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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI - Connection between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the priesthood

Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo
Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, next Saturday, is at hand and we are in the context of the Year for Priest. I therefore wish to speak of the link between Our Lady and the priesthood. This connection is deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Incarnation. When God decided to become man in his Son, he needed the freely-spoken "yes" of one of his creatures. God does not act against our freedom. And something truly extraordinary happens: God makes himself dependent on the free decision, the "yes" of one of his creatures; he waits for this "yes". St Bernard of Clairvaux explained dramatically in one of his homilies this crucial moment in universal history when Heaven, earth and God himself wait for what this creature will say.

Mary's "yes" is therefore the door through which God was able to enter the world, to become man. So it is that Mary is truly and profoundly involved in the Mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the Son's becoming man, was the beginning that prepared the ground for the gift of himself; for giving himself with great love on the Cross to become Bread for the life of the world. Hence sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the heart of this mystery.

Let us now go to the Cross. Before dying, Jesus sees his Mother beneath the Cross and he sees the beloved son. This beloved son is certainly a person, a very important individual, but he is more; he is an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be the "beloved disciple" and thus also particularly of priests. Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (Jn 19: 26). It is a sort of testament: he entrusts his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he also says to the disciple: "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19: 27). The Gospel tells us that from that hour St John, the beloved son, took his mother Mary "to his own home". This is what it says in the [English] translation; but the Greek text is far deeper, far richer. We could translate it: he took Mary into his inner life, his inner being, "eis tà ìdia", into the depths of his being. To take Mary with one means to introduce her into the dynamism of one's own entire existence it is not something external and into all that constitutes the horizon of one's own apostolate. It seems to me that one can, therefore, understand how the special relationship of motherhood that exists between Mary and priests may constitute the primary source, the fundamental reason for her special love for each one of them. In fact, Mary loves them with predilection for two reasons: because they are more like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because, like her, they are committed to the mission of proclaiming, bearing witness to and giving Christ to the world. Because of his identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel that he really is a specially beloved son of this loftiest and humblest of Mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as to the perfect model for their existence, invoking her as "Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as Protectress of their ministry". The Council continues, "priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 18). The Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we are remembering in particular in this Year, used to like to say: "Jesus Christ, after giving us all that he could give us, wanted further to make us heirs to his most precious possession, that is, his Holy Mother (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l'anima del Curato d'Ars, Turin 1967, p. 305). This applies for every Christian, for all of us, but in a special way for priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary will make all priests, in all the problems of today's world, conform with the image of her Son Jesus, as stewards of the precious treasure of his love as the Good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!

"Families are “fertile ground” for priestly vocations, says the Pope"

From Asia News

Castel Gandolfo (AsiaNews) – “When husband and wife devote themselves generously to the education of their children, guiding and steering them towards the discovery of God’s loving plan, they prepare the spiritually fertile ground from which vocations for the priesthood and consecrated life spring and mature. This shows how closely tied and mutually enlightening marriage and virginity are, beginning with their joint rootedness in Christ’s nuptial love,” said Benedict XVI during his reflection before today’s Angelus in Castel Gandolfo.

The Pontiff said that in this ‘Year for Priests’ we must pray so that “through the intercession of the Saint Curé d’Ars, Christian families may become small churches, and every vocation and every charism, given by the Holy Spirit, may be welcome and valued.”

In order to highlight the importance of family education in stimulating vocations for the consecrated life, Benedict XVI gave as an example the life of Saint Monica, Saint Augustine’s mother, whose liturgical memories were celebrated in the last few days. Saint Monica is in fact viewed as a “model and matron for Christian mothers.”

“A lot of information about her is provided by her son in his autobiographical book, the Confessions, one of the most read masterpieces of the ages. In it we learn that Saint Augustine drank the name of Jesus with his mother’s milk and that he was educated in the Christian religion by his mother, and that its principles remained with him during years of spiritual and moral disorientation. Monica never stopped praying for him and his conversion, and was rewarded for this when he came back to the faith and was baptised. God answered the prayers of this holy mother, to whom the bishop of Thagaste said: ‘it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.’ In fact, not only did Saint Augustine convert, but [also] chose to lead a monastic life and, upon his return to Africa, founded a community of monks. In a quiet house in Ostia (Italy), the final spiritual exchanges between him and his mother —who was waiting to return to Africa— were moving and uplifting. For her son Saint Monica had become ‘more than a mother, the source of his Christian faith.’ For years her one wish was to see Augustine convert, and now she could see him even consecrate his life to the service of God. She could thus die a happy woman, which occurred on 27 August 387 AD, at the age of 56, after she asked her children not to worry about her burial, but to remember her, wherever they were, on the altar of the Lord. Saint Augustine used to repeat that his mother had ‘generated him twice’.”

