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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"Seminary program delivers ‘the best of both worlds’"

From the Long Island Catholic

By Pete Sheehan

Photo: Bishop William Murphy chats over dinner with college-level seminarians from the Rockville Centre Diocese during a visit to the Cathedral Seminary Residence Oct. 23. TLIC photo/Pete Sheehan

Douglaston — For college-age men considering a vocation to the priesthood, the Cathedral Semi-nary Residence here offers “the best of both worlds,” said Father Brian Barr, diocesan vocations director.

“They have a foot in both worlds,” Father Barr said of about 25 men from the Rockville Centre and Brooklyn dioceses who are living at Cathedral Residence while studying at St. John’s University or another local college. “They can have a normal college experience while beginning their formation for the priesthood. They can be with other guys who have that same goal,” said Father Barr, who is also director of campus ministry. Six men from the diocese are in the program here.
"This is one of our best-kept secrets,” said Msgr. Robert Thelen, rector of the Cathedral Seminary Residence. The residence is located at Immaculate Conception Center near the Nassau/Queens border, along with some of the offices of the Brooklyn Diocese.

At one time, the building housed Cathedral College, a college seminary which for years prepared undergraduates to be ready for advanced theology studies at a seminary in preparation for the priesthood.

The Douglaston program, which follows the guidelines developed by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops for seminary training, “helps college-age men discern their vocation — which might be to the priesthood — and prepares them for life in a major seminary,” usually the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, said Msgr. Robert Thelen, a former professor there and a former pastor. It offers the benefits of a college or minor seminary at a more modest cost.

“Most go to St. John’s, where we have a cooperative agreement — including reduced tuition — and take advantage of their wider course offerings and multiplicity of majors. A few go to Queensborough, Fordham, or St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue,” Msgr. Thelen said. They are required to take philosophy courses in preparation for major seminary studies.

“The four pillars of seminary preparation are academic, spiritual, pastoral, and human,” he explained. At the residence, they have daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and holy hours. “Each of the men is required to have a spiritual director and meet with him regularly.” Spiritual directors also hold spiritual conferences for all the seminarians here.

The seminarians are required to engage in pastoral ministry, such as teaching religious education or visiting nursing homes. In addition, Msgr. Thelen conducts regular human development conferences on personal growth.

Bishop William Murphy visited the men in the program last week. “It is such a joy for me to be here with you again,” Bishop Murphy told the seminarians at Mass in the chapel. He chatted informally over dinner with the seminarians from Rockville Centre and spoke to the larger group following dinner.

Bishop Murphy was here earlier that week as well for “Operation Andrew,” an evening for young men interested in a priestly vocation.

“I felt the need to begin preparing for the priesthood now, not after I got out of college,” said James Renna, a senior at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, who entered Cathedral Residence in September. “I have the benefits of daily Mass, holy hours, and spiritual direction, but I can maintain my college experience at St. Joseph’s.”

Michael Bissex, a freshman at St. John’s and a parishioner of St. Matthew’s Church in Dix Hills, said that he likes the combination of going to classes at St. John’s while living with others who share an interest in the priesthood.

“You have the opportunity to attend classes, socialize and make friends with other students from St. John’s. At the same time, you keep the focus on your vocation by living here,” Bissex said.
“There is a real sense of unity, community and brotherhood,” said John Hargaden, a freshman at St. John’s and a parishioner of St. Margaret of Scotland Church, Selden. “A lot of us are in the same classes at St. John’s and can help each other out.”

In addition to the undergrads, there are several men who have already finished their bachelor’s degrees but lack a background in philosophy needed to begin major seminary studies. They are called “pre-theology” students.

James Shelton of St. Edward the Confessor Church, Syosset, who graduated from college in 2004 and managed a restaurant for three years, began the pre-theology program here in September. “My philosophy classes are here with members of the staff, but I take a Latin class at St. John’s.
“The guys here are first rate and the classes are great. They are challenging and bring me closer to God,” he said. “More people should know about this place.”

"Orissa victim Fr. Bernard Digal passes away"

From Mangalorean.com

By Team Mangalorean

Chennai/Mumbai October 28, 2008: Fr. Bernard Digal, one of the victims of Orissa carnage who was beaten up mercilessly by the Hindu fundamentalists on August 25, lost his battle for life and succumbed to the injuries today October 28, 2008.

Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar Raphael Cheenath SVD in a communiqué with Mangalorean.com said that Fr. Digal had been to Chennai to visit the Vicar General of the Archdiocese who had undergone a bypass surgery. While in Chennai Fr. Digal again developed health complications due to the internal injuries that he had received, and was admitted to St. Thomas Hospital in Chennai where he was operated by the doctors to remove a blood clot from his brain.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath SVD rushed to Chennai to be at his side when he learnt that Fr. Digal's condition further deteriorated. Fr. Bernard who was kept on respirator slipped into coma as both his lungs collapsed and he passed away on the night of Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 9:25pm(local time).

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath who administered the Sacrament of anointing of the Sick, mourning the death of Fr. Digal said that, "The Church in Orissa is blessed with a Martyr for the suffering and persecuted Church. May he now enjoy the Crown of glory from His Lord and Master, he said adding "Let us continue to show our solidarity and our spiritual closeness to our people in Orissa."

According to the Archbishop, Fr. Digal's body will be flown to Archbishop's house in Bhuvaneshwar today October 29, 2008. Fr. Digal was a native of Raikia (Khandamal district) and he had mentioned in his will that he would be laid to rest in his native place after his death. "If the situation permits, we will fulfill his wish and he will be laid to rest according to his will," Archbishop told mangalorean.com.

Fr Digal was brutally beaten up on August 25 and was left in the forest half naked and bleeding the entire night. He was later admitted to the Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai.

"The Christians in the district of Kandhamal have a powerful intercessor in heaven, Fr. Bernard will now continue his work for our people from his heavenly home," he said.

"Fr. Bernard Digal to be laid to rest today"

From Mangalorean.com

Bhubaneshwar Oct 30, 3008: The Mortal remains of Rev. Bernard Digal, the victim of Orissa violence, accompanied by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath SVD, arrived in Bhubaneshwar at 2:00pm today October 30, 2008.

The body flown in to Bhubaneswar from Chennai was escorted by police personnel from the airport to Capital hospital and was released at 5.00pm after conducting the postmortem. Hundreds of Priests, religious and the people from all over the state are flocking to pay their respect and homage at St.Vincent Church, where his mortal remains have been kept for public viewing.

According to Fr. Joseph Kalathil, heavy security has been deployed near St.Vincent Church where funeral mass will be held on Friday, October 31st at 10.00am.

Fr Bernard Digal(47), died on Oct. 28 at St. Thomas Hospital in Chennai where he was operated by the doctors for a blood clot in his brain. Fr. Digal who was also a treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, underwent treatment at a hospital in Mumbai, after which he was convalescing in Chennai where he was visiting an ailing senior priest of the archdiocese.

In another significant move, government of Orissa today has ordered a probe into the death of Fr. Digal following a complaint lodged by Vicar General of the Archbishop’s House. It has been stated in the complaint that, Fr. Digal was attacked by the mob in Sankarakhol of Kandhamal district and was abandoned in a forest area where he was left to bleed before he was taken to hospital. It has also been stated in the complaint that Fr Digal was treated in different hospitals in Bhubaneswar, Mumbai and Chennai.

Fr. Digal was born in January 1962 in Raikia of Kandhamal district. He was ordained a priest in May 1992 for the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

"Indian Priest Dies After Beating"
From Zenit

NEW DELHI, India, OCT. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Father Bernard Digal, 45, died in a hospital Wednesday from wounds he sustained in late August, when he was beaten by Hindu extremists.

The priest served in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, in the state of Orissa, the hotbed for a large portion of the anti-Christian violence that has plagued India since the August death of a Hindu leader.

