficulties".
From The Associated Press
ST. MEINRAD — The nation's sixth-largest Catholic seminary is reporting its highest enrollment in two decades as more men flock to the southern Indiana campus to pursue the priesthood.
The influx of students has left the St. Meinrad School of Theology straining to find classroom and living space for students at the campus, 65 miles west of Louisville, Ky.
St. Meinrad, which trains future priests for dioceses in Kentucky, Indiana and across the nation, began the year with 121 students - its highest number since 1988.
Church leaders and seminarians said a combination of spiritual and practical factors are behind the growth.
The Archdiocese of Louisville's seminarian ranks were all but depleted in 2002 and 2003 at the peak of the child sexual abuse scandal involving numerous priests.
Some of the seminarians at St. Meinrad said that crisis actually prompted them to consider the priesthood. They said they believed the church would avoid repeating such scandals through more rigorous screening and training of would-be priests.
“I think that there is a sense of hope in the church” now, said Adam Carrico, of Pewee Valley, Ky., who is studying at St. Meinrad for the Louisville archdiocese.
“We've experienced some troubles,” he said, “but I think we've learned from what happened in the past, and there's kind of a sense we can move forward and there is a tomorrow.”
Part of St. Meinrad's growth also reflects increasing arrangements with dioceses around the country to train their seminarians.
Both the Louisville archdiocese and the seminary are ahead of the national average in seminarian enrollment, which has remained largely the same in the last 15 years as the Catholic population has grown, while the ranks of priests have aged and declined.
Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz credited archdiocese leaders for starting to reverse declines in seminarians even before he arrived in 2007 from Knoxville.
When Kurtz arrived, six men from the archdiocese were starting in seminary.
Kurtz said there's “no magic number” for recruitment goals, but he said ordaining four or five priests per year would “be a great blessing” toward easing the priest shortage.
The archdiocese has two priests working with recruits in addition to their parish duties.
Kurtz holds an annual “dinner with the archbishop” to encourage youths to consider joining the priesthood or religious orders. This year, the event drew hundreds of teenagers, the most in recent memory.
Jerry Byrd, a student from the Indianapolis archdiocese, said his path to the seminary began more than a decade ago as he converted to Catholicism as a teenager.
“My whole concept of a priest was based on priests I knew,” he recalled. “They were old and bald and slow.”
But one such priest told a class of people converting to Catholicism that “we need young men” in the priesthood, because “without the priests, we don't have the sacraments; if we don't have the sacraments, then we're not a church.”
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Obviously there has been a huge gap in posts here on Roman Catholic Vocations. I pray it will not continue indefinitely, but for the time being the demands of life have made it necessary to put something on the back burner. God willing posting will resume in the near future.
Till then, have a Merry Christmas!
Roman Catholic Vocations
Monday, October 19, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
By Claudine San Nicolas
Photo at left: Patrick “Pat” Arensberg holds niece Julia Kaitlyn Smith during a family reunion two years ago in Hawaii.
A seminarian with ties to Maui held the microphone for Pope Benedict XVI throughout Sunday's canonization of St. Damien in Rome.
Patrick "Pat" Arensberg was born on Maui on Jan. 3, 1984, coincidentally the same birthday of Hawaii's first saint, Father Damien de Veuster, a 19th-century Sacred Hearts priest who served Hansen's disease patients in Kalaupapa.
Arensberg, 25, was baptized and received his first communion at Christ the King Church in Kahului. He attended Lihikai Elementary School up until the 3rd-grade when his parents, Joseph "Joe" and Julie Golis Arensberg, moved their family of seven children to the Mainland.
The Arensbergs - Joe, a 1975 St. Anthony High School graduate, and Julie, a 1974 Maui High alumna, have lived in Mobile, Ala., for the last 15 years. Pat is the fourth of their seven children and is studying at the North American seminary in Rome.
Contacted by e-mail, Pat Arensberg said he recently grew a strong devotion to Father Damien.
"He is a model for any priest, whether living in a parish or in a foreign mission country because of his devotion to the Lord and to the people he served," he said.
Just seven hours before Sunday's 10 a.m. (10 p.m. Saturday HST) canonization ceremony and Mass in Rome, Arensberg and Oahu resident Rheo Ofalsa were selected to serve as assistants to the pope during the canonization of five saints including Damien.
Arensberg's primary duty was to ensure that the microphone was placed correctly in front of the pope whenever he was to speak or pray.
"To have the opportunity to serve at the canonization was a real blessing," Arensberg said. "The whole event was very surreal, I couldn't believe I was in arm's distance from the pope the entire Mass."
The Arensbergs contacted family and friends on Maui as soon as they learned of their son's role. They also stayed up early Sunday morning in Mobile to watch the live telecast.
"We were so excited,"Julie Arensberg said about watching her son at the canonization. "We're just overwhelmed."
Joe Arensberg said he was proud of his son and happy about his choice to study for the priesthood.
"I was always hoping one of mine would choose a life of vocations," Arensberg said.
Joe Arensberg worked on Maui as paramedic but left the job nearly 20 years ago to study to be a teacher. He now teaches theology at a high school in Mobile, where he intends to share stories of Hawaii and of Father Damien.
"He was always one of those people local Hawaii Catholics could look up at," he said.
Pat Arensberg called it a blessing to be at Damien's canonization.
"I think that is is a great thing for Hawaii to get its first saint," he said. "Hopefully, it will be a call for a deeper relationship with Christ for all Christians, especially Catholics, that live in Hawaii.
"May they learn from the example of Father Damien: To love all our brothers and sisters as Christ did and to help those who are in need, no matter how dire the situation may be."
By Martin Barillas
A Catholic missionary was abducted from his home on the evening of October 11 in Pagadian City on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Four assailants burst into the Father Michael Sinnott at his residence while he was strolling in the garden. Dragging him to a waiting pickup truck, he was then trundled into a waiting speed boat at a local beach.
The whereabouts of the octogenarian priest, born in Ireland, are still unknown, while no group has yet to claim responsibility for the terrorist act. There are distinct suspicions that a Muslim terrorist group may be responsible, since priests and other Christian missionaries have been abducted or murdered in the past by Abu Sayyaf – an ally of the al Qaeda terrorist network. Groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have operated for decades in hopes of setting up a separate Muslim state.
Father Shay Cullen, a fellow Irishman and priest who leads PREDA – a child welfare and advocacy organization in the Philippines – called for prayers. Said Rev. Cullen in an email, “Please pray and use all contacts to spread the news and we demand that no violence are used by the authorities but peaceful negotiation be conducted for his release. We are with you Father Michael in Sprit and prayer.”
Father Michael Sinnott (80), a member of the Columban order, is originally from Barntown in County Wexford, Republic of Ireland. Ordained in 1954, he was assigned to Mindanao in the southern Philippines in 1957 following his studies in Rome. Rev. Sinnott served in Mindanao until 1966 before being assigned to the theology staff in Dalgan Park, Navan. He returned to the Philippines in 1976 where he has served in a variety of pastoral and administrative roles. Since 1998 he has been involved with a school for children with special needs.
Andrew Trapp's interest in becoming a priest dates back to fifth grade at St. Mary of Help of Christians School in Aiken.
He followed through on that path. Now 28, Trapp is serving as the assistant pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Garden City Beach.
Father Trapp has a new moniker in recent weeks - the poker-playing priest. He's good at it, too. In a tape-delayed broadcast from Los Angeles on Fox on Sunday, Trapp beat a professional poker player to win $100,000 - an unexpected prize he will donate to St. Michael's fundraising efforts for a new church building.
Trapp isn't through. He will return to Los Angeles with three other finalists in December for a chance to win $1 million for his church.
Trapp was there for the taping just over a week ago for the PokerStars.net Million-Dollar Challenge. After he won the $100,000 prize, he told only his parish priest and his parents, Don and Beth Trapp. So the atmosphere was surreal for him and his folks when they gathered in the school gym Sunday with 300 church friends who didn't know the outcome.