The history of Christianity, the Pope stressed, “is marked by countless examples of holy parents and truly Christian families, who accompanied the life of generous priests and pastors of the Church.” As an example, in addition to Basil and Gregory of Naziansus (4th century), who came from a “family of saints”, the Holy Father mentioned Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi Mr and his wife Maria Corsini, who lived from the late 19th century till the middle of the 20th, both of whom were beatified by John Paul II in October 2001.

After the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI said that in Italy ‘Save Creation Day’ will be celebrated on 1 September this year; its theme, “air, an element indispensable to life.” He explained that working on behalf of the environment is ecumenically significant because it is an issue that fruitfully brings together Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.

“As I did during the general audience last Wednesday, I urge everyone to do more for the protection of God’s gift, Creation. In particular I encourage industrialised countries to work together responsibly for the future of the planet so that the poorest populations are not the ones to bear the heaviest burden for climate change,’ he said.

"Priest, Who Are You?"


Photo Exhibition Explores Vocation

CANCUN, Mexico, AUG. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The diocese of Cancun-Chetumanal is promoting culture and art along with the priestly vocation in a unique traveling photographic exhibition.

The diocese, headed by Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo, organized this initiative surrounding the Priestly Year, which began in June.

The exhibition titled "Priest, Who Are You?" is the first project of its kind in Mexico.

The project has seven parts, containing some 300 photos, and will be progressively displayed at important moments in the life of the diocese's priests.

The first part consists of over 40 photographs with text and images that aim to reflect the real and spiritual meaning of God's ministers, and their work of preaching, service, and pastoral care of souls.

This first section of the project was opened by the bishop on Aug. 15 at Our Lady of St. John of the Lakes, following a Mass celebrated by the pastor and official promoter of the exhibition, Legionary Father Mario Gonzalez.

In the Mass also opened the official construction of the new Church for the parish, with a blessing of the first stone.

Parishes throughout the state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula, can request and receive the exhibition to create a venue of culture and artistic appreciation for their communities.

The display, which is free, is open to the public and is currently located in the parish of Our Lady of St. John of the Lakes, in Cancun.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Father Raymond J. de Souza: Why priests don't have kids"

From the National Post
By Fr. Raymond J de Souza

Childlessness advocates tell us, in sum, that children require a lot of sacrifices. That's not news. What may be new is that people now feel confident enough to argue publicly that those sacrifices are too great -- in short, that the child is not worth it. I say "may be" new because while the technology has changed over the millennia, the human heart has not. No doubt in every age there were a few who thought children not worth the bother.

The book excerpted in these pages this week makes the argument that life would be more convenient, and therefore happier, without children. That does not really follow. Many things, including most things that give meaning to life, are inconvenient on one level or another. A life of great ease and convenience and even wealth is not necessarily a happy one. Surely the mother at home with toddlers is more constrained than the jet-setting sybarite, but if you know people in both categories, you know that the latter is not necessarily happier than the former.

But any father or mother could tell you that. I, as you would correctly intuit, have no children. Catholic priests of the Latin rite are celibate (the Catholic eastern rites have married clergy).

Understanding the celibacy of the priest requires an understanding of what marriage and children are all about. If they were bad things, or wicked things, or merely things constraining human flourishing, then celibacy would simply be required for everybody. Only if they are good things, very good things, does it make sense to sacrifice them for something greater. So if children are such a good thing, why does the Catholic priest remain celibate?

The first answer is that is how Jesus lived. He chose not to marry and have children, contrary to the norms of his time--and our time too. In the Catholic sacramental world, the priest acts not merely as a representative of Christ, but in the person of Christ Himself. What a priest does no merely human power can do--baptize, forgive sins, consecrate the holy Eucharist. So when the priest acts in the sacraments, it is Christ who acts. The priest then is meant to be an icon of Christ. That is understood, incidentally, even by those who are not Catholic, which is why priestly wickedness occasions so much attention and legitimate opprobrium.

