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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Pope Benedict on marriage: key to world peace"

This post is a bit overdue. Special thanks to Michaela for bringing it to my attention some time ago. The element of the post I want to draw particular attention to is the enlarged and highlighted link to a compendium of Pope Benedict XVI's statements and writings about marriage over the past three years. This is an incredible resource - please take the time to at least scan through it. The vocation to Holy Matrimony is in dire need of our attention. Much time has been spent talking about reforming our seminaries, but how little time is spent discussing the reform of marriage in our Church, when in fact holy marriages (families) are where vocations are first formed. Until we begin to address this most pressing of vocations crises, we will most certainly continue to see a shortage of vocations to priesthood and religious life well into the future.

Since this article was published before the Holy Father's visit, it does not contain the following very important element about marriage and family life from Pope Benedict's address to the Bishop's of the United States:

"In this regard, a matter of deep concern to us all is the state of the family within society. Indeed, Cardinal George mentioned earlier that you have included the strengthening of marriage and family life among the priorities for your attention over the next few years. In this year’s World Day of Peace Message I spoke of the essential contribution that healthy family life makes to peace within and between nations. In the family home we experience “some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them” (no. 3). The family is also the primary place for evangelization, for passing on the faith, for helping young people to appreciate the importance of religious practice and Sunday observance. How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society? Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person. Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.

As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II taught, “The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop ... he must devote to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who … assist him in the pastoral care of the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 73). It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved “yes” to life, a “yes” to love, and a “yes” to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord."

From Mercator.net

As the Pope begins his visit to the United States there is one topic he is certain to speak on.

By Megan Gallagher

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A new analysis carried out by myself and Joshua Baker entitled Pope Benedict XVI on Marriage: A Compendium and published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy on the eve of Benedict's historic U.S. visit, finds that in less than three years of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken publicly about marriage on 111 occasions. His pronouncements connect marriage to such overarching themes as human rights, world peace, and the conversation between faith and reason.

Over and over again he has made it clear that the marriage and family debate is central -- not peripheral -- to understanding the human person, and defending our human dignity.

For example, when receiving the credentials of the new U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for America's recognition of the important of a dialogue of faith and faiths in the public square and linked this to respect not only for religious freedom but for marriage as the union of husband and wife:

"I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. . . The American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues-a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse-is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family."

Pope Benedict devoted about half of his message for the January 1 World Day of Peace to the significance of marriage in developing a culture of peace:

"Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace."

Marriage essential to world peace? This may strike American ears as an oddity. If so Benedict has made clear it is not an unintentional one. On September21, 2007, in an address to participants in a conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, Pope Benedict prefigured the same theme:

"There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity. There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages. Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence."

The short pontificate of Benedict XVI is already a standing rebuke to those voices of our time who seek to make us ashamed or embarrassed of caring about marriage and sexual issues, who try to get us to view the contemporary marriage debate as merely a distraction from more important issues. Pope Benedict clearly connects life and marriage, the human person in the human family, with the most fundamental international issues of peace and human rights facing our times.

Maggie Gallagher is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sandals & Fiddlebacks

Yes! Wonderful - Franciscans of the Immaculate celebrating the Extraordinary Form. Not just that, but they have put together a fantastic video of the Mass with exceptionally beautiful music provided by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. Benedictines, Dominicans, Cistercians, and Carmelites all have communities that have either recently or long since embraced the Extraordinary Form, espeically in the wake of Summorum Pontificum. Many of these communities have not just celebrated the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but have fully embraced our Holy Father's theology and teachings about the liturgy that went into his issuing of the Motu Proprio (Continuity of Reform). This strikes me as particularly important as a part of a renewal in some religious communities. When one thinks of the long line of Franciscan Saints, going all the way back to their Seraphic Father Francis, they would have all celebrated or assisted at a Mass that either was the Tridentine Mass, or was something very close to it - in the couple of hundred years before the Council of Trent. The Capuchins would have spent the vast majority of history celebrating this Mass. Saint Padre Pio famously refused to celebrate the Ordinary Form, and some of the last video we have of him, is of him celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Now a beautiful video once again showing sandled Friars in fiddlebacks...

Hat tip to New Liturgical Movement

Pope John Paul II inspires local man to "go for it"

From The Sault Star - Ontario, CA

If Vince Fiore had any doubts that he was being called to the priesthood, they ended when he saw Pope John Paul at World Youth Day in 2002.

The Sault Ste. Marie man attended a papal mass at Downsview Park, in Toronto’s north end. An estimated 800,000 people were there, but the St. Mary’s College graduate felt the Holy Father directed his homily straight at his heart.

“Do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the cross,” he said.

That’s all Fiore needed to hear.

“I thought, ‘All right, no more hesitating. I’m going to go for it,’” he said.

“Now here I am.”

Jean-Louis Plouffe, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, will ordain Fiore on Friday at St. Gregory’s Catholic church.

Fiore, 35, is the first Sault man to be ordained in more than a decade.

“It is my way of saying, ‘I love you, Jesus. I am totally yours,’” said Fiore.

“Becoming a priest is an expression of my love for the one who spared nothing by laying down his own life for love of me.”

His interest in religious life is long-standing. The oldest child of Agostino and Linda Fiore remembers ‘playing mass’ in his room as a youngster.

By the time he was a teenager, Fiore considered “the more popular expectation” of getting a job, marrying and starting a family.

He studied business at Lake Superior State University and University of Windsor for three years, thinking he’d become an entrepreneur and open his own business. But his choice of study wasn’t for him.

Fiore returned to Sault Ste. Marie and worked at Algoma Steel for about four years. By his mid-20s, he started to “ask the deeper questions in life.” Fiore returned to University of Windsor and graduated with a philosophy degree.

He worked as a support services worker with the Children’s Aid Society in Windsor before deciding to enter St. Peter’s Seminary in London in 2003 to see if the priesthood was, in fact, for him.

“I needed to be with people who could help me understand if this call is a genuine or authentic call,” said Fiore.

His “strong inclination” that he would become a priest was confirmed after a pastoral internship at Our Lady of Hope parish in Sudbury, starting in 2005.

“I wanted to really get my feet wet, immerse myself in the experience with the people of God,” said Fiore.

His responsibilities included starting a parish youth group, preaching and giving communion to the sick in hospital.

The practical experience was rewarding for Fiore. Feedback from parishioners encouraged him that he finally had found his right vocation.

“I was affirmed in that by the people . . . that I would do well as a priest,” he said. “I felt comfortable in that context. It was something that fit.”

He expects 200 family and friends and as many as 60 priests from the diocese to attend his ordination at his home parish. Fiore will celebrate his first mass Saturday at 5 p.m.

Plouffe has yet to decide where Fiore will be posted, but it’s likely he will assist another pastor who has a parish.

“It’s good to be ordained, but then the priesthood has to grow on you,” said Plouffe.

Fiore is ready to go wherever he’s needed. He’s fluent in Italian and knows enough French “to get by.”

“I’m looking forward to being that expression of God’s love to his people, being that friend, that warm embrace,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to growing and maturing into the vocation.

“I’m looking forward ultimately to be a shepherd of God’s people and to ultimately lead souls to God the father — with his help, of course.”

His ordinaton comes at a challenging time for the Catholic church.

Parishes throughout the country are being closed because of a lack of priests, slumping attendance and tightened finances.

When the Pope made his first visit to the United States earlier this month, he apologized to victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Fiore isn’t deterred.

“To me, to be a priest in these days is actually an exciting concept,” he said.

Fiore wants to use his role as a priest to encourage other men to seriously consider a religious vocation.

“If it’s a call, we have to think of the one who is calling,” he said. “There’s an inherent dignity in this call. That merits some degree of attention on our part.”

With his ordination just days away, Fiore acknowledges he’s “in a very good space,” nearly 30 years after he first used a towel as a vestment as he pretended to act out a priest’s actions during mass.

“I feel like I’m going to be ordained into what I was born to do,” he said.

“Nothing in the world I found could be more fulfilling than that.”

