If you are actively discerning a vocation to the Priesthood, Diaconate, Consecrated Life, or Marriage and you are looking for information to help in your discernment, BE SURE TO CHECK the section at the bottom of the right sidebar for the "labels" on all posts. By clicking on one of these labels it will take you to a page with all posts containing that subject. You will also find many links for suggested reading near the bottom of the right sidebar. Best wishes and be assured of my daily prayers for your discernment.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cardinal Bertone Tells His Vocation Story

From Zenit

By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, JULY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- For this week's contribution to "God's Men," the column with which ZENIT is celebrating the Year for Priests, we present an exclusive interview with Benedict XVI's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

* * *

ZENIT: When did you discover your vocation to the priesthood?

Cardinal Bertone: I discovered it precisely when I was studying the fifth year of gymnasium -- what would today in Spain be the first year of bachillerato, or in Mexico or the United States, the second year of preparatory or high school -- in the Salesian Institute of Turin, in Valdocco, which is the first institute founded by Don Bosco.

There, I studied secondary school and bachillerato (liceo) and honestly, before that, I had not felt any desire to be a priest, despite living among exemplary priests who were my professors and educators. Instead, I wanted to study languages and dedicate myself to seeing the world, and thus, something very different -- something like international relations, in a certain sense.

Later on, a Salesian priest who was my Greek professor, made a proposal to me: "We are organizing a three-day priestly discernment encounter. You can come and think about your future." I accepted and after these three vocational discernment days, I decided that inasmuch as it depended on me, I would become a priest and join the Salesian congregation.

On May 24, 1949, I gave this news to my parents, who traditionally made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Help in Turin. They were somewhat surprised, given that they had never heard me speak of plans to be a priest. They told me, "If the Lord wants this, we will not object. Indeed, we are quite happy. But remember that it will depend on you to be faithful and therefore, it is you who has made this decision."

That's how I began the path of my vocation, with the novitiate and then, with the whole program of studies, etc.

ZENIT: And who helped you to follow this path?

Cardinal Bertone: In a special way, the Salesian educators, and particularly at the beginning, the master of novices. I lengthened the novitiate four months because I was so young. Theoretically back then, the novitiate began at age 15 and ended at 16, with the first profession. I still hadn't turned 15 when I entered on Aug. 16, 1949, and therefore, I extended the novitiate until I turned 16 in December of 1950. That's when I made my religious profession. Afterward, the Salesians and excellent confessors accompanied me.

I should mention that at the beginning I asked advice regarding this decision from a confessor -- an 84-year-old priest -- who heard confessions behind the main altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of Help, and to whom I regularly went to confession. He gave me his counsel. He told me: "Look, this is a very large task. You will have to prepare yourself very well. But remember that I have been a priest for 60 years and I have never regretted it." So, encouraged by this testimony too, I followed this path, though in visiting home, I had a bit of a problem, a bit of nostalgia. But my parents told me: "Finish the whole testing period and the study program, because it was you who made this decision. And after that, you can make a more mature choice." And at the end, I made the decision to continue to priestly ordination, which happened July 1, 1960.

ZENIT: Along this path, what was the role of the Salesians' founder, Don Bosco?

Cardinal Bertone: Certainly Don Bosco was an extraordinary model of a priest, and his followers, his sons, who were my professors and educators, represented him very well. They offered me beautiful testimonies that sparked in me the desire to follow this path and encouraged me in it. In my life, Don Bosco has always been present. He has guided me in my growth toward the priesthood and afterward as a priest, in the missions that I have had as a Salesian, from being major rector of the Pontifical Salesian University, here in Rome, and formator of many candidates to the priesthood -- very many.

Later on he has guided me in my life as a bishop: first as the archbishop of Vercelli and then in Genoa and now, as the secretary of state, as the closest collaborator of the Pope. Don Bosco taught me to be faithful to the Pope, to give my life for the Pope and for the Church, something which I try do with my limits, but with all my strength.

ZENIT: What have been the greatest difficulties and the most beautiful satisfactions?

