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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Tarheel Apostle - Fr. Thomas Frederick Price, MM

The following video is primarily of a teleplay produced and aired by NBC on national television some time in the 1940's (we're not sure of the exact date). It shows some vignettes from the life of Fr. Thomas Frederick Price, MM, during his years as a priest in North Carolina prior to founding the Maryknoll Mission Society and leaving for China. To this I have added some information about the life of this truly heroic and virtuous priest.

Below are links to several sources of information about Fr. Price and his cause for canonization:

Cause for Sainthood for Father Thomas Frederick Price Group on Facebook

Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh

Maryknoll Mission Society

Testimonies concerning the reputation of Fr. Price,
as well as credible reports of favors or healings
received through prayer for his intercession
should be reported to:

Fr. Michael Walsh, MM,
Vice-Postulator of the Cause
of Fr. Price at

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Regular posting to resume soon

I've been in the process of trying to figure out Facebook over the past few days (among other things). I should be getting some new posts up soon. Please come back soon!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

NCDVD 2008 Convention

Attention Diocesan Vocation Directors/Assistants/Staff:

Online registration is open for this year's conference in Denver (September 27 - October 2, 2008).

This year's keynote speakers include the Most Reverend Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh (my boss), and Curtis Martin, Founder and President of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Click here to go to the NCDVD website for more information and online registration forms.

Last year was my first year attending the conference, and if this year is anything like last year it is not to be missed!

"Nuns serve the hemisphere's poorest"

From the Catholic Sentinel
By Ed Langlois

Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
MARYLHURST — If ever she is kidnapped, Sister Denise Desil will tell her captors simply to kill her and be done with it. She cannot stomach the idea of being ransomed when resources for ministry are in such short supply.

“I’ll die for a good cause,” says the 57-year-old Haitian nun with a dismissive wave of the hand.

As high food prices create a maelstrom in Haiti, Sister Denise and her hard-working religious community are hitting a crisis in an effort to feed orphans, disabled children, young mothers and others in the beleaguered island nation.

Despite the troubles, Sister Denise Desil does not despair.

“We have faith,” she says. “We have hope in God.”

She is a member of the Little Sisters of St. Thérèse. Founded in Haiti in 1948, the Catholic religious community is the island’s largest. The aim of the 225-woman community is to provide education and health care to the poorest people in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The women walk as many as 12 hours to reach their missions, some of which are in remote mountains of southwest Haiti.

Sister Denise is a nurse and midwife who has delivered easily more than a thousand babies. She offers counseling to mothers before and after the birth.

Her superiors sent her to the United States temporarily to find people who might be willing to support the nuns and their ministry. She will be speaking to parishes in Oakland, Calif. and made a stop in Oregon to visit the Sisters of the Holy Names here.

The small Haitian congregation is busy. They staff 29 elementary schools, four high schools, a teachers’ college and 15 home economics centers. The sisters run prenatal and post-natal care clinics that include food, two nursing homes, 20 urgent care dispensaries, two farms, a residents for AIDS patients with tuberculosis, an orphanage for girls and a program serving disabled children.

They have even launched a building program to construct concrete huts to replace the reed hovels that are often blown away during hurricane season. The sisters also construct outhouses to protect sanitation.

The nuns are also thrifty. With one dollar donation, they can can get milk and nutritional supplements for a child for a whole day.

A $50 check will pay the monthly wage of a high school teacher.

A gift of $1,500 would stock a home economic center with food and books for an entire year.

The sisters purchase milk, beans and vitamins for children and mothers. Students at the schools usually cannot afford tuition or books, so the sisters need resources to help them, too.

At the home economics centers, young women learn to read, cook, raise children and sew, skills vital to survive and thrive in Haiti.

Holy Names Sister Joan Maiers, a Marylhurst University writing instructor, organized a poetry reading at a Lake Oswego chocolate shop to benefit the ministry in Haiti. Sister Joan and Sister Denise met four years ago in Oakland.

As food prices have soared and Haiti has lost stability, the Little Sisters of St. Thérèse face unforeseen challenges.

One stream of donated food dried up and the sisters have been forced to scramble to find nourishment for those they serve.

Many hungry Haitians come to the sisters’ health clinics expecting food, but the stocks have dwindled.

Desperate bandits not long ago kidnapped one of the sisters and the community vehicle. The nun escaped, but the men demanded a hefty ransom for the car, which the sisters paid.

Asked why the dioceses and the government do not support the nuns’ ministry, Sister Denise explains that the church and civil officials have their own problems. The sisters do not involve themselves in advocacy in the halls of government. They try to let their work do the talking.

The cost of a 110-pound sack of rice in Haiti had risen to more than $50, or a fifth of the average worker’s annual salary. But unemployment rates have soared to 85 percent or more.

More than 60 percent of Haiti’s eight million people are malnourished.
One in five Haitian children dies before age 5 because of disease and malnutrition.

The sisters live in conditions most Americans would find rugged. Their beds are packed into small rooms. The high cost of food means there is less to eat.

The sisters have one donated car used for long trips on treacherous roads. One road was so rugged that when Sister Denise got out of the auto, she took a spill and broke her leg.

Many walk six or eight hours to their missions in the mountains of southwestern Haiti.

As the sisters get older, they need serious care, but there is no health insurance.
After making sure everyone is fed, Sister Denise dreams of a new compound for young women in formation as sisters. Now, they sleep jammed into a small room.

Sister Denise grew up in a town near Port Au Prince. As a girl, nuns taught her and she became interested in the life of service and prayer.

She entered the convent at age 18 and began her ministry at age 21 in Baradére, a city of 40,000 about a 12-hour drive southwest of the capital.

Baradére, on the Caribbean, is subject to stagnant water, which means mosquitoes, which means malaria. Sister Denise has had it numerous times, as have most of the residents. When children contract the disease, they often die.

In addition to her medical and fundraising work, Sister Denise teaches first Communion students at St. Peter Parish in Baradére.

Haiti, half of the island shared with the Dominican Republic, is about the size of Maryland. But the roads are so bad, it can take 12 hours to cross it.
Sister Denise will be in California until August. To contact her, send email to denise.desil@yahoo.com

To help, send donations payable to Congregation des Petites Soueurs de St. Thérèse, to St. John the Baptist Church, 11150 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, CA 94530.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Pray for the Novices!"

The Anchoress has a great post about the new novices in many religious communities - go check it out, and please do as she says - "Pray for the Novices!"

"Priests urged to care for their bodies the way they care for souls"

From Catholic News Service
By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With studies confirming that a high percentage of U.S. clerics are overweight and lead inactive and nutritionally unhealthy lifestyles, several Catholic leaders in interviews with Catholic News Service said priests should focus on their bodies with the same care they give the souls of their parishioners.

"We should remind our priests to take the time for relaxation and physical exercise," said Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, himself a physically fit 69-year-old Catholic leader. "It's very important for their health and their ministry."

A 2001 national survey of more than 2,500 Christian religious leaders -- conducted by the pastoral leadership research project "Pulpit and Pew" based at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina -- said that 76 percent of Christian clergy were either overweight or obese, 15 percentage points higher than for the general U.S. population.

The "Pulpit and Pew" study was the largest of recent surveys conducted on the health of U.S. clergy of several Christian denominations, all reaching similar conclusions.

"I probably would agree with that finding, because I know a lot of overweight priests," said Father David Garcia, director of the Old Spanish Missions in San Antonio. "I'm determined not to ever become one."

The 58-year-old priest -- who combines a strict regimen of running, weight lifting and martial arts six days a week to maintain a body fat percentage of 13 on his 5-foot-7-inch, 148-pound frame -- believes his body is a gift from God and that it's his duty to be a good steward.

Though Father Garcia has been athletic since he was a child, he said that five years after his ordination he became the secretary to his archbishop and began attending high-profile social functions that came complete with servings of rich foods. Six months into the job at the age of 30, he noticed his pants had become pretty snug.

"I looked in the mirror and asked myself, 'Do you want to be a fat old man before your time?'" he said. "So I looked at my lifestyle, began to study nutrition, began to run ... and then diversified my workout program. It's been a big part of my priesthood. You're more aware of yourself, and the gift of life. When we let our bodies go, we really in a sense misuse or abuse the gift that God gave us."