Father Mrutyunjay Digal, secretary of Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of that archdiocese, announced the priest's death to the Fides news agency. He said the community was in "a moment of mourning, of silence and of prayer for the entire local Church."

"During his life, Father Bernard showed determination and courage to give testimony and die for Christ," the secretary added. "He has died as an authentic Christian; immediately after the attack he suffered, he pardoned his enemies and persecutors."

The Fides agency cited Indian Christian organizations in reporting that some 100 Christians have died as a result of the wave of persecution, while thousands have been wounded. Some 15,000 Christians are living in refugee camps and perhaps as many as 40,000 more have fled to the jungle to hide from the extremists.

"Priesthood Linked to Healthy Psychology"

From Zenit

Vatican Offers Guidelines for Discernment

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Deciding to study for the priesthood requires a process of discernment, both for the would-be priest and for the Church, and psychologists can sometimes offer valuable assistance, says the Vatican.

This affirmation is one of the main ideas in a document presented today by the Congregation for Catholic Education called "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood."

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, prefect and secretary of that dicastery, presented the report with consultor and psychologist, Father Carlo Bresciani.

The text highlights the importance of bishops and formators being able to orient would-be priests in a solid psychological and affective maturity, as well as in a rich spiritual life that will enable them to face the demands of priestly life, particularly regarding celibacy.

The document affirms that a man who feels called to the priesthood, besides having moral and theological virtues, should also have a "solid human and psychic balance, particularly in the affective realm, such that it permits the subject to be adequately predisposed to a truly free gift of himself in relationships with the faithful, according to the celibate life."

It also notes the qualities that every future priest should have: "a positive and stable sense of his own masculine identity and the capacity to form mature relationships with other people or groups of people; a solid sense of belonging, base of the future communion with the presbyterate and of a responsible collaboration with the bishop's ministry."

According to the document, a correct perception of the significance of the candidate's vocation must be cultivated in a "climate of faith, prayer, meditation on the Word of God, theological study and community life."

But it also notes that those who want to enter the seminary reflect to a greater or lesser degree the faults of modern society, as seen in such aspects as materialism, family instability, moral relativism, an erroneous vision of sexuality, and the negative influence of the media.

Formators' role

The document insists that one who is in charge of seminarians' formation should be "a solid expert in the human person, his rhythms of growth, his potentials and weaknesses and his way of living a relationship with God."

It affirms that it is necessary to know the history of the candidate, but that this should not be the only decisive criteria in accepting him for preparation for the priesthood. Instead, the formator should look at the person "as a whole, in his progress and development," so as to avoid errors in discernment.

Formators should also know well a seminarian's "personality, potential, dispositions and the variety of probable types of wounds, evaluating their nature and intensity," the document continues. And it cautions against candidates' tendency to "minimize or negate their own weakness, fearing the possibility of not being understood, and for this reason, not being accepted."

Psychological support

The document proposes that in cases of particular need, recourse to a psychologist can "help the candidate to overcome those wounds" in view of aiming toward a "style of life like that of Jesus, Good Shepherd, head and spouse of the Church."

In this context, the Vatican council recommends psychological evaluation with the free consent of the candidate, cautioning the formators against using specialized techniques outside of their expertise.

Psychologists who give such support should have "solid human and spiritual maturity," it says, as well as a "Christian concept of the human person, sexuality, the priestly vocation and celibacy."

And the document makes clear that psychological services cannot replace spiritual direction. It affirmed that the spiritual life "in itself favors growth in human virtues, if a block of a psychological nature doesn't exist."

"Vatican: Future Priests Need More Than Prayer Life"

From Zenit

Offers Guide for Psychological Evaluation of Candidates

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A priest should not just have a solid spiritual life, but also psychological and affective maturity, Vatican officials reiterated today.

This affirmation was among the main points at a press conference in the Vatican for the presentation of "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood," from the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, prefect and secretary of that dicastery, presented the report with consultor and psychologist, Father Carlo Bresciani.

Cardinal Grocholewski went over the basic ideas of the document: the role of psychologists in aiding vocational discernment; the Church's responsibility to also discern, evaluating the candidate's suitability for the priestly ministry; the bishop as the first representative of Christ in priestly formation; and the role of formators in an adequate preparation for the priesthood.

Archbishop Bruguès continued by noting how the Church in the last 30 years has seen a greater need to evaluate the psychological profiles of candidates to the priesthood. The document released today is part of the answer to that need, he explained.

The text went through various phases of preparation, a first draft having already been presented in 2002 by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

This lapse has served to progressively develop the document, the prelate said, "making more explicit the specificity of the vocation to the priesthood, gift and mystery incomparable with psychological methods."

But regarding psychological assistance for candidates to the priesthood, he said there are two erroneous extremes: that of the psychologist or psychiatrist taking the place of a spiritual director, and that of formators thinking help from psychologists is not necessary for the vocational maturity of aspirants to the priesthood.

A support

Father Bresciani spoke of priestly formation, emphasizing that "the first protagonist in formation is the candidate himself."

"The Church," he added, "is always concerned with giving candidates to the priestly ministry formators who are prepared to deeply understand their human personalities."

In any case, the priest-psychologist noted, "many more or less pathological psychic ineptitudes manifest themselves only after priestly formation" but discovering them on time "permits avoiding much drama."

Still, not just any psychologist can be of help, he affirmed.

"It is obvious that a psychologist who is closed to the transcendent, who denies the significance of chastity or is closed to certain values that are proper to the Church, cannot assist in the maturing of a vocation toward the consecration of one's life to ministry," he said. "The psychologist should have a theoretical understanding and an approach for taking the transcendent dimension of the person with his dynamism and qualities that should mature in the person."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beautiful Slideshow about Cloistered Nuns

Go to the website of photographer Toni Greaves and click the link for "Radical Love". The multimedia slideshow is about 6 minutes long, but it is worth the download time.

H/t to the Anchoress

"Four ordained as church's 'servant ministers'"

From the Catholic Sentinel
By Ed Langlois

Mike Caldwell, Tim Dooley, Dennis Desmarais and David Briedwell at ordination.
Sentinel photo by Kim Nguyen
David Briedwell, a firefighter and paramedic, joined the Catholic Church in 1990. On a Marriage Encounter weekend, he felt grabbed. Before he knew it, he was telling others on the weekend that he was going to become Catholic, joining his wife Sally Marie in her faith.

He started out as a member of St. James Parish in his home town of McMinnville. Like some new Catholics, he drifted away from practicing his faith for awhile. When he returned, he felt welcomed with open arms. That started something.
He offered to mow the lawn at Good Shepherd Church in nearby Sheridan. Pretty soon, he was also counting the weekend collection and doing other jobs. When the priest was reassigned and it appeared no other was coming soon, the clergyman handed the church keys to Briedwell. Eventually, he began serving as a lector, eucharistic minister, sacristan and pastoral associate in Sheridan and Grand Ronde. Then he was named pastoral administrator. On Saturday, Briedwell became a deacon of the church, bound to serve the needy, preach the word and lead sacraments.

“You have to have people praying for you to do this,” says the father of two, citing great support from family and friends.

Briedwell was one of four men ordained as permanent deacons at St. Mary Cathedral. The others are Mike Caldwell, Dennis Desmarais, and Tim Dooley.

The permanent diaconate was revived by the Second Vatican Council. In the U.S., there were only 500 or 600 deacons in the 1970s. There are more than 17,000 now.

In Oregon, 64 permanent deacons visit the sick and prisoners and provide food, clothing and other assistance to needy Oregonians. They help prepare young couples for marriage and instruct those hoping to become Catholic.

The ministry of a deacon is primarily one of service and charity. Deacons are ministers of the word, which means they can proclaim the gospel at Mass, preach and teach in the name of the church. Their sacramental ministry includes baptizing, conducting prayer services, serving as an official church witness to marriage and conducting funerals and wake services.