Cardinal Bertone: As I mentioned, I had some difficulties during my formation, as I felt a certain nostalgia for the past, for life with my companions and friends. But I stayed strong in following my vocation. Those who were my age, who didn't think that I would follow this path, especially my classmates from liceo -- I studied liceo as a Salesian but with 30 companions who now have professions and a beautiful role in Italian society and have supported me -- they told me: "If you are a priest, you should be like Don Francesco Amerio." He was our great professor of liceo, of history and philosophy and also religion. For me, he was a model, one who has supported me -- and I've still got my notes from his religion classes. That is proof of the influence had by this priest, this professor, who my companions presented to me as a model.

Afterward I had difficulties, especially in the years from 1968 to 1972. I was here in Rome -- I was a professor at the Salesian University and also a formator for candidates to the priesthood. We had a large number of theology students in what was then the Pontifical Salesian Atheneum: 140 theology students who felt the pressure and the influence of the changes of '68, of the debate and the whirlwind of opinions. It was after the [Second Vatican] Council. But we had had moments of a lot of friction and of clashes of opinions and people, and as the superior, I had to make decisions on these students' admission to holy orders. We kept up a very intense dialogue with the students. Those were times of great student meetings, with discussions that lasted hours, even late into the night. Thus, moments of tension, but also of overcoming these tensions.

Then as a bishop, and as an archbishop of the two dioceses that I have guided, both of them by appointment of Pope John Paul II, I also had moments of confrontation, sometimes taxing situations, with this or that problem that arose in the local Church. When I was secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there were also some doctrinal problems given us to analyze and judge, and sometimes they were very grave problems at the doctrinal, moral or disciplinary level.

But in this role I have also had very beautiful satisfactions: The fact of having guided and of having had a fraternal community, I would say relationships of fraternal communion, of strong friendships, which continue even to today, when I run into old students or bishops from all over the world.

I have had moments of authentic communion, of fraternal friendship in the joy of fidelity to the Pope, in the joy of fulfilling our priestly and episcopal ministry, or because of the fact of having led many youth to the priesthood. Then there is the episcopal fatherhood in priestly ordinations and in episcopal ordinations, which now are more and more frequent in my role as secretary of state, with the ordination of many collaborators of the Pope and also of many local bishops.

This is a great satisfaction: The great people of God is made up as well of the pastors of the Church, with their various responsibilities, with their diverse roles, according to the vocation and charism that the Holy Spirit distributes. This people that journeys in profound unity is truly a beautiful sign of the benevolence of God for the Church and all of humanity. I experience this in the meetings I have with the local Churches, with the pontifical representatives all over the world, and with the leaders of states who come to visit the Vatican and express their appreciation, their recognition of the Church's work, of the testimony the Church gives, whether it be in the field of formation, above all in the area of education, or in the field of promotion of the human person, social promotion, or special assistance to the weakest classes of society.

Thus, I give thanks to the Lord for the gift of the priesthood and also for the gift of the episcopacy. And I wish everyone a good Year for Priests!

[This interview can be seen in its original Italian at www.h2onews.org]

[Translation by Kathleen Naab]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"In the Name of the Father: Life's journey leads to the altar for Tim Gallagher"

From the Morgan County Citizen
By Meg Ferrante

The Mother’s Day brunch at St. James Catholic Church in Madison was just starting to break up when a stranger entered the social hall. He was covered from head to toe in grime. He almost looked like he’d been in a fire.

There were some murmured whispers. A few people jumped to get him some food. But one man sat down with him. Prayed over his meal and offered to listen as the stranger, in clear agony, clutched his head and shared his story. Homeless and hungry, the stranger had hitchhiked from Maryland and was waiting for a ride to Texas where he hoped to start his life over. He was ashamed to be there, ashamed to be asking for help, but he didn't know where else to turn.
As the last few families scrambled off to pamper their mothers, one man reached out to touch this stranger’s arm, let him know he had time. All day if necessary. In fact, just weeks away from giving himself to God as a Catholic priest, Tim Gallagher just happened to have a lifetime.

A lifetime ago, Tim Gallagher was a tight end for the Morgan County Bulldogs, chasing girls and trying to fit in just like the rest of his classmates. He joined the Army because he didn't want his parents to have to pay for college. He served in Operation Desert Storm and then attended the University of Georgia like so many of his friends. He had a career as a physical therapist, did volunteer work building houses in Mexico and was looking forward to marriage and a family.