Father Garcia said bishops need to do a better job promoting ongoing exercise routines and a healthy diet to their priests.

It's easy for clergy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle with a work schedule that has them on call 24 hours every day of the week and also to indulge in unhealthy foods provided at the numerous social functions and potluck dinners they are required to attend, said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

"It is a problem and it needs to be addressed by the bishops in each diocese," said Father David L. Toups, a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., who is associate director for the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"As the bishops look at accountability of priests, that physical accountability has to be there, for their own well-being and the well-being of the people they tend to," he said. "It's about making sure their physical and spiritual needs are being met and about them being credible witnesses for God."

Some U.S. Catholic dioceses have established sports leagues and marathons designed for participation by priests and women religious, fashioned exercise centers in diocesan buildings and routinely encouraged seminarians to pay careful attention to the well-being of their bodies.

In general, younger priests lead healthier lifestyles than older clergy, said Father William M. Joensen, 48, of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, and a philosophy professor at Loras College in Dubuque, which has a small number of seminarians in its St. Pius X Seminary Program.

"You can attribute some of that to a generational philosophy which places physical fitness as a priority," said Father Joensen, himself an avid bicyclist who was spending part of June in Spain on a cycling trip.

"But, we also stress in priestly formation that it is important to avoid reverting to a sedentary lifestyle and to focus on staying active. This becomes an issue in their evaluations, when I work with them as a spiritual director," he said.

In the late 1990s the Archdiocese of Seattle offered priests rewards for participating in a wellness program designed by a local medical center as an incentive to adopt healthier lifestyles, complete with better nutrition and physical activity.

A few years ago several pastors of the Archdiocese of Baltimore volunteered to participate in an archdiocesan parish leadership analysis, and after an independent consultant interviewed parishioners of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Baltimore, she told the pastor of the parish -- Father James P. Kiesel -- concerns about his health had been overwhelmingly raised by his flock.

"It was a wake-up call for me," said Father Kiesel, 51. "I certainly was aware that I was out of shape, but hearing the concerns from the people around me drove home the point."

The pastor joined a gym, developed a workout program and within 18 months shed 40 pounds and gained more than muscle tone for his 6-foot-1-inch frame. He said he achieved stronger concentration skills for his ministry and a deeper connection with God.

Since parish priests have unusual work schedules tending to the spiritual needs of the faithful at Masses, funerals, weddings, hospital visits and individual consultations around the clock, many don't find the time for a regular exercise routine, Gibbs said.

"The problem with that kind of thinking is, it's a vicious cycle," Father Garcia said. "The more you give yourself permission not to take care of your body, the more your body deteriorates. Then you get sick more often and then you have less time for your ministry. Taking care of my body is as important as praying. If priests are too busy to pray, then we have a real problem."

It's crucial for priests to make the time commitment for routine physical activity and to stick to the schedule, even if it means other pastoral demands have to wait, he said.

"Don't give me the excuse that you don't have the time, because we can all fit this in our schedules," Father Garcia said. "Sometimes you have to tell people no, because you have another priority. I have to make time for my body, just like I need to make time for my mind and spirit."

Father Joseph G. Bochenek, the 63-year-old pastor of St. Brigid Church in the Canton section of Baltimore, found the best way for him to keep physically active and fit was to join an activity with members of his parish.

So, when an old friend asked him if he could use a building on his parish's campus to run an Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate school five years ago, Father Bochenek gave him access to space rent free, joined the program and encouraged parishioners to enroll in the twice-weekly class.

"It's offered me discipline, balance, physical fitness and tranquility," he said. "For the group, it's offered us companionship in a wholesome and friendly atmosphere."

Because many diocesan priests live alone, it's easy for them to fall into the trap of eating junk food and spending their leisure time in a sedentary way, which is why group activities can be beneficial for priests, Father Joensen said.

"I tell seminarians that it's important to become involved in prayer groups, especially among other priests, where priests are looking out for each other," he said. "This way, you can lead more by example. I've been in my prayer group for the past 15 years. There are six of us in it and three of us cycle, several of us belong to fitness centers and one works with a personal trainer."

Physically fit priests also have more credibility when espousing the virtues of being a good steward of one's body to members of their congregation, Father Garcia said.

"We should practice what we preach and we have to remember we're leading by example," he said. "The bishop of a diocese can do the same for his priests. By himself taking care of his health, he can show them how to take care of their body and that it's important to keep life in balance with prayer, eating, exercise and stimulating the mind, and then doing the hard work."

Hat tip to Deacon Kandra

"Answer to priest shortage lies in homes, diocesan camps"

After reading Bishop Bruskewitz book (excerpt on vocations), I will now repeatedly refer to the BIG 3 of vocation/discernment promotion: Bishops/Priests/Religious, Parents, and Catechists/Teachers. These three groups are the most important and influential in terms or forming children in the faith and in teaching them to discern what God is calling them to - regularly placing before them the possibility that He might be calling them to the Priesthood or Religious Life. Unfortunately very few members of these three groups actual promote vocations on regular basis. Bishops are starting to because they are being forced by sheer need, some priests are, very few families are, and catechists/teachers, well not so much. To create a culture of vocations requires the BIG 3 of formation to make discernment a part of the air we breath. Not simply to get more vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, but so that more of our children will grow up discerning what God is calling them to do with their lives, and in so doing, finding true peace and joy, rather than doing what they want and finding what so many in today's world find - depression. Not clinical depression of course, but the deep sense of unhappiness and an almost total lack of joy in ones daily life. Polling data varies, and is difficult to use reliably due to variations in the surveys themselves, but the results are the same - a large percentage of people are dissatisfied with their jobs/what they do for a living. Use of anti-depressants is skyrocketing, particularly amongst teens and young adults. Contrast this with the eleven novices for the Sisters of Life pictured in my earlier post - they radiate joy, it's contagious when you are around them, but by the "world's" standards they should be miserable. Not to say that if everyone were a Priest or Religious they would be filled with joy - of course not, in fact most people would be miserable if that were not what God was calling them to. The reality is that we have lost almost all sense of humbly listening to what God wants us to do, and spend most of our time telling Him what we want to do.

The article below by Bishop Vasa touches on this. The full article talks about the summer camps for youth they will be running in their Diocese, but obviously addresses the need for vocations promotion.

From the Catholic Sentinel
By the Most Reverend Robert F. Vasa


In the very midst of these camps I have scheduled a diaconal ordination at the cathedral in Baker City for Friday, June 27. Daniel Maxwell, presently engaged in a formative pastoral year at Bend, will be ordained to the transitional diaconate which means that he is on a path toward priestly ordination.

There is no one in the diocese who is unaware of the ever-present need to provide priests for our rural and far-flung parishes.

There are very many who are aware that the shortage of priestly vocations from our own diocese is compensated for by borrowing, temporarily, priests from other dioceses and other nations. I reiterate my gratitude for the service which these priests provide to our diocese.

I reiterate my gratitude to all of the priests, both local and international, who have responded to God’s call to become “fishers of men” and who serve the people of our parishes. I am reminded daily that ordination does not automatically assure perfection and I can assure you that my life and duties would be much easier if it did.

Priests and bishops are not perfect. The families from which they come are not perfect. The people whom they serve are not perfect. Yet, trusting in Divine Providence, I must believe that God has called them and that it is part of His inimitable plan for them to be serving here.

I also believe that it is part of God’s plan that priestly and religious vocations come precisely from the midst of the people who are served by the priests of a local diocese. These vocations need to come from the families of our own parishes.
There are many concerns voiced to me about the priestly cultural differences and I am fully aware of the fact that these differences can create tensions.

A more thorough enculturation process is always offered as a part of the solution but cultural differences are not overcome within the context of even an extended process.
It is only very rarely that the solution offered to the problem of cultural differences is the generation of more local priestly vocations.

I do believe that unless the people of God as a whole, in the Diocese of Baker, recognize that the priests serving in our diocese need to come from the midst of the people of the diocese, there will continue to be enculturation trials. I want to reaffirm that I thoroughly enjoy the international characteristic of the priests serving here in the Diocese of Baker.

The wide range of cultural differences do provide a challenge but I relish and am grateful for the diversity. That does not mean that I relish a continued reliance on international priests as the default solution to the ever-pressing need for more priests.

The fostering of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is not something which begins when a young person is in college.