The identification of the priest with Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in the apostolic tradition. Though the apostles were certainly drawn from married men, the biblical witness indicates that they left married life behind, or never married, in response to their vocation. The apostolic tradition has roots even farther back, in the priests of the Jewish covenant, who refrained from conjugal life when engaged in their sacred duties.

There is another dimension at work -- what we call the eschatological dimension. The priest lives now as we all hope to live one day, in the blessedness of heaven. In heaven, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, as Jesus teaches. Marriage and family are for this world. To be sure, it is precisely through marriage and family that most learn the virtues that prepare them for blessedness in heaven. But it remains a preparation.

The priest, and others in consecrated celibacy, lives now as a sign of the world to come, with his life fixed upon the promise of the eternal fulfillment God provides. In freely renouncing the great good of married life and children, the priest points to the world to come. Indeed, without the world to come, the celibacy of the priest would make little sense.

The childless by choice are aiming to maximize some of this world's goods -- education, professional advancement, travel, wealth and, to be blunt, consequence-free sex. For this they are willing to sacrifice their most enduring stake in this world: The only enduring thing we leave in this world is our children. The priest's motivation could hardly be more different. He sacrifices his enduring stake in this world not for more of this world's transitory goods, but for those things that are more enduring than this world itself.

The child by his very nature points to the future. The childless advocates reject the future in favour of the present. The celibate priest points to the future beyond the future even children promise-- eternity.

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles groundbreaking on new convent

Kansas Catholic has a great post about the ground breaking for the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles new convent. Too many pictures and captions to copy here. Please take the time to visit and enjoy the post HERE.

Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

H/t to Fr. Schnippel

"10 Episcopal nuns in Archdiocese of Baltimore to join Catholic Church"

From the Catholic Review
By George P. Matysek Jr.

After seven years of prayer and discernment, a community of Episcopal nuns and their chaplain will be received into the Roman Catholic Church during a Sept. 3 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien.

The archbishop will welcome 10 sisters from the Society of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor when he administers the sacrament of confirmation and the sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the chapel of their Catonsville convent.

Episcopal Father Warren Tanghe will also be received into the church and is discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

Mother Christina Christie, superior of the religious community, said the sisters are “very excited” about joining the Catholic Church and have been closely studying the church’s teachings for years. Two Episcopal nuns who have decided not to become Catholic will continue to live and minister alongside their soon-to-be Catholic sisters. Members of the community range in age from 59 to 94.

“For us, this is a journey of confirmation,” Mother Christina said. “We felt God was leading us in this direction for a long time.”

Wearing full habits with black veils and white wimples that cover their heads, the sisters have been a visible beacon of hope in Catonsville for decades.

The American branch of a society founded in England, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor came to Baltimore in 1872 and have been at their current location since 1917.

In addition to devoting their lives to a rigorous daily prayer regimen, the sisters offer religious retreats, visit people in hospice care and maintain a Scriptorium where they design religious cards to inspire others in the faith.

Throughout their history, the sisters worked with the poor of Baltimore as part of their charism of hospitality. Some of that work has included reaching out to children with special needs and ministering to AIDS patients. Together with Mount Calvary Church, an Episcopal parish in Baltimore, the sisters co-founded a hospice called the Joseph Richey House in 1987.

Orthodoxy and unity were key reasons the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith. Many of them were troubled by the Episcopal Church’s approval of women’s ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and what they regarded as lax stances on moral issues.

“We kept thinking we could help by being a witness for orthodoxy,” said Sister Mary Joan Walker, the community’s archivist.

Mother Christina said that effort “was not as helpful as we had hoped it would be.”

“People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on (in the Episcopal Church),” she said. “By staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct.”

Before deciding to enter the Catholic Church, the sisters had explored Episcopal splinter groups and other Christian denominations. Mother Christina noted that the sisters had independently contemplated joining the Catholic Church without the others knowing. When they found out that most of them were considering the same move, they took it as a sign from God and reached out to Archbishop O’Brien.

“This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit,” Mother Christina said.

The sisters acknowledged it hasn’t been easy leaving the Episcopal Church, for which they expressed great affection. Some of their friends have been hurt by their pending departure, they said.

“Some feel we are abandoning the fight to maintain orthodoxy,” said Sister Emily Ann Lindsey. “We’re not. We’re doing it in another realm right now.”

The sisters have spent much of the past year studying the documents of the Second Vatican Council. They said there were few theological stumbling blocks to entering the church, although some had initial difficulty with the concept of papal infallibility.