A bit adrift in his Christian identity, Gallagher was involved with a Protestant missionary group and not even going to Catholic Church all the time. Then something happened. Not a lightning strike or a miracle. More like a slow-growing seed that began to bear fruit. Or the pieces of a complicated puzzle falling into place.

He decided to settle his questions about Catholicism by praying the rosary. He studied with an Apologetics class to learn more about the reasoning behind Catholic teaching. He joined a young adult ministry and social club. And the capstone on his reconversion was returning to the sacrament of reconciliation--confessing his sins to a priest--which he had not done in a decade.

"When my faith was awakened to the fact that the [Catholic] Church was really the true Church, my belief in the sacraments was awakened," Gallagher said. "I came to see priesthood and marriage as gifts from God. Priesthood became an option. But deep inside I thought I could never do that."

This past Saturday, the Archdiocese of Atlanta ordained eight new priests in a three-hour ceremony at the Cathedral of Christ the King. And Sunday morning at Madison's tiny St. James, a record crowd crammed the sanctuary to celebrate Fr. Timothy Joseph Gallagher's first Mass. Nearly 300 were in attendance, with overflow in the social hall watching on closed-circuit television. At the altar, Gallagher was surrounded by seven priests, three seminarians, two Franciscan brothers of the Primitive Observance, one deacon and four altar boys.

The choir was tripled in size for the occasion. Mothers and grandmothers were escorted to their seats in front of 58 family members. Pomp and circumstance was on full parade. "There's no stopping an exuberant celebration, especially when the congregation is so proud of one of their own," said Monsignor Peter Dora, priest at St. James.

But there were many solemn moments as well. Fr. Brett Brannan, the Vice Rector of Mount St. Mary's where Gallagher attended seminary, spoke of Gallagher's coming responsibilities.

"A priest is a priest not for himself. A priest is a priest for his people," Brannan said.
He reminded Gallagher that he will be tempted and discouraged by the devil, as Satan knows that a priest's job is to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to the people. But he praised Gallagher's joy for life.

"People need joy in their priests. And why not? We have the greatest message in the world to share!" Brannan shared with the congregants.

Gallagher took the lead at last when he gave voice to the liturgy of the Eucharist for the first time.

"This is the point where I bring about true body and blood of Jesus," he explained in an earlier interview. "It is the apex of every priest’s existence, to consecrate the bread and wine into the true presence of Jesus." This, he said, was one part of the planning making him nervous. "I'm just going to try to do my part to keep a prayerful presence with the Lord in the Mass and hopefully I won’t mess it up."

"The Lord be with you," he sang, beginning the commemoration of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.

"And also with you," answered the church.

"Lift up your hearts."

"We lift them up to the Lord."

And on he sang. His voice cracked, but only once. He slowly relaxed into the prayer like a man born to pray it.

Following his reconversion, Gallagher made a fateful move by telling an old friend. He was a priest Gallagher didn't realize was working to advise Catholics in Atlanta who might be interested in priesthood. The priest shepherded Gallagher through classes to help him understand God's will and eventually forced an application for priesthood on him. It sat on his desk for more than a year.

The application might well have continued collecting dust if not for divine intervention.

"God made it obvious he wanted me to take next step," Gallagher said.

While in Jamaica, doing physical therapy for the handicapped children of Mustard Seed mission, he made a bold offer to the mission's priest. "I'll leave it all to do this," he told Fr. Gregory. He loved mission work and secretly hoped it would be a way out of priesthood.

Gregory turned him down, telling him he was needed more as a priest.

"It was those kind of things..." Gallagher said. "God giving me voices here and there, putting people in my life at different times, me resisting it all the way. It was a battle."

He finally decided to put off deciding. He would become a seminarian and pray more about it.

Seminary was no less a challenge for Gallagher. He had to readjust his attitudes about priesthood in general. "I thought only weird guys pursued that. But there were normal guys, going through the same process, guys praying to follow in the steps of Jesus. The attraction to women and marriage was still very strong , but we just prayed and tried to listen to God."

He fought another battle trying to understand God's will for which order of priest he should join. He spent a year with the Franciscans of the Primitive Observance, who live in ultimate simplicity, pray all day, sleep on the floor, hitchhike rides and beg for their food. Ultimately he felt himself called back to Archdiocesan life where his interaction with a congregation is assured and where, thanks to his time with the Franciscans, he plans to live, like his hero St. John Vianney, as a "simple parish priest."