"The atmosphere was really exciting, like watching a 'Rocky' movie," Trapp said Monday. "I'm still amazed that I won, and I was really moved by the support and encouragement. I visited the different classes at school today, and all of them were excited about watching me on television."
But he's quick to point out to the kids that he's not advocating serious gambling. The online qualifying tournaments had no entry fee, and his trip to Los Angeles was provided expense-free.
Earlier, Trapp had gotten permission from his parish priest and bishop to pursue the poker challenge.
"They wanted me to be seen as a regular guy," he said. "It will help young people see that they can serve God and still have fun and be active, whatever their religious community is."
While growing up in Aiken, Trapp often played board games and draw poker with his parents and younger sister Lindsay, now a copy editor for a Louisiana newspaper.
The family was active at St. Mary, and Trapp began attending the church school as a fifth-grader. He started thinking about a daily prayer life and later that year watched a movie about Blessed Damien, who devoted his life to serving the lepers on Molokai.
That interest lingered for several years and then solidified after Trapp enrolled at Clemson University. He transferred to Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and remained there for seminary. He spent a year at a church in Bluffton before moving to St. Michael.
Trapp had learned to played Texas hold 'em at seminary and often played with friends there once a week or so. He was only "fairly good" at it but continued to enjoy the game. When he heard about the free online tournament last summer, he entered and, to his surprise, was among the winners invited to submit an audition video. Trapp described his work and his interest in helping the church on the video and was accepted.
Nationally-known poker player Daniel Negreanu served as a coach for all the players. The format was unusual; Trapp played celebrities one-on-one and defeated them, including ESPN commentator and former NBA player John Salley. That gave Trapp the opportunity to play Negreanu, again one-on-one, and each with the equivalent of $20,000 in chips.
The match didn't last long. Both players still had close to their original stake when Negreanu, looking at a straight draw, went all-in with his entire chip count. Holding one pair, Trapp called the bet. He picked up a second pair on the turn and then had to wait anxiously before Negreanu failed to make his straight.
"It's really amazing and scary," Trapp said. "Daniel is one of the very best in the world."
Beth Trapp said with a laugh that her son has said his parents will have to wait until the delayed broadcast to find out how he does in the finals.
"We're so proud of him," she said. "He's doing this for two reasons - to help with the church building and as a means of evangelizing. Andrew wants people to see he can be a young man in the priesthood and still have fun."
Thursday, October 8, 2009
By Phil Lawler
If you've ever spent autumn in New England, you know about the "leaf peepers"-- the tourists who flock to Vermont to enjoy the foliage in early October. But early October-- and specifically this day: October 6, the feast of St. Bruno-- bring different memories of Vermont for me.
Back in 2001 I had a truly unique experience. I was invited by the Carthusians of Arlington, Vermont, to spend a day with them and write a story about their way of life. They were celebrating the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian order, and decided that it was an appropriate time for a bit of publicity.
I say that my experience was unique because Carthusians generally don't seek publicity-- to put it mildly. Theirs is the strictest, most ascetical order in the Catholic Church. The monks live in silence, utterly withdrawn from the world. When I commented to the prior on the oddity of a Carthusian "publicity campaign," he remarked that he could perhaps imagine another opportunity for a journalist to visit the Charterhouse in Vermont-- in another 100 years, to celebrate St. Bruno's 1,000th anniversary!
For that one day in 2001, at the monastery hidden near the top of Mt. Equinox, I had a glimpse of a totally different kind of life: a life devoted utterly to prayer and contemplation. When a man enters the Carthusian order, in a real sense he leaves the world in which you and I live. He gives up normal food, social life, travel, even speech for the rest of his days. Barring medical emergency he will not leave the Charterhouse until his remains are buried there. The Carthusian monk willingly chooses a life sentence, in solitary confinement, to devote himself totally to prayer. These are very, very serious Christian men: seasoned veterans of the spiritual combat.
Very few Christians are called to such an austere life. Most of us live ostensibly ordinary lives, absorbing a daily drubbing from the secular world. But we're engaged in spiritual combat as well. In fact we lay people are the infantry.
There are days when the skirmishing is rougher than usual, when I feel exhausted and bedraggled. Those are the days when I remind myself that while we're not alone. While we're grappling on the front lines, the big guns are booming from Mt. Equinox. Those are the days when I'm struck anew by the amazing diversity of vocations within the Church, and I thank God for my silent friends at the Charterhouse.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Kapaun, a native of Pilsen, in Marion County, and a former parish priest there, died of starvation and pneumonia in the prison camp at Pyoktong, North Korea, on May 23, 1951; he was 35. Soldiers who were with him have said that the communist Chinese camp guards murdered him because he rallied fellow starving soldiers to pray, to stay alive and to stay true to their country in the face of relentless brainwashing sessions.
Fellow prisoners of war have pleaded with the military for decades to give Kapaun the Medal of Honor. As a result, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, as early as April 2001 asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to review Kapaun's eligibility for the honor.
In a letter Tiahrt received this week, Army Secretary Pete Geren wrote, "After giving this request careful, personal consideration, I have determined that Chaplain Kapaun's actions in combat operations and as a prisoner of war in Korea warrant award of the Medal of Honor.
"This brave Soldier clearly distinguished himself by his courageous actions. The Army and our nation are forever grateful for his heroic service."
Tiahrt said Thursday that the decision is not entirely complete. Congress and President Obama must sign off on it.
"But it's the Secretary of the Army who does the research and makes the key recommendation," Tiahrt said. "This is huge, and I'm very happy about this."
Tiahrt himself called Kapaun's remaining immediate family — his brother, Eugene, and Eugene's wife, Helen, who live in Bel Aire. The news stunned Helen, who spoke for her ailing husband.
"We are proud of him, as we should be," she said.
"But I don't think Father Emil would have wanted honors for himself. He would have said, 'Oh, shucks,' and thrown off any thoughts about honors to someone else."
The Roman Catholic Church has for several decades conducted a separate investigation to determine whether Kapaun should be declared a saint. That investigation has gained strength in recent months.
The Vatican earlier this year sent an investigator to Wichita to interview families and their doctors who say their children miraculously recovered from what looked like fatal medical problems after they prayed to the soul of Kapaun. Proving at least two miracles is a requirement for considering sainthood in the church.
The military during the Korean War had already awarded Kapaun the Distinguished Service Cross, its second-highest award. But fellow POWS said he deserved the nation's highest award.
A number of them dictated notarized affidavits testifying to his heroism under fire and in prison. Several fellow prisoners, after they were released at the end of the war, came to Wichita and Pilsen to extol Kapaun's heroism.
Kapaun was a chaplain of the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the First Army Division during the Korean War. Soldiers in that outfit saw him run through machine gun and artillery fire during a number of battles, dragging wounded soldiers to safety.
Four months after the war began, with the communist North Korean Army falling apart and the American army apparently victorious, the Chinese Army suddenly entered the war. Kapaun's 8th Cavalry regiment was surrounded and nearly annihilated by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers in November 1950.
American soldiers who escaped the battle outside the North Korean village of Unsan said Kapaun refused to leave the wounded even after officers ordered and soldiers screamed at him to leave the battlefield.
In the following six months, on a horrific death march to prison camps and then in two prison camps just south of the Chinese border, Kapaun saved many lives. He escaped numerous times to steal food to bring back to starving prisoners, washed the filthy underwear of sick soldiers too feeble to do it themselves, and made pots and pans out of shredded roofing tin to boil the only clean water soldiers drank in the camps.
Soldiers said he used many skills he told them he'd learned as a farm boy growing up outside Pilsen.
They said he was a devout priest who violated camp rules every night by saying the rosary with fellow soldiers; but he sometimes spoke four-letter-words after confronting vicious guards mistreating prisoners.