Fiore is one of five men from St. Peter’s Seminary who will be ordained. He is the only one from Northern Ontario.

Jack Goldie was the last Sault man to be ordained. The retired Algoma Steel electrician became a priest in 1995. He has since retired.

Trevor Scarfone, ordained in 1994, is serving in Sturgeon Falls and Garden Village.

"Second Annual Survey on Trends in Catholic Religious Vocations"

I should have posted this back in February, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. Better late than never right?


Sixty-two percent jump in inquiries into Catholic religious life
30 percent increase in number of people in first stages of formation

Chicago, February 26, 2008—Catholic religious communities reported on average a 30 percent increase this past year in the number of individuals in initial formation—the period before final vows. In addition, 62 percent of participating communities reported an increase in vocation inquiries in the past year.

The positive trends in religious vocations detected last year continue, according to the VocationMatch.com Second Annual Survey on Trends in Religious Vocation, sponsored by Vision Vocation Guide, published by TrueQuest Communications of Chicago on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference.

The majority of those who are considering religious life are under 30 and quite serious about choosing religious life—about one in five plan on entering a religious community in the next year, while another 64 percent are “seriously considering it.”

Back in the habit—for women and men
Echoing the countercultural appeal of religious life to younger Catholics, it appears that many discerners are looking for more obvious outward expressions of their commitment to religious life. Vocation directors—both men and women—commented on an increased interest among inquirers in wearing a habit or traditional religious garb.

Not surprisingly, those discerning the call to religious life also consider essential or very important: praying in community and devotional prayer (73 percent each); living in community (67 percent); peace and justice outreach (66 percent); and above all living a life of faithfulness to the church and its teachings, which was ranked as very important or essential by 90 percent of discerners.

Personal contact—real and virtual—essential
Personal contact with a religious priest, sister, or brother continues to be the most helpful source of vocation information, considered essential or very important by 82 percent of discerners. Ranking next in importance is a community’s website, with more than 70 percent rating it important or very important in gathering information about a community. In what will surely be a growing trend in our YouTube culture, several discerners even remarked on the helpfulness of videos on vocation websites. “Come and See” weekends and discernment retreats followed a close third in order of importance. Spiritual directors and vocation-related websites also ranked high in importance with more than 60 percent saying they found these resources very helpful.

It takes prayer
Prayer is far and away the most important discernment tool used by inquirers, with 97 percent ranking it as essential or very important to making a decision about their vocation. At the same time, discerners see the “discipline of prayer” as the most challenging aspect of religious life, followed by the vow of celibacy and a life of service. In what will be good news to aging communities, “living with people who are not my age” was ranked least important by discerners.
“It's nice to have women in their early 20s inquiring about our community,” commented one vocation director. A male vocation director concurred, saying he was most surprised by “the increase in inquiries from younger men, i.e., 18-22 years old.” Another vocation director added that discerners seem to be “younger in age, yet quite clear in what they are looking for and what they have to offer.”

Surprised by joy—and diversity
When discerners were asked what most surprised them about their exploration of religious life, the “diversity of communities and spiritualities” ranked high as well as the “great joy” found among religious men and women. But for some, what is most surprising is that they are even considering a religious vocation at all: “As time goes by,” said one young man, “it seems more and more likely that it is for me. A year ago I would have laughed if someone had suggested that I enter into religious life.”

While it’s true that 53 percent of religious inquirers responding to the survey were under 30 years of age, a healthy 36 percent of them were over 40, 20 percent over 50. One respondent was pleasantly surprised to learn that, “At age 54 it is still possible to live your life for God.” “My lifelong dream may finally be coming true,” added another.

In what may speak to a dearth of positive images of religious life in the wider culture, many discerners commented on how “normal” and “human” and “ordinary” those in religious life seemed.

Good news for the life of the church
The fact that discerners are finding opportunities to view realistic portraits of those in religious life is good news, says Patrice Tuohy, executive editor of VISION Vocation Guide and VocationMatch.com. “Religious vocation as a life choice has been off the radar screen for too long. What this crop of discerners is finding is that the option of life as a brother, sister, or priest may be the one that satisfies their heart’s desire above all else.”

For Brother Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C., executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, through which VISION Vocation Guide is published, the most promising trend is the increased numbers entering religious life. “The fact that we are seeing an increase, not just in inquirers but in those in initial formation, is very encouraging. The church has commissioned the faithful to create a culture of discernment, and it seems we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. This is very good news for the future of consecrated life and the life of the church.”

# # #

Statistics for the Vision VocationMatch.com Survey on Trends in Religious Vocations were compiled from the following sources:

Vision Vocation Match Discerners Online Survey, Feb. 5-22, 2008
Total unique respondents: 320 out of 1096 polled

Vision Vocation Match Vocation Directors Online Survey, Feb. 5-22, 2008
Total unique respondents: 225 out of 476 polled

2008 candidate profiles completed (6 months), Aug. 1, 2007 – Feb. 22, 2008: 3,422

2007 candidate profiles completed (12 months) Aug. 1, 2006-July 31, 2007: 5,591

Monday, April 28, 2008

“At least one qualified candidate per parish”

LA archdiocese looks at different strategy for finding new priests

From California Catholic Daily

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will begin asking parishes to actively help in the recruitment of new priests in an effort to respond to what appears to be a nationwide surge of interest in priestly vocations.

The Los Angeles archdiocese has “undertaken a change in direction for promoting vocations in 2008,” wrote Fr. James Forsen, director of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations, in the April 18 Tidings, the archdiocesan weekly. Forsen wrote that the archdiocese subscribes to a to the “philosophy” of Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk that "the church has commissioned the faithful to create a culture of discernment."

Brother Paul is executive director of the Chicago-based National Vocation Conference, whose web site, VisionVocationMatch.com, in February published the results of an online survey that showed an increased interest in the religious life, especially among those under 30 years old. The survey indicated that 30% of religious communities in the U.S. have more individuals in their formation programs and that 62% of communities that participated in the survey reported an increase in vocation inquiries last year. (See “Seriously considering it,” March 2 California Catholic Daily.)

Citing the survey, Forsen noted in the Tidings article that “a robust surge in inquiries is bringing a new life and hope to vocation ministry.” As far as priestly vocations go, of the 133 male respondents to the survey, 88 said the vocation to the priesthood interested them most. (Sixty-one of them indicated interest in being a religious priest, while 27 said they would prefer the diocesan priesthood.)

“Why this sudden upswing” in interest in vocations to the priesthood? asked Forsen in the article. He cited a “growing disenchantment with living an unfulfilled and meaningless life away from God.” To tap into this apparent “upswing,” Forsen’s office has come up with a threefold strategy.

The first part of the strategy involves “action at the parish level,” he wrote in the Tidings. Using two of the archdiocese’s pastoral regions as “templates,” Forsen’s office will seek 10 to 15 parishes that would volunteer to promote vocations. The hope is to find “at least one qualified candidate per parish,” Forsen wrote. Parish staff will be trained to identify such candidates.

Since, said Forsen’s piece, “all vocations are relationship driven,” each parish will “adopt” a seminarian at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo in order “to put a ‘face’ on a vocation.” This effort will include diocesan seminarians as well as those interested in men’s and women’s religious communities. Other parish efforts will include passing a chalice and stole to a family, who will keep it for a week while praying for vocations. The chalice and stole will then go to another family.

Another effort, already under way, is the a priestly discernment group called “The Vocational Journey,” which is currently meeting at St. Monica’s parish in Santa Monica with the goal of cultivating “Bold Leaders for Christ.” Group members make a one-year commitment and participate in spiritual direction, retreats, and prayer.

The third part of the strategy involves parish lay ministers, who will pass out “vocation cards and materials that can be simply given to worthy men and woman that one knows,” Forsen wrote. Nearly all diocesan seminarians at St. Johns “are there because at some point in their lives a person said to them, ‘You'd make a good priest.’"