Every story has a back story, and the interesting one here lies in Tim's mother, Becky, who is Baptist.
She said that she and Tim's dad, John, spent 90 percent of their dating days wondering how a Catholic and a deep-south Baptist could ever make it work. She's as proud as anyone about Tim's choice and credits Tim's insight and deep beliefs to being brought up in a home with two separate practices of faith.

"We would visit my parents and go to Baptist church to honor them," she said. "The four-hour car trip would usually spawn a discussion of our faith. Sometimes heated. We all came to the conclusion that our faith was the same, though our practice was different."

Becky, who attends Antioch Baptist in Godfrey, was overjoyed when her 90-year-old mother agreed to attend the ordination and first Mass, the only family member to do so.

"She's been telling people, 'When everybody gets to heaven, everybody's going to be rubbin' elbows with people of all different religions, even Catholics, so we'd better get used to it here on earth.’”

John has his own interesting tale to tell. In the seminary himself for three years, he never pushed it on his kids. "I wonder if I might have done more," he said. "I prayed that they would do what God would want them to. So this was God's will. I knew it would work out."

In two weeks, Gallagher begins his first assignment, as a parish priest right down the road at St. Pius XII in Conyers. St. James' priest says this poses only one problem. Loss of bragging rights. "We could say we had the largest number of seminarians proportionally speaking of any congregation in the Atlanta archdiocese, possibly in the whole country,” he said. “All of that came to an abrupt end yesterday." He was quick to point out that as God has blessed this little congregation with a priest, the church will continue to pray for another. (And a return to distinction.)

Gallagher ended the Mass telling the youth of the church to listen for God's calling and have the courage to answer. After all, in his case, he says, "for me to do this is evidence of God’s mercy and grace in the world. I think He really had to change my heart for me to pursue this. In His mercy and patience, Jesus is calling men to be priests. Jesus is calling all of us to follow Him. Any sacrifice is worth gaining heaven."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 4 JUL 2009 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received the 120 participants in a European congress on the pastoral care of vocations which was held in Rome and focused on the theme: "The Gospel of vocation for young people in European culture". The Pope reminded them how "concern for vocations is one of the pastoral priorities for all dioceses, and assumes even greater importance in the context of the recently-inaugurated Year for Priests".

The parable of the sower was the focus of the work of the congress, in which context the Pope noted how "the sower scatters the seed of the Word of God, well aware that it may find inadequate soil that will not allow it to grow. ... Nonetheless, the sower does not lose heart, because he knows that part of his seed is destined to find 'good soil', in other words ardent hearts capable of giving a ready welcome to the Word".

"The image of the earth can evoke the situation of families, good or bad as it may be; the working environment, sometimes arid and harsh; days of suffering and tears", he said. "The earth is, above all, the heart of man, in particular that of the young: ... a heart often confused and disoriented yet capable of containing unexpected energy and capacity to give, ready to open itself to a life spent in love for Jesus ... with the certainty that comes from having found life's greatest treasure.

"It is always God and God alone Who sows in man's heart" the Pope added. "Only after the abundant and generous sowing of the Word of God can we then venture along the paths of accompaniment and education, of formation and discernment", he said. "Like Christ, the priest and the animator must be a 'grain of wheat' who sacrifices himself to do the Father's will; who knows how to live hidden from clamour and strife; who abandons the search for visibility and image which so often today are the criterion and even the goal of life for such a large part of our culture, and which fascinate so many young people".

"Be sowers of trust and hope", the Holy Father told his audience. "Many young people today often experience a profound sense of confusion. Not infrequently human words lack future and perspective, they lack also a sense of wisdom. An attitude of frenetic impatience is spreading, an inability to wait. And yet this could be the moment for God: His call, mediated by the force and effectiveness of the Word, generates a path of hope towards fullness of life".

Finally, turning to consider the figure of St. John Mary Vianney who "dedicated his life to the spiritual guidance of others", the Pope said: "The Year for Priests offers us a fine opportunity to rediscover a profound sense of vocational pastoral care, and of its fundamental methodologies. These are: simple and credible witness; shared and harmonious communion within each particular Church; educating people to follow the Lord in everyday life; listening guided by the Holy Spirit in order to direct young people in the search for God and for true happiness; and finally, truth, which is the only thing that can generate inner freedom".

