From The Catholic Key, Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - When she was in high school before she became a nun, Sister Mary Helen nearly flunked English.
"Sister Mary John was my English teacher," she told a classroom filled with girls at the annual Fifth Grade Vocation Days.
Lori Wood Habiger/Key photo
Sister Mary Helen of the School Sisters of Christ the King works on planting a seed of vocation in the minds of fifth grade girls during Vocation Days at O'Hara High School.
"I did not listen to her when she taught," Sister Mary Helen admitted. "I kept watching her and asking, 'What makes Sister so happy?'"
Only years later after she joined the Lincoln, Neb.-based School Sisters of Christ the King did Sister Mary Helen understand that the source of her high school teacher's joy was the same as the source of her own joy today: Both women answered God's special call to consecrated life.
While she was in college and studying architecture, Sister Mary Helen said, "I met our community of sisters and I knew I had to move on that invitation from God."
Split into two days Feb. 28-29 at Archbishop O'Hara High School, hundreds of Catholic fifth-graders heard the message that God is calling from priests and sisters.
The annual vocation days are designed to plant a seed of vocation into the minds of the students, whether God is calling them to the priesthood, religious life, single life or marriage.
Whatever the call, Sister Mary Helen urged the girls who came to hear her to learn how to pray and to listen to God.
"He has a plan for you," Sister Mary Helen said. "He wants you to be part of the church right now. He wants to use your gifts and your talents."
Sister Mary Helen suggested a simple prayer, formulated by former Lincoln Bishop Glennon P. Flavin: "Dear Jesus, please tell me what you would like me to do with my life, and I will do it."
Father Joseph Totton, pastor of St. James Parish in St. Joseph, told a classroom of boys much the same thing.
He also found his audience pretty well versed in the life of a priest when hands shot up all over the room after he asked what priests do:
"They preach the word of God."
"They lead Masses."
"They pray for everybody," Father Totton quickly added. "They don't just pray for Catholics. They pray for everybody in their parishes."
Father Totton described his own joy at being able to offer Mass every day.
"The Mass gives us the opportunity to participate in Jesus' offering to his Father, and his offering is himself," he said. "At his ordination, a priest is configured in a particular way to Jesus. It is a gift given to him so that he might be of service to all in the church."
Father Totton also told of his joy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
"We ask for forgiveness from God, the almighty Father, and the priest is the conduit through which that forgiveness is given to us," Father Totton said.
"Serving God and answering God's call is cool," Father Totton said. "And he always gives us the help we need to do it."
The message, also delivered by Bishop Robert W. Finn in separate talks for girls and boys, apparently got through.
"God will call us to our vocation," said Hannah Gorman of St. Andrew School in Gladstone. "It is what you are going to do with your life."
Lindsay Cohen and Allison Stiens of St. Gregory School in Maryville said they learned that different orders of nuns wear different habits to identify themselves.
"First they become a novice, then when they become a full nun, they wear blue," said Lindsay of Sister Mary Helen's School Sisters of Christ the King.
"Some nuns wear different things," noted Allison. "Franciscans wear brown."
In his homily at the Mass which ended each day, Bishop Finn again stressed the importance of listening to God and answering his call, even if at first God's call isn't perfectly understood.
"When God calls us, we don't always understand every word, we don't always understand where that might lead in our lives," Bishop Finn said.
"It takes time," the bishop said. "And we should ask people along the way."
Bishop Finn recalled that when he was a boy, he asked a priest in confession if God was calling him to the priesthood.
"I asked, 'Father, how do you know if God is calling you?'" Bishop Finn said.
"He said, 'If you are doing all that thinking about it, then God is probably calling you. You need to listen along the way,'" the bishop said.
Bishop Finn said that priests and sisters and religious brothers all rejoice when others join them in doing the work God is calling them to do.
"It is so exciting for us to have other people join us," Bishop Finn said. "It is so exciting for the sisters to have a young lady say, 'I want to see what your life is all about. It seems like such a happy life.'
"When we have found something so important and so wonderful," Bishop Finn said, "this is something we want to share."
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.