Archbishop John Vlazny thanked the men and their wives for their willingness to play a role as “servant ministers” in the church’s evangelizing mission.

“First and foremost we ourselves must be men of prayer, integrity, generosity and compassion,” Archbishop Vlazny told the new deacons, offering that as an antidote to “bland Christianity” and “darkened spirits” in the world.

“The extent of the spirituality and generosity of deacons and their wives is reflected over and over again in the way they live their lives together with their families and through their service to the people of God, especially the poor and needy,” the archbishop said.

“I remind you that your presence at the altar is not truly meaningful unless it is complemented by your daily concern for the marginalized, uncatechized and alienated sisters and brothers in our church families,” he added. “Otherwise you will be merely glorified altar servers and that is not the kind of partnership the bishops had in mind four decades ago when they reestablished the order of deacon.”

Caldwell, who already serves as a business manager at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland, says bookkeeping did not seem like enough. He felt called to direct work in service of the gospel. He began a social justice group at the parish and has tackled issues like immigration and pro-life advocacy. He also is planning a project of charity help to needy families. Caldwell and his wife Linda have three children.

About a decade ago, Desmarais felt called to something. He was not sure what. The PacifiCorp employee got involved at St. Pius X Parish and grew especially interested in social justice ministry. He went with a group to a camp of migrant workers, and joined the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, a group of churches and unions seeking just public policy. He went on mission trips to Mexico, attended retreats on poverty at the Downtown Chapel and began youth groups at St. Pius X Parish and then at St. Juan Diego when it began.

One day, he was talking to two permanent deacons, Bob Little and Jésus Espinoza. Espinoza suggested he look into becoming a deacon and kept raising the idea over time. Desmarais decided to give it a try. He reveled in master’s studies through the University of Portland and felt that work affirmed his decision. He and his wife Marci have three children.

Until five years ago, Dooley never gave thought to becoming a deacon. Now, everything about it feels like his calling.

“I thought that I had my path pretty well charted out, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school,” he says. “But there’s no stopping the Holy Spirit once we open the door.”

His pastor at Holy Family Parish in Portland, Father Bob Barricks, planted the seed one night at dinner when he asked Dooley if he’d consider becoming a deacon. Dooley was surprised by the request, but the idea stuck. He brought it up to his wife LeAnn and shared his worry that it might reduce his time with her. She advised him to forge ahead and has supported him in the process ever since.

“I’ll aways remember that my vows as a deacon are binding, but my vows to LeAnn came first,” he says.

Father Barricks recently told parishioners that Dooley’s ministry “springs” from his marriage to the wider community.

Dooley and LeAnn have two daughters. He has served as a eucharistic minister at Providence Portland Medical Center and in homebound ministry at his church. He works for Oregon Catholic Press, publisher of this newspaper.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Holy See to publish document on use of psychology in seminaries"

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2008 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- On October 30 the Congregation for Catholic Education will issue a new document entitled, “Orientations For The Use Of Psychological Competencies In The Admission And Formation Of Candidates To The Priesthood.”

The document will be presented by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the congregation, Msgr. Jean-Louis Brugues, the congregation’s secretary, and Father Carlos Bresciani, a psychologist and consulter.

It will be available in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, and it will address the complex issue of the importance and the limits of psychology in the evaluation and formation of seminarians.

According to a Vatican official consulted by CNA, the document “is intended to propose clear criteria for establishing an adequate balance between recourse to psychology and spirituality, in order to avoid falling into both a psychology that ignores sin and grace, and a spirituality that overlooks factors related to the human mind and affectivity.”

Yes, I'm still blogging.

Despite the way it may seem, I am still blogging. Unfortunately it seems that there have not been as many good articles and stories about vocations of late. I spend a fair amount of time every day scanning the internet for posts related to vocations, in order to bring them to you on this one blog. There have been scant few articles of late. Be assured, I will post them as often as I find them.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Priesthood Sunday

From the Georgia Bulletin

By the Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta

Published: October 23, 2008

Spam is the common name for junk mail in cyberspace. Internet filters often eliminate most of it, but some always does manage to get through. The other day, I happened to receive a spam message that read “quit your boring job!” I laughed out loud at the suggestion that my job was “boring.” My job is the most life-giving occupation that I could ever have imagined—although it is not anything that I would ever have expected when I first decided that I wanted to become a priest.

I then imagined that I would be a parish priest—baptizing babies, preparing young couples for marriage, visiting the sick, engaged in the social ministries of a neighborhood parish, spending time with youngsters at school, in youth programs and in religious education classes. I thought that I would be a priest like those that I had come to love and to respect as a youngster myself. God obviously had other plans, but for those lucky guys who are living the life that I first envisioned as a priest, I can’t imagine any of them thinking that they have a boring job—or at least, I pray that they don’t find their lives boring! Priests on a national basis continually rank high on job satisfaction surveys and this in the face of celibacy, scandal and shortages in numbers.

This coming Sunday is Priesthood Sunday, an effort sponsored by Serra International to recognize, honor and pray for the priests that we have and those that we hope God will send us in the future. Like so many other special days, weeks and even months that now fill the modern-day calendar, Priesthood Sunday is a moment to honor a particular group of people—our priests—but also to remind us of our dependence upon and need for good, zealous, holy and joyful priests.

One of the questions that a young man might well ask himself in considering the priesthood as a vocation is “will it be fulfilling, will it make a difference in the world?” Young people want to live a happy and satisfying life, which is why the spam question was so foolish in my estimation. Boring is never a word that I have ever even thought about when I consider the work that I do as a priest—much less as a bishop.

Priesthood involves me with people at the most intimate moments in their lives—birth, sickness, marriage, suffering, death and promise!

I could never think of an occupation that would be so different each day than my life as a priest. I am not so naïve as to deny the challenges that come my way—but what honest person can truly say that his life is not filled with challenge and difficulties?

Priesthood Sunday is a new calendar event but an important one for the entire Church. Whether your parish has a special intercession or has a poster in the vestibule or passes out a memento card with a prayer for your priests—remember these fine men for a few seconds on Sunday—wish them well and ask the Lord of the Harvest to send us more priests, more young men who don’t want to be bored in the service of Christ and His Church. Even worthless spam can sometimes spawn a worthwhile meditation!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Marian Symposium inspires Mount seminarians, students"

From The Mountain Echo
By Eddie McCullough

The Marian Symposium, held at the Mount on Oct. 9 - 11, brought scholars from all over the country to discuss Mary's role in the life of the Church. Talks included her role her role in catholic education, scripture, and priestly formation.

Seminarian Brandon Granger from the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana said, "It was a time to reflect on the images of Our Lady. It was a great time to bring reflection of Mary to prayer and to learn how to be better witnesses of her example on campus."

Some of the most prominent speakers were religious sisters. Sister Mary Timothea Elliot and Sister Johanna Paruch are members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, also known as "the Ph.D. nuns." Sr. Timothea holds a doctorate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. There are less than ten people with that degree in the United States, and she was the first woman to ever hold one.

"All the talks were great, and after the Marian Symposium, I'm praying to Mary day by day," commented Freshman Reilly Gates. The organizers really wanted undergraduate participation and there was a good turnout among students at talks that were packed with seminarians.

On Friday, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore celebrated Mass and re-consecrated the Mount to Mary. Becca Mullan noted that the Symposium was "a great end to the bicentennial year. Especially the re-consecration words spoken by the Archbishop."

The Marian Symposium ended on Saturday evening, after Fall Break had already started. Some students chose to stay over that last day to hear the last of the talks and to watch the closing ceremonies. One of those students, Jonathan Benitez, said, "The Marian Symposium was a marvelous tribute of intellect and faith which delved into the true heart of the Mount."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Vietnam diocese gets building for seminary"

From the Indian Catholic

XUAN LOC, Vietnam (UCAN) -- Catholics in the most populous Vietnamese diocese hope new seminary buildings and a pastoral center will help meet the local Church's needs for priestly formation and pastoral activities.