It begins and must begin in the home. It begins with the family of origin. It begins with faith-filled prayer.

It begins with faith-filled prayer that God would bless your family with a vocation to the priesthood or religious life from among the members of your own family.

It begins with planting good and wholesome seeds of positive thoughts about priests and religious.

I believe it can begin with a young person’s participation in the diocesan family, elementary, junior high and high school camps.

These are very positive and engaging encounters with the diocesan Church and they help us recognize the family nature of the parish and the diocese.

These camps do have a strong spiritual and catechetical component to them and this perhaps needs to be strengthened even more but they are not at all lacking in the recreational and interactional elements.

Even at our temporary location this year there is provision for a slip and slide, volleyball, fire circle and general exploration.

There will also be time set apart for morning prayer, Mass, rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, individual confession and adoration. I believe that our camps need to reflect a different spiritual reality.

It is one thing to see the camps as a time when we can interject some spiritual and catechetical components in the midst of fun. It is quite something else to help young people realize that it is good, wholesome and indeed very possible to engage in some very serious spiritual and catechetical work and have fun at the same time.

One approach seems to put spiritual things a little more on the fringe of life while the other speaks more clearly about the centrality of God and spiritual elements and the joy which reverberates from that.

For the promotion of priestly and religious vocations, relationship with God needs to be central. God needs to be the center of our camps.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Pope Benedict calls for more priests in Eucharistic congress address"

From the Canadian Press:

From his private chapel, the Pope blessed worshippers who gathered in Quebec City for the closing service of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress.

In his sermon, which he delivered in French, the Pope pleaded for "the gift" of new priests who could renew the aging Catholic Church, so "the people of God will never be missing ministers."

"I invite you to transmit the ministry's call to young boys, so they accept with joy and without fear, to respond to Christ," the Pope said.

"They will not be disappointed."

"A New Priest's Homecoming"

After Training in Rome, Clergyman Says His First Mass at His Childhood Parish

From the Washington Post
By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer

Photo by Linda Davidson

PICTURED: Rev. Patrick Riffle (center) smiles during the ceremony. He is flanked by Rev. Mr. Jeremy Rodrigues (left) and Deacon William Kyte (right).

A t his first Mass as an ordained priest last Sunday, the Rev. Patrick Riffle kept reminding everyone: Today is not about me, it's a celebration of priesthood.

But that was difficult for his mother, Pamela Riffle, to remember as her 26-year-old son presented her with the cloth used during his ordination. Or his father, also named Patrick Riffle, as he posed for photos with his son. Or his four younger siblings, who supported his decision to become a priest even when kids at school didn't. Or the more than 300 people who traveled from just down the road and as far away as Rome to be at the country church.

For many of them, the day was more a celebration of Riffle -- the kid who grew up on a tobacco farm in Charles County, attended Immaculate Conception Church in Mechanicsville and started thinking about becoming a priest in fifth grade.

"When you're in fifth grade, you have a lot of thoughts, but usually you have ADD and move onto something else," Riffle said last week. "Plus, I didn't know where priests came from. For all I knew, they popped out of telephone booths. . . . But priesthood came up again and again in my heart and my head."

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sr. Mary Theotokos Ray, S.V.

With great joy and thanksgiving to Almighty God I post about a former student of mine, now very good friend and Godmother to our youngest son Samuel, who recently received her new religious name, Sr. Mary Theotokos, S.V., and the habit of the Sisters of Life. I've posted about Sr. Mary Theotokos before, and I will more than likely post about her again in the future. What can I say, I feel like a proud parent. Sr. Mary Theotokos was in a youth group I moderated, the Frassati Society, and it was on one of our retreats with the Trappist Monks at Mepkin Abbey that she first "heard" the Lord's call. It came in the form of a 90 year old monk asking if she or any of the the other high school girls on the retreat had ever considered becoming sisters or nuns. After much laughter, hers being perhaps the loudest, Sr. Mary Theotokos (then Stephanie) said "No!". She would hear that question repeated in her prayers everyday thereafter. See folks, we MUST ask the question!

Over the next year we had many talks and discussions about vocations, and she began to seriously discern a call to the religious life. In the spring of her senior year of high school Sr. Mary Theotokos would first meet the Sisters of Life on a mission trip to New York. From that first meeting, she knew these Sisters would one day be her sisters.

Fast forward five years to September 2007 and Sr. Mary Theotokos would enter postulancy with the Sisters of Life after graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Dallas with a degree in Theology (did I mention how proud of her I am?). The picture to the left is of her (front left) and her fellow postulants during the first weeks after they entered the community.

Then on Thursday, June 5th, 2008 she received her new name and habit. In case you're wondering, she did not choose her name, or even offer it as an option - Mother Agnes chose it for her - and what a beautiful name it is! Below are the names of the newly habited Sisters of Life: Back row: Sr. Mariae Veritas (Therese Dorobek), Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei (Rachel Yates), Sr. Bethany Madonna (Beth Burwell), Sr. Bernadette Therese (Jennifer Swan) Middle Row: Sr. Catherine Peter (Sandra McIver), Sr. Maria Ann Michaela (Jen Takach), Sr. Mary Angelica (Mary Germann) Front row: Sr. Amata Filia (Laura Dierschke), Sr. Mary Theotokos (Stephanie Ray), Sr. Talitha Guadalupe (Leslee Simms), Sr. Hosanna Christi (Maria Pereyra)

This past Friday, as providence would have it, we were able to visit with four of the Sisters of Life (from left to right in the picture to the left) Sr. Mary Theotokos, Sr. Mary Angelica, Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei, Sister Mary Gabriel (Vocations Director for the Sisters of Life) when they came to Belmont Abbey College to work with, and be present to, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Missionaries who are in the midst of their summer training at the college.
We were overjoyed to have an opportunity to visit with Sr. Mary Theotokos and the other Sisters on Friday. Seeing her in a habit for the first time seemed like the most natural thing in the world - and indeed it is! I could go on at length, but I will refrain. Please keep Sr. Mary Theotokos, and her fellow novices in your prayers - especially as they head off with 37 of their sisters to World Youth Day in Sydney where the will host the LOVE LIFE SITE with the Knights of Columbus Collegians and the John Paul II Institutes. The website (previous link) has a beautiful video which you can watch here.
Finally I wanted to post a beautiful story she wrote as a postulant for the recent quarterly publication from the Sisters of Life "Stories from the Streets" (Issue 28, Spring 2008):

Understanding Jasmine
by Sister Mary Theotokos Ray, S.V.

She was the first girl I saw as we walked in to the Youth 2000 weekend retreat. While all the other teens were inside adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she was outside, smoking a cigarette and talking on her cell phone. I smiled to myself because I recognized her rebellion as something I would’ve done when I was her age.

Two minutes earlier I had been complaining to Sr. Therese about having to lead a small group at the Youth 2000. I told her, “I’m not ready.” Sr. Therese laughed and said, “Well God thinks you’re ready. It’s all about poverty…being vulnerable. He’ll give you the words to say. But more than anything, these kids just need to see you – your joy, your light, you faith.” As we passed the girl who was smoking and talking on her cell phone, Sr. Therese said, “See, like that girl. She’s yearning for Christ but she doesn’t even know it yet.”

An hour later we met – her name is “Jasmine” and she was placed in my small group. I learned that her parents were alcoholics, and that she herself began to drink heavily and do drugs at a very early age. Although she was only in high school, she had already experienced a great deal of suffering and yet, she was determined to do whatever she could to create a better life for her younger siblings. That’s why she was on the retreat – for them. Then she told me that she didn’t believe in God.

I thought to myself, “If only she knew the love of Christ.” Immediately I knew in my heart that Jesus was thirsting for her, yearning for her love, but at the same time I was feeling totally empty and helpless in the situation; I didn’t know where to begin. I sensed her hurt and her need of healing. I recognized her passion to love but also her fear and lack of trust in others. I understood that her cynicism and anger were simply a cover to protect her gentle and kind heart. I knew that the evil one had been filling her with lies – so much so that she felt totally alone and isolated.

So I ended our first small group meeting with, “Whether you believe in God or not, He is real. He created you, unique and special. He loves you with an infinite merciful love. And He is present with us today in the Eucharist. So I’m asking you to just be open – open to Him and His love. He is dying to love you and for you to love Him. Go before Him in adoration and tell Him all your hurts, your disappointments, your frustrations, your desires. Just be open…and listen for His response because He wants you to know Him.”