When starving soldiers, freezing in subzero weather, began to hoard or steal food from one another, Kapaun would give his own food away and bless it in front of the soldiers as "food we cannot only eat but share."
"By offering pieces of his clothing and giving portions of his own meager rations to his injured comrades, Chaplain Kapaun unwittingly weakened his resistance which, in turn, hastened his untimely death," Tiahrt wrote Rumsfeld in 2001.
Helen Kapaun said she and the family were "shocked" when former POWs came home after the war and told hundreds of stories of her brother-in-law's heroics.
"All we knew of him was that he was a good priest and a good man," she said. "My husband had said that Father Emil was a man who was always religious and always meant what he said."
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious has maintained the historical form of religious life, with sisters living in community and wearing the habit. While many religious orders are currently facing marked decline in novitiates and the aging of their members, the communities of the CMSWR are experiencing growth on a worldwide scale.In this collection of foundational articles, the CMSWR articulates how its perspective is in keeping with the vision set forth by Vatican II, suggesting that its commitment to a more visibly countercultural life and ministry is what sustains its orders and attracts young women to the CMSWR communities. The Foundations of Religious Life is ideal reading for sisters and those in formation, as well as their counterparts in men's communities.
A communique made public today explains that the aim of the Message is "to invite priests in particular, during this Year for Priests and in the wake of the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to consider the new communications media as a possible resource for their ministry at the service of the Word. Likewise, it aims to encourage them to face the challenges arising from the new digital culture".
The text continues: "The new communications media, if adequately understood and exploited, can offer priests and all pastoral care workers a wealth of data which was difficult to access before, and facilitate forms of collaboration and increased communion that were previously unthinkable".
The communique concludes by noting that "if wisely used, with the help of experts in technology and the communications culture, the new media can become - for priests and for all pastoral care workers - a valid and effective instrument for authentic and profound evangelisation and communion".
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
"The priest", says the Holy Father in his Message, "is called to serve human beings and to give them life in God. ... He is a man of the divine Word and of all things holy and, today more than ever, he must be a man of joy and hope. To those who cannot conceive that God is pure Love, he will affirm that life is worthy to be lived and that Christ gives it its full meaning because He loves all humankind".
Benedict XVI then turns to address priests who have to serve a number of parishes and who "commit themselves unreservedly to preserving sacramental life in their various communities. The Church's recognition for you all is immense", he says. "Do not lose heart but continue to pray and to make others pray that many young people may accept the call of Christ, Who always wishes to see the number of His apostles increase".
The Holy Father also invites priests to consider "the extreme diversity of the ministries" they perform "in the service of the Church", and "the large number of Masses you celebrate or will celebrate, each time making Christ truly present at the altar. Think of the numerous absolutions you have given and will give, freeing sinners from their burdens. Thus you may perceive the infinite fruitfulness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Your hands and lips become, for a single instant, the hands and lips of God".
"This thought", the Pope added, "should bring you to ensure harmonious relations among the clergy so as to form the priestly community as St. Peter wanted, and so build the body of Christ and consolidate you in love".
"The priest is the man of the future. ... What he does in this world is part of the order of things directed towards the final Goal. Mass is the only point of union between the means and the Goal because it enables us to contemplate, under the humble appearance of the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Him Whom we adore in eternity".
"Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the heart of the Church", the Pope concluded. "You are the living witnesses of God's power at work in the weakness of human beings, consecrated for the salvation of the world, chosen by Christ Himself to be, thanks to Him, salt of the earth and light of the world".
Posted by Tim Drake
This morning Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., gave a historic address to the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors gathered for their annual convention in East Rutherford, N.J. Archbishop Sambi had several stirring things to say to the nation’s vocation directors.
“The enemy of every vocation is selfishness,” Archbishop Sambi told the group. He quoted at length from Pope John Paul II’s book Gift and Mystery.
In an interesting comparison, Archbishop Sambi compared the post-sexual abuse-crisis priesthood to that of post-Nazi-occupied Poland. He spoke about how Karol Wojtyla’s witnessing so many priests being arrested and deported impacted the future Pope’s priestly vocation.
“As the Pope was encouraged by the many priests brought to concentration camps, you should be pushed by the fact that many priests have abandoned their mission,” said Archbishop Sambi. “We are in a poverty of priests, but are coming on a New Springtime in which there will be more priests, and of a better quality.”
Given that it’s the Year for Priests in honor of St. John Marie Vianney, Archbishop Sambi then posed a hypothetical question to all of the vocation directors.
“If St. John Vianney came to you today as a prospective seminarian, would you help him in his vocation?” Archbishop Sambi asked.
He then presented two scenarios for how a vocation director might respond.
In the first scenario, the vocation director describes an older, dedicated, devout individual with a rural upbringing who is behind in his studies, but knows the faith because of the example of his family. He doesn’t grasp Latin well, but has a real sense of sacrifice. Other priests support him and see his vocation as authentic.
In the second scenario, the vocation director describes an individual with long hair and a provincial faith, who is focused on the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and is described as perhaps being too Eucharistic and too much into the cult of Mary. He describes the priest as speaking of being available for confession, but the vocation director questions, “Really, who goes any more?” Finally, the vocation director says that the candidate sounds a bit old Church, so the director says he’s probably suited to a more traditional order and says, “No, thank you.”
Those gathered shared a good laugh over the descriptions, but it was an effective exercise in getting vocation directors to think about what’s important. Archbishop Sambi urged caution in dealing with prospective candidates because “one of them could be a future saint.”
Dear Young Friends,
At the conclusion of this celebration I turn to you directly and I greet you warmly. You have come here in great numbers from all over the country and from neighbouring countries; you camped here yesterday evening and you spent the night in tents, sharing an experience of faith and companionship. Thank you for your presence here, which gives me a sense of the enthusiasm and generosity so characteristic of youth. Being with you makes the Pope feel young! I extend a particular word of thanks to your representative for his words and for the wonderful gift.
Dear friends, it is not hard to see that in every young person there is an aspiration towards happiness, sometimes tinged with anxiety: an aspiration that is often exploited, however, by present-day consumerist society in false and alienating ways. Instead, that longing for happiness must be taken seriously, it demands a true and comprehensive response. At your age, the first major choices are made, choices that can set your lives on a particular course, for better or worse. Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone. Yet there are also many young men and women who seek to transform doctrine into action, as your representative said, so as to give the fullness of meaning to their lives. I invite you all to consider the experience of Saint Augustine, who said that the heart of every person is restless until it finds what it truly seeks. And he discovered that Jesus Christ alone is the answer that can satisfy his and every person's desire for a life of happiness, filled with meaning and value (cf. Confessions, I.1.1).
As he did with Augustine, so the Lord comes to meet each one of you. He knocks at the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend. He wants to make you happy, to fill you with humanity and dignity. The Christian faith is this: encounter with Christ, the living Person who gives life a new horizon and thereby a definitive direction. And when the heart of a young person opens up to his divine plans, it is not difficult to recognize and follow his voice. The Lord calls each of us by name, and entrusts to us a specific mission in the Church and in society. Dear young people, be aware that by Baptism you have become children of God and members of his Body, the Church. Jesus constantly renews his invitation to you to be his disciples and his witnesses. Many of you he calls to marriage, and the preparation for this Sacrament constitutes a real vocational journey. Consider seriously the divine call to raise a Christian family, and let your youth be the time in which to build your future with a sense of responsibility. Society needs Christian families, saintly families!
And if the Lord is calling you to follow him in the ministerial priesthood or in the consecrated life, do not hesitate to respond to his invitation. In particular, in this Year of Priests, I appeal to you, young men: be attentive and open to Jesus's call to offer your lives in the service of God and his people. The Church in every country, including this one, needs many holy priests and also persons fully consecrated to the service of Christ, Hope of the world.