Father Joseph Nguyen Nang, rector of the Xuan Loc branch of Ho Chi Minh City-based St. Joseph Major Seminary, hopes it will train enough priests to serve more than 800,000 Catholics in his diocese's 300 parishes. It also serves the neighboring dioceses of Ba Ria, Da Lat and Phan Thiet.

The seminary's new, two-building facilities were inaugurated on Sept. 26 in this town 80 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City and 1,630 kilometers south of Ha Noi. They are in the same five-hectare compound as Xuan Loc diocese's new pastoral center and bishop's house.

Bishop Dominic Nguyen Chu Trinh of Xuan Loc blessed them all during the inaugural ceremony on the last day of the Vietnamese bishop's biannual assembly, which began Sept. 22 at the new bishop's house.

Twenty-seven archbishops and bishops joined 500 priests in concelebrating the Mass. The 12,000 people present included benefactors, Religious and seminarians.

Father Nang told UCA News recently that 265 students, 45 of whom just started on Oct. 2, are now studying at the seminary's new facilities, which comprise two three-story buildings with 190 rooms, a chapel and a kitchen. The staff of 30 professors includes some who teach at the St. Joseph campus in Ho Chi Minh City.

It will accept new students annually, the rector said, noting that previously the seminary in Ho Chi Minh City accepted only 20 local seminarians every other year. The government is now allowing all six major seminaries in the country to recruit on a yearly basis.

Father Nang also said the new bishop's house and pastoral center, both four-story buildings, which house a chapel, hall and guestrooms, will be used for pastoral activities and training for youths, parents, catechists, lay leaders and choir conductors. In the past, diocesan training courses were held in parishes, which could not handle many people at a time, he noted.

Donations by local benefactors covered the cost of construction, which started in August 2006, he added.

Following the government's approval of the Xuan Loc branch in 2006, seminarians of the diocese began studies in old buildings on the compound that October. Fellow students from the other three dioceses joined them last year. Seminarians moved into completed parts of the new buildings as they were built, and the old buildings were destroyed.

A seminarian told UCA News they feel comfortable in the clean, new rooms with bathrooms after living and studying in small rooms with noise and dust. He added that four or five first- and second-year students share a room, while students in third year and above each have a smaller, 15-square-meter room.

Thomas Tran Van Tien, who donated to the seminary construction and other local Church activities, told UCA News he prays his son will continue his pursuit of a priestly vocation and enter the branch seminary.

Joseph Tran Du Dong, 17, one of Tien's nine children, is in 12th grade and serves as an altar boy at Go Xoai parish, 50 kilometers away. He said he hopes to perform well at school and college so the seminary will accept him.

Bishop Trinh, 68, head of the Episcopal Commission for Social and Charitable Actions of the Vietnam Bishops' Conference, asked Massgoers at the inaugural ceremony to work with the local Church in evangelization work and social activities to serve poor people, street children and migrant workers from other provinces.

Thomas Tran Van Han, head of the parish council in Go Xoai, told UCA News afterward that that he and 20 other representatives of their 700-member parish thanked God for the new, better seminary facilities.

"I am very happy that the construction has been completed and the new branch will meet the local Church's needs for priests," said Han, whose son is a third-year seminarian at the Xuan Loc campus.

According to 2007 Church records, Xuan Loc diocese, which covers Dong Nai province and part of Binh Duong province, had 366 priests, 1,830 Religious and 8,821 catechists working in its territory. It also had 180 major seminarians.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Discernment Meditation from the Sisters of Life

Below is this month's wonderful discernment meditation from Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV, Vocations Director for the Sisters of Life. As an FYI, the Sisters of Life will be having their fall Come and See Retreat from October 30 - November 2, 2008, and for the first time a Women's Retreat from November 14-16, 2008.

If you are interested in either the Come and See Retreat or the Women's Retreat, please visit the Sisters of Life website for more information.


October 15, 2008

“And nothing would again be casual or small…” Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila . Daughter of the Church, Doctor of the Church, mystic, Carmelite reformer and foundress, for everything she was, she was fully herself: she was authentic. I love the story of her long awaited visit to one of her Foundations. The nuns had lovingly prepared her favorite meal of partridge. St. Teresa arrived and had barely crossed the threshold of the convent when, spying the cooked bird, she immediately set upon devouring it as the nuns watched in shock. Looking up, she acknowledged their astonishment by saying with an educating sincerity: “Sisters, when I pray, I pray, and when I eat partridge, I eat partridge.” In life she is said to have been magnetically attractive; even when we read her works today, her passion for the Lord and her courage in carrying out His works seem to communicate themselves to the reader, setting heart after heart ablaze down the centuries.

But St. Teresa’s life wasn’t all fervor – her courage was first exercised in accepting, after a long struggle, the greatness for which her soul was meant. She entered the convent at age 21, but it was years later – at age 39 – that she truly gave her fiat to the Lord. She tells us in her Autobiography that before that total surrender, her soul was tormented by mediocrity. She wasn’t in mortal sin, but her soul was constantly in danger because she was literally caught in the snare of habitual venial sin – she liked being liked by others, and she allowed herself to be drawn along by the current of the crowd, despite knowing in her heart of hearts that God was asking more of her.

So what propelled St. Teresa out of the mud and into living water? After almost 20 years of roller-coasting up and down between holy desire and moral mediocrity, she began to pray more deeply, despite her faults, and she prayed through the trials of seeing those faults more clearly. She increasingly came to trust that the disquiet in her heart reflected a reality - something had to change in her. And she also became increasingly aware that she was powerless to do the changing. One night, she slipped into the chapel to pray and saw an image of the suffering Jesus which had been placed there for a feast. As she gazed at our Lord wounded for love, St. Teresa was so deeply moved she felt her heart would break, and she was filled with deep sorrow for her weak response to so tremendous a love. In that moment she crossed the threshold of trusting abandonment: “I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend Him…placing all my confidence in God. I believe I told Him then that I would not rise from that spot until He had granted me what I was beseeching of Him.” She was made free, and began to live out her Amen – her total yes - to the Lord. And what an Amen it was.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we, too, need conversion, deeper conversion. We may have moments of fervor, of desire to be totally for the Lord but when given the opportunity to actually live by that desire in the small things, it is remarkably easy not to. It is easy to let venial sin become casual, almost expected, to not think twice about gossiping, or making rash judgments about someone, or even lying, to cower when someone brings up issues like abortion or same sex marriage. But these failings, while not separating us totally from the love of God, offend the love of God – they wound Jesus’ Heart and they impede our becoming Saints. We know this, and when we recognize them in ourselves, we can get discouraged into thinking the spiritual status quo is our permanent territory. But this is not the promise He gives us! Integrity is what we seek and what gives peace – it’s the promise of living as sons and daughters of God. “Holiness” is connected with “wholeness.” And the opposite of integrity is duplicity, a kind of deceit within ourselves. Though it’s easy to stay there, who really wants to?

Here we are in October, in the midst of the 40 Days for Life, Respect Life month, Our Lady’s month and in preparation for an election. Is there a better time than now to place ourselves in trust before our loving Savior, to allow His gaze of mercy to penetrate the deepest recesses of our hearts and to leap with abandon into the promise of life He offers? He wants to light us on fire and awaits our confidence in His power to do so. My goodness, the whole world awaits our confidence. May there be a chorus of Amen’s rising from the earth, allowing His Holy Spirit to pour out power and love anew upon our world so thirsting for the change only He can give.

St. Teresa of Avila , pray for us!

Check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church # 598, 1432, 1487, 1863

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Four wounded in attack on priest by suspected Abu Sayyaf in Basilan"


ZAMBOANGA - Four people were wounded when suspected extremists ambushed a Catholic priest on Saturday in Basilan, the military said.