"Modern society has become 'allergic' to sacrifice, warns Vatican official"

From Catholic News Agency

Rome, Italy, Jul 6, 2009 / 11:39 am (CNA).- The secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, warned last week that “modern society has become allergic to the concepts of duty and the spirit of sacrifice,” two notions that have always “belonged to the common heritage of all the great religions” and that are necessary as well for all priests.

During his homily at a Mass for vocation directors in Rome, the French prelate underscored how one’s vocation is always particular and personalized. In being called to the priesthood, men who have this vocation are called by the Lord “to be ourselves, as the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.”

“God’s plan cannot be fulfilled except through sacrifice,” the archbishop said.

“Thus sacrifice becomes an intersection between the human and the divine,” he added. “Sacrifice is the particular means by which we offer to the Lord our personal freedom and we receive in turn all of God’s strength.”

“It was not by chance that the Pope chose to begin the Year for Priests on the most sacrificial feast of all: that of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For this reason, we hope that this year the People of God can recover the joy of the priesthood,” he said.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Annual conference offers encouragement to priests during times of struggle"

From Catholic News Agency

Steubenville, Ohio, Jul 4, 2009 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A five-day conference held at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio earlier this month brought together over 180 priests from across the country to receive support and practical help in order to be "Strengthened in Hope."

The 35th annual Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Conference was held from June 15 to 19. Participants spent time with other priests, deacons, and seminarians, while finding renewal in the sacraments and attending talks and workshops helping them learn how to turn obstacles and challenges into opportunities for hope and witness.

The conference was co-hosted by Father Michael Scanlan and Father David Pivonka, TOR, director of Post-novitiate Formation for the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Regular and superior at St. Louis Friary in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama received Franciscan University’s Shepherd’s Award at the conference. The award was given to Bishop Baker "in recognition of the ways he has helped God strengthen and raise up faithful loving shepherds for his flock."

University Chancellor Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, presented the award in front of an enthusiastic crowd, saying, "Bishop Baker has a real heart for the people and a great pastoral care for his priests, and places a priority on the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life."

Baker was appointed as bishop of Charleston in 1999 and then as bishop of Birmingham in 2007. He is the author of the recent book, The Questioner’s Prayer, and also worked with Father Benedict J. Groeshel, CFR, to write When Did We See you, Lord?

Addressing the gathered crowd, Bishop Baker encouraged his fellow priests to offer their intentions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every day and consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every month. In addition, he strongly recommended that they never miss daily Mass and that they schedule a holy hour at least once a week, if not once a day.

The bishop expressed his hope that during this newly-begun Year for Priests, the lay faithful would "engage themselves in prayer and action for our priests," helping to renew the love and devotion of priests around the world. "The priesthood is the love, the heart, of Jesus," he said.

In addition to the award ceremony, other highlights of the conference included enriching talks and workshops on a variety of theological and pastoral topics, as well as testimonies and opportunities for confession, Eucharistic adoration, daily Mass, and praise and worship.

Father David Toups, associate director for the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations celebrated the 12th anniversary of his vows during the conference. Father Toups conducted a workshop, "Character Produces Hope," in which he called on fellow priests to live moral lives of virtue, striving to "be credible witnesses so the people may believe in Jesus Christ."

Encouraging annual retreats and spiritual direction, Father Toups emphasized the dangers that come from priests failing to comprehend their identity. "The future of the Church is jeopardized when we don’t live in accordance with the great calling we have received," he said. Toups suggested prayers for both priests and laity in support of the priesthood.

Another of the workshops, "Mary: Star of Hope," emphasized the importance of Mary in today’s world as a guiding "Star" pointing towards Christ. Father Leo Patalinghug, director of Pastoral Field Education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, conducted the workshop, saying, "The Blessed Mother is more than a statue and more to us than a simple set of prayers we say on a bunch of beads." Explaining that every saint had a devotion to the Blessed Mother, he continued, "Mary is the great sign of hope. She points to our salvation at the foot of the cross."