In addition to worshipping in the Latin rite, the sisters have received permission from the archbishop to attend Mass celebrated in the Anglican-use rite – a liturgy that adapts many of the prayers from the Episcopal tradition. Mother Christina said 10 archdiocesan priests, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, have stepped forward to learn how to celebrate the Anglican-use Mass.

The sisters expressed deep affection for Pope Benedict XVI. The pope exercises an authority that Episcopal leaders do not, they said. The unity that Christ called for can be found in the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope, they said.

“Unity is right in the midst of all this,” said Sister Catherine Grace Bowen. “That is the main thrust.”

The sisters noted with a laugh that their love for the pope is evident in the name they chose for their recently adopted cat, “Benedict XVII” – a feline friend they lovingly call “His Furyness.”

Click here to read how the Episcopal sisters hope to form ‘diocesan institute.’

Click here to see a slide show of the All Saints' Sisters of the Poor.

"The real 'Sister Act': Black nuns in America"

From The Grio
By Anthony Calypso

Sister Loretta Theresa on the steps of The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary in Harlem, NY (Photo courtesy: Ceci Marquette)

When Sister Georginah Githinji arrived in the U.S. from Kenya she thought of her trip as a miracle.

Githinji, a Kenyan Catholic nun, came to the States in 2004 to look for membership in a new congregation of sisters, or nuns. After visiting a group of Kenyan sisters who were already living in New York, Sister Githinji found the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, an order of African-American nuns based in Harlem. Although Sister Githinji was a lifelong Catholic, who attended Mass daily back home, meeting the Franciscan Handmaids in the U.S. marked the first time that she had ever come across an order of sisters who happened to be African-American.

"I didn't know that there were African-American sisters," says Sr. Githinji, "I saw them for the first time in New York [and] I decided to join the Franciscans."

Read the rest of the article here.

"Pope Benedict XVI: Priests Should Be Witnesses of Love"


Reflects on St. John Eudes' Devotion to Christ and Mary

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A priest must be a witness and apostle of the love that is in the hearts of Christ and Mary, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today during the general audience in Castel Gandolfo in which he reflected on St. John Eudes and the priesthood, in the context of the Year for Priests. The feast of the 17th-century French saint is celebrated today.

Noting the difficulties in 17th-century France, the Holy Father said that "the Holy Spirit inspired a fervent spiritual renewal, with prominent personalities. […] This great 'French school' of holiness also had St. John Mary Vianney among its fruits. By a mysterious design of Providence, my venerated predecessor, Pius XI, proclaimed John Eudes and the Curé d'Ars saints at the same time, on May 31, 1925, offering the Church and the whole world two extraordinary examples of priestly holiness."

Speaking about the formation of diocesan priests, the Pontiff recalled how in the 16th century, "the Council of Trent issued norms for the establishment of diocesan seminaries and for the formation of priests, as the council was aware that the whole crisis of the Reformation was also conditioned by the insufficient formation of priests, who were not adequately prepared intellectually and spiritually, in their heart and soul, for the priesthood."

"This occurred in 1563," he said, "but, given that the application and implementation of the norms took time, both in Germany as well as in France, St. John Eudes saw the consequences of this problem."

The saint, Benedict XVI went on to explain, was moved "by the lucid awareness of the great need of spiritual help that souls were feeling" and as a parish priest, he "instituted a congregation dedicated specifically to the formation of priests."

Path of holiness

The Pope noted that St. John Eudes' proposal for holiness was founded on "a solid confidence in the love that God revealed to humanity in the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary."

"He wanted to remind people, men and above all future priests, of the heart, showing the priestly Heart of Christ and the maternal Heart of Mary. A priest must be a witness and apostle of this love of the Heart of Christ and of Mary," the Holy Father affirmed.

He contended that today as well, there is the "need for priests to witness the infinite mercy of God with a life totally 'conquered' by Christ, and for them to learn this in the years of their formation in the seminaries."

Benedict XVI said that like Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 "actualized the norms of the Council of Trent," he emphasizes the "need for continuity between the initial and permanent moments of formation."

"The time in the seminary should be seen," he proposed, as the "actualization of the moment in which the Lord Jesus, after having called the Apostles and before sending them out to preach, asks that they stay with him."