Father Mon Libot only suffered bruises but his four military and civilian bodyguards were wounded in the attack by members of bandit group Abu Sayyaf on the island of Basilan, said military spokesman Maj. Eugenio Batara.

The gunmen staged the ambush while Father Libot's group was driving down a dirt road in Sumisip town to attend religious services, said Batara.

The priest's escorts were able to return fire, forcing the attackers to retreat. Philippine Marines have been sent to hunt the gunmen down, the major said.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small gang of self-styled Islamic freedom fighters based largely on Basilan and neighboring Jolo island that security agencies have linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network.

It has staged numerous attacks on Christians and foreigners and is on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organizations.

"Priest draws inspiration from saintly relative"

From Ocala.com
By Anthony Violanti
Photo by Jannet Walsh

OCALA - Outside a corner window of his room at the New Horizon nursing home, the world passes by. Cars crawl across the parking lot as people scurry about the sidewalk. It's a cloudy spring afternoon with a muggy breeze.

A television hangs on the pale yellow wall. The volume is turned off as an anchorman reads the news. The only sound is the buzz of conversation wafting from the hallway.

Mordia is oblivious to it all.

The 6-foot-2-inch man is lying on a bed, eyes closed, mouth open, under the dim light above the headboard. Breathing is a struggle. Mordia is 85 and in the final hours of life.

"There's nothing the doctors can do anymore. It's a matter of time," says Vera, his wife of 58 years, sitting at his bedside. "Right now, we just want to let him go peacefully. That's what he wanted."

Outside, the Rev. George Maniangattu, 44, squeezes his beige Toyota Corolla into a parking spot. His brisk walk turns into a desperate jog down a hallway as he dodges nurses in green uniforms and medical aides wheeling silver trays.

It's all a blur until an elderly man in a wheelchair stops Maniangattu, pats his arm near the elbow, and shakes his hand. The priest smiles, catches his breath, then moves on.

"How do I get to Room 301?" he asks through a heavy Indian accent. A nurse points down the hall. Maniangattu darts into the room.

The priest carries a small plastic bag filled with a bottle of oil, a prayer cloth, Communion wafers and a Bible. (God bless them for writing and publishing a positive article article about the priesthood, but I think they could have done better than Communion "wafers" and a bible.)

Duty and faith aren't the only things that brought him to this moment of comforting a wife and offering last rites to the faithful. So has the spirit of the Catholic Church's newest saint - his great-great-aunt, the Blessed Sister Alphonsa, whom the pope canonized earlier this month.

Maniangattu never met the woman. She died before he was born. But her story has guided her great-great-nephew his entire life. This is her work and her way.


Maniangattu (MONEY-in-got) has been a Catholic priest for 18 years. He was ordained in India and spent a decade serving there, followed by seven years in the Caribbean.

Last year he came to Our Lady of the Springs, a contemporary white stucco-style building with a triangle of shimmering blue glass panes above the front entrance. It's on a patch of rural land on Northeast 21st Street, just off Silver Springs Boulevard.

The church is surrounded by leafy green trees, lush grass and neatly trimmed bushes. Inside, a huge crucifix stands in front of a circular stained-glass window that towers above the altar.

Maniangattu serves as parochial vicar. He says Mass and helps the church's 750 families. Most members are older than 60, so Maniangattu often visits hospitals and nursing homes.

Our Lady has two mission churches: St. Hubert of the Forest and St. Joseph of the Forest. A round trip to both totals more than 100 miles. Maniangattu puts hundreds of miles on his car each week.

He does so with an inner joy and bubbling personality. Maniangattu is a stocky, pleasant man, with black hair and wire glasses. He sports an ever-present smile to go with a laugh that quickly turns into a gentle cackle. He has a way of comforting people.

Most churchgoers don't know, or even wonder, why a clergyman dedicates his life to God. Parishioners attend services, pay their tithes and try to grow in their faiths. Maybe they get to know the man who stands before them every Sunday morning. Maybe they don't.

At crucial moments - funerals, tragedies - they look to priests for wisdom and grace. How can these men do it, time after time?

Everything in perspective

"It's always nice to see a priest," Vera Mordia says as she sits on a wooden chair near her husband's bed.

"A priest helps put everything in perspective. Knowing that a priest is here helps me know that Sam will be at peace and be with God."

She has chalk-white hair and wears a striped blouse and sky-blue slacks. Her face is lined with worry, but she seems to handle the emotional drama with tender acceptance and inner faith.

Memories flood the moment.

Vera met Sam at a Valentine's Day dance in Johnson City, N.Y., near Binghamton. She recalls the time that teenaged Sam went to a tryout camp for the New York Yankees. How he joined the Coast Guard during World War II. His years working at the Ozalid factory. The birth of their daughter, Janice, during the early 1950s. The move to Florida more than 25 years ago.

Maniangattu is preparing to administer the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing the sick, sometimes called the last rites. It's a divine and mystical way to cross the line between human death and spiritual life.

A life of suffering

When Blessed Sister Alphonsa was named a saint on Oct. 12 at the Vatican - becoming the first woman from India to reach full sainthood in the Catholic Church - her physical suffering was recounted.

There was a lot to talk about. Alphonsa's mother died a few months after her birth. She was raised by her aunt and was a sickly child.

When she was a little girl, Alphonsa had a vision of Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as "the little flower." Alphonsa was determined not only to become a nun, but a saint.

Her aunt didn't want a religious life for Alphonsa. She wanted her to marry. To avoid an arranged marriage, the teenage Alphonsa stuck her leg into a burning pit. She suffered severe burns and would be in physical pain the rest of her life.

Later in life, she contracted a severe attack of malaria and also double pneumonia. Intestinal problems made eating problematic, and she would often vomit.

She dedicated her suffering to God. She became a nun and comforted the sick, despite being chronically ill herself. Sister Alphonsa died in 1946. She was just 35.

Numerous miracles were reported at her tomb in the south Indian state of Kerala. A child born with club feet was healed. A nun's crippled leg returned to normal.

Millions have visited the tomb over the years, inspired by her example that suffering can be an expression of faith.

"I have given myself up completely to Jesus," Sister Alphonsa once wrote. "My only desire in this world is to suffer for love of God and to rejoice in doing it."

Sister Alphonsa "constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God...She learned to love the cross through her love of the crucified Lord." Pope John Paul II said during a 1986 visit to her tomb in India.

SUBHED: 'Your mind is elevated to God.'

Maniangattu grew up in a deeply religious family, and among his relatives are 16 priests and 17 nuns. None was more revered than his maternal great-great aunt.

Maniangattu first visited her tomb as a child, holding the hand of his mother. It was a rite of passage for him and countless others in his homeland.

"There's something special there, a holiness you can feel," he said. "Your mind is elevated to God."

In India, Maniangattu said, the population is about 80 percent Hindu, 13 percent Muslim and 7 percent Christian. All faiths are inspired by Sister Alphonsa, he said, but for him it is more personal.

"She made me aware of my commitment to Christ," Maniangattu said. "She carried my cross."

A moment of grace

Maniangattu stands near the front of Sam Mordia's bed. Vera stands by the priest's side. Suddenly, Sam regains consciousness.

"A priest is here to see you," Vera says, cupping her hands and speaking in a loud voice as she bends down toward her husband's ear.

"A priest?" he responds.

"Father," Sam says, barely above a whisper, as Maniangattu stoops low, near Sam's mouth, to listen.

"I'm here to see you," the priest says.


"To pray for you."

"Thank you," Sam says before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Maniangattu closes his eyes, slowly nods, and once again looks down at Sam's face. Sam's eyes are closed and he says nothing. The priest absolves him of his sins. Vera sits in a chair, head bowed.