Hope! This word, to which I often return, sits particularly well with youth. You, my dear young people, are the hope of the Church! She expects you to become messengers of hope, as happened last year in Australia, during World Youth Day, that great manifestation of youthful faith that I was able to experience personally, and in which some of you took part. Many more of you will be able to come to Madrid in August 2011. I invite you here and now to participate in this great gathering of young people with Christ in the Church.
Dear friends, thank you again for being here and thank you for your gift: the book of photographs recounting the lives of young people in your dioceses. Thank you also for the sign of your solidarity towards the young people of Africa, which you have presented to me. The Pope asks you to live your faith with joy and enthusiasm; to grow in unity among yourselves and with Christ; to pray and to be diligent in frequenting the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession; to take seriously your Christian formation, remaining ever obedient to the teachings of your Pastors. May Saint Wenceslaus guide you along this path through his example and his intercession, and may you always enjoy the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. I bless all of you with affection!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Monday, 31 December 2007 00:21
Thank you Lord for my priesthood!
01Jan08: What am I, a priest, doing in Iraq? God brought me here to be with my Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers. I am here to bring God to them and to bring them to God. Every day is a different story.
The other day, a young Marine arrived to SSTP (Shock, Surgical and Trauma Platoon) hospital. He was so young and at the age where he was just starting to experience life. He had lost his legs from the waist down; he had a very low pulse. There was something special about his young man that made him different from every other one that arrived at the SSTP hospital up to that date. I knew him personally. He attended Mass twice a month while the other days he went on missions. It is different when you know someone personally. I still remember his face; he would ask for a blessing after each Mass. He would tell me: "Bless me, Father, I need your blessing." These are the last words that I heard from him a week ago. His words till resounded over and over in my head, "Bless me, Father." I will not give his real name out of respect for the family.
I could not control my right hand while holding Jose's, praying to God for him; my hand was shaking. In my mind, I was asking God to save Jose. I was thinking of his parents, of his brothers, of his friends, but especially of his mother. Lord, do not shatter Jose's mother's heart. Save him, Lord! Bring him back to his mother alive.
I was looking around the operating room. The doctors were speaking to Jose telling him, "Fight, do not give up, please fight!" Jose's commanding officer was at a corner of the room with tears in his eyes, looking at me as if he were asking, "Please tell God to save him!" He then would turn to the doctors as saying, "Fight for him please save him, save my Marine!" Another officer entered the room, looked carefully to the doctors and then turned to me asking me with the gesture of his hands to pray. Then, he turned to Jose's officer and greeted him as if giving his condolences.
Please Lord, save him! I prayed with all my strength while the doctors tried frantically to save his life. "He has no more pulse!" one doctor shouted, while a female doctor with her hands inside Jose's chest caressed his heart trying to revive him. After 45 minutes of massaging the heart and electrical shocks, the doctor declared him dead.
In my mind, I was praying Lord, do not allow Jose's mother to receive him without life. Looking at Jose on the stretcher, I only saw half of his body. How would his life be if he would have survived without legs and only part of his hands? I wonder if God instead of answering my prayer answered Jose's prayer. Maybe Jose was telling God, please take me with you, do not leave me here this way. I don not know; the only thing I know is that Jose will not suffer anymore.
I still hear Jose's voice when he would tell me, "Bless me, Father... Please, Father, bless me... I always tell my mom that you bless me, and she gets very happy..... My mother told me to thank you for your blessing." What will go through Jose's mother's mind? Will she be angry at God? Will she hate the Marine Corps that her son loved so much?
I wish I could tell her: "Senora, I was with your son on his last moments." My hope is that she will find some comfort in the knowledge that her son had a priest by his side in his last moments.
Jose's officer asked for my name to tell his mother that I prayer for Jose, and that he received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I would love to look at her eyes, and let her know that I was with her son on her behalf. I would like to embrace her, and tell her that her son asked for my blessing every time he could come to Mass.
I thank God for the gift of my priesthood and to my Cardinal who allowed me to come and serve as a chaplain. I am a priest not only to celebrate Holy Mass, but also to live it. The gift of my priesthood allows me to bless and bring peace to my muchachos and muchachas, that's the way I see them as my young kids, in the midst of this war.
Please, ask God that I may never get tired of blessing those who ask and wherever they ask me. Jose would ask me to bless him in the Chapel, or while I was walking to my "Humvee" (my transportation), which would bring me to my base or where ever he would see me.
"Father would you bless me?" Who will be the next priest to hear these words? Will our young men and women in the military services have priests to come to and ask for a blessing, or to come for confession, or will they have the opportunity to attend Mass? I pray that young men and women in the military will get the spiritual guidance they need. The only way this will be possible is if more men respond to God's call to the priesthood. When the Lord asks, "Whom shall I send?" many will say "Here I am, Lord!"
Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN is currently serving as a US military chaplain in Iraq. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1999, and has previously served at various parishes including St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys, CA.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Neither fact is stopping 11 elderly Hawaii leprosy patients from traveling 12,000 miles to the Vatican next month to watch as the Catholic Church canonizes Father Damien — a priest who cared for leprosy patients throughout the islands more than a century ago before dying of the disease himself.
Damien, who was born in Belgium as Joseph de Veuster, remains a beloved figure among many in Hawaii. In the 1870s, the leprosy patients Damien cared for were shunned by most people, even doctors, because of an intense stigma that was associated with the disease.
Today's patients from Kalaupapa, the isolated peninsula where Hawaii's leprosy patients were banished for more than 100 years, feel particularly close to Damien.
Dr. Kalani Brady, their physician, said Thursday the trip to Rome will be an "energy-laden" voyage for many of his patients.
"They're going to see their personal saint canonized," said Brady, 53, who will accompany the group to Rome. It's "incredibly important, incredibly personal for them," he said.
The reverence for Damien transcends religious sects, Brady said, noting that one 84-year-old making the trip is Mormon.
"He's bound to a wheelchair, he's completely blind. So it's important enough for him to go, despite the hurdles which he has to overcome," Brady said.
The Catholic Church announced earlier this year that it would make Damien a saint after determining a Hawaii woman was cured of terminal cancer after she prayed to Damien and he interceded on her behalf. The church found there was no medical explanation for the woman's recovery.
Pope Benedict XVI is due to preside over Damien's canonization on Oct. 11. Damien was beatified — a step toward sainthood — in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.
The pope is expected to meet privately with the patients during their stay in Rome.
The 11 are among about 20 patients who still live at Kalaupapa. The Kingdom of Hawaii began banishing leprosy patients to the remote section of Molokai island in the 1860s to control an outbreak of the disease that was killing Native Hawaiians in large numbers.
Many Hawaiians had no natural immunity to leprosy, as well as other diseases that led the Hawaiian population to shrink 70 percent in the seven decades after Captain James Cook, the first European to visit the islands, arrived in 1778.
Some 90 percent of the 8,000 people exiled to Kalaupapa were Native Hawaiians.
Successive governments continued to exile patients to Kalaupapa for over a century through 1969, when the state of Hawaii finally stopped the practice more than two decades after the discovery of drugs that could treat the disease.
Many patients chose to stay at Kalaupapa even after the medical isolation order was lifted because the community had become their home.
Today, many patients still have to fight the indignity of stereotypes and misperceptions about the illness.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is spread by direct person-to-person contact, although it's not easily transmitted. It can cause skin lesions and lead to blindness.
But it's been curable since the development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, and people treated with drugs aren't contagious.
Damien built homes for the sick, changed their bandages and ate poi, a Hawaiian staple, from the same bowl as the patients. He put up no barriers between himself and those he ministered to.
He was diagnosed with leprosy 12 years after he arrived and died five years later in 1889.
Overall, some 650 people from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the canonization. Most, between 520 and 550, are expected to be part of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu's delegation.
Those going also include a Boy Scout troop and Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona.