Father Patalinghug urged priests to make their everyday lives a reflection of Marian virtues, including humility, obedience, and compassion. "We’re in an age where disobedience is popular and obedience is irrelevant," he said. Yet despite these obstacles, he encouraged priests to persist in the spiritual works of mercy. "Be proud of your Catholic identity," he said.

The final talk, "A Royal Priesthood: Hope for the Church and the World," featured University trustee Diane Brown explaining that without priests, there would be no sacraments, no Church, and no salvation. Brown expressed her gratitude to priests, who are "of more value to mankind than the entire material universe."

Brown spoke about the importance of prayer and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to preach the truth faithfully. "Pray and don’t stop praying," she said, encouraging the gathered priests to boldly carry out their missions on earth. "A world without God is a world without hope. You, my brother priests, are what the world needs."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

New York Times front page article - "U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny"

From the New York Times
By Laurie Goodstein

Photo at left: Mother Mary Clare Millea has been appointed by the Vatican to study the activities of some orders of nuns in the United States. Photo by James Estrin.

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.

Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.

“They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,” said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders (photo at left by Jim Wilson), professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. “Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.”

The more extensive of the two investigations is called an Apostolic Visitation, and the Vatican has provided only a vague rationale for it: to “look into the quality of the life” of women’s religious institutes. The visitation is being conducted by Mother Mary Clare Millea, an apple-cheeked American with a black habit and smiling eyes, who is the superior general of her order, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and lives in Rome.

In an interview in a formal sitting room at her order’s United States headquarters in Hamden, Conn., Mother Clare said she had already met one-on-one with 127 superiors general of women’s orders, many in that room but also in Chicago, Los Angeles, Rome and St. Louis. She is preparing questionnaires to send to each congregation of women and recruiting teams of investigators, mostly nuns and some priests, who will make visits to congregations that she selects. The visitation focuses only on nuns actively engaged in working in society and the church, not cloistered, contemplative nuns.

Mother Clare’s task is to prepare a confidential report to the Vatican on the state of each of about 340 qualified congregations of nuns in the United States, as well as a summary with her recommendations, all of which she hopes to complete by mid-2011.

The investigation was ordered by Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican office that deals with religious orders. In a speech in Massachusetts last year, Cardinal Rodé offered barbed criticism of some American nuns “who have opted for ways that take them outside” the church.

Given this backdrop, Sister Schneiders, the professor in Berkeley, urged her fellow sisters not to cooperate with the visitation, saying the investigators should be treated as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.” She wrote this in a private e-mail message to a few friends, but it became public and was widely circulated.

Mother Clare said she was aware that some women’s institutes “weren’t happy” to hear of the visitation, but that so far about 55 percent had responded in person or in writing.

“It’s an opportunity for us to re-evaluate ourselves, to make our reality known and also to be challenged to live authentically who we say we are,” she said.

Each congregation of nuns will be evaluated based on how well they are “living in fidelity” both to their congregation’s own internal norms and constitution, and to the church’s guidelines for religious life, Mother Clare said. For instance, if a congregation’s stated mission is to serve youth, are the nuns doing that? If they do not live in a convent, are they attending Mass and keeping the sacraments? Are their superiors exercising adequate supervision?

“There’s no intention to make us all identical,” she said.

Church historians said that the Vatican usually ordered an apostolic visitation when a particular institution had gone seriously astray. In the wake of the priest sexual-abuse scandal, the Vatican ordered a visitation of American seminaries. It is now conducting a visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, a men’s order whose founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, sexually abused young seminarians, fathered a child and was accused of financial improprieties. He died in 2008.

But the investigation of American nuns surprised many because there was no obvious precipitating cause.

Sister Janice Farnham, a part-time professor of church history at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said, “Why are the U.S. sisters being singled out, when women religious in other countries are struggling with many issues about the quality of their lives, in the Church and in their societies?”

The visitation could result in some communities of nuns’ being ordered to make changes, but judging from how the Vatican handled previous visitations, those consequences may never become public.

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

The letter goes on to say that, “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses” at assemblies the Leadership Conference has held in recent years, the problem has not been fixed.

The Leadership Conference drew the Vatican’s wrath decades ago when its president welcomed Pope John Paul II to the United States with a plea for the ordination of women. But several nuns who have attended the group’s meetings in recent years said they had not heard anything that would provoke the Vatican’s ire.