After lunch our small group met again and we talked about God’s mercy. I told them that no sin is too big for God to forgive. God is always faithful, no matter what. Even when the rest of the world lets us down, God keeps His promises. Then I invited all the girls in my group to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation sometime during the weekend. I felt that deep down Jasmine desired to believe in God, and I believed that Reconciliation would be the best way for her to receive His grace. Jasmine laughed at the invitation and said “No way.” After the small group broke up, I suggested that she talk to a priest and tell him her frustrations and why she didn’t want to go to confession. She asked me why and I asked her, “Can you admit that you need healing?” She started tearing up, and I said, “Then a priest can only help. Christ heals us of all our sins, our hurt, and our anger.”

Suddenly she made the decision to go to confession; she hadn’t been since her First Holy Communion. She made promise that it would help her. I promised that Christ would give new life to her soul in confession and healing grace. She held my arm and asked me to find her a priest.

She looked at me with longing eyes-full of fear, and sadness and hurt. I knelt down to pray as she followed the priest to the confessional. When she was finished and the priest gave her absolution, she hugged him and then started to cry. She cried for a long time, but the fear, the sorrow, the pain, and the anger were gone. I knew that the road ahead for her would not be easy-because there were many things that needed to change-but she would be okay because she would not walk alone; Christ would lead her.

God also gave me the grace to realize that He would guide me, too, if I would just open myself up to His love, and let Him lead me. In the vulnerability of not knowing how I could help Jasmine, I had to rely on Jesus completely. By the end of the day, I was amazed at how He taught me to live by faith, to trust in His mercy, and to open myself up to His love.

Sister Mary Theotokos Ray, S.V. with her Godson Samuel.

"Pope is inspiration for future priests"

Local man was part of Mass
From the Poughkeepsie Journal
By John Davis and Gary Stern

Photo by Karl Rabe/Poughkeepsie Journal

For the New York Archdiocese, one positive affect of the April visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the Big Apple could be a turnaround in the dwindling number of men who are choosing to become priests.

The Rev. Robert Bubel, who is one of the archdiocese's six newly ordained priests, played a major role as a deacon during the April 19 papal Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Bubel, whose formative religious years were spent in St. Columba parish in Hopewell Junction, said celebrating Mass for Pope Benedict affirmed his own decision to give his life to God.

"It certainly motivates me as a priest in wanting to give my entire life to the service of God and his people," he said. "I see a man like Pope Benedict who is so talented and given so many gifts by God. And he's given all of this to God and this is so important to him. His faith is so strong and a desire to spread that faith to the youth of America essentially is absolutely inspiring. It's such a powerful affirmation of what I'm giving my entire life to."

Bubel attended St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. He was among the seminarians who greeted the pope at a youth rally and prayer service there.

"It was very, very special because the seminary is our home," he said. "To welcome the pope into our home meant a lot. We're a bunch of young guys, too. We're hooting and hollering. ... It really was a powerful, powerful moment."

The pope's visit, Bubel said, ignited an interest in young men keen to study at the seminary to become a priest.

"Rumors that I've heard is that the phone was ringing off the hook following his visit," he said. "Unfortunately, you can never really know until September 1, the day when people show up."

One of the people who is still experiencing the papal visit, in a sense, is the Rev. Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of New York.

Normally, he receives a couple of inquires each week from young men considering the priesthood. But during the last three weeks, he has received dozens. Some of them are quite serious and come from men who say Pope Benedict's visit has inspired them to consider taking a step they have avoided.

This was the hope. The Archdiocese faces a worsening shortage of priests and is in great need of seminarians. The archdiocese has about 470 active diocesan priests - compared to 1,200 four decades ago - and about 40 percent are between 65 and 75.

At St. Patrick's Cathedral in May, Cardinal Edward Egan ordained six diocesan priests, including Bubel and the Rev. Ronald Perez, who has been assigned to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish in the Town of LaGrange. The main or upper seminary at St. Joseph's will train fewer than 20 men next fall.

"It's always been my gut feeling and belief that there are guys out there thinking about it," Sweeney said referring to the priesthood. "The idea has been kicking around for a while, maybe years, but for whatever reason - work, fear, simply pushing it out of their minds - they can't take the step. My hope was the Holy Father's visit would knock some people off the fence and give us the shot in the arm we need.

"It seems to be happening," said Sweeney, who talks about the priesthood at high schools, colleges and parishes.

He is excited, but cautiously so. Of the men who have contacted him, some will get cold feet right away. Others will need to finish college or to take a few years to consider their vocation or get up their courage. Others will prove to be a poor fit for the priesthood.

"We want to avoid flash-in-the-pan conversions," Sweeney said. "We really monitor applications. But I want to talk to them as soon as possible to get a sense of their vocation, of whether they are a promising candidate."

Taking a step

Sweeney believes at least several young men may be ready to enter St. Joseph's minor seminary this fall, where students study philosophy and other subjects before entering the main seminary to study theology.

The true impact of the papal visit, though, won't be known for more than a decade, Sweeney said. The hope is that men who enter the seminary years from now will look back on the papal visit as a formative experience - and a counter to the sex-abuse crisis that has certainly weighed on the minds of young Catholic men in recent years.

"I'm hopeful that in the coming years, young men will say, 'That's the first time I thought about the priesthood, when the pope was in New York,' " Sweeney said.

Bubel, 30, celebrated his first Mass on May 11 at St. Columba Church with his family and friends in attendance.

"It was so intimate and warm and happy," he said. "It was a joyous, joyous occasion."

He has been assigned to St. Stephen's parish in Warwick in Orange County.

Bubel said what led to his becoming a priest were parents that were oriented to attending Mass every Sunday and providing him with a Catholic education. He attended grade school at St. Columba School and Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.

"First and foremost, it really does start in the family," Bubel said. "Also my parish priests who served as role models for me, were people I wanted to be like."

Add Pope Benedict to that list of role models.

"One thing I recognized was how reverent he was - the way he celebrated Mass, the way he took time before Mass began to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and say his prayers," Bubel said. "A real inspiration of a priest."
Click on the image to the right to see all post related to the U.S. Papal visit.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"100 sign up to attend camp for potential priests"

From The Patriot-News

Quo Vadis Days, the midstate summer camp for young men considering the Roman Catholic priesthood, has maxed out again this year at 100 campers.

The campers will gather Sunday at Mount St. Mary's University and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., for five days designed to help them see "not just what a priest does but who a priest is," said the Rev. Raymond LaVoie, head of vocations for the Diocese of Harrisburg.

A dozen Quo Vadis veterans are among the 20 men from the Diocese of Harrisburg who are studying for the priesthood, a spokesman said. That's 10 more seminarians than last year. Bishop Kevin Rhoades, former rector of Mount St. Mary's, said when he became head of the 15-county diocese that finding new priests was his priority.

Quo Vadis Days (the Latin means "Where are you going?") began in 2000 in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in an effort to boost the dwindling ranks of the priesthood and was adopted by Rhoades four years ago.

Read the rest of the article hear.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Priest Groups Grow"

From the National Catholic Register
By Wayne Laugesen

DENVER — Matthew Book looks forward to being a priest, but not the part about living alone.

He prays that his new community might help alleviate some of the isolation priests experience in a world where they are fewer and farther between than at times in the past.

“In seminary life we are discovering the value of community, for accountability and encouragement,” said Book, one of about 70 seminarians studying at Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary. “Community is a central trait of Christian life. There’s a kind of forced solitude among diocesan priests, and this is a way to address that concern.”

It’s a concern that’s shared by Father David Toups, associate director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

“With fewer priests, it’s all the more important for him to stay connected with brother priests,” Father Toups told Zenit.

Father Toups, author of the new book Reclaiming Our Priestly Character, told the Register that fraternal groups allow priests to express themselves and be “gently challenged” to greater holiness by fellow priests. Communities, he said, also help attend to the need for spiritual direction and frequent confession for priests.

“It’s a day and an age where we can begin to be creative in how we address the need some priests have for community,” Father Toups said.

The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, published by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, emphasizes the importance of “common life” for priests:

“Particularly praiseworthy are those associations that support priestly fraternity, sanctity in the exercise of the ministry, and communion with the bishop and with the entire Church” (No. 29).