Some will visit Belgium, including the town of Tremelo, where Damien was born, and Leuven, where his body was buried in 1936.
Damien still has a grave at Kalaupapa, but it now only contains a relic of his right hand.
By Father Salvatore DeStefano
No priest ever forgets his first day in the seminary. After all the discernment, he has left the job behind, the girlfriend behind, his own family and friends behind — all to journey down an unknown path, hoping and praying that he is doing God’s will. My first day was just like this.
We had an excellent president, or rector as we call him, who summoned all the new recruits together for his annual opening conference of the academic year. You might think that he called us together to give us a bit of a pep talk, to tell us that we were bold for making this difficult decision to follow the Lord’s call in a world that was distancing itself more and more from God. You might think that he complimented us and told us to pray hard for the strength to find God’s purpose for our lives (ordination was never a given).
He did none of these things. Instead he said to us: “Gentlemen, if you’re not prepared to make every sacrifice necessary to become holy priests, then get out.”
The message was clear. The Church and world don’t need greater numbers of priests necessarily. What’s needed are holy priests. If we weren’t willing to accept this, we needn’t bother wasting our teachers’ time or our own — or God’s.
Some of the guys assembled that day were put off by this approach, but I wasn’t. Actually, I was very impressed. Here was a man who wasn’t concerned with playing the numbers game. He wasn’t interested in merely producing more vocations or impressing his superiors with his flourishing seminary program. What he cared about was producing holy priests, even at this beginning stage of priestly formation.
He did this because he felt with all of his heart, as he told us so many times, that “the people of God deserve the best.”
That was many years ago, but that phrase has always stuck with me. A good, holy, prayerful Catholic priest can do great and mighty things for God because the Holy Spirit will work through him. The people will truly be able to see God through him, which is what the Lord intended when he established the priesthood.
On the other side of that equation, an unholy, evil priest can make people lose their faith through his words and actions.
Scripture is very clear on this point. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of the pasture … but I will take care to punish your evil deeds” (Jeremiah 23:1-6).
This is a direct warning to all priests. If you mislead my people, says the Lord, you’re going to pay. Jesus was moved to pity in the Gospel of Mark because the vast crowd was “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:30-34).
This is a crucial point to remember, because Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the Year for Priests. I suspect he is doing this not so much to celebrate the gift of the priesthood or the great priests we all know in our lives. There is plenty of time for that. Rather, it is the Year for Priests to pray for priests.
Benedict is imploring the people of God to pray for holy priests, men who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to configure themselves to Christ the Good Shepherd. In his homily to open the Year for Priests, the Holy Father said that the faithful should “pray that the Lord inflame the heart of each and every priest … because the greatest suffering in the Church is the sin of its priests.”
Benedict rarely minces words, and he’s not going to start when it comes to something as important as the sanctity of the clergy.
I personally would like to forget the scandals that broke not so long ago. I’d like to forget them because I know in my heart, and in my experience, that the great majority of priests are good, devout, dedicated men — men who want nothing more than to serve God by serving the flock entrusted to them.
I’d like to forget the scandals because I know that the majority of the hideous acts we read about in the papers and heard about on television were committed by a relatively small group of sick, perverted, twisted men who should never have been ordained in the first place.
I’d like to forget the scandals — but I can’t. I can’t forget because I am reminded of them every time a little child rushes up to give me a hug after Mass, or whenever I visit a parish school. An uneasy feeling comes upon me at such times. In the back of my mind, always, is the question: Is someone looking at this scene and thinking something terrible? Are they seeing something that isn’t there?
This is tragic. Most priests love children, present company included. In fact, for me, the biggest stumbling block on the way to ordination was the lingering question as to whether I would be happier with a wife and children.
But there is hope. There is hope because Christ rose from the dead — and promised the same for you and me, if we try to follow his will. Christ rose from the dead, and he is still married to his Catholic Church, 2,000 years and many sins later. We are not always faithful to his teaching, but he is always faithful to us.
There are two sides to the Church, of course: the human side and the divine side. The human side gets us into trouble. But no matter how unfaithful we can be, he is still married to his bride, the Church.
This is the Year for Priests, and the Pope wants us to pray for holy priests — not just for more priests. Like the rector of that seminary so many years ago, God doesn’t play the numbers game. He wants his priests to be holy. Why? Because his people deserve the best.
Father Salvatore DeStefano is a priest of
the Archdiocese of New York.
The church houses the famous image of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The statuette, made of wax over a wooden frame, comes from a convent in southern Spain and was given to the Carmelites by princess Polyxena von Lobkowitz in 1628. The cult of the Infant Jesus spread during the Baroque period and is associated with the visions of St. Teresa of Avila, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order.
Benedict XVI was greeted by the rector as he arrived at the church, which was crowded with families and children. He adored the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel of the Infant Jesus then placed a golden crown on the statuette before moving on to the main altar to greet those present.
"The image of the Child Jesus calls to mind the mystery of the Incarnation, of the all-powerful God Who became man and Who lived for thirty years in the lowly family of Nazareth", he said. "My thoughts turn to your own families and to all families ... as we call upon the Child Jesus for the gift of unity and harmony. ... We think especially of young families who have to work so hard to offer their children security and a decent future. We pray for families in difficulty, struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by strife or infidelity. We entrust them all to the Holy Infant of Prague, knowing how important their stability and harmony is for the true progress of society and for the future of humanity".
"In the Holy Infant of Prague we contemplate the beauty of childhood and the fondness that Jesus Christ has always shown for little ones. ... Yet how many children are neither loved, nor welcomed nor respected! How many of them suffer violence and every kind of exploitation by the unscrupulous! May children always be accorded the respect and attention that are due to them: they are the future and the hope of humanity!"
The Holy Father concluded by thanking all the children who had come to greet him and he asked them to pray for their parents, teachers, friends, and for him.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
If you have an hour, and you can hang in there philisophically, this is an incredible presentation.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 21, 2009 / 10:43 am (CNA).- As he does every year, the Holy Father hosted a congress for all the bishops who were consecrated this past year. Noting that helping priests is an essential task for a bishop, Pope Benedict reminded the prelates to urge priests to seek "intimate and personal union with Christ."
Addressing the recently-consecrated bishops at Castel Gandolfo today, the Holy Father recalled the importance of "not forgetting that one of a bishop’s essential tasks is that of helping priests – by example and fraternal support – to follow their vocation faithfully and to work enthusiastically and lovingly in the Lord’s vineyard."
Priests, said the Pope, must "remain united to the Lord; this is the secret of the fruitfulness of their ministry." Increased workload, difficulties, and the new requirements of pastoral care "must never distract us from intimate and personal union with Christ. Our readiness and openness to people must never diminish or overshadow our readiness and openness towards the Lord."
"The time that priests and bishops consecrate to God in prayer is always time well spent," he emphasized. "This is because prayer is at the heart of pastoral work, it is the ‘lymph’ which gives it strength, it is a support in moments of uncertainty and discouragement, and an endless source of missionary fervor and of fraternal love towards everyone."
Focusing more closely on priestly life, Pope Benedict stated that, "At the heart of priestly life is the Eucharist." The Pontiff also pointed to a devout recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours as "one special way to prolong the mysterious sanctifying action of the Eucharist throughout the day." In addition, priests can participate in Eucharistic adoration, ‘lectio divina’ and the contemplative prayer of the Rosary, he said.
With the Church celebrating the Year for Priests, the Pope turned to its patron, St. Jean Vianney, who "showed us the importance of priests’ immersing themselves in the Eucharist and of educating the faithful in the Eucharistic presence and in communion."
Father McKnight, who is 41, will assume his USCCB position in July, succeeding Father David Toups, interim secretariat director.
Msgr. David Malloy, USCCB General Secretary, made the appointment.
