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Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Discernment and Changes in Formation

From the St. Louis Review Online...

Path to priesthood changing, say those who’ve walked it

by Jennifer Brinker, Review Staff Writer

The times they are a changin’.

That certainly can be said for men who are thinking about a vocation to the priesthood.

And for two archdiocesan priests who attended Kenrick-Glennon Seminary during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, cumulatively, it’s another fact of life that the path in which men today are called to the priesthood is unlike what it was during their time.

Seminary president and rector Msgr. Ted Wojcicki attended St. Louis Preparatory Seminary South and Kenrick-Glennon in the ’60s and ’70s, and Father Michael Butler, director of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations, attended St. Louis Preparatory Seminary North and Kenrick-Glennon in the late ’70s and into the ’80s.

The two recently spoke about their personal experiences of discerning a call to the priesthood and the societal changes they have seen since their days in the seminary.

Msgr. Wojcicki stressed the spiritual steps a man takes to discern a call to the priesthood have not changed but have remained constant for centuries. Those steps include growing in an understanding of one’s self, developing a strong prayer life and receiving guidance from various role models and others in the Church, he said.

However, the priest said, "I think the path by which they’re called to be a priest in the first place is very different."

Reflecting on his own time in the seminary dating back to the 1960s, Msgr. Wojcicki, who sensed a calling to the priesthood at age 13, said almost everyone his age had the same "call story," the tale that described how a man was invited by God to consider the priesthood.

"We went to Catholic school. We served Mass," he said. "We went to church every Sunday. We had young associate priests in the parish, and we liked them. And we thought that we could be like them someday. It wasn’t much more complicated than that," he said.

"There was a large Catholic subculture there that defined all of that."

Today, some of those components may still be there for some men, but many are not, noted the priest.

While he said he couldn’t speak for everyone who has been through the seminary, Msgr. Wojcicki said many men today don’t receive a strong calling to a vocation early in their childhood.

"’What can I do with my life?’ is a very different question than, ‘What am I called to do?’" he said. "We were raised with the idea that we were called to something. If you’re raised with an idea in general, then it’s a lot easier to plant the seed that maybe you’re called to be a priest."

Psalm 1 states: "Happy are those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company of scoffers. Rather the law of the Lord is their joy."

That Scripture passage teaches the path to happiness comes from following God’s will, said Msgr. Wojcicki.

It’s translated into what his parents taught him as a child: "Do what God wants you to do, and you’re going to be happy," he said. "They wanted us to be happy."

As a student at Kenrick-Glennon in the 1980s, Father Butler said, there were a number of structural changes that likely had an effect on the discernment process.

"In the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, things became less structured in the Church and in the seminary," he said, which included downplaying parts of seminary life, such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the rosary or eucharistic adoration. "I think there was a tension about how much was too much," he said.

Today, some of that structure has changed. Kenrick-Glennon requires seminarians to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and participate in other devotional practices, for example.

Father Butler stressed that having less structure in his days as a seminarian was needed during the time. The push for a different framework, he said, came in the days of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate when he "came to realize more structure was needed."

There’s also been a change in the sense of community compared with decades ago, said Father Butler, which ultimately has had an effect on how men are called to the priesthood.

Citing an old study from the 1960s he’d once read, Father Butler said he believes baby boomers were behind the shift from moving from the term job to career. That could be translated into moving the priority on community to placing one’s self first, he said.

The priest noted he’s been reading a book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," in which author Robert D. Putnam describes the breakdown of society as Americans become disconnected from their communities.

In his book, Putnam has cited that while a majority of Americans still claim a serious "religious commitment," church attendance has declined about 25 to 50 percent from the 1950s.

"Nowadays, people don’t seem to be clinging to organizations," Father Butler said. "It’s really hard across the board to get people to join anything."

"But it’s not because people are necessarily rejecting God," he said. "There’s a whole different emphasis that’s it’s about me. With televisions, air-conditioners, Nintendo and iPods, I can find my niche and things that will make me happy without reaching out to the community."

"The idea is we’re asking them to be all God wants them to be — to be what we can be together," said Msgr. Wojcicki. "That’s the difference in the Church.

"We don’t wake up every day and figure out, ‘What can I do today to make my life better?’ It’s ‘What can I do to make other people’s lives better? What can I do to make the world better, the Church better?’ It’s a whole different outlook on life. It’s actually very freeing, once you believe it."

Each era must provide in its own unique way the resources needed to help people discern their calling in life, the two said. In previous generations, for example, St. Louis Preparatory Seminary high schools offered young men a chance to consider a priestly vocation in a formalized setting. Today, the Office of Vocations offers programs and peer groups for men and women considering a vocation as a priest or religious.

It also means reaching out to people of various ages, said Msgr. Wojcicki. The Vocations Office’s programming reaches out to young people from about sixth grade up through young adults who are college-bound or working professionals.

The priest said it’s becoming more common to find men who are deciding on a vocation to the priesthood later in life. He recalled attending the ordination of a man from another diocese and meeting one of his classmates who was in his 50s at the time of his ordination.

"I asked him, ‘When did you receive your call?’ He said, ‘"Oh, I’ve always had it, it just took me 30 years to respond to it.’ But you hear other people say that in other aspects of life, too. I think priests are not unique in that regard."

He offered this advice for families in teaching their children about being called to a lifelong vocation: "Teach them to follow the Golden Rule," he said. "And Psalm 1. The path to happiness is following God’s way. There’s no parent who doesn’t want their child to be happy. But the best way for that child to be happy is following God’s will for them."

Father Butler agreed.

"I would encourage families, individuals, to begin to ask not the questions, ‘What do I want to do?’ ‘What will make me happy?’ Where are my career plans taking me?’ But to ask the more important questions: ‘Lord, how can I best serve you?’ ‘Lord, what are you calling me to do?’ And then do something about it."

1 comment:

liturgy said...


I have been working hard to provide a simple introduction for those starting out on praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what I have prepared:
I would be happy to receive any constructive suggestions to make this a better starting resource. I will incorporate suggestions if they appear helpful – and if other suggestions don’t say the opposite ☺

Please consider placing a link called “Liturgy of the Hours” or “Liturgy of the Hours (ecumenical)” to http://www.liturgy.co.nz/ofthehours/resources.html

Blessings on your venture