Maniangattu, holding a small plastic bottle in his left hand, puts drops of oil in his right hand. He anoints Sam's forehead and hands. "May the Lord, who frees you from sin, save you and embrace you."

Vera rises and joins the priest in saying the "Our Father." Then Maniangattu bends over towards Sam once more, holding a Bible in is left hand as he makes the sign of a cross in the air with his right.

"May almighty God offer you everlasting life."

A saintly moment

Years ago, when Maniangattu was barely 15 and fresh off his commitment to the priesthood, he experienced a time of doubt. One rainy summer day, he and about 40 other seminarians went to visit the tomb of Blessed Alphonsa.

It was a long journey, about 5 miles. The rain grew more intense, and the wind and water hit Maniangattu in the face. He remembers the water rising past his ankles.

But they kept walking. "We felt protected," he said.

He kept wondering: Did I make the right decision? Could I give my life to God and serve as a priest?

They reached the chapel that holds the tomb. Maniangattu stood in front of the white casket that holds Blessed Sister Alphonsa's remains. In front of it was an altar and large, wall-length crucifix. The room was quiet and serene.

Maniangattu's doubts soon diminished. The young man, soaked with rain and shivering from the cold wind, felt warm and comforted. He knelt, bowed his head and prayed.

"I was feeling peace of mind, and I could feel her presence," Maniangattu said. "She is the same blood as I am. In India, families are very close. She is part of my family and religion, and she brought me peace."

Read the rest of the article HERE.

More stories and videos about St. Alphonsa and Rev. George Maniangattu can be found HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"A Monastic Kind of Life"

How Catholic religious communities are trying to attract young people again.

By Harold Fickett

The Catholic Church has always seen the contemplative life as the "Air Force" in its spiritual struggle, as the Rev. David Toups of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commented—a conduit of spiritual power. Though the number of young people entering monasteries, convents, and the priesthood has drastically dropped from the mid-20th century, some new approaches to religious vocations have inspired some young people in America to embrace this idea, replenishing several of the older religious orders and filling new ones. One such community with a young population, nestled in the Ozarks, is a place that could symbolize Catholicism's true hope for renewal in our time. Founded in 1999, the Clear Creek Monastery has grown from 13 to 30 monks who are intent on building a community that will "last for a thousand years." Clear Creek is also part of the "reform of the reform," a rethinking of Vatican II that has led a number of religious orders—such as the Dominican Sisters in Nashville, the Sisters for Life in New York, and Benedict Groeschel's Franciscan Friars of the Renewal—to rediscover their original mission and flourish.

The growth in these orders provides a striking contrast to the continuing decline in Catholic monastic and religious life generally. In 1965, there were twice as many religious priests and brothers as today. There are just one-third as many nuns. According to Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the average monk is in his early 70s, the average nun in her mid-70s. The mission of many orders has become simply caring for their aging populations as they sell properties and consolidate with others.

The Vatican II document dealing with monasticism, Perfectae caritatis, counseled both "a constant return to the sources" of the Christian life and "their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time." Issued in October 1965, this re-examination of the religious life came as the cultural revolution of the 1960s began its magical mystery tour. It was received with wild and contradictory enthusiasms by a restive population of monks and nuns. Many of the large Catholic families of the World War II generation sought spiritual favor—or simply status—by giving one of their children to the church. These donated priests, nuns, and monks often wanted to leave or instead sought to accommodate the religious life's demands to their personal ambitions. For a time, the life of Catholic religious orders became about social justice issues, psychological issues, peace studies, interreligious dialogue, the ecology movement—everything and anything, seemingly, except the central proposition: that one can know a loving God and be transformed.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles are the most famous example of the combustible combination of the times and the dissatisfaction of many religious. In 1966, humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers led a series of "encounter sessions" with the sisters, urging them to seek personal fulfillment. Within the next several years, the order nearly vanished. In many orders at the time, the vow of chastity was widely ignored.

Russell Hittinger, the Warren professor of Catholic studies at the University of Tulsa, admits that many of those who entered religious life before Vatican II simply did not have a calling. Those who truly have a call to monasticism—or other forms of the religious life—begin by falling in love with the pursuit of holiness, as did the monks of Clear Creek.

The Clear Creek story goes back to the University of Kansas. In the early 1970s, six young men who would become founding monks of Clear Creek were students in the Pearson College Integrated Humanities Program. Literally hundreds of Pearson's students became Catholic converts, inspired by professor John Senior, who conceived of a contemplative monastery close to the Lawrence campus. After he learned of a traditional Benedictine monastery in Fontgombault, France, he sent two young men off on a scouting mission with an instruction: "Bring back an abbot." These American students, and the others who soon followed, went to France thinking they would soon return to establish a monastery, bringing renewal to American Catholicism and society. But the demands of monastic life and obedience soon revealed this to be youthful presumption.

In 1999, a full 25 years after leaving for France, six of the original University of Kansas students, along with seven fellow monks, returned to America to start Clear Creek, establishing the first foundation for men of the Benedictine Congregation of Solesmes in America. On a 1,200-acre tract of land once owned by an infamous moonshiner, the Clear Creek monks use the old Latin rites both for Mass and the daily offices. Indeed, a return to traditional practices is a common element among those religious orders experiencing renewal. Many young nuns, for example, choose to wear a traditional habit even when their older religious sisters choose modest secular fashions.

Scores of families have purchased land nearby to raise their families in the shadow of the monastery, where they often join the monks in their liturgical celebrations. These families tend to be the crunchiest of the Crunchy Cons, into home schooling, the "local foods, local markets" movement, and sustainable farming. This growing community is one of the surest signs of Clear Creek's importance. This follows the classic spiritual pattern: Saints traipse off into the wilderness, and the world eventually follows, unbidden, as with the Cistercians, who turned the swamps and fens of Europe into arable land and saw communities spring up around them.

The emergence of Clear Creek and other growing monastic communities suggests there will always be young people who ask whether their devotion to God should take precedence over their own personal ambitions and even the natural desire for a family. (The A&E special God or the Girl was an insightful documentary about this.) Today's young people, who have grown up in a highly commercialized and manipulated landscape, are particularly eager to connect with a more authentic way of living. Far from being pressured into pursuing religious vocations, they find their families often protest, feeling they are losing their children to a life that's too isolated.

But after the first heady period of romance comes a long and difficult obedience, as every monk or nun eventually recognizes. Fidelity can result in humility, though, which is the deepest source of the beauty to be seen at Clear Creek and other monastic foundations. From its rich liturgical rites to the pastoral details of its life as a working farm, as the monks raise sheep, make furniture, tend their orchard, and care for a huge vegetable garden, Clear Creek is what a monastery is meant to be—a sign of paradise.

Father Anderson says, "We were only a bunch of bums, but by becoming nothing, you can be a part of something great."

"Reforming Religious Life With the Right Hermeneutic"


NORTH EASTON, Massachusetts, OCT. 13, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, gave at the Stonehill College symposium on "Apostolic Religious Life since Vatican II ... Reclaiming the Treasure: Bishops, Theologians, and Religious in Conversation."

The Diocese of Fall River hosted the Sept. 27 event.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is a great joy for me to meet with you, men and women religious, who have been chosen with eternal and personal love by the Father of all gifts and who have generously devoted your lives to Christ and his Gospel. I address my cordial greeting to all the religious in North America, especially the superiors.

With fraternal affection I greet His Eminence, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and thank him deeply for inviting me to join you in this important gathering.

I come to you, consecrated men and women in North America, as the representative of the Holy Father, bearing his greetings and esteem for the witness of your life and the fruitfulness of the multiple forms of your service to the Church. I come to you as Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, with the accumulated experience of dealing with the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of consecrated life around the globe. But most especially, I come among you as a brother religious who has experienced the adventure and the turmoil of the renewal of consecrated life called for by the Second Vatican Council. This extraordinary experience has made me who I am and has shaped the words I address to you today with immense affection and hope.