"In this Year for Priests," the Holy Father concluded, "I invite you to pray […] for priests and for those preparing to receive the extraordinary gift of the priestly ministry. I conclude by addressing to all the exhortation of St. John Eudes, who said thus to priests: 'Give yourselves to Jesus to enter into the immensity of his great Heart, which contains the Heart of his Holy Mother and of all the saints, and to lose yourselves in this abyss of love, of charity, of mercy, of humility, of purity, of patience, of submission and of holiness.'"

"Pune seminary closed as swine flu spreads"

What could be coming for our American seminaries...

From Indian Catholic

A Catholic seminary, billed as Asia’s largest, was closed on Aug. 11 as swine flu spread rapidly in Pune, western India.

“Precaution is better than cure and therefore we have shut down Asia’s largest seminary for one week from Aug. 11,” said Jesuit Father Job Kozhamthadam, president of the Pune-based Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (University of Knowledge Light), earlier known as the Pontifical Athenaeum.

By Aug. 12, swine flu had claimed its sixth victim in Pune, which reported India’s first death from the disease on Aug. 3. Elsewhere in the country, the virus has killed nine other people.

“The airborne disease is entrenched in the city and the virus is spreading fast,” Father Kozhamthadam said, adding that the seminary followed a state health directorate advisory to close all educational institutions. “We don’t want to lose any candidates training for the priesthood” as the virus can be easily transmitted “through coughing, sneezing and human contact,” he added.

The Jesuit priest also said more than 770 students of philosophy, theology and doctoral courses stay at the campus. About 10 percent of students are women and 15 percent are from overseas.

The Indian students come from 68 dioceses and 49 religious congregations. The 116-year-old institute has 30 resident and 25 visiting teachers.

On Aug. 12, Bombay archdiocese closed all its 150 high schools and five colleges for a week. “We don’t want to expose our students to the virus, which is now spreading rapidly,” Father Gregory Lobo, secretary of the Bombay Archdiocesan Board of Education, told UCA News.

On the same day, the Maharashtra government ordered the closure of all educational institutions for a week and shopping malls and cinemas for three days.

Meanwhile, two Vatican officials have confirmed their participation at a national seminar the Indian Bishops’ Committee for Science, Religion and Society plans to hold in Pune from Aug. 18-20. Its theme is “The Christian Faith in a World of Science: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Father Kozhamthadam, an organizer, said Polish Father Tomasz, executive director of the Dicastery of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Pilar Father Theodore Mascarenhas, undersecretary of the council’s Asia Desk, have said they will attend the seminar despite the swine flu outbreak.

“Some Indian participants have canceled their visit to Pune and we will make a decision whether to hold the seminar or not in a couple of days in consultation with Archbishop Thomas Menamparambil of Guwahati, the chief organizer of the seminar,” Father Kozhamthadam said.

The more than 100 invitees to the seminar include bishops, provincials and other Church leaders from India, the priest said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary launches capital campaign

Due to INCREASED enrollment, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary is almost filled to capacity and there is a need to expand and improve the seminary to meet the needs of all the new seminarians. They have launched a capital campaign, "Faith for the Future" to respond to the blessing of the largest incoming classes of seminarians in twenty years.

NY PRIEST - Ordination 2009

The lastest from Grassroots films...

The Secret Garden

Life inside the Pontifical College Josephinum is structured in solemn study punctuated by prayer (and an occasional beer)

This article is part of a weeklong series "Answering the Call" which includes daily articles and slideshows.
By Todd Jones
Photo at left: Deacon Robert Bolding, left, gives the kiss of peace to new deacon David P. Miller during an ordination ceremony for deacons in April. Photo by Fred Squillante

Traffic snaked along N. High Street near I-270 in a bumper-to-bumper line of frustration as the sun rose over the Pontifical College Josephinum.

The taillight-flashing bustle of commuters contrasted with the serenity a few hundred yards away, where students flowed quietly into a chapel inside the seminary's College of Liberal Arts building.

Some carried Bibles, others small prayer books. Each was bleary-eyed and silent.

The mid-February morning was like every morning for those men studying to be Roman Catholic priests at the Vatican-owned school on the Far North Side.

The students were gathering for the 7:30 a.m. recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, a quick prayer they also gather to say in the evening -- and offer in private three other times each day.

"It sets a rhythm to your day," said Deacon Robert Bolding, a fourth-year theologian assigned this day to lead the undergraduates in prayer. "It sanctifies time."

To help replenish its thinning ranks, the Catholic Church needs men willing to dedicate nearly a decade to priestly training that is disciplined, demanding and, Robert said, as slow as a stalactite's growth.