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput recently allowed Book and three other seminarians to start the Denver Chapter of a community called Companions of Christ. It’s modeled after the Companions of Christ priestly community in Minneapolis, which is comprised of about 15 diocesan priests.

“The idea here came from four of our seminarians who wanted to reinforce each other’s vocational discernment by living together as a community — something like religious life, but ordered to diocesan needs,” Archbishop Chaput said.

Archbishop Chaput said one of the biggest problems of modern life, for priests and laity alike, is the pressure of isolation, fatigue and loneliness. He wants the Companions to serve as “real brothers on a daily, personal basis, helping each other in their common work.”

“The priesthood is based on fraternity, but too often that doesn’t have substance in our daily parish routines,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The companions try to change that by instilling a sense of priestly brotherhood early in a man’s journey to ordination.”

Members of the Denver Companions of Christ chapter hope to eventually accept seminarians after they’ve studied for three years. Eventually, if all goes as planned, the community will be for seminarians and priests. For now, membership is limited to the four seminarians who originated it.

“The Companions are an experiment,” Archbishop Chaput said. “If they don’t work out as a model, something else will. But I admire the courage of the young men pursuing this, because they already understand that the priesthood is not just a collection of individuals but a real brotherhood, an apostolic community of friends seeking to follow Jesus Christ and to lead others to him. Christ relied on his apostles. It makes sense that we should rely on each other.”

More Established

Father Toups said the idea of priestly communities is catching on throughout North America. Two of the more established communities are the Fraternity of Priests and the Companions of the Cross, in Ottawa, Ontario.

Father Joseph Looney belongs to the Connecticut chapter of the Fraternity of Priests, which, according to its website, aims to give priests the “vision, the ongoing formation and the support to respond with enthusiasm to the fullness of the priesthood.”

Members don’t live together, but they have been meeting for fraternal fellowship every Monday for 21 years.

“It’s a committed brotherhood,” Father Looney said.

Father Looney said to succeed, a fraternity must work closely with the local bishop. He believes it’s a movement that could take off, and he thinks that it would strengthen the prayer lives of priests.

“I think eventually there might be a priestly fraternity in every diocese,” Father Looney said. “But it’s really demanding. I wonder how many priests will go for it. If they do, they will be blessed. But they have to make a commitment to be brothers together — a band of brothers nourished from above, like the raven who brought the meat to the prophet Elijah.”

That’s a lesson Book takes to heart.

“It’s the Holy Spirit who builds community,” Book said. “We want to be open and docile to build the kind of community the Lord wants through the work of the Holy Spirit. We will see if this is what the Lord wants to build.”

One problem inherent to priestly communities is geographic. In the Archdiocese of Denver, for example, priests are spread few and far between over hundreds of square miles throughout northern Colorado. To live in community, or to even participate in occasional social activities of a community, works fine for anyone studying at either of Denver’s seminaries. But after a seminarian becomes a priest, he could find that the community is 100 miles or more away, depending on what parish he’s assigned to.

“The archbishop accepts that if this works out he would try to assign members of the community to the same general area,” Book said. “In Minneapolis, a few of the 15 priests live at the community’s main house and the rest are scattered around in twos or threes or fours.”

The Companions of the Cross began in 1984, and was comprised of a priest, a seminarian and three young men preparing to enter seminary. Father Bob Bedard, one of the founding members of the community, said in a video that the community began as part of “God’s plan for renewal of the Church.”

“God is the founder,” Father Bedard said. “For me, it was a very unexpected development in life. I met with young men interested in the priesthood to help them discern their vocations, to think it through. It was the only vision we had. We prayed. … We knew God wanted a new community of priests.”

Father Bedard said the community centers around living a common life in order that the priests and seminarians can affirm and support each other. The community focuses on the Eucharist, living simply and working, and helping the poor, the young and non-practicing Catholics.

“We have a particular loyalty to the Holy Father and the magisterium, and we maintain an obedience to local bishops,” Father Bedard said. “As companions we recognize the prophetic ministry God has given the Church at this time, as well as the role of Mary, Mother of the Church.”

During Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in April, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the difficulties facing those who say Yes to God.

“For those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members,” the Holy Father said. “It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society that sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality.”

Book and his fellow seminarians who have formed the new community believe priestly fraternity may be the best way to stand strong in a society that sometimes seems to have forgotten God.

“Priests need stronger fraternity so they can build up the people,” Book said. “St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, didn’t have companions. So it’s not an essential thing, but it’s an important thing at this time in the Church.”

Father Toups said the new chapter of Companions of Christ, and any other startup priestly communities, will likely work best in urban settings where priests from three or more parishes can live together in community without having to travel far.

A Shepherd Speaks

For the past several years the Diocese of Lincoln, under the shepherding of the Most Reverend Fabian Bruskewitz, has led the nation in the ratio of seminarians to Catholics. When you look at the numbers, they are far and away the leading Diocese in the nation for vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood.

The excerpt below his from Bishop Bruskewitz' book "A Shepherd Speaks" (Ignatius Press, 1997), where His Excellency speaks directly to the role that all of us have in promoting vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. Far too many Catholics, if not the overwhelming majority of Catholics, have the mistaken notion that it is the Diocesan Director of Vocations job to "get vocations". Wrong. Vocations Directors work to promote vocations on a diocesan level, but they are primarily charged with the day to day work of helping men discern their call and working with those who are already in formation. However, they can't work with men who never come forward. And most men will never come forward unless someone encourages them to consider a vocation to the Priesthood or Religious Life. A diocesan vocations director can not be in every parish all the time. However, if you consider the collective time spent by pastors, parents, and catechists working with individuals - it is significant, and it is far more than a vocations director could ever dream of spending with young people. The reality is that if every Catholic in every parish in the country took seriously their responsibility to promote and encourage vocations, we would have NO vocations shortage!

From "A Shepherd Speaks":

In its decree on priestly formation, the Second Vatican Council speaks in a most serious way about the duty of promoting vocations to the priesthood and to other forms of special consecration. It says, “The task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community, which should do so in the first place by living in a fully Christian way. Outstanding contributions are made in the work by families which are alive with the spirit of faith, love, and reverence, and which serve as a kind of introductory seminary, and by parishes in whose pulsing vitality young people themselves have a part.” (Optatam totius, no. 2)

Prayer for Religious Vocations

There can be no doubt that prayer is the most essential component of any community’s vocational efforts. Our Savior Himself made this very clear when He told us, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He might send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38). God Himself, Who is perfectly free, chooses to “depend” upon our prayers for our priestly and religious vocations.
When people occasionally want additional priests or different priest in their parish or complain because they lack religious sisters in their parishes and schools and bring such laments to me, I often wonder whether they, individually or as a parish community, have ever really prayed, with the utmost seriousness that the situation requires, for vocations, as well as for the perseverance and holiness of those called by God. The Second Vatican Council teaches that “primary consideration” in vocation work must be given “to the traditional means of joint effort, such as persistent prayer and Christian mortification”. Pope John Paul II said, “I [invite] you, dear brothers and sisters, to commit your communities to the Lord in prayer, so that united according to the example of the first Christian community in an assiduous listening to the Word of God and in the invocation of the Holy spirit, with the aid of the Virgin Mary, they may be blessed with an abundance of vocations to the priestly and religious life.”

After bishops, priests, deacons, and religious, the important instruments that God uses as actual graces of vocational discernment certainly are parents. Through unselfish love in wholesome family life, Christ often whispers His call to children and youth. Generous parents, who are highly honored to have a son or daughter called by the Lord to a life of special consecration to Him and special service to His People, can be crucial in nurturing the possible vocation of one of their offspring.

Our Holy Father also singles out catechists “who often have direct and prolonged contact with children, adolescents, and young people, above all during their preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation [Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion]. To these also is entrusted the task of explaining the value and importance of the special vocations in the Church, thus helping to bring it about that believers live fully the call which God is addressing to them for the good of all.” The Second Vatican Council said, “Teachers and all others, especially Catholic societies, who in any capacity provide: for the training of young people “should strive so to develop those entrusted to them that these young people will be able to recognize a divine calling and willingly answer it.”