“Father McKnight brings extraordinary background to the position,” Msgr. Malloy said. “In addition to parish work, his experience includes years in seminary formation, education of deacons, college chaplaincy and membership on his diocesan presbyteral council. I am grateful that Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita is permitting him to serve the U.S. bishops in this national position.”
Father McKnight is the son of Mary Elizabeth (O’Reilly) and the late William Thomas McKnight and is the oldest of eight siblings. He was ordained a priest for the Wichita Diocese in 1994.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Dallas, Master of Arts and Master of Theology degrees from the Pontifical College Josephinun in Columbus, Ohio, and licentiate and doctoral degrees in theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, in Rome.
Father McKnight taught graduate studies at the Josephinum, 2003-2008, where he also served as Director of Liturgy, Dean of Students, Director of Formation in the school of theology and Vice-president for Development and Alumni Relations. He currently serves on the faculty of the St. Meinrad Permanent Deacon Formation Program.
He served as chaplain at Newman University in Wichita, 2000-2001, where at the same time he was an adjunct professor of theology and visiting scholar at the university’s Bishop Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies.
Father McKnight has been published in the Deacon Reader and the Newman Review and has spoken at assemblies of the National Association of Deacon Directors, National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education as well as at arch/diocesan programs in Wichita; Wheeling, West Virginia; Lafayette-in-Indiana; Houston; Ogdensburg, New York; Phoenix; Denver; Charleston, South Carolina; and Dodge City, Kansas.
Father McKnight, 41, is a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. He will begin the position in July.
"Father McKnight brings extraordinary background to the position," Monsignor David Malloy, general-secretary of the episcopal conference, said. "In addition to parish work, his experience includes years in seminary formation, education of deacons, college chaplaincy and membership on his diocesan presbyteral council. I am grateful that Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita is permitting him to serve the U.S. bishops in this national position."
Shawn McKnight was ordained in 1994, after studying biochemistry at the University of Dallas, and then theology in Ohio and Rome. He is serving as the pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish.
The previous pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish, Monsignor James Conley, is now the auxiliary bishop of Denver.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
By Jennifer Garza
Everybody knows the nuns run this corner of Oak Park.
There is Sister Jane, telling a young mother that she needs to make a doctor appointment, today. Nearby, Sister Judy makes sure another woman is served a healthy breakfast. And Sister Esther, though officially retired five years, assists in the Wellspring office on Fourth Avenue.
Together, the three nuns helping the poor have served in the Catholic Church for 156 years.
"They're good women, pillars," says Deena Smith, a regular at the drop-in center that provides free breakfasts for neighborhood women and children.
What many don't know, and what has concerned the sisters and others, is that the Vatican is investigating nuns like them across the country without explaining why.
Earlier this year, the Vatican launched two investigations of American nuns, prompting speculation about what it means to the many "women religious" or sisters who have been working for decades on the front lines for the church.
"They have a lot of nerve," said Sister Esther O'Mara, referring to the investigation that seemed to come out of nowhere. O'Mara, 75, is a sister with the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary religious order. "What is the point? They haven't said."
They have to live with the uncertainty until the Vatican completes its investigations in 2011.
Some church experts suggest the investigations are one more sign that the Roman Catholic hierarchy doesn't understand American nuns, who are often better educated and more theologically progressive than their counterparts in other parts of the world.
"They are educated, smart women and they ask questions. Frankly, Vatican officials don't know how to deal with them," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University.
"There are some people in the church who would like to see the sisters in more traditional practices," he said.
Many U.S. nuns traded in their habits for casual blouses, pants and comfortable shoes long ago. They live in residential houses, not convents. They're more likely to be found working at social service agencies than at parish schools. They're not shy about attending rallies and marches. Many support the ordination of women.
Their outspokenness has not pleased the Vatican, experts say.
The number of nuns in this country has declined dramatically – from 180,000 in 1965 to fewer than 60,000 today.
In the Sacramento area, 127 women from 26 religious communities serve in the Sacramento Diocese.
"This seems to have come out of the blue," said Maura Power, a sister of Mercy, the largest religious order in the Sacramento Diocese with 70 members. Power works in adult religious education at Our Lady of Mercy in Redding.
"My hope is that some good will come out of it. … but I'm also wondering, who is funding it?" asked Power.
One of the Vatican investigations, which will look into about 340 U.S. congregations, is called an "Apostolic Visitation." The Vatican has stated the purpose, "is to look into the quality of life" of religious institutes.
Reese said church leaders have not explained what, exactly, that means. "It's like a grand jury investigation that has an open agenda to look anywhere for anything," he said.
Typically, the Vatican conducts such visits after serious problems. Vatican officials ordered a visitation of American seminaries after the sexual abuse scandal. It is currently conducting one on the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder, Marcial Maciel, was accused of sexually molesting students. He died in 2008.
The second investigation, headed by the Doctrine of the Faith, cites the nuns' failure to follow 2001 instructions to conform to church doctrine. Church experts believe this refers to the national gatherings held by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has had guest speakers who support women's ordination as priests. The organization is the largest association of American nuns.
American nuns intend to cooperate with the Vatican investigations, leaders said.
Whenever I tell people I work in the Office of Diaconate, the most common response is “The office of what? Can you spell that?”
And whenever I speak with Serra Clubs or at parishes about the vocation and role of the deacon, the most common question is: “What does a deacon do that a priest or lay person can’t do?”
The response is: That’s the wrong question — at least to begin with. As with any vocation (marriage, religious life, priesthood), we first need to answer “who we are” before we can describe “what we do.”
Christ the servant
In the words of Pope John Paul II and the church documents that govern diaconate formation, the deacon is ordained to “sacramentalize service” and to be an “icon of Christ the servant.” In other words, the deacon is a unique living sacramental sign in our midst of Christ the servant, the one who knows suffering and who pours himself out for the good of others.
Therefore, the deacon is ordained — he is no longer a layman — into Jesus’ own apostolic ministry. In theological terms, the deacon, like priest, stands “in persona Christi capitas” (in the person of Christ the head). But the deacon does so not as victim and priest, but as servant.
As one theologian has put it, a priest presides at the Liturgy of the Eucharist that gives rise to charity; the deacon, however, presides at the “liturgy of charity” that culminates in the mystery of the Eucharist.
(This, by the way, is why the church envisions a normal Mass to be one with a deacon, and it is why you will see after the consecration both deacon and priest holding up the host and the chalice. Here is a more robust sign, so to speak, of the dimensions of Jesus the head of the body, victim-priest and servant laying down his life in love.)
At the end of Mass, it is the deacon’s role to intone “The Mass is ended; go in peace,” and he then is ordained to do precisely that: to lead in extending the sacramental charity of the Eucharist — the apostolic ministry of Christ himself — into the world. The deacon often then goes forth as “icon” of Christ where a priest is unable to go, and the deacon is meant to do so as an “animator of the laity.”
Thus, like laity, the deacon by virtue of baptism shares in the three-fold office of Jesus (prophet, priest, and king). In addition, like bishop and priest, the deacon is ordained into a more specified three-fold participation in the ministry of Christ for the church and the world: ministry of the Word (the foundation), ministry of the Eucharist and liturgy (the heart) and ministry of charity and justice (the expression and fruit). What a deacon does flows from this three-fold ministry.
As a servant of God’s Word, the deacon daily contemplates that Word, especially in Scripture. The deacon always proclaims the Gospel at Mass (even if the pope presides); he evangelizes, teaches, instructs, preaches and leads others into “lectio divina.”
As servant of the Eucharist and the sacramental and liturgical life of the church, the deacon presides at baptisms, assists in the mystery of the Eucharist, is the normal bearer of the Eucharist to the sick and suffering, can witness marriages, bury the dead and preside at benediction.