Consecrated Life within the Church and within civil society has never played a secondary or minor role. As Pope John Paul II wrote, “its universal presence and the evangelical nature of its witness are clear evidence — if any were needed — that the consecrated life is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality which affects the whole Church. … In effect, the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it ‘manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.’ … It is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission.”

One can hardly overestimate the importance of consecrated life for the good of the Church and of humanity at large. From the birth of Christianity, some men and women were moved by the Spirit to devote their entire lives to imitating Christ more closely. Their consecration gradually took on the multiple forms we are familiar with today — rules and ways of life that at once express and give continuity to the charisms given by the Spirit.

Even a sketchy overview of history can show abundant evidence that, without the presence and activity of monks and nuns, religious women and men, despite their acknowledged cultural and historical limitations, the history of Western civilization and the evangelization of vast areas of the globe would be immensely poorer.

The history of the Church in the United States of America is rich with the contributions of consecrated men and women who have left an indelible mark on the culture.

During Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States in April, in his address to the young people gathered at New York’s St. Joseph Seminary, the Holy Father said, “Charisms are bestowed by the Holy Spirit, who inspires founders and foundresses, and shapes congregations with a subsequent spiritual heritage. The wondrous array of charisms proper to each religious institute is an extraordinary spiritual treasury. Indeed, the history of the Church is perhaps most beautifully portrayed through the history of her schools of spirituality, most of which stem from the saintly lives of founders and foundresses.”

The first four figures Benedict XVI proposed to the youth and seminarians in Dunwoodie as exemplary testimony of the Gospel in the lands of the United States, were consecrated: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint John Neumann, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who in 1679 made a vow of chastity as an expression of consecrated virginity.

Some of the most epic pages in the history of missions were written in this blessed land by the heroic French missionary Jesuits who were martyred in what is now New York State and Ontario, Canada, and by the Franciscans and other missionaries in the South and the West Coast of the United States. It is significant that, in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, various states are represented by religious, such as Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, Saint Damien of Molokai, Father Eusebio Kino, Father Jacques Marquette and Father Junípero Serra.

In the last two centuries, many religious in the United States have made education their highest priority — an undertaking that, as Pope Benedict pointed out in his recent Address to Catholic Educators in Washington, came at the cost of great sacrifice. “Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected – in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated religious sisters, brothers, and priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.”

In the last forty years, the Church has undergone one of her greatest crises of all times. We all know that the dramatic situation of consecrated life has not been marginal in this state of affairs. In practically all Western countries, observers note that most religious communities are entering the end-game of a prolonged crisis whose outcome, they say, is already determined by the statistics.

In many of these Western countries, religious have lost hope. They are resigned to the loss of vitality, of significance, of joy, of attractiveness, of life. But America is different. The vitality, the creativity, the exuberance that marks the thriving culture of the United States is reflected in Christian life and also in consecrated life. Just think: Since the Second Vatican Council, more than a hundred new religious communities have sprung up in this fertile soil.

This is the country that Pope Benedict visited in April in order to bring the message of the hope of Christ. But when he returned to Rome, he said, "I discovered a tremendous vitality and a decisive will to live and to witness to the faith in Jesus.” With great joy, he confessed that he himself “was confirmed in hope by American Catholics."


Despite this past greatness and present vitality, we know — and it is one of the major reasons we are gathered here today — that all is not well with religious life in America. My remarks today are addressed especially to the active religious.

The sheer decline in the numbers of consecrated men and women, the abandoning of many corporate apostolates and ministries, the closing of communities, the invisibility of corporate witness to consecrated life, amalgamations of provinces, mergers of different institutes, the graying of religious, the death of entire congregations — these realities are all familiar to us.

Under the umbrella of “consecrated life” and behind the statistics there lies a variety of situations.

First, there are many new communities, some better known than others, many of which are thriving and whose individual statistics are the reverse of the general trends.

Second, we have older communities that have taken action to preserve and reform genuine religious life in their own charism; they are also in a growth mode, contrary to the general trend, and their median age is lower than the overall average for religious.

Neither of these two groups sees “the writing on the wall” in the sense that observers of the general trends use it; on the contrary, the future looks promising if they continue to be what they are and as they are.

Third, there are those who accept the present situation of decline as, in their words, the sign of the Spirit on the Church, a sign of a new direction to be followed. Among this group there those who have simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life or at least of their community, and seek to do so in the most peaceful manner possible, thanking God for past benefits.

Then, we must admit too, that there are those who have opted for ways that take them outside communion with Christ in the Catholic Church, although they themselves may have opted to “stay” in the Church physically. These may be individuals or groups in institutes that have a different view, or they may be entire communities.

Finally, I would distinguish those who fervently believe in their own personal vocation and the charism of their community, and are seeking ways to reverse the trend. In other words, how to achieve authentic renewal. These may be whole institutes, or individuals, pockets of individuals or even communities within institutes.

My talk today is directed principally toward this last group to offer them encouragement and ideas on a way forward. It may also be of use to the first two groups, lest they lose what they have, according to St. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall”.

Indeed, the recent instruction from my Congregation on The Service of Authority and Obedience forcefully states that “Persons in authority are called to keep the charism of their own religious family alive. The exercise of authority also includes putting oneself at the service of the proper charism of the institute to which one belongs, keeping it carefully and making it real in the local community and in the province or the entire institute.”

To that end, it will be helpful to examine the roots of the crisis, and here we come face-to-face with a necessary and brutal question: Wasn’t “renewal” precisely what we did after the Council? Wasn’t this going to bring us into a new era? And was it not precisely this “renewal” that has landed us where we are today?

First, a word on the concept of reform itself: As Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote in an insightful essay five years ago, “to reform is to give new and better form to a preexistent reality, while preserving the essentials. Unlike innovation, reform implies organic continuity; it does not add something foreign or extrinsic. Unlike revolution or transformation, reform respects and retains the substance that was previously there. Unlike development, it implies that something has gone wrong and needs to be corrected. The point of departure for reform is always an idea or institution that is affirmed but considered to have been imperfectly or defectively realized. The goal is to make persons or institutions more faithful to an ideal already accepted.”

Reform, therefore, entails identifying three basic elements: 1) something essential to preserve; 2) some way of dealing with what is essential that has gone wrong and needs to be corrected, 3) a new way of dealing with what is essential that has to be implemented.


The Council, in fact, offered clear and abundant guidelines for the needed reform of Consecrated Life. The crucial question is: How were those guidelines interpreted and applied? Overall, the Council in general was interpreted and applied in two very different, opposing ways that we must look at more closely if we are to understand what has happened and map out a course to follow toward the future.

Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church and concretely in religious life, been so difficult and the source of so much turmoil?” asked Pope Benedict in an important speech three years ago.

The answer he offers is deep and crystal-clear. “It all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application.” He continues, “The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and clashed. One caused confusion; the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and continues to bear fruit.

“On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.”

1. The ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ described.

In the Holy Father’s analysis, “The hermeneutic of discontinuity is based upon a false concept of the Church and hence of the Council, as if the former were from man alone and the latter a sort of Constituent Assembly. The call to change would be the true “spirit of the Council”, to such a degree that whatever in its documents reconfirms the past can be safely said to be the fruit of compromise and therefore to be legitimately forsaken in favor of the Council’s ‘spirit.’
This spirit that all is new and has to be made new gives rise to the fervid excitement of the explorer, the prospect of stepping courageously beyond the letter of the Council. But the call is so vague that one is immediately left anchorless, a victim of his every whim and rejecting all correction. It is idealistic in so far as it underestimates the frailty of human nature, and it is simplistic in thinking that a Yes to the modern era will solve all tensions and create harmony .
Given these premises, and given also the best of intentions, what calming influence could there be on experimentation, and what principle was there to moderate the tendency to incorporate into religious life the fads and patterns of modern culture?