"The Ideal Family of the Permanent Deacon"

J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
February 19, 2000

"Two texts illustrate the characteristics of the ideal husband and of the ideal wife on the one hand, and of the ideal deacon on the other. The first is taken from the Bible, the second from the ordination rite. A Regula Vitae for the deacon can be deduced from them and includes elements of a new way of living guided by the Holy Spirit.

These texts serve as the first two parts of my talk, the deacon as husband and the deacon as an ordained minister. In the third part I will point out elements of the deacon’s spirituality. In the conclusion, examples of contemporary family spirituality will be cited."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Signing up for priestly recruitment"

Military personnel to be recruited for new kind of service.

From the South Bend Tribune
Associated Press Writer

Photo by: MARY SCHWALM/AP Photo

METHUEN, Mass. — The Rev. John McLaughlin never served in the military, but he’s faced unexpected, violent death in the way troops do.

Decades ago, McLaughlin lay bleeding on a Boston street after being stabbed from behind. The prayer-filled moments that followed, when McLaughlin believed he might die, changed his life and ultimately led him to God. Now, in a newly created job, he’ll be trying to recruit military personnel to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

He believes that service members, who confront death as part of their jobs, could have a similar openness to religious service.

Read the rest of the article here: South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Captains in His Army"

Some time ago I found this video, "Captains in HIS Army", on the Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Vocations website and asked permission to post it here. You can find this video (higher resolution), along with others, on this page of their website.

The video was produced in the 1940's by the Serra Club of St. Louis in order to promote and encourage vocations to the Priesthood. If you have 26 minutes, I HIGHLY recommend that you watch it. It is a period video, meaning that the music and narration is "nostalgic", but it is a fascinating glimpse into the world of vocations and seminary formation (for that matter the Church) of the 1940's. The ordinations are quite wonderful to see.

A special thank you to the Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Vocations for allowing me to post a copy of the video here.

Discernment Meditation from the Sisters of Life for June 2008


"If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, give to the poor and
then come, follow me." (Mt.19: 21)

The answer our Lord gives to the rich young man confirms what the man has
already recognized: following the commandments alone is not enough to
satisfy his thirsty heart. His question, "What more do I lack?" implies that
there is still a lack - there is something in him not yet given, and that
not-givenness is experienced as a poverty, as a yearning, as a need to be
met. I am not yet who I am meant to be.

"What more do I lack?" And Jesus says, "If you wish to be perfect..." If you
wish not to lack, then "go, sell what you have, give to the poor and then
come, follow me." If you wish to have that interminable human lack filled,
stop reaching out habitually for things that can never reach the depths of
who you are. Empty yourself, attend to the needs of others, and then train
your eyes, your heart, your life, on me.

Don't we ask this question of Jesus? What more do I lack, Lord? For I know I
lack, I know I am not yet who I am to be. His answer is always the same, and
always imbued with our greatest reality: his look of love. When we allow
ourselves to meet the intensity and tenderness of His gaze, it's as if a
burning ember of love leaps from His Sacred Heart and penetrates our own,
lodging itself there, insisting on response.

Last Thursday evening, in the chapel of our Formation House, eleven young
women turned the eyes of their hearts and minds in a more definitive way
towards the fire-y gaze of the Divine Bridegroom. One by one, they were
called by a new name and approached the altar to receive their religious
habit and the constitutions of the Sisters of Life. As Mother Agnes clipped
each new novice's hair she said, "I take a lock of your hair as a sign of
your desire to be totally dedicated to Christ in this way of life. May He
one day receive you as His spouse." Because they were more divested by His
Love, they became- necessarily - more invested in His Love. The word "habit"
has the same root as the word habitat. It comes from the latin habitare - to
dwell, to live. These new novices choose to dwell in the Heart of Jesus, and
literally place their bodies within clothing that marks them, to the world
and to themselves, as His alone.

In this month of June we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the source of the
Divine Love poured out for us on Calvary and at every Mass - the source of
the fire of Divine Love that captures the hearts and imaginations of those
called to religious life. Religious are brides of Christ - icons of the
Church, the Bride of Christ. Religious, smitten by Jesus' crucified love,
are a living pledge of the Church's virginal, bridal love for the Lord. In
our very persons, religious cry out in response to our amazing God, "We
believe! We have known your love. We await your return with lamps alight:
Come, Lord Jesus!" We are living brides who know a living love - the living,
burning embers of Divine Love. These embers are not meant to smolder out but
to leap up into blazing flames that consume within us all that is not Him
and in the process, transform us into who we truly are.

The prophet Ezekiel tells us of God's promise: "I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your hearts of stone and
give you a heart of flesh" (Ez. 36:26). This new heart is the Lord's Heart,
which still beats as does yours and mine. Being devoted to the Sacred Heart
of Jesus is being devoted to His sacred humanity. Whenever we are devoted to
another's heart, we seek to ease that heart, to be a balm to that heart, to
delight that heart. Jesus' Heart needs that love, too, and He looks for it
from you, from me. His Heart, so tender, is continually hurt by neglect,
indifference, contempt. Each of us has experienced a hurt of the heart - we
tend to build walls in response. Jesus, the Lamb of God, never turns away
from these hurts but remains open and exposed in them. His Love is stronger
than any suffering, than any evil, and His Sacred Heart stands before every
lack of love without defense, suffering the pain and offering to bring new
life where there is none.

But He does not wish to accomplish this alone. He asks us to bear His Life
to the world: "with God all things are possible." And so we turn to the
tenderness and the intensity of His gaze, which divests us of all that is
not Him and pierces us anew with the flaming embers of His love. "Go, sell
what you have, give to the poor and then come, follow me." May the union of
our trust with His power satisfy every lack and bring an explosion of Mercy
and Life to the world!

Sr. Mary Gabriel, S.V.
Vocations Director/Sisters of Life
St. Jane Frances de Chantal Convent

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Canon Law 233

“The duty of fostering vocations rests with the entire Christian community so that the needs of the sacred ministry in the universal Church are provided for sufficiently. This duty especially binds Christian families, educators, and, in a special way, priests, particularly pastors.”

Monday, June 16, 2008


After reading a recent post on Fr. Finigan's blog about a petition by priests in England and Wales asking the Bishops to end the discipline of celibacy and ordain married priests I thought about celibacy in other religions. As I continued to think about it I wondered why there is no public outcry for Buddhists to end their practice of celibacy and their "rigid" rules for seperation between the sexes? Where are the petitions from the monks and nuns? What about all of the married Buddhists who are being denied their "right" to become married monks and nuns. Oh wait, maybe it's because they understand that their's is a spiritual life, one dedicated to prayer and asceticism - and they willingly embrace it, young men and women, in large numbers. As are an ever increasing number of young men and women in the Roman Catholic Church.

From The Buddhist World: Lay Buddhist's Guide to Monks Rules


Monks and nuns lead lives of total celibacy in which any kind of sexual behaviour is forbidden. This includes even suggestive speech or physical contact with lustful intent, both of which are very serious offences for monks and nuns. As one's intent may not always be obvious (even to oneself), and one's words not always guarded, it is a general principle for monks and nuns to refrain from any physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Monks should have a male present who can understand what is being said when conversing with a lady, and a similar situation holds true for nuns.

Much of this standard of behaviour is to prevent scandalous gossip or misunderstanding occurring. In the stories that explain the origination of a rule, there are examples of monks being accused of being a woman's lover, of a woman's misunderstanding a monk's reason for being with her, and even of a monk being thrashed by a jealous husband!

So, to prevent such misunderstanding, however groundless, a monk has to be accompanied by a man whenever he is in the presence of a woman; on a journey; or sitting alone in a secluded place (one would not call a meditation hall or a bus station a secluded place). Generally, monks would also refrain from carrying on correspondence with women, other than for matters pertaining to the monastery, travel arrangements, providing basic information, etc. When teaching Dharma, even in a letter, it is easy for inspiration and compassion to turn into attachment.
Update: From the combox, I thought I should post a clarification of what I was thinking when I created this post - This post was not meant to be a perfect comparison. Rather, it was meant to highlight that there are other religions that practice celibacy in one form or another or at one time or another (particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks who most people seem to be enamored with, especially the Dalai Lama who is himself a life-long celibate). What I had in mind is the simple fact that many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, see some Buddhist monks and are deeply impressed by their life of asceticiism and sprituality. Yet many of those same people look at Catholic priests, brothers and sisters and think only, "How could they give up sex?" I once took a group of nominal Catholic students (art class field trip to the Museum) to see Tibetan Buddhist Monks create a "sand painting". They were "blown away" by the monks and thought they were "so cool". They were very excited about Buddhism, their habits, their chants, their asceticism, etc. When I mentioned that we have monks in the Catholic Church who are equally ascetic they were not particularly impressed and eventually got to the point that Catholic monks had to be celibate, which in their mind was a problem. When I mentioned that these Buddhist Monks were celibate they thought that was OK because it was somehow more "mystical" in their minds. Obviously there is a much larger problem here, but it serves to highlight the disconnect in most peoples mind about the nature of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church.