From an Episcopalian Perspective

I found the following post at Dr. Armstrong's blog. How often we are told how things would be better, in terms of priestly vocations, if we would simply open up the Priesthood to women, married men and women, and eventually openly homosexual men and women. If the answer were that simple, if it would be such a boom to priestly vocations, why aren't Episcopalian seminaries filled to overflowing? Why aren't they building new seminaries all over the country? Why, in fact, are they closing seminaries? In short, why hasn't liberal theology been the answer? (rhetorical question)

Yet the more traditional Dioceses and seminaries in this country are seeing an increase in vocations every year. Some of the most traditional seminaries in this country are indeed filled to capacity, and like some of the more traditional/orthodox religious communities, they are being forced to expand in order to keep up with the growth.

"Liberal Theology Keeps Killing the Church"
by Dr. John A. Armstrong

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary has been training ministers for the Episcopal Church for 150 years. It has stopped admitting students for this coming academic year. The Evanston seminary told tenured faculty that their jobs will end next year, although officials insist the school isn’t closing. Officials at the Illinois, campus acknowledge a deep financial crisis is forcing the seminary to overhaul its approach to preparing priests for the church. Leaders are exploring more affordable models for candidates to earn degrees, such as distance-learning and short-term residential stints.

This is clearly “damage control” language and positive spin if there ever was such in theological education. The facts bear out the truth of the situation. Seabury-Western is an Episcopal Church (ECUSA) seminary that has a long history of very liberal theology in the 20th Century. It also serves a diocese that is extremely liberal that is in serious decline, like most of the Episcopal Church in Canada and America. Leaders put all kinds of spin on these developments, even arguing that evangelical churches grow faster because evangelicals still produce more children than non-evangelicals. Duh! When every action you take is anti-family and anti-mission what do you expect?

Episcopal seminaries will not all die at once. One reason is that they have huge endowments to support them, at least for a season. But the picture is indeed quite grim. No one should really be all that surprised. Meanwhile the lone seminary in North America that is training priests for the Episcopal Church, and for other communions for that matter, that is very healthy and has been growing rather positively for two-plus decades is Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM) in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. At TESM the influence of Anglican evangelical leaders like J. I. Packer and John R. W. Stott is still highly regarded. Given the way ECUSA has responded to the worldwide Anglican Communion I do not expect much to change in the foreseeable future. If anything Episcopal seminaries will decline even more over the next ten years. Other mainline seminaries ought to take serious note but so far they do not seem to be lining up to learn the hard lessons of what an anti-supernatural and anti-orthodox perspective does to real Christian ministry.

"Average age 73"

From California Catholic Daily

Unable to attract novices, Sisters of Mercy begin merging communities

Photo at left: Sister of Mercy makes her temporary profession.

Faced with aging nuns and few new vocations, the 175-year-old Sisters of Mercy religious order – with six communities in California -- has decided to undergo a major reorganization.

The “shrinking and aging of the order” is one factor that brought about the restructuring of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, reported the April 11 Catholic San Francisco, the weekly newspaper of the San Francisco archdiocese.

The Institute’s six California communities will merge with communities in the West and Midwest into an Omaha, Nebraska-based organization called the West Midwest Community. The restructuring was approved at a meeting in Chicago, March 24-30, and will take effect July 1.

The new organization will bring together 861 Sisters of Mercy and 525 associates. The Institute itself, covering the Americas, Guam, and the Philippines, numbers 4,194 sisters and 2,800 associates. The average age of sisters in the institute is 73.

Though the vocations office has “been very active across the Institute,” Liz Dossa, spokeswoman for the Mercy Sisters in Burlingame told Catholic San Francisco, its efforts have not been fruitful. The number of candidates, novices, and temporary professed in the West-Midwest Community is four, though “several women” are in the process of joining, Catholic San Francisco reported.

“The whole question of changes in religious life is huge, and there don’t seem to be any easy solutions,” Dossa told the archdiocesan newspaper. “I think the Mercy community will be a smaller community targeted to needs that aren’t being met in other ways.”

Among the needs to which the Mercy Sisters have been dedicated over the years are education, health care, parish work, spiritual direction, and social services. The ministries the Burlingame community has been involved in include Mercy High Schools, Catholic Healthcare West, and Mercy Center.

A “progressive” Catholic community, the Burlingame sisters were listed in Call to Action’s 1999 “Church Renewal Directory,” as among groups that “support the spirit of Call To Action’s 1990 ‘Call for Reform in the Catholic Church.’” Call to Action, which calls for women’s ordination and for Church acceptance of artificial birth control and the normalcy of homosexuality, has five regional chapters in Northern and Southern California.

The Mercy Retreat Center in Auburn, a ministry of the Auburn Sisters of Mercy, has in the past four years offered retreats by feminist theologian Edwina Gatelyon on the “feminine divine,” looking at “the history of God as Mother,” and by Sacred Heart Missionary Diarmuid O’Murchu on “the new cosmology.” O’Murchu’s retreat addressed replacing “the patriarchal sky-God with the divine life-force we encounter in the miracle of God’s creation.”

"Polish Catholic church cracks down on copied sermons"

I really hope this is not an issue in the Catholic Church in America, but just in case:

Hat tip to Fr. Zehnle

From PR Inside
WARSAW, Poland (AP) - There's a new commandment for Polish priests: Thou shall not lift. The Roman Catholic Church in this nation has published a new book that tells priests how to find inspiration in already published sermons without breaking the law by lifting passages from them verbatim.

The book, «To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize?» is an attempt to set boundaries in the wake of pulpit plagiarism claims that have hit not just Catholic clerics in Poland but ministers from other Christian denominations in the United States.

Temptation is just the click of a mouse away as more and more churches post their sermons online, not to mention the availability of books and church-sponsored magazines that provide inspiration for sermons.

There is a thin line between drawing inspiration and lifting the text outright, said the Rev. Wieslaw Przyczyna, one of the book's editors.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Rev. E. Glenn Wagner, a former senior evangelical pastor at Calvary Church, admitted lifting parts of sermons and resigned in 2004. Also, the Rev. Robert Hamm, the former senior minister at the United Church of Christ in Keene, New Hampshire, admitted to similar accusations and resigned the same year.

Paul Hasser of the Center for the Liturgy of St. Louis University in Missouri said he remembered seeing priests reading their Sunday sermons directly from a book when he was a boy.
«That bothered no one then,» said Hasser, who runs the center's sermon Web site.
But with the quick dissemination of sermons on the Internet, and the involvement of copyright law, times have changed.

Now, in Poland, a priest caught using a plagiarized sermon can face stiff fines or even as long as three years in prison, though no one has actually been charged or sentenced.

The concern about ensuring that priests follow a righteous path is what led to the publication of the church's book last month, said Przyczyna, who helped edit the 150-page text that is available to Poland's 28,000 priests for about US$13 (¤8).

Przyczyna, a sermon expert at Krakow's Pontifical Academy of Theology, told The Associated Press that existing sermons can be used _ «but according to rules» that forbid a word-for-word citation without properly acknowledging their source.

«You need to give a clear signal: The text is not mine,» he said. «If priests lack this kind of sensitivity, they should at least be afraid of the law.

In Poland, he said more and more clergy and churchgoers have reported a «spreading problem» of the lifting of sermons, but no precise research has been done and exact figures are just guesses.
It is an issue that is particularly sensitive in this country of 38 million people, where more than 90 percent of the population is Catholic and many attend Sunday Mass. Priests enjoy great moral authority, especially in rural areas.

Przyczyna said that offending priests «were not aware» that «they were acting immorally and ignoring the copyright law» but «believed they were using the Church's public domain.
«Saying a sermon means bearing witness to one's own faith, and how can you do that using someone else's text?» he said. «It is falsehood creeping into the preaching of truth that God is.
Przyczyna recounted a recent encounter with a nun in Krakow who said she had stopped attending Masses by her favorite priest after he delivered _ word-for-word _ a sermon she'd seen on the Internet written by someone else.

Parishioners at another church _ suspecting their priest of plagiarizing _ attended Mass with their own copies of a sermon posted online for that specific Sunday.

When the priest delivered it verbatim, they met with him afterward and privately rebuked him for the plagiarism.