Officers of the Leadership Conference refused interview requests, but said in an e-mail message that they had one meeting in late May with the investigators, Bishop Leonard P. Blair, of the Diocese of Toledo, and Msgr. Charles Brown from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, who voiced the Vatican’s concerns. (Bishop Blair declined to comment). In the fall, they said, they will meet again to respond to the concerns.

“We are looking forward to clarifying some misperceptions,” Sister J. Lora Dambroski, president of the Leadership Conference, said in the e-mail message.

Besides these two investigations, another decree that affected some nuns was issued in March by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops said that Catholics should stop practicing Reiki, a healing therapy that is used in some Catholic hospitals and retreat centers, and which was enthusiastically adopted by many nuns. The bishops said Reiki is both unscientific and non-Christian.

Nuns practicing reiki and running church reform groups may have finally proved too much for the church’s male hierarchy, said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns,” (Doubleday Religion, 2006).

Mr. Briggs said of the various investigations: “For some in the leadership circles in Rome and elsewhere, it’s a piece of unfinished business. It’s an effort to bring about a re-establishment of a very traditional, very conservative set of standards for what convent life is supposed to be.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI: The Essential Elements of Priestly Ministry

VATICAN CITY, 1 JUL 2009 (VIS) - The Year for Priests was again the theme of the Holy Father's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope began his remarks by expressing the hope that the Year "may be an opportunity for the inner renewal of all priests and, consequently, for the revitalisation of their commitment to the mission". He then announced that his catecheses over the next few months will focus on the figure of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy "Cure of Ars", on the 150th anniversary of his death.

What most stands out in the life of this saint, said Benedict XVI, "is his complete identification with his ministry. He used to say that a good pastor, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure the good Lord can give a parish".

"In fact, it is by considering the dual term 'identity-mission' that each priest will become better aware of the need for that progressive self identification with Christ which guarantees the faithfulness and fruitfulness of his evangelical witness. Thus, in the life of a priest, missionary announcement and worship are inseparable, just as sacramental identity and evangelising mission are likewise inseparable".

"The goal of priests' mission is, we could say, 'of worship': that all men and women may offer themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, receiving the charity which they are then called to dispense abundantly to one another. ... Love for others, concern for justice and the poor are not so much a question of social morals as the expression of a sacramental conception of Christian morality because, through priestly ministry, the spiritual sacrifice of all the faithful is accomplished, in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the only mediator. This is the sacrifice that priests offer bloodlessly and sacramentally while awaiting the second coming of the Lord".

"In the face of so many uncertainties and so much weariness, even in the exercise of priestly ministry, it is vitally important to regain a clear and unequivocal view of the absolute primacy of divine grace", said the Holy Father. "The mission of each individual priest depends, then, also and above all on an awareness of the sacramental reality of his 'new existence'. Upon the certainty of his own identity - not artificially and humanly constructed but freely and divinely given and received - depends his perennial enthusiasm for the mission".

"Having received such an extraordinary gift of grace with their consecration, priests become permanent witnesses of their own encounter with Christ", and "are able to carry out their mission to the full, announcing the Word and administering the Sacraments.

"Following Vatican Council II", Pope Benedict added, "in some places the impression arose that there were more important things in the mission of priests in our time: some people believed that the priority was to build a new society".

Yet "the two essential elements of priestly ministry" always remain "announcement and power", said the Holy Father recalling how Christ sent His disciples out to announce the Gospel giving them the power to drive out demons. "Announcement and power", in other words "Word and Sacrament, are the pillars of priestly service, over and above the many forms it can take".

The Pope continued: "When the 'diptych' of consecration-mission is not taken into due account, it becomes truly difficulty to understand the identity of priests and of their ministry in the Church. ... During this Year for Priests", he said, "let us pray for all the clergy. ... Prayer is the primary duty, the true path of sanctification for priests and the heart of authentic pastoral care of vocations".

And he concluded: "The low numbers of priestly ordinations in some countries not only must not discourage us, it should stimulate us to dedicate greater space to silence and to listening to the Word, to improving spiritual guidance and the Sacrament of Confession, so that the voice of God, which always continues to call and to confirm, may be heard and followed by many young people".