‘A worthwhile vocation’: Advice for a new generation of priests

From the Rhode Island Catholic
BY Emily Donohue

PROVIDENCE – The life of a priest is “not an easy life, but it is a very worthwhile vocation,” Monsignor William Varsanyi, the longest-serving priest in the diocese, said in a recent interview.
As the diocese prepares to ordain five men to the priesthood on June 28, Monsignor Varsanyi looked back on his life as a priest in the hope it would speak to the soon-to-be-ordained.

In 1946, when he was ordained in his native Hungary, the country was occupied by Communist Russians and the life of a priest was fraught with risk and danger. “Our first challenge was to survive and try to carry out our priestly mission,” he said. He left Hungary, studied in Rome for a few years and came to Providence in 1951.

Msgr. Varsanyi pointed out that this year’s class of priests will start their ministry during a war, like he did, although the circumstances are much different. But, as in any time of war, “lots of people will need special spiritual care and assistance,” he said.

He offered a variety of advice, from the practical to the spiritual, for the five young men.

• “Consider the diocese and administration a friend and helper.” Msgr. Varsanyi, who serves as the Delegate for Canonical Affairs for the diocese, is a part of that administration. He said new priests should not be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions to the diocese.

• Never stop learning and studying. “The old saying is still valid that a good priest studies and learns throughout his whole life,” he said, adding that the challenges of today’s society demand continued study.

• Remaining focused on the most important aspect of priestly life, celebrating Mass, is essential to having success as a priest, Monsignor Varsanyi said. “The Mass is the central part of our faith, but also of the priest.”

• These men will enter the priesthood in a time when it is likely that they will be the pastors of their own parish within the first decade of their service. When Msgr. Varsanyi was ordained it wasn’t unusual for priests to serve 25 or more years as an assistant pastor, learning the ins and outs of maintaining a parish, before they were charged with their own parish. Since they will be given this responsibility with less time for apprenticeship, Monsignor Varsanyi advised that they “keep good church records and personnel records from the beginning.”

• “Keep company with priests,” he recommended. He said fellow priests can understand most completely the challenges the vocation brings and are best-equipped to help new priests handle those challenges.

• Be adaptable, he advised: “The Church is always changing.” He has witnessed first-hand the ebb and flow of the church in Providence, from the 1950s when the diocese was growing and new schools and parishes were being constructed across the state to today, when the church maintains a strong presence but has felt the effects of an increasingly secular society. There will always be changes, he said, but the basics of the faith never change.

• Priests are people too, Msgr. Varsanyi said, and people make mistakes. “If you make a mistake you admit it and realize that priests can make mistakes.”

Today’s priests enter a society that is, to some extent, skeptical of the priesthood. Sex abuse scandals have changed the way that many people look at priests, but Msgr. Varsanyi warned against these young priests feeling that they must spend their careers atoning for the mistakes of men who came before them. “They are a different generation, better prepared. They should not be ashamed,” he said, adding that the failings of previous generations should serve only as an inspiration to do better for the young men who will soon be ordained.

Monsignor Varsanyi said that the new class of priests gives him great hope for the diocese. He encouraged the men to remember that “only God will reward a good servant.”

"Nuns Help Prostitutes Heal, Give Them Hope"

Draw Strength From Charism of Eucharistic Adoration

From Zenit
By Mirko Testa

ROME, JUNE 12, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A group of religious sisters devoted to Eucharistic adoration say they find the same God in the Blessed Sacrament that they see in the girls with whom they work -- young women rescued from the prostitution trade.

Sister Aurelia Agredano explained the work of her congregation, the Order of the Sisters of Adoration, Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity, at a conference in Rome on the plague of human trafficking.

Addressing the congress on June 4, Sister Aurelia explained the projects carried out by her congregation -- which was born in Madrid in 1856 -- to combat the traffic of women for sexual exploitation. Today the congregation has close to 1,300 religious in 22 countries (virtually in all of Latin America, but also in Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam).

The founder, St. María Micaela of the Blessed Sacrament, belonged to the Spanish aristocracy. From her youth, she was active in apostolates and charitable works.

While caring for girls suffering from venereal diseases in Madrid's St. John of God Hospital, she met a young patient -- "the girl with the shawl, who fell victim to an evil life" -- and convinced her to return to her family.

It was then that the religious discovered the social reality of prostitution and decided to found schools to help such girls, victims of poverty and ignorance.


Sister Aurelia Agredano, who has eight years of experience living beside girls from various countries who have fallen into the net of human trade, spoke with ZENIT about the project "Hope," founded in Spain in 1999.

"It is a program that puts women at the center, in their concrete realities, and calls for a choice made in full liberty," she explained. "More specifically, it is a path marked by stages characterized by concrete objectives and different structures of hospitality, where the woman is the authentic protagonist and recipient of individualized and integral care from the physical, psychological, social and spiritual point of view.

"In this way, through daily life in our 'Family Homes,' they begin to recover their lost confidence, start to take active part, to return to a normal life with study, the search for employment … until they achieve complete autonomy."

Social evil

Some 50 women have passed through the congregation's three homes, but about 300 are in contact.

"We are very active in denouncing this social [evil], with activities programmed through the media, magazines and videos," Sister Aurelia said. "We encourage awareness programs to generate common spaces for critical reflection, but above all we are committed to formation

"Our founder saw in formation the only means of salvation or rescue for these girls. Because of this, the social promotion and reinsertion [of the girls] is important, otherwise they run the risk of falling again into the same vicious circle."

The Spanish nun explained that the healing process takes close to two years -- "and it is not simple."

"At first," she said, "we engage in awareness-building at police stations, immigrant centers and embassies. In our reception homes, we live with them, attempting to create a family atmosphere, with all the difficulties entailed, given the diversity of languages and psychological dynamics that are a consequence of the sufferings they have endured."


And an already complicated situation is made worse by frequent threats from the "owners" and managers who stand to lose money and business when the girls are rescued.

"We try to be very prudent and agile by changing our dwelling from one place to another," Sister Aurelia acknowledged. "We had to close a home in Belgium because we were threatened."

At the end of the program, the girls can decide if they return to their countries or stay. "In the [latter] case, we offer the opportunity to study the [local] language, to be trained and to seek work," the religious sister explained.

The projects are financed in general by the congregation itself or related foundations, and at times by public and private grants.

But it is the spiritual motivation that keeps the homes up and running.

"Our mission is nourished by continual adoration of the Eucharistic Jesus, in spirit and truth, and directed to liberating and promoting women exploited by prostitution or victims of other situations of slavery," Sister Aurelia affirmed. "We, the adorers, want to look at the world from the Eucharist; the God we adore in the Sacrament is the same we find each time in the women to whom we are sent.

"As adorers, we address the reality of a woman-victim of trade, from a concrete spirituality and pedagogy: a Eucharistic spirituality and the pedagogy of love."

The secret is this, she said: "To educate in liberty and with love, 'without punishments or harshness,' as our founder affirmed. To respect the young girls, to believe in them, to make each one feel important and a protagonist of her own future."

In Brindisi, Pope Benedict XVI Addresses Priests

From Vatican Radio

During his homily in Brindisi, Pope Benedict spoke of the two-fold Christian vocation to holiness and mission, which is present from the beginning of salvation history and given perfectly to the 12 disciples, whose calling by Jesus was the dramatic core of this Sunday’s Gospel.
In the afternoon, the Holy Father met with the priests of Brindisi-Ostuni in the Cathedral, church of St. John the Baptist.