The concern is not just local. The Biblioteka Kaznodziejska, a bimonthly magazine that publishes sermons, was checking whether a Polish text offered for the February edition was actually a translation from the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, an aide to Pope Benedict XVI.

It's chief editor, the Rev. Maciej Kubiak, said that the people lifting sermons mostly have been young priests in cities who are Web-savvy but lack experience in speaking publicly.

«You see it in their approach to the Internet: You can draw freely from whatever is there,» Kubiak said. «Preparing a sermon means an effort but you must be honest in it.

For others, though, the issue pales to other concerns, such as fighting poverty and spreading the faith.

«It sounds like tabloid news,» Jozsef Szikora, president of the Association of Hungarian Catholic Journalists, told AP, adding he had not heard of any plagiarism among priests in his own country.
Przyczyna, though, hopes the book will increase awareness about plagiarism and cause priests to «be afraid and embarrassed» to speak someone else's words without due credit.

Associated Press writer Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"On the Mission of Priests"

From Zenit

"Sowing the Joy of the Gospel in the World"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the greeting Benedict XVI gave today before praying the Regina Caeli with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A few moments ago we concluded a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica in which I ordained 29 new priests. This is a time every year of special grace and festivity: The lifeblood of the Church and society has been renewed and recirculated in them. If the presence of priests is indispensable for the life of the Church, it is also something precious for all.

In the Acts of the Apostles one reads that the Deacon Philip brought the Gospel to a city of Samaria; the people adhered to his preaching with enthusiasm and also saw the miracles that he worked for the sick; “and there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). As I reminded the new presbyters in the course of the liturgical celebration, this is the meaning of the Church’s missions and particularly the mission of priests: Sowing the joy of the Gospel in the world!

Where Christ is preached with the power of the Holy Spirit and he is accepted with an open soul, society, though it be full of problems, becomes a “city of joy” -- which is also the title of a book about the work of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. This then is the wish I have for the newly ordained priests, for whom I invite all to pray: That where they are sent they may spread the joy and hope that flow from the Gospel.

In truth this is also the message that I brought last week to the United States of America, on an apostolic voyage that had these words as its motto: “Christ our hope.” I give thanks to God for abundantly blessing this singular missionary experience of mine and deigning to make me an instrument of the hope of Christ for that Church and that country. At the same time I thank God because I too was confirmed in hope by American Catholics: Indeed, I discovered a tremendous vitality and a decisive will to live and to witness to the faith in Jesus. Next Wednesday, during the general audience, I will speak more about this visit of mine to America.

"The Meaning of Priest"

From Vatican Radio

(26 Apr 08 - RV)As Pope Benedict prepares to ordain 29 men to the priesthood for the diocese of Rome, we take a look at what it takes to be a priest, according to the Holy Father:

It has become a yearly tradition, this ceremony where Pope Benedict XVI, in his role as Bishop of Rome, bestows the sacrament of Holy Orders on a group of men from his own Diocese.

The group counts 29 deacons, students at Rome’s Major seminary in St John Lateran, on the south side of the Tiber, but not all of them are Italians. Among them, there is also a Haitian, three young South Americans, from Chile Colombia and Paraguay, a French man, a deacon from Kerala India and a deacon from Baghdad in Iraq. Underscoring the universality of the Church of Rome.

On Sunday they will prostrate themselves before Pope Benedict XVI above the tomb of St Peter’s and promise to dedicate their lives to serving the people of God, his Church and the Gospel. They will promise their loyalty to fellow priests and obedience to their Bishop, the Pope.

The annual celebration of this sacrament has become a focal point for many young seminarians worldwide. Because it is on this occasion, that Pope Benedict XVI returns to one of the recurring themes of his Pontificate to date. What it means to be a priest. Just a few examples.

In celebrating the Chrism mass this Holy Thursday Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the mission to Priesthood. Putting it quite simply he said; “Two functions, define the essence of the ministerial priesthood: "to stand in God’s presence and serve Him”. During that homily Pope Benedict also indicated some necessary qualities in candidates, he said “the priest must be an upright person, vigilant, fearless and prepared to sustain even offences for the Lord”.

In his recent trip to the United States, he also frequently returned to the issue of the Priesthood, in particular to priestly formation and vocations. In the National Shrine in Washington he told US bishops that filling seminaries cannot take precedence over the quality of candidates. On th eplane on the way to the US capital he had told journalists “it is more important to have good priests than many priests”.

He also told young Americans gathered in the Yankee Stadium, to open their hearts to the Lord's call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life,"

But for many Pope Benedict’s most moving and encouraging message for those young men in seminaries across the world today was delivered on the green meadow of St Josephs Seminary Yonkers, New York.

“The People of God look to you to be holy priests, on a daily journey of conversion, inspiring in others the desire to enter more deeply into the ecclesial life of believers. I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons”.

AUDIO FILE: News report from Vatican Radio about the "Meaning of Priest" - Click HERE.

Pope Benedict XVI - Homily at Ordination Mass for 29 Priests at St. Peter's

From Vatican Radio

(27 Apr 08 - RV) On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI presided over the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders for 29 young men. Below we publsh a provisional Vatican Radio translation of the Homily, delivered by the Holy Father:

Brothers and sisters,

Today in a very special way the words in Isaiah chapter 9 “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” are realised for us. In fact, the joy of celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord ’s Day, is united with the exultance of Easter time on this the sixth Sunday of Easter, and above all by the feast of celebrating the ordination of these news priests. Together with you I wish to warmly greet these 29 deacons who will shortly be ordained presbyteries. I express my gratitude to all who have contributed to their journey of preparation and I invite you all to give thanks to the Lord for this gift of these new pastors to the Church. Let us give them our support through our intense prayer during this celebration, in a spirit of fervent praise of the Father who has called them, the Son who has drawn them to Him, and the Spirit who has formed them. Usually the ordination of new priests takes place on the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also world day of prayer for vocations, but this year it was not possible because I was preparing for my journey to the United States of America. The icon of the Good Shepherd, more than ever, is one which highlights the role of ministers to the priesthood within the Christian community. But even the Bible passages which are offered to us for reflection by the Liturgy today illuminate the mission of the priest.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles narrates the mission of Philipp of Samaria. I wish to draw our attention to the phrase which closes the first part of the text: “There was great joy in that city”. This expression does not communicate a theological concept, or idea, but refers to an event; something has changed in the life of these people: in that city of Samaria, during the period of persecution of the Church of Jerusalem, something has taken place that has caused “great joy”. So what has happened? The sacred author narrates that, in order to flee the persecution that had broken out against all those who had converted to Christianity, all of the disciples, with the exception of the Apostles, abandon the holy city and fled into the surrounding areas. From this painful event, a new impulse to spread the Gospel is mysteriously and providentially born. Among those who had fled, was also Philipp, one of the seven deacons of the community, a deacon like you, my dear ordinates, even if in a different way, because during the unrepeatable season of the birth of the Church, the Apostles and deacons were gifted with an extraordinary power by the Holy Spirit both in preaching and in action. Now it is that the people of the city of Samaria, welcome the unanimously Philipp’s’ call and thanks to their adhesion to the Gospel, he was able to heal many sick. In that city of Samaria, traditionally despised and almost excommunicated by the Jews, the call of Christ’s Gospel resounds, opening the hearts of all those who listen to a great joy. That is why – ask St Luke writes – there was great joy in that city.

My dear friends, this is also your mission: bring the Gospel to all; so that all may experience the joy of Christ and that there may be great Joy in every city. What could be more beautiful than this? What could be greater, what could create greater enthusiasm, than cooperating to spread the Word of Life, to communicate the living water of the Holy Spirit? Announce and witness this joy: this is the very heart of your mission, my dear deacons who will soon be priests. The apostle Paul calls the ministers of the Gospel “servants of joy”. In his second letter he writes to the Christians of Corinth: “Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith”. These are words destined for every priest. In order to be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel must burn brightly within each of you, the joy of the Lord must live in you. Only then will you be messengers of this joy, only then will you bring it to all, especially those who are sad and disillusioned.