The deacon commits himself to praying morning and evening prayer on behalf of the church and intercedes as Christ for all. As servant of charity and justice, embodying the eucharistic self-gift, the deacon takes the sacramental presence of the church into the most far-reaching corners of suffering: to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and dying, to immigrants, to the mentally ill, to the estranged — to wherever there is need and suffering.
What does a deacon do? The list is too long to describe fully. But whatever he does, he does as sacramentally ordained into the ministry of Christ the servant; he is icon of that servant, the living bearer of the Word and doer of the Father’s will. That is why the day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of Deacon Stephen, Proto-martyr, who was so perfectly conformed to the Incarnate Word that he died with Jesus’ own words on his lips. And he died as a good servant would: pointing toward and gazing upon his master, Jesus.
Because he is ordained to be a sacrament of service, the deacon is an extension of the bishop’s apostolic ministry; at ordination, only the bishop lays hands on the new deacon, and the deacon promises obedience to the bishop. In the words of an early church father, the deacon is the “eyes, ears, hands” of the bishop, ordained first to serve the diocese and only then a specific parish.
This is why today deacons usually receive a dual assignment, one to assist in a parish setting and one to serve at the archdiocesan level or in some specific ministry such as in a prison, hospital or nursing home, with the police force, with the homeless, at the university or wherever he may be needed.
Often, a deacon can be more aware of specific needs than a priest can be, and the deacon can then bring those to the attention of the archbishop.
With the recent economic downturn, for instance, we have deacons who assist people in dealing with both the material and spiritual effects of foreclosures on their homes.
Although deacons usually serve under the supervision of a priest-pastor, the deacon is not a “mini-priest” — he is both “alongside” the priest as well as “under” the priest, and he often is active in secular settings where a priest is unable to go.
Here is an especially unique feature of the deacon: he is ordained clergy, but he lives a lay lifestyle. He then is supremely suited to be, and to bring, the sacramental presence of Christ and the church to the world. The majority of deacons (but not all) still work full time in secular employment; the majority of deacons (but not all) are married and have families.
They, therefore, are clergy who know and live with the same kinds of challenges as lay folks. But they are ordained and sent by the bishop to do so even as they live a life of contemplation and prayer and charity and sacramental presence. They then are especially able to activate and assist laity in carrying out their specific apostolic role in professional and political and civic life.
It is noteworthy that the roots of the modern diaconate began during World War II in the Dachau concentration camp as priest-prisoners began praying and thinking about what would be needed for the restoration of culture and civilization in Europe after the war.
Is it indeed possible that the Holy Spirit has ideally suited the deacon (and his wife and family and work) to help rebuild the culture of life and marriage and family that is so under attack today? Many deacons will tell you that some of their most significant ministry takes place at home or at work when not “on duty” but when those around them come to them for prayer or counsel or a listening ear, precisely because they know and see that this is a man of the church.
We recently had a deacon candidate leading others in praying the Liturgy of the Hours at his work simply because others — and not all Catholic — saw him praying and wanted to join in. When we look at the five strategic priorities for the church identified by the U.S. bishops this past year, we see the deacon ideally ready for the New Evangelization.
Pursuit of holiness
Finally, because the deacon usually lives as a lay person would, he can be a singular model of the holiness — the self-gift — to which we are all called. He comes from our midst. As he stands at the altar and raises the chalice of suffering, he is offering not only his own self to the Father, but he carries with him the suffering and needs of all those with whom he comes in contact. He knows the injustice; he bears the challenges. He makes the sacrifice of his life for the sake of all.
Who does this — and why?
We are grateful for the more than 200 men from all walks of life who have been ordained a deacon in this archdiocese since 1975. About 140 are still active in official ministry; all are servants in prayer and witness.
For those who are married, their wives and children (and even grandchildren) likewise make an offering of their lives — and certainly of their husbands and fathers.
Many of the wives generously serve in their own right.
And considering that diaconate discernment and formation is at least four years long, at 15 to 20 hours per week, and a deacon then does “official” ministry about 10 hours per week (and the majority often do much more) for no pay and, too often, for little thanks, the question naturally arises: Why do this?
The answer, all will tell you, is simple: love.
Why be a mother or father? Why be a priest? Love. Why be a disciple of Christ? Love — the generous “giving of self,” the dying to self for the good of the other.
By John L. Allen Jr.
Though it’s usually said with great caution, hemmed in with enough qualifications and caveats to feel almost like death by a thousand cuts, nonetheless talk of a rebound in men’s religious life in America is quietly making the rounds.
While relations between some orders and church officialdom still have their ups and downs, overall there are signs of an improving climate. For example, the keynote speaker for the most recent assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the main umbrella group for men’s orders in the United States, was the papal nuncio, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who voiced admiration and encouragement for the work of religious orders in America.
Now, a new study has revealed some rays of light on the vocations front.
Sponsored by the National Religious Vocations Conference and conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, the 406-page study was released in early August. It contains a massive amount of data, but here’s one sample finding: Fully 43 percent of new members of religious orders today, both men and women, are under the age of 30.
Holy Cross Br. Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocations Conference, spoke with NCR in late August about the study, a multiyear effort based on surveys of religious institutes, focus groups with new members, and a close-up examination of selected orders that have been especially successful in attracting and retaining new members.
NCR: What do we learn from this study?
Bednarczyk: First of all, that religious life has a future. While the numbers aren’t huge, the presence of young people is striking. Where once many people were looking at older vocations, we found that among men the average age of new entrants is 30. Second, we’re becoming more diverse, and not just in terms of culture, ethnicity and language. Seventy percent of new entrants now have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have either had full-time jobs or were doing some sort of church ministry before they entered.
What works in generating vocations?
The days are long gone when a vocations director can simply sit in his office waiting for candidates to come to his door. You have to be present where young people are, which means ministries that target young audiences, and it means the Internet. You have to be proactive.
Communities with a full-time vocations director, working as part of a team, have a higher percentage of new members. The team can be made up of laypeople, other members of the community, or whoever. What matters is that at some point in the history of the congregation, a commitment was made to building a vocations culture, so it’s not just the vocations director. There’s a sense of corporate responsibility. They’ve done the internal work to understand what this means. All members are vocations directors, in that they feel a responsibility to give witness and to actively invite people to join them. They give an example of joy, integrity, and the conviction that their charism is a gift to the church.
Can you point to an example of a community that does this especially well?
In the study, we looked at three men’s orders that have had success: the Divine Word Missionaries of the Chicago province; my own community, the Holy Cross Fathers of the Indiana province; and the Marianists. At Moreau Seminary [a Holy Cross seminary adjacent to Notre Dame], we’ve got 11 new candidates. There’s been an awful lot of work done in this area within the congregation itself. (How about the Dominicans of the St. Joseph Province, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Benedictines at Clear Creek, and the Institute of Christ the King among others. Pretty big omission not to mention any of these communities and the number of vocations they're getting.)
What else works?
You’ve got to be present on the Internet, including making use of online promotional materials, keeping your Web site up to date, and so on. Given the diminishing numbers in religious life, young people are more likely to meet a congregation when they Google “vocations” than physically. Having a successful Web presence helps, including social networking, Facebook and Twitter. Some communities post video clips, or invite people to e-mail members of the community. At [the National Religious Vocations Conference], we launched a vocation-network.org  site in response to sites like eHarmony.com , in this case connecting candidates with communities. You can fill out an online profile, which includes things like your geographic region, desired community size, whether or not they wear a habit, etc., and at the end a list of maybe 20 communities pops up where you can begin your discernment. We used to rely on mail-in coupons, which would generate maybe 1,000 responses a year. Over three years, this Web effort is averaging about 7,000 responses a year, which obviously confirms the importance of being on the Internet. A high percentage of these Web contacts say they expect to be in an initial formation somewhere within a year.
You don’t want to be too slick, of course. What’s most important is that there has to be consistency between what you say about yourself on the Web site and how your community actually lives. If a candidate comes in and senses an inconsistency with the lived reality, they’ll move on.