2. This hermeneutics of rupture has dominated the attempts at renewal of religious life.

There is a fine balance in the Council’s documents, but at the time, given that the mandate was for up-dating, it was easier to justify change than to defend continuity.

Paragraph 2 of Perfectae Caritatis reads, “The adaptation and renewal of religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.” Read with the hermeneutics of rupture and discontinuity, the “return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes” tended to be interpreted in light of “adaptation to the changed conditions of our time” rather than the other way around.

The following paragraphs of the same document contain phrases quite familiar to us, and only with difficulty do we remember the rest of what the council said:

“…Let constitutions, directories, custom books, books of prayers and ceremonies and such like be suitably reedited and, obsolete laws being suppressed, be adapted to the decrees of this sacred synod” (3). “… to make allowance for adequate and prudent experimentation. … But superiors should take counsel in an appropriate way and hear the members of the order in those things which concern the future well-being of the whole institute” (4).

As we continue reading Perfectae Caritatis, the numbers that follow spell out beautifully the true nature of religious life and are worthy of meditation, but despite their length and density and their appeal to spirituality, prayer, obedience, love, and so on, their fate is sealed once they are read with the hermeneutics of change.

The words appear constantly: “adaptation and renewal” (8), “adapt their ancient traditions” (9), “adapt to the demands of the apostolate” (9), “adjust their way of life to modern needs” (10), “express poverty in new forms” (13). In obedience, “superiors … should gladly listen to their subjects” (14). “The religious habit … should be simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved” (17). “…religious must be given suitable instruction … in the currents and attitudes of sentiments and thought prevalent in social life today” (18).

It is true that these are just a few phrases picked arbitrarily from dense paragraphs rich in spiritual doctrine and which emphasize above all the perennial truths of religious life. But many were led to believe that by picking them out, and focusing exclusively on them their efforts for renewal, they were being faithful to the true “spirit” of the Council. Thus rupture and discontinuity as a point of departure become a self-fulfilling prophecy, producing, precisely, rupture and discontinuity.

3. Religious life was not an isolated battle-ground.

“Aggiornamento” was the term in vogue, and meaning “up-dating,” it presupposed something to be brought up to date: It presupposed continuity. What took place was a “pseudo-aggiornamento” that was unrecognizable in Catholic terms.

Operating at the root of this “pseudo-aggiornamento” was what can best be described as “naturalism”. It supposed the radical centering of man on himself, the rejection of the supernatural, and operated in a climate of radical subjectivism.

It showed itself in multiple ways: In talk about holiness that is totally divorced from fulfillment of Christ’s law and the concept of grace. In minimizing sin. In the acceptance of the world as it is, with no need of conversion. In taking the world as the criterion according to which the Church ought to be reformed. In a notion of apostolate or ministry that consists in being at ease in the world rather than changing it. In rejection of authority, and especially divinely constituted authority, hence the rejection of the magisterium and all canonical and disciplinary ordering in the Church.

4. The results of the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture in religious life.

We must begin here by acknowledging that there certainly was much to correct in religious life, much to be improved in the formation of religious. We must also admit that society proposed challenges for which many religious were not prepared. In some cases, routine and crusts of outdated customs needed to be shaken off. In this sense we must affirm categorically that not only was the Council not mistaken in its thrust to renew religious life, it was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit in doing so.

Pope Benedict, speaking to superiors general, said: “In these last years, consecrated life has been re-examined with a more evangelical, ecclesial and apostolic spirit; but we cannot ignore that some concrete choices have not offered to the world the authentic and vivifying face of Christ. In fact, the secularized culture has penetrated the mind and heart of not a few consecrated persons, who understand it as a way to enter modernity and a modality of approach to the contemporary world. As a result, in addition to an undoubted thrust of generosity capable of witness and of total giving, consecrated life today knows the temptation to mediocrity, bourgeois ways and a consumerist mentality.”

Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, I was in Paris finishing my doctoral thesis on “miracles of the modernist controversy.” At that time in France there was a pervasive atmosphere of enthusiasm for the Council as the press and other media presented it, which was a partial image of the Council as a “victory of the liberals over the conservatives.”

When I returned to Slovenia I found that the communist regime was isolating the Catholic faithful, suffocating public expression of the faith and reducing it to a merely private affair. I found a faithful people within a society shaped by the ideology of materialism. I soon realized that what I brought with me from my studies in Paris was of very little use for my pastoral work. I needed to be close to the people and to respect the traditional ways of expressing of their faith. I learned so much from the Christian faithful! They taught me to love the Church, to respect the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.

The great lesson I learned from that experience was this: The religious who secularized consecrated life were not doing so for the sake of the faith of the people of God. It was not the good of God’s people that they were seeking. Rather than God’s will, what they were seeking was their own.

Religious life, being a gift from the Holy Spirit to the individual religious and the Church, depends especially on fidelity to its origins, fidelity to the founder, fidelity to the particular charism. Fidelity to that charism is essential, for God blesses fidelity while he “opposes the proud.” The complete rupture of some with the past, then, goes against the nature of a religious congregation, and essentially it provokes God’s rejection.

As soon as naturalism was accepted as the new way, obedience was an early casualty, for obedience without faith and trust cannot survive. Prayer, especially community prayer, and the sacramental liturgy were minimized or abandoned. Penance, asceticism and what was referred to as “negative spirituality” became a thing of the past. Many religious were uncomfortable with wearing the habit. Social and political agitation became for them the acme of apostolic action. The New Theology shaped the understanding and the dilution of the faith. Everything became a problem for discussion. Rejecting traditional prayer, the genuine spiritual aspirations of religious sought out other more esoteric forms.

The results came swiftly in the form of an exodus of members. As a consequence, apostolates and ministries that were essential for the life of the Catholic community and its charitable outreach quickly disappeared – schools especially. Vocations quickly dried up. Even as the results began to speak for themselves, there were still those who said that things were bad because there hadn’t been enough change, the project was not complete. And so the damage was further compounded.

It must further be noted that many of those responsible for the disastrous decisions and actions of those post-conciliar years, later left religious life themselves. Many of you now here are the ones who have remained faithful. With immense courage, you are shouldering the burden of reversing the damage and rebuilding your religious families. My heart and my prayers go out to you.


1. The hermeneutic of continuity and reform described.

The true “spirit of the Council” was described at its inauguration by Pope John XXIII when he said that the Council wishes “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion.” And he continues: “Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us. It is necessary that adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness be presented in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”

These words give rise to a very different way of interpreting the Council from what has been described in the previous sections. We have here in essence, the hermeneutics of continuity and reform.

Continuity elicits a harmonious dialogue between faith and reason. Reason, enlightened by the supernatural gift of faith, adheres voluntarily and lovingly to what Pope John XXIII called “the substance of the ancient doctrine” that was revealed by Christ and rightly interpreted by the magisterium with the infallible and constant assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Reason enlightened by faith will not fall into the trap of modern secularism. Authentic prophetism in the Church intends to rectify behavior, not to change the apostolic revelation. Cardinal Avery Dulles explained this point well when he wrote:

“In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy. False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the Gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.”

2. The application and fruits of the hermeneutic of continuity and reform.

Today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council, which provided clear guidelines to distinguish between the substance of the deposit of the faith and its circumstantial manifestations. Continuity with what is essential in religious life does not stifle but rather encourages reform of what is outdated, accidental and perfectible. This is evident when we read the finely balanced criteria and guidelines for renewal in Perfectae Caritatis, numbers 2-18 that we referred to when we spoke about rupture and discontinuity.

When these same numbers are interpreted in terms of continuity, the changes asked for are never disassociated from their roots. Those seeking continuity in renewal will notice that the Council called for a renewal that is eminently a renewal of the spirit, emphasizing the centrality of Christ as he is found in