Let us return to the first reading, which offers us another element for meditation. It speaks of a prayer gathering which takes place in the Samarian city evangelised by the deacon Philipp. The Apostles Peter and John, two pillars of the Church who had come from Jerusalem to visit the new community and confirm it in its faith, preside over the meeting. Thanks to the imposition of their hands, the Holy Spirit came down on all those baptised. In this episode we see an early reference to the rite of “Confirmation”, the second sacrament of Christian initiation. For us too, gathered here today, the reference to the imposition of the hands is of great significance. It is in fact the central gesture of the rite of Holy Orders, through which I will confer upon you priestly dignity. This sign is inseparable form prayer, which is constituted by a prolonged silence. Without saying a word the consecrating Bishop, followed by the other priests who are present, poses his hands on the heads of the ordinantes, thus expressing our invocation that God infuse them with the Holy Spirit, making them participants in Christ’s priestly ministry. It is a matter of seconds, the shortest of times, but filled with an extraordinarily intense spirituality.

My dear Ordinants, in the future, you must frequently return to this moment, to this gesture which while not magic is rich in mystery, because this is the origin of your new mission. In that silent prayer two freedoms meet: the freedom of God, through the Holy Spirit and the freedom of man. The imposition of the hands expresses the specific nature of this meeting: the Church, represented by the Bishop who stands tall with his hands outstretched, who prays that the Holy Spirit consecrate the candidate; the deacon, who kneels, receiving the imposition of the hands and who entrusts himself to the mediation. The union of these gestures is important, but the invisible movement of the Spirit which it expresses is infinitely more important; a movement that is perfectly evoked by sacred silence, which embraces all, internally and externally.

We find this mysterious Trinitarian movement, which guides the Holy Sprit and the Son to dwell in the disciples, in today’s Gospel passage. Here it is Christ himself who promises to pray to the Father to send the Spirit, described here as ‘another Advocate’ down upon his followers. The first Advocate is in fact the Son made flesh, who came to defend man from the antonomastical accuser, who is Satan. In the moment in which Christ, his mission fulfilled, returns to the Lord, they send the Spirit, as Defender and consolator, so that he may always remain with the faithful, living within them. Thus, through the workings of the Son and the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is created between the Father and his disciples: Christ says “that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I in you”. All of this depends however on one condition that Christ makes at the very beginning: “If you love me”. Without love for Christ, which lies in the observance of his commandments, the faithful excludes himself from the Trinitarian movement and begins to fall back on himself, losing all capacity to receive or communicate God.

“If You Love me”. My dear friends these words were pronounced by Christ during the last supper at the moment when he instituted both the Eucharist and Priesthood. While addressed to the Apostles, in a certain way they are also addressed to all their successors and to priests, who are the closest collaborators of the Apostles successors. We hear them again today as an invitation to live our vocation to the Church more coherently: You, my dear ordinantes, hear them with particular emotion, because today Christ makes you participants in his priesthood. Gather them to you with faith and love! Allow them to press upon your heart, to accompany you along your lifelong journey. Do not forget them; do not loose them along the way! Read them over and over, mediate on them often and above all pray over them. This is how you will remain faithful to Christ’s Love and you will become aware with renewed joy how His Divine Words “will walk beside you and grow within you”.

"Dearest, here is my wish in this day so important for you. May the hope rooted in faith always and increasingly be yours! May you bear witness and be wise and generous givers, sweet and strong, respectful and confident.”

"A sacred dream fulfilled"

From the Victoria Advocate
New nun takes vows after life as wife and mother

by Leslie Wilber
photo by: Frank Tilley
Sister Louise Marie Jones prays with other sisters at the Incarnate Word Convent in Victoria. She says she has dreamed of becoming a nun since she was 9 years old.

To see a video:
Sisters of the Incarnate Word

She’s nervous, so she starts the interview with a prayer.

Sister Louise Marie Jones asks God to give her the right words. She thanks God for sending a reporter to the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Convent. It’s short and simple and sums up a lot of what Jones’ life is about right now.

The 53-year-old widow, a mother of two and grandmother of four, is the most recently professed nun at the convent, Sister Emily Eilers said.

Yes. Nuns can have children. And they can be widowed or have annulled marriages, Eilers said. A sister can start her religious life long past the years when Maria signing in the mountains of Austria seems an apt comparison.

Eilers and many of her peers became sisters straight out of high school. But today it’s more common for women to become sisters later in life, after they’ve had another career, or even a family, she said.

A woman needs to be free to commit to God when she takes her vows, Eilers said. She needs to be sure of that commitment.

That freedom came to Jones only a few years ago, although she felt pulled to religious life since she was a child. Jones grew up in Palacios and visited the Victoria convent when she was 9. The sprawling Water Street building had just opened, and the sisters hosted an open house.

“I went home and said ‘Mom, I want to be a nun,’” Jones said. “Well, that didn’t go far.”

So Jones grew up. When she was 19, she met Billy Jones. They married. The couple had two children – Michael and Traci. Billy Jones was Baptist, but Louise Marie Jones raised the children Catholic, with her husband’s blessing. Jones always loved her husband, even when troubles nagged their relationship.

Still, Jones craved a deeper spiritual life and more time for her relationship with God. Jones went to Catholic conferences and retreats with friends. At one, the sister who was speaking asked the woman in the audience who always wanted to be a nun to stand up. No one stood. The sister was persistent. Jones’ friends nudged her. Finally, figuring she was a wife and mother and no harm could come from the admission, Jones stood. The whole room prayed for her, she said.

Then, in 1994, Jones and her son found Billy Jones dead, electrocuted on his shrimp boat.

“I never saw my mom as the type to remarry,” Michael Jones, now 30, said. Louise Marie Jones didn’t see another marriage in her future, either.

Even when her husband was alive, Jones visited the convent for prayer meetings, but now she wanted to give more.

“How can we ever repay God for what he’s done for us?” she said.

During a 1998 religious gathering, Jones said she felt called to renew her relationship with God. She spoke about that desire with sisters at Incarnate Word. In 2000, Jones became an associate with the order.

Associates pray with the sisters and spend a lot of time at the convent, but they don’t live there or take the sisters’ vows, Eilers said.

“The more I was here, the more peace I felt,” Jones said. “The more love I felt. The more time I gave to God.”

It still wasn’t enough.

In 2001, she took the first step toward sisterhood. She became an affiliate – meeting regularly with sisters, but living and working outside the convent. Eventually, Jones became a postulate – a woman who lives and prays with the sisters, but hasn’t taken her vows yet. Jones spent the maximum time of two years as a postulate to organize her affairs in the outside world, before making the commitment as a novitiate nun.

“That year was devoted to prayer and my relationship with the Lord,” Jones said. Sometimes, Jones struggled with her decision, but she was amazed by the peace she found at the convent and the way the convent nurtured her love of God.

On Sept. 30, 2007, Jones took her first vows as a sister. She’ll renew those vows annually for three to five years, before taking her final, perpetual vows.

“It’s the place she needs to be,” Michael Jones said. “She’s a very spiritual person.”

The thing Louise Marie Jones misses most outside the convent is her family. Traci Jones and her son live in Victoria, but Michael Jones and his family live outside Dallas.

“I probably see and talk to her now more than I ever did before,” Michael Jones said. The convent has two cottages that sisters’ families can stay in when they visit. “It’s awesome,” he said.

Although she can’t live with her family, Jones said they’re always in her prayers. Inside her prayer book, she keeps a bookmark with a picture of Traci and Michael Jones, his wife, and the three oldest grandchildren.

“This is my prayer,” she said, pointing to the text beside the photo. “Lord, I know you are able to accomplish infinitely more than I could ever hope or ask for.”

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Papal visit triggers “tsunami” of New York seminary applications"

From Catholic News Agency

Yonkers, NY, Apr 26, 2008 / 03:45 am (CNA).- St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York, has received dozens of applications following Pope Benedict’s visit, the New York Daily News reports.

"It's been like a tsunami, a good tsunami of interest," said Father Luke Sweeney, the Archdiocese of New York's vocations director. “I've been meeting people all week and have a lot of e-mails I haven't had the chance yet to respond to. It has been incredible.”