Pope Benedict encouraged them to place themselves ever more completely in the service of the Gospel, saying, “Christ, to whom you have consecrated your lives, is with you! He is the one in whom we all believe, to him alone do we entrust our lives, it is he, whom we desire to proclaim to the world!

The Holy Father also congratulated the archdiocese on the newly-opened seminary, which today was officially named after Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope said the seminary is a sign of the present and the future of the diocese, representing as it does the culmination of years of work, and at the same time, the guarantee that, because of the generous and patient work to be done in it, the Christian communities shall never be without shepherds of souls, teachers of faith, zealous guides and witnesses to Christ’s charity.

Pope Benedict went on to say the seminary is not only the place where new priests are formed: it is also a place for the continuing formation and education of young people and adults who desire to be of service to the cause of the Kingdom.

The accurate formation of seminarians and the continuing education of priests and other pastoral workers are of the first concern to the bishop, to whom God has entrusted the mission of guiding, as a wise pastor, the People of God who are here in this city.

"Catholic bishops aim to improve priest morale"

From the Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Meeting for the first time since Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. and spoke of the deep shame he felt over clergy sex abuse, America's Roman Catholic bishops Thursday began discussing how they can repair relations with priests after six years of scandal.

A small group of bishops and clerics, over a private lunch, started talks about the pain and trauma clergy have suffered since the crisis erupted in 2002. Embarrassment ran so deep that many priests stopped wearing their Roman collars in public at the height of the scandal.

Archbishop Roger Schwietz of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, said bishops are trying to learn directly from clergymen what church leaders should do to improve morale.

Read the rest of the article here: Associated Press

Visiting a Carthusian Monsastery

Below are four parts of a documentary on life in a Carthusian monastery. It's an incredible look into the most austere monastic community, but you have to read fast. Enjoy.

My very good friend Alex just returned from a 30 day discernment with the Carthusians at St. Hugh's Charterhouse. Hearing him tell of his time with the monks gives me an entirely new perspective on their life. Perhaps the most beautiful thing he told me was the response of one monk to his question "what do like best about being a Carthusian" to which the monk replied joyfully "freedom".

Hat tip to Br. Michael Anthony at Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage Video Collection

Friday, June 13, 2008

"A Monastery to Last 1,000 Years"

Traditional Benedictines Flourish in Eastern Oklahoma

From Zenit
By Jason Adkins

HULBERT, Oklahoma, JUNE 12, 2008 (Zenit.org).- It’s been said that when the revolution comes, you won’t read about it in the newspapers.

Indeed, when the history of this part of the world is written, it may point to the recent establishment of a monastery amid the rolling hills and lakes of eastern Oklahoma as an event of momentous consequence for fostering a renaissance of Christian culture.

On my return drive to Minnesota after living for a year in Texas, I chose to spend some time at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek monastery where an order of Benedictine monks, known as the “Clear Creek monks,” is attempting to rebuild monastic life and Christian culture in America from the ground up -- literally.

There, along with sharing in the common life of the monks, I spoke to the monastery’s prior, Father Philip Anderson, about the history and mission of this new monastic community.


Father Anderson told me the Clear Creek monks’ story begins at the University of Kansas. There, a Great Books program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, gave students the opportunity to encounter the culture and ideas of Western Civilization.

This program run by John Senior was not a relativistic one -- allowing students to pick and choose among various philosophical viewpoints -- as is common among programs of that type.

Rather, the success of the program resulted from Senior’s willingness to propose answers to the deepest questions, and point to Catholicism as the source of the many fruits the West has produced. Senior also stressed the importance of the Latin language as the medium through which this common civilization and its achievements were bound together.

According to Father Anderson, the program became wildly popular and produced not a few converts to the faith; then some prominent university donors protested and the program was shut down. But Senior spawned a small movement among students that did not end with the closure of the great books program.

When some students, one of whom was Father Anderson, approached Senior about how to rebuild a civilization being lost to modern technocratic society, Senior suggested the students go find some monks in Europe -- for there were few, if any, left in America -- who were living a traditional monastic life.

The journey eventually led Father Anderson and his companions to the medieval French Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault, where they were welcomed and received formation in the religious life according to the Rule of St. Benedict. All along, these monks intended to return to America to establish a new monastery on their native soil.

The wait would last almost 25 years, concluding in 1998 when Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa invited the monks from Fontgombault to form a foundation community of that abbey in his diocese.

According to Father Anderson, building the monastery in eastern Oklahoma was the result of a fortuitous combination of an enthusiastic bishop, a Midwestern location -- close to many of Senior’s original students who could contribute to the foundation -- and the right piece of property. Father Anderson described the rocky property as “perfect for the monastic life.”

Since 1999, the original American monks, along with some Canadian and French brethren, have lived at the Clear Creek site near Hulbert, Oklahoma, where they have slowly -- but quickly, in monastic terms -- been building a monastery.

Marking the Hours

The Clear Creek monastic life centers on liturgical prayer, particularly the Liturgy of the Hours, which the monks chant in Latin eight times a day. The monk’s life, says Father Anderson, is a life of prayer: “God exists, and we have been created for him.” Praying the hours as a community allows the monks to give constant praise and thanks to the living, creator God.

The monks use the traditional -- or extraordinary -- form of the Roman liturgy. Father Anderson told me that the monks believe the traditional liturgy is more suited to the type of traditional, contemplative monastic life they wish to live. It is a symbol and embodiment, he said, of the type of cultural and religious life the monks desire to preserve.

I asked Father Anderson how the monks financially support their quiet life of prayer and praise. He said that unlike some monastic orders that make only one product and often have to build an adjoining factory to mass produce their goods, the Clear Creek monks engage in a variety of tasks and trades. The monks earn their living by raising sheep, running an orchard and vegetable farm, and making cheese, clothes and furniture.

Because the monks can perform many of the tasks needed to run the monastery, operational costs are pretty low. But building a Romanesque church for their monastery, which will be able to last a thousand years, is another matter.

"Per omnia saecula saeculorum"

The Clear Creek monks are raising money to build their church -- one they hope remains a landmark on the Oklahoma landscape for ages to come.

The monks believe their new church will be a sign of contradiction in a consumerist culture where everything is transient or can be thrown away when no longer useful. Change seems to be the only constant. The destabilizing elements in our culture are “poison for the soul” Father Anderson said.

The monks believe that people will always need faith and a culture that derives from that faith. According to the monks’ informational pamphlet, people “need a place in which they can reconnect with creation and with the silent center of their own being where God awaits them. The monastery is such a place.”

“The church will represent something permanent,” Father Anderson continued. “Architecture can have a spiritual effect on people. We hope to build something beautiful that will give value to this region and the people can be proud of.”

Father Anderson hopes construction on the church can begin sometime in 2009.

I asked Father Anderson whether the Clear Creek monks desired to rebuild civilization in America. He laughed and said that the Benedictines had “built Europe without even trying.”

“We focus on prayer,” he said. “We can only see the effects of our life indirectly like we see the ripples from a drop in a pond.”

According to Father Anderson, the work of the monks operates like concentric circles. Everything is centered on the interior life. But that has an effect on everything else, particularly the work of the monks. And the monastic way of life fosters a more contemplative way of being -- a life that explores the important questions and expresses itself through art, music festivals and literature -- that is, true culture.

Already, people have moved close to the monastery to share in the life of the monks, just like in the Middle Ages. Many laity and families show up at all times of day for Mass and to pray the hours with the monks.

Father Anderson said the diocese hopes to erect a parish nearby to assist in serving the spiritual needs of these many newcomers.

The Clear Creek monks already number 30, with three or four more expected to enter this year. The new residence they built is already filled to capacity and new monks will have to be housed in sheds adjacent to the monastery.

Father Anderson believes that the Clear Creek monks’ focus on the traditional monastic activities of prayer and manual labor, rather than following the path that many monasteries took by limiting their liturgical life in order to focus on running schools, is the secret of the monks’ vocational success.

As he said, “the life of a monk, hands folded in prayer, is a sermon without words.”

Hopefully, the story of the Clear Creek monks will inspire not only a renaissance in monastic life in the United States, but inspire teachers to be like John Senior and educate their students in truth, beauty, and goodness -- even at great professional cost.

With more teachers like Senior, and monks like those at Clear Creek, the possibility of the renewal of authentic monastic and Christian cultural life in America looks brighter.