"That's one of the great challenges," said the Rev. Jeff Coning, vocations director for the Diocese of Columbus. "That's eight years that you need a student to sit there and work, and kids today are used to living life by a Palm Pilot. "

Seminarians say the adjustment doesn't come easy, and even those close to becoming priests struggle at times with the rigid structure.

"It's like a real long boot camp," said Robert, a Phoenix native. "Sometimes, I feel choked by the whole routine of it."

His routine has been basically the same -- prayer, Mass, classes, homework -- since he entered the St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., eight years ago, and enrolled in the Josephinum's School of Theology in 2005.

To describe seminary life, he uses the analogy of a tree being surrounded by other trees: it only has one place to grow, and that's up.

"It helps discipline your soul and helps us grow to God," Robert said. "That's the value of formation and living accordingly to the external rules. That's part of what makes you a priest. That's part of learning obedience and self-sacrifice. But it gets old."

Robert, 27, lived his final seminary year alone in an undecorated room without a TV or stereo (although Josephinum rules permit both) in a dorm hall with a community bathroom.

He owned few clothes other than his black clerical garb. He drove his parents' car because he has never owned one.

"Somebody sets my schedule," said Robert, bound by the Josephinum's curfew of 11 p.m. weeknights and midnight on weekends. "If I miss something, I have to have an excuse. It's understandable why it has to be like that in the seminary, but I'm approaching 30."

Still, Robert considered seminary life to be a great blessing, enabling him time to concentrate on studying and discerning God's call.

Each Josephinum student is assigned a Director of Spiritual Formation from the faculty to help guide him through the four pillars of formation -- spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human -- directed by the Vatican and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"You spend hours in prayer to give your will over to God: Is this what you want for me?" Robert said.

Mystery is part of that divine process and also part of this place.

The Josephinum's bell tower rises nearly 200 feet and was the highest point above sea level in Franklin County until the Rhodes Tower was built Downtown in the 1970s.

Every day, thousands of commuters drive by the brick and limestone tower along N. High Street, yet few have stepped inside the Gothic-style administration building or seen its 900 windows, the terrazzo floors or the inlaid wood paneling.

"I think the Josephinum is like the Wonka Factory of Columbus," said third-year theologian John Eckert. "Everybody knows it's there, and they've seen it, but they have no idea what goes on behind the gates."

Seminarians who venture off their private campus, 11 miles north of downtown Columbus, hear their home described by outsiders as the castle in Harry Potter movies.

The Josephinum sits on 75 pastoral acres, with manicured fields (including a cemetery) and a front driveway lined with trees. The collection of four buildings houses dormitories and four chapels.

A curious Ohio family once stopped by the school -- the only pontifical seminary outside Italy -- and visited with its rector and president at the time, Monsignor Paul Langsfeld.

"They thought it was a monastery where we milk cows, make our own bread and make curd," said Langsfield, who left the school in July for a new assignment.

With the Catholic Church need- ing more priests, the Diocese of Columbus' vocations director often finds himself addressing misconceptions about seminary life.

"Parents want to know: How often am I going to see my kids?" Coning said. "The big concern of (candidates) is: Are they going to be able to socialize and have friends like they would at other places?"

Josephinum students discover that they have time for social and athletic recreation. The school offers intramural sports and hosts a basketball tournament each February for visiting seminary teams.

J.J.'s Pub, the campus bar in the basement of the theology building, has a flat-screen TV and is home to karaoke, the "Pub Olympics," trivia nights, Mardi Gras and Super Bowl parties, and fantasy football league arguments.

"Guys have fun," said Deacon Michael Ross, the Josephinum's academic dean. "They like their rock 'n' roll. They're not walking around here uptight and never smiling. They're young American guys. It's not monks. It's not prison."

Demands were different when Monsignor John Joseph Jessing, a German immigrant, founded the Josephinum in 1888 at 17th and Main streets, near Downtown. (The school moved to the Far North Side campus in 1931.)

Before the Vatican II conference, during which bishops made liberal changes to church doctrine and practices in the mid-1960s, the Josephinum was more rigid. Students spoke only German in the first half of each month. Their mail was censored. A priest chaperoned them off campus.

"Those days are long since gone," Ross said.

To get out that message, the Josephinum, which had a high school until 1967, conducts campus tours. Students' families are invited to spend a weekend at the seminary each fall, and the public is welcome at the school's annual Irish Festival in February.