For the first time in 108 years, the seminary had been preparing for a year with no students. Only 23 seminarians are expected to be ordained for New York City over the next four years. A study carried out by Catholic World Report claims the archdiocese’s ratio of priests to congregation members is among the worst in the country.

Currently there are only 648 diocesan priests for the Archdiocese of New York, which has 2.5 million Catholics.

“We are facing a severe shortage,” Father Sweeney said. The vocations director recently launched a recruitment campaign that uses the slogans “The World Needs Heroes” and “You Have To Be a Real Man If You Want to Become a Priest.”

“We were hoping the Pope would convince many who were considering the priesthood to make the next step. It looks like he did,” he said.

The Pope spoke to a rally of 25,000 young people on the seminary’s grounds last Saturday, April 19.

Father Sweeney described how the Pope’s words affected one new applicant.

“One said he came, saw the crowd, heard what the Pope said and then called us," the priest said. "He said his questions and concerns were answered when he heard him speak.”

"More older men drawn to priesthood"

From World Wide Religious News
By Melanie Lefkowitz ("Newsday", April 25, 2008)
(Comments mine - BW)

Huntington, USA - For Robert Holz, the question always lingered.

He had worked as an accountant for nearly two decades. He was basically happy. He was 40 years old.

Still, the question was there.

"Is God calling me? Or not?" he said.

Partly because he felt unfulfilled, partly in hopes of resolving that nagging question, Holz quit his job and inquired about becoming a priest. He has spent much of the past five years inside the yellow brick walls of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, a sprawling estate on Long Island Sound where peaceful days are marked by tolling bells.

"The idea of the future is a lot bigger now," said Holz, now 47 and in his final seminary year. "You come into the seminary and suddenly you really start looking at eternity. As opposed to when I was younger: Is there enough in the IRAs to retire? What if this, what if that, is my house paid for? Each of those long-term goals got longer and longer, and when you bang up against eternity, there's not a lot of turning back."

Questions of eternity, faith and personal mission are as old as the priesthood itself, but Holz is among a vanguard of older priests-in-training who are energizing an institution that has faced stiff recruitment challenges for decades.

He's one of nine men expected to be ordained in June, in what church officials say is among the largest classes of incoming priests in the nation. The size of the class is a huge leap from a low nine years ago, when the Rockville Centre Diocese ordained only a single priest.

Bishop William Murphy declared the priesthood a priority when he came to Long Island in 2001, and now the number of Rockville Centre seminarians, once in the single digits, is up to 31. More than a third of those studying to be priests on Long Island are older men such as Holz.

To help attract would-be priests, the diocese holds events such as weekend retreats at the seminary, where Murphy hosts question-and-answer sessions, and it has strengthened its outreach operations at local college campuses.

Although these efforts may help demystify the seminary and the priesthood, church officials say, the decision to become a priest is an intensely private one. Monsignor James McDonald, the seminary's rector, suggested that the cause for the upswing in ordinands is nothing less than divine.

"Everything is personal interest and God's grace," McDonald said.

The Sept. 11 attacks helped to inspire some of these men to enter the priesthood; for others, the balance swung after an illness or the loss of a parent. Many said they considered the priesthood as children but were distracted, uncertain or afraid.

Amid growing concerns about the priest shortage, seminarians all over the country are growing up. For the past decade, the median age for priests at ordination has hovered around 38 -- a big difference from the 1960s, when it was 26. A seminary in Weston, Mass., Blessed John XXIII, is dedicated to training second-career priests, but experts say they are entering dioceses nationwide.

The Rev. Paul Sullins, a professor of sociology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said the trend is probably driven by modern priests' additional years of education -- they generally finish seminary with a master of divinity degree, rather than a bachelor of divinity -- and the fact that people in general increasingly wait longer before settling on a single path.

"Priesthood being a career (the Priesthood is NOT a career - BW) that requires a lifetime commitment, it's becoming more and more common for men to choose (God chooses His Priests, not the other way around) that as their second or third career in their life," he said.

Older priests come with more maturity, life experience and business skills, Sullins said. But they don't offer the church as many years of service in return for the church's investment in their training. "However, on balance, parishioners tell us they're very happy to have these men," he said.

New priests of any age are sorely needed. As the number of Catholics in the United States has risen, the number of priests has steadily dropped. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are nearly 29,000 priests, about 20 percent fewer than 40 years ago.

"Dozens Inquire About Priesthood After Pope's Visit"

Of course, as almost everyone reading this blog knows, "inquired" is a long way from "accepted". Still this is just the beginning of what will certainly be a long story of vocations as a result of Our Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to the United States.

From NY1

April 25, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the city last week appears to have generated interest in the priesthood.

The Daily News reports that within three days of the pope's visit, dozens of men have inquired at St. Joseph's seminary in Yonkers about becoming priests.

The pope held a youth rally there last week.

Before his visit, no one had enrolled in the seminary for this fall – the first time that's happened in more than 100 years.

The number of men entering the priesthood in the city has been declining for years, even as the Catholic population has risen to two and a half million.

On the Path to Priesthood - Video from Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmittsburg, Maryland

Hat tip to a seminarian at Mount St. Mary's for letting me about these videos. The one above is an edited video, but the one below is about eight minutes long and contains more "raw" footage.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"U.S. Catholics Hope Papal Visit Boosts Seminary Enrollment"

From The Washington Post
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 24, 2008; 2:31 PM

NEW YORK -- The crowd of 25,000 Roman Catholics burst into cheers when Pope Benedict XVI took the stage for a youth rally during his U.S. visit last week. Chanting "Viva Papa!" they pressed against security barriers and reached out to touch him.

Many Catholics and church leaders were happily surprised by the outpouring of enthusiasm. Now, they hope the experience will draw some of the young revelers into the priesthood.

Ever since ecstatic throngs began greeting the globe-trotting Pope John Paul II, analysts have been looking for any direct link between a papal visit and seminary enrollment.

The Rev. Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector and author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," said there's no way to know the exact impact of a papal pilgrimage. But he said Benedict's warmth and grandfatherly presence could inspire many to at least consider ordination.

"There's a certain mystery to a call to ministry in the priesthood," said Cozzens, who teaches at John Carroll University in Ohio. "Some people know they are destined to be a priest from their childhood and other people discover this call much later in life. Sometimes it's awakened by a papal visit."

Younger priests today tend to have more traditional views of the church than older clergy, and many attribute that trend to John Paul's defense of orthodoxy. Others who study the priesthood say that new clergy candidates now tend to come from the most committed parts of the church, and would likely fill seminaries with conservatives no matter who was elected pope.

The Rev. Michael Morris, director of pastoral formation at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., where the youth rally was held, credits John Paul's 1979 trip to the U.S. with moving him toward enrolling in seminary. But he said the pope's presence was not the only reason he joined.

"There were a lot of guys from my generation, who entered the seminary in the early '80s, we entered on the heels of the pope's first visit," said Morris, who teaches church history at the seminary. "I can't say that it was just a visit that inspired us to become priests. But sometimes you need a nudge."

He plans to talk about the pope's visit, the priesthood and religious life in the local parish where he helps celebrate Mass, to encourage anyone considering the vocation.

The U.S. priesthood has been shrinking for decades. More than 3,200 of the 18,600 U.S. parishes don't have resident priests, according to the Center for Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. More lay people than clergy work full-time in the churches.

Dioceses have been hiring recruiters to travel overseas to find clergy candidates. The number of priests from other countries has grown so steadily that some seminaries are adding English classes, hiring accent reduction tutors and providing courses on American culture.

International recruitment is motivated partly by the exploding demand for Spanish speakers for the Hispanic immigrants filling the pews. About 30 percent of the men ordained in the U.S. last year were from another country, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops' conference has created a recruitment campaign called "Fishers of Men," that encourages priests to invite young men to consider entering the priesthood.

George Weigel, a Catholic theologian and John Paul II biographer, said Benedict was a vibrant example to them of how fulfilling life can be in service to the church.