The thing to remember is that these are only tools to bring someone into contact with a real person. Relationships are ultimately what make the difference. Any program or event that brings a potential candidate into relationship with members of a community is very helpful, such as “Come and See” weekends, retreats and so on.
What about traditional springboards for vocations, such as Catholic schools?
The study found a difference between men and women in terms of how they find the community they end up joining. Men are more likely to learn about their community by going to a school or other institution sponsored by that community. Women, on the other hand, either know members of the community personally or were recommended by a friend. Partly, I think that’s because men’s orders are still connected to the institutions they sponsor a bit more thoroughly, so that the religious are still a presence within those institutions.
The conclusion seems obvious: If we want vocations, we need to put our members into ministries where they’re most likely to come into contact with target groups, which means being present in schools, doing campus ministry, youth ministry and so on.
What style of religious life seems most attractive to younger members today?
Communities with a strong sense of Catholic identity are clearly finding more vocations. As one sign of that, two-thirds of younger members belong to communities that wear the habit. That’s only one manifestation of identity, however. Younger members are also concerned with prayer styles, commitment and fidelity to church teachings, and a strong community life. They’re interested in a disciplined prayer life, including the daily Eucharist, the liturgy of the hours, and traditional Catholic devotional practices.
Why is that?
I think generations have a lot to do with it. Religious today under 30 have had a very different experience of church than their older brothers and sisters, who came in during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) or before. For the younger ones, their defining experience has been John Paul II and now Benedict XVI, emphasizing a strong sense of Catholic identity and a call to service. That’s what they’re responding to. They’re not making judgments about other communities, but they’re simply going to those communities that respond to their needs.
Does the study find significant differences between men and women?
The broad trends apply equally to men and women, but there are some interesting wrinkles. For example, more men are in formation right now than women, even though there are fewer men’s institutions. The men, however, have a lower retention rate. In part, I suspect that’s because some men’s communities have pre-seminary and pre-novitiate programs where there’s greater turnover. Three-quarters of men are in seminary formation leading to the priesthood, while one-quarter are preparing for religious brotherhood.
Men are also more likely to have participated in youth ministry programs before entering religious life, which again illustrates the imporance of that kind of outreach.
One interesting point about the habit is that 48 percent of men who belong to a community without a habit said they’d wear one if they had that option, but only 25 percent of women said that. Sometimes the perception is that it’s the women who are embracing the habit most enthusiastically, but that’s not what the study showed.
What’s the bottom line?
Our numbers are smaller, but religious life is going to continue. I hope that the study will serve as a benchmark for this century, because sometimes I think we keep comparing today’s membership numbers with the post-World War II surge, which actually was an anomaly. But that’s what we know, so it’s what we think about. I think this study gives us a better baseline for looking ahead.
Over our 2,000-year history, religious life has undoubtedly faced greater challenges than those confronting us today. Whatever happens, the religious will still be here
Monday, September 14, 2009
By Carl Anderson
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, SEPT. 14, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A couple of years ago, when Benedict XVI visited with some students, two of them asked him a question that could have come from anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic alike.
They asked: "Is there someone or something by means of which we can become important? How is it possible to hope when reality negates every dream of happiness, every project of life?”
I think many people share these questions. The poor, the elderly, the sick, the immigrant, the stay-at-home parent or the 9-to-5 worker -- nobody wants to be dispensable or to feel worthless or trapped. Unfortunately, many people feel that way in different areas of their life. And I think it’s a dangerous symptom that we can’t overlook. It’s a symptom that something about our culture is so unhealthy that its people lose hope.
But although the two students asked what seemed to be a secular question, the only good cure is returning to one’s original vocation: the call to love.
Often, when speaking about youth and the future of the Church, people bring up the “vocation crisis.” However, in order to respond to the crisis it is vital that we respond in a way that underscores the underlying sameness of the vocations.
However different each vocation is -- priesthood, marriage, consecrated life -- they each have the same goal. All are different manifestations of the vocation we all have in common: the vocation to love.
Each vocation requires a total gift of self. Each vocation endures for a lifetime. Each is a path on a journey by which we become more like God who is love. Each has a component that is loving toward each other, manifesting God’s love.
Of course, the reality of this isn’t always clear.
This is especially true looking at the state of Catholic marriage.
Hypothetically speaking, if 23% percent of priests left the priesthood, would we believe we had given them adequate formation for the priesthood? So when in the United States 23% of adult Catholics divorce, is this adequate formation for marriage?
When three out of five failed Catholic marriages are between two Catholics, what does Catholic marriage mean?
When 69% of Catholics between 18 and 25 years of age believe that “marriage is whatever two people want it to be,” what obstacles has their Catholic education faced? And when there is still a paucity of people entering priesthood and religious life, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the future of our vocations?”
Now, this may seem like a hopelessly dire situation. But there is good news. We were created for love, and nothing -- not even secular culture -- an eradicate the call to love from our sensibilities.
The fact is, we cannot dismiss the avoidance of vocational commitment as a result of rampant immaturity. It is also in part due to the fact that people are questioning the authenticity of the love they experience.
Inauthentic love has a name: hypocrisy.
It speaks the language of love, but not its meaning. It offers a unique, unrepeatable gift, but then is quick to take it back. It can be seen in a loveless or careless marriage, a self-centered or apathetic priest, a religious sister or brother without compassion.
The consequence of seeing only inauthentic love is this: Love is seen as something that doesn’t belong to the structures created for love. When families are separated from love, then love is seen as something to be separated from family. When the Church family becomes unloving, then loving becomes something to be found outside the Church.
But there is more good news: Living our own vocations well helps other people live their own vocation.
It helps those already in a vowed vocation to be true to it. It helps those who have not yet given themselves through a specific vocation to be open and to have the courage to say yes to their vocation. A vocation well lived restores trust in love.
The answer is, in Pope Benedict’s words, to have a “harmony between what we say with our lips and what we think with our hearts.”
Another facet of authentic love is perseverance. The witness each of us can give is to continue to love through one’s vocation even during times of spiritual aridity, like Mother Teresa experienced, and St. John of the Cross and many other saints. Such an experience shouldn’t simply be looked on as a step in the spiritual journey of life. It is an experience by which we can relate to all of those who feel disconnected from the love of God in some way.
In a way, this type of spiritual aridity, this failure to “feel” the power of love, is exactly what so many young people feel today. In other’s perseverance, they can find and see the strength of love, the strength of a heart that does not simply feel but a heart that sees and loves according to the truth.
And for many, a litmus test of this authenticity is joy -- and rightly so. And perhaps the greatest obstacle to the reputations of each vocation is not scandal but joylessness -- or what we might call the scandal of joylessness. For this reason, too, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger said the Church doesn’t have “such urgent need” for reformers, but rather what the Church really needs are “people who are inwardly seized by Christianity, who experience it as joy and hope, who have thus become lovers. And these we call saints.”
Each vocation offers a particular answer to the questioning of authentic love. And thus all vocations are necessary.
Additionally, Christ’s transformation of the vocations of marriage and religious life is only made possible -- and fulfilling -- through something else: the establishment of the Church. We are relatives not by our own blood but by Christ’s blood.
In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, family -- in the eyes of God -- was broadened to everyone. God redeemed and involved himself with not just a Chosen People, a people defined by bloodline, but with all people, a people defined by a common origin, the Creator, the one who instilled in us all that common call: that vocation to love.
As Pope Benedict wrote in "Sacramentum Caritatis," “Communion always and inseparably has both a vertical and a horizontal sense: it is communion with God and communion with our brothers and sisters.” We can’t have communion with our fellow human beings unless we have a proper communion with Jesus Christ.
This is why Ratzinger described the whole of human history as a yes or no to Love. And we can only say yes to love with a complete gift of self, first to God, then to neighbor, but to both always in love.