"It's good for people to interact with vocations and see that priests just don't fall out of the sky," Robert said.

The call to priesthood is more mysterious than momentous.

"It's the still, small voice -- an idea you can't get out of your head," Robert said. "It's something you're drawn toward."

Although the seminary helps with discernment, doubt still creeps in.

"You're never certain you can do it," Robert said. "I know being this close (to ordination), I could not do what a priest needs to do without the grace of God."

Robert was reminded of that in late February when he assisted in a Mass attended by 68 Josephinum undergraduates, most of them barely removed from high school.

Some were nearly a decade younger than Robert, and many won't become priests.

Langsfeld said the Josephinum sees up to 20 percent of its undergrads drop out each school year.

"It's normal for a collegian to come and realize over a certain part of time that this is not for him," Langsfeld said. "We've had guys come, leave, and come back after several years."

Robert did so. Three semesters shy of his undergraduate degree, he withdrew from St. John Vianney College Seminary.

He was 21, struggling with faith issues and "just not feeling it."

"I didn't have the maturity then to stick it out with the ups and downs of the seminary," he said.

Robert stayed in St. Paul, moved into an off-campus apartment, took a catering job and continued school as a nonseminarian at the University of St. Thomas.

His parents, Patty and Al Bolding, never questioned their son's decision.

"We just supported him," said his mother. "We told him, 'Robert, you've got to follow your heart and listen to what God is telling you.'"

Free from the seminary, Robert dated a woman for six months, but the relationship ended. He traveled to Rome and felt stirred to return to the seminary.

When he returned to Minnesota to finish school, he met an attractive woman.

"It was a platonic relationship, but I really loved this girl, and she reciprocated that love," Robert said.

That love, however, couldn't eclipse his heart's calling. Robert decided to re-enter the seminary and was accepted back by the Diocese of Phoenix, which sent him to the Josephinum in 2005.

"Anytime I have a moment of second-guessing, I always have that to rely on: I loved somebody, she loved me, and I still knew I was called to the priesthood," he said.

Now, four months shy of the priesthood, Robert gave the Mass homily to undergraduates who face their own questions about the future.

"Jesus says, 'If you want to follow me, you have to take up the cross and come after me,' " Robert preached. "If you want to live, you have to throw your life away. That tells us the Christian life is about death."

He understands now that the seminary is a place you go to die -- to give up your secular desires and rise to God's wishes.

Homily complete, Robert sat down in the silent chapel.

A priest stood up.

"For an increase to the priesthood and the religious life, we pray to the Lord," he said.

The young seminarians answered in unison:

"Lord, hear our prayer."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Could I be back to posting?

I don't want to speak to soon, but it seems that I could begin posting again. The past few months have been interesting to say the least. Disregard all the things in our personal lives, work has provided a full plate. The exciting news is that we are putting the finishing touches on this year's vocations poster and a brand new website for the Office of Vocations in the Diocese of Raleigh. The new website will also have a blog, which I will be PAID to maintain. As a part of that, I will keep this blog up as well, since there will be some natural overlap. I'm sure many people have long since stopped visiting this blog, but hopefully word will go out that it may be coming back to life.

Pope Benedict XVI - early days of his vocation

Cardinals' Vocation Stories

Vatican to Prepare Document on Seminarians


VATICAN CITY, AUG. 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican is aiming to prepare a "brief, forceful and very clear" document on the formation of seminarians as one of the elements to close the Year for Priests.

This was affirmed by Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano today.

The archbishop explained that the preparation of the document over upcoming months will imply a meeting of the congregation's permanent commission, made up of members of various dicasteries who deal with the formation of future priests.

The congregation, the prelate added, wants to send a message to priests that they have been "chosen, [the priesthood] is an honor. Be happy to be a priest."

Archbishop Bruguès added that "a good number of the youth who apply to the formation centers in nations such as Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United States have a very good professional formation, sometimes high level university education, but they lack general culture, and above all, a Christian culture."

The archbishop recommended compensating for this lack with a preparatory year at the beginning of seminary formation, such that the formation process itself is adapting to the profile of present generations.

The congregation oversees 2,700 seminaries, 1,200 Catholic universities and 250,000 Catholic schools around the world.

In these institutions, Archbishop Bruguès said, "we are developing a culture of excellence, putting special emphasis in the integral formation of the person, especially his spiritual dimension, which runs the risk of being forgotten in a secularized society."