"It's impossible to tell, today, what numerical impact the pope's visit will have on young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood," Weigel said. "But that some men will have been moved to think of that life of self-sacrifice as a great adventure, no one should doubt."

Benedict addressed the state of the priesthood in several speeches.

He urged American bishops to be a "father, brother and friend" to their priests.

He said clergy have suffered enormously from the clergy sex abuse scandal. The shame was so intense that some priests wouldn't wear their clergy collars in public when the scandal erupted in 2002, even though most of the thousands of new claims stemmed from wrongdoing decades ago.

The priest shortage, meanwhile, has also put enormous demands on clergy, some of whom are responsible for several parishes.

However, seminary administrators say morale improved as the scandal eased.

And there are signs that the situation in some seminaries is improving.

In San Antonio, Assumption Seminary, a bilingual school, is flourishing, with 94 seminarians from 16 dioceses and a 300 percent growth in vocations in the past four years.

Benedict's visit "will definitely make a difference," in attracting new priests, said the Rev. Arturo Cepeda, who teaches at Assumption. He downloaded Benedict's comments to U.S. bishops about the priesthood and discussed them with his classes at the school the next morning.

"He provided a very positive, a very vibrant and very realistic view of the priesthood," said Cepeda, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. "Most of the men here want to make a difference in the church, in the world and in society, and that takes sacrifice."


AP Religion Writer Eric Gorski contributed to this report.


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I received the following press release from Dominic Gilmore with Universal Music:


CHANT: Music For Paradise
(VIDEO below)

Released on 19th May 2008

The Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz are delighted to release their debut album with Universal Music following an incredible few months in which they were signed to the music company after submitting their demo via a YouTube link. The monks subsequently recorded their unique sound with amazing speed and will release Chant: Music For Paradise on May 19th.

Universal Music, the largest record company in the world who are better-known for promoting the music of Eminem and Amy Winehouse, launched their search for sacred singers in February through adverts placed in UK religious press. The adverts prompted an incredible response with over 100 entries pouring in from religious organisations around the world.

On the closing day for entries Tom Lewis, A&R Manager of Universal Classics and Jazz (UCJ), received a YouTube link from the Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, based in the Vienna woods in Austria. Mr Lewis was immediately bowled over by their sound, saying "They are, quite simply, the best Gregorian singers we have heard. They make a magical, evocative sound which is both immediately calming and deeply moving.”

The Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, who count both young and old among their number, reside in the oldest continually inhabited Cistercian monastery in the world, and put their selection down to divine intervention. They had been due to record an album last year but cancelled plans because of a prestigious visit to their monastery by Pope Benedict XVI. So when a friend in London spotted the advert on the closing date he encouraged them to hurriedly submit their entry via YouTube to ensure instant consideration.

By Easter the record giant had signed the Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, considering them to be the most accomplished singers of Gregorian Chant, and just a week later recording began. The monks were equally pleased to record their first ever commercial album, as originally planned, in order to bring their voice, and the spirit of their peaceful monastic existence, to a wider audience. Dating from the 7th century A.D., Gregorian Chant is the earliest form of music to be written down but, more importantly, to the monks it is their form of prayer.

Gregorian Chant has recently been popularised by the Xbox game, Halo, driving demand for a 21st-Century recording of the ancient music and reaching out to a whole new generation who don't remember the mid-90s success of Enigma and the Benedictine Monks of Silos. UCJ Managing Director, Dickon Stainer, said of the initiative, "Our aim is to reach singers from outside the X-Factor generation and bring the spirit of the cloisters to the outside world.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NEW - New Feature on the Blog

OK, so the new feature that I added at the bottom of the sidebar ended up making this blog load slower and that just wasn't going to work in the long run.

I have now added the sidebar feature (link to the right) ROMAN CATHOLIC VOCATIONS BOOKSTORE, which will take you to a post in which I have links to books and DVD's for sale at Amazon.com. Obviously it is not a real bookstore, but what else was I going to call it?

It is by no means an exhaustive list of books and DVD's related to vocations in the Roman Catholic Church. I will continue to update as new titles come up or recommendations are made. Recommendations for books and DVD's that are not already listed would be welcomed via the combox or email.

For the sake of full disclosure, in order to get the easy links, I had to become an Amazon Associate, which means I will get a small precentage of whatever is ordered via these links. This was definitely not my intention in building the post. It was a genuine effort on my part to post links to books and videos which may be of help to those who are discerning, working with, or are simply interested in vocations. Be assured that this endeavor will not make me rich in this lifetime. But I won't complain about it either, because it may allow me to get a new book related to vocations from time to time! Thank you in advance to anyone who purchases a book through the "bookstore".

Memento Mori - How about the antique sculpture I got from France of St. Francis? What is nice about it is that it the classic pre-Vatican II image of St. Francis. Instead of birds, squirrels, deer, and all other sorts of nauseatingly "cute" animals hanging all over the Seraphic Father, he clutches a cross to his chest gazing heavenward, while at his feet rests a stack of books with a skull on top of it. This was the most classic image of St. Francis before they turned him into a hippy freak - don't believe the hype, he was anything but that. Any guesses on why the skull on the books?

"U.S. hoping pope's recruiting pitch leads to more priests"

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(emphases and comments mine - BW)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
By Ann Rodgers,
During a six-day U.S. visit in which he called for world peace and met with victims of clergy sexual abuse, perhaps the most difficult task that Pope Benedict XVI set before U.S. Catholics was to raise up a new generation of priests, sisters and brothers.

"Young men and women of America, I urge you: Open your hearts to the Lord's call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life," he told a cheering crowd in Yankee Stadium.

The need is urgent -- even as the number of Catholics grows, the last large classes of priests ordained in the late 1950s and early 1960s are retiring. Dioceses that ordained 10 or 20 men annually then might ordain two or three today. Ordinations in the United States are up from a low in the 1980s, but since 1997 have hovered between 400 and 600. Few today are attracted to a vocation that requires celibacy. (Why is this all that people in the mainstream media can talk about - are we really this obsessed with sex? Maybe so, but it makes me wonder how reading something like this makes people who are effectively celibate by the circumstances of their life [as opposed to a choice] feel when they understand the implication that celibacy means "unfulfilled" in the eyes of so many. Millions of people in this world go through life without having sex. Would they have chosen differently if they could - perhaps yes, but I think for people to constantly make out celibacy as the worst thing that could happen to a person is terrible. There are people all around us who are single for any number of reasons and we would never say to them "your life seems so unattractive with out sex".)

On the morning after the pope left New York it was clear to Monsignor Edward Burns, the Pittsburgh priest who directs the U.S. bishops' national office for vocations, that the visit had touched Catholics deeply. As he walked down the streets in New York, "people would stop and ask me for a blessing," he said.

"The Holy Father's visit had a great impact. I believe it will help create a vocations culture in which young men will step forward."

Although this 81-year-old pope seems like an unlikely figure to lead a youth movement, many believe he was elected in part to do so. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was devoted to reaching young Catholics in ways that some cardinals did not understand or appreciate. But when Pope John Paul died in April 2005 and millions of youth poured into Rome from across the globe to express their love for him, all cardinals realized he had ignited a renewal movement. They elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his closest collaborator, to continue his work.

Monsignor Burns thought Saturday's youth rally in Yonkers, when 25,000 Catholic young adults responded repeatedly with applause and cheers as the pope called them to bear witness to Christ, would have repercussions far beyond those who were present.

"I'm convinced that the same Holy Spirit that hovered over the disciples with tongues of flame was present at that gathering with the Holy Father," he said.

Among 5,000 seminarians at that rally was Michael Roache, 29, who is slated to be ordained for Pittsburgh in 2011.

"In the pope's talk, he said to just be open to what the Lord is calling you to do, and that will make you happy," he said, adding that is how vocations begin.

"There was a sea of seminarians who were joyful and excited about the Holy Father and life in general," he said. When youth saw them, "I think they realized that this is a joyful thing to do."

Lauren Schlieper, 18, a senior at North Allegheny High School and a member of the St. Alexis youth group in McCandless, was already pondering becoming a sister when she attended the Nationals Park Mass in Washington. While she isn't certain of her calling, "The Mass was an eye-opener, that I should be open to it and not back away," she said.

Being among 47,000 Catholics who were as excited about the faith as she was "made me realize that no matter what your spot in the church is, God has a plan for you," she said. "Even if it's a small job, it's part of something bigger."

The pope modeled that as he encouraged Catholics to look beyond him to Christ, she said. "He seemed like a very humble man. Even though he is the head of the entire Catholic Church, he gave the impression that it is not about him, but about something bigger and better than all of us."

Her fellow youth group member, Michael Reid, had a similar impression. When Pope Benedict celebrated the Eucharist, "you could tell he was really in awe" of Jesus' presence in it, he said.

The pope's most constant theme, whether speaking to bishops, the United Nations or the youth, was the danger of a moral relativism that would allow people to justify any action that felt good to them. Young people understand that message, said Mr. Reid, 18, a senior at North Allegheny High School.

"There are so many forces in the world today that are trying to get you deeper and deeper into sin," he said. "He shed light on that and told us that we should not be sucked into what the world is saying to us."

Gary Slifley, associate director of the diocesan Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, led 265 teens and chaperones from the Pittsburgh diocese to see the pope at Nationals Park.

He gave each of them a "Pilgrim Triptych" to jot down reflections about what the pope had said. On the bus ride home, 10 teens on his bus volunteered to speak about their experience.

They "shared a great feeling of unity with the Holy Father and with the church. They felt his warmth and grandfatherly approach really connected, and that his message of hope spoke to them," he said.

"Something like this can transform young people by the planting of seeds," he said. "If they say yes to God today, they will continue to say yes their whole life."

The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of several books on the U.S. bishops and the Vatican, said the pope made no mistakes on this trip (What does that mean? If he's referring to Regensburg, I can assure Fr. Reese that it was not a mistake.), and did seem to bond with youth (Seemed to bond? We must not have been seeing the same thing.). But he doubts he will be more effective at inspiring new priests than was Pope John Paul. (More with the negative comparisons to Pope John Paul II. They've been doing this since Pope Benedict XVI was elected, and they continue to be proven wrong. "He's not as charismatic", "the youth won't be attracted to him", "he's out of touch with the modern world", etc., etc., etc. In every case they have been proven wrong. I actually think he will be more effective at inspiring new priests, but as a result of what Pope John Paul II did before him.)

"Pope Benedict isn't a miracle worker, though we can always hope and pray," he said. (Fr. Reese, it's OK to be positive about the Holy Father. Really it is.)

The pope's cheering fans were sometimes compared to rock fans, and, much like a rock tour, his visit had a title: "Christ our hope." That message of hope will lead to vocations over time, said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh.

"Any time there is a genuine expression and experience of hope, people naturally want to get involved," he said.

The pope walks his talk, he said. "When people see someone who is genuinely happy doing what they are doing, they feel intrigued by what brings them that happiness. An experience like this fires up the engines."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Polish Church takes to the catwalk to battle slump in numbers"

There are a lot of ways to promote vocations - I'm just not sure religious "fashion shows" are any of them. Perhaps it's something deeply ingrained in me, but I always think we must bring the youth/culture to the Church not the other way around. Yes, it is important to understand the culture, and even to use it, if possible to move people from one place to another spiritually. Historically missionaries have done this very effectively. The Fishers of Men video is a good example. It has the look and feel of a popular culture video, as good as anything out there, but it communicates a very different and powerful message. That video would have failed miserably if it contained priests trying to act like they were something they were not - in other words, trying to act like celbrity figures from our contemporary culture. Something tells me having religious sisters on a catwalk, imitating fashion models, verges on pandering to your audience. I could be wrong, and perhaps in a Polish culture it works well. I just pray it doesn't catch on here. The Church can not compete with pop culture on its turf - the Church will lose. The Church can only compete on its own solid foundation - the fullness of Truth. From the beginning men and women religious have been counter cultural, and they must never waiver from that reality. Some religious communities have worked hard for decades to be more like everybody else "in the world" and their decline in numbers is the fruit of their labors. Yet other communities, that are becoming even more radically counter cultural are seeing rapidly increasing numbers. It seems pretty simple to me.

All that said, this is a good article to read from the standpoint of seeing how popular culture affects vocations even in a very Catholic country like Poland. To read this article, it seems like the shortage of priests and religious in Europe could become even more dire in the years to come if the number of Polish vocations continues to decline. - BW

From AFP
LUBLIN, Poland — A striking brunette sashayed down the catwalk, showing off her simple yet elegant white robe and black headgear to the enraptured audience.

Sister Lucja of the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus smiled as the crowd burst into applause.

Faced with a slump in the number of nuns, monks and seminarians in Europe's Roman Catholic heartland, the Church in Poland is trying to dust down its image.

The recent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion show in this city in southeast Poland was just the latest sign.

"The name 'fashion show' is provocative. We want to show that we live simply, and that even if we sometimes dress in an old-fashioned way, our clothes are a reflection of our lifestyle," organiser Father Andrzej Batorski, a Jesuit, told AFP.

After Sister Lucja, other nuns, then Jesuits and Capuchin friars hit the red carpet to show off their cassocks in the main hall of the Catholic University of Lublin.

The 90-year-old university is a renowned centre of religious and secular teaching and research in Poland, where more than 90 percent of the 38-million-strong population professes to be Roman Catholic.

Some two dozen orders took part in Batorski's fair, setting up their stalls to try to spread the word that taking religious vows isn't a thing of the past.

The stands boasted multimedia displays, leaflets, giveaway calendars and -- at the missionary orders' booths -- souvenirs from Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile, religious chants echoed from loudspeakers.

Under Poland's post-World War II communist regime, the Church played a dual role as both a religious institution and as a bulwark against the authorities.

While its clout has remained significant since the regime's demise in 1989, and is certainly far stronger than in most other European countries, it has been a victim of its own success in helping bring about political change.

In a democratic country where the free market has brought previously unimaginable opportunities for a new generation of Poles, drawing new recruits is becoming a headache.

The mainstream Church's image has also been tarnished by an ultra-Catholic fringe whose outbursts regularly grab headlines, turning off would-be recruits.

"Ten years ago, we had 25 novice nuns. Last year we only had six," said Agnieszka Kranz of the Servant Sisters of Debica, a small Polish order.

Such figures are a worry for the Polish Church, and even for Roman Catholicism beyond the country's borders.

Until recently, the Polish Church was training more than a quarter of Europe's priests, monks and nuns, and supplied them worldwide to fill gaps in other countries.

Last year, the number of Poles taking vows fell by around 25 percent.

For the 2007-2008 academic year, Poland's diocesan seminaries, which train priests, recruited 786 new students, down from 1,029 the year before.

The total number of trainee priests has fallen by 10 percent in one year, to 4,257.

The country's monastic orders are also feeling the pinch.

The number of novice nuns slumped from 728 in 1998 to 468 last year. The number of new monks fell by half to 797.

"For the Polish Church, this is ringing alarm bells," said Monsignor Wojciech Polak, who oversees recruitment.

Batorski said it is up to the Church to reach out to young people, speaking a language they understand.

"We wanted via the fair to enable people to meet those who have chosen a monastic life, to show that they are just regular individuals," he said. (I don't really think having women religious strutting around on a catwalk shows that they are "just regular individuals". I think it shows that they are mimicking something that is particularly disordered in our world.)

"At the same time, we wanted to give a voice to people who have taken vows, allowing them to explain their chosen path and their faith," he added.

The Polish Church has also jumped headlong into cyberspace, and also turned to other planks of public relations.

Most orders have their own website -- and the Jesuits have even posted a video on YouTube. Others have tried television advertisement and the Franciscans even give their monks public speaking training.

At the Lublin fair, however, the impact seemed limited.

"I'd miss men, and nuns don't use make up or colour their hair," said Dominika Pietron, an 18-year-old school student.

However, she said she appreciated her hour-long discussion with a nun there.

"Religion helps you take a look at yourself, and builds confidence. But it should only be taken in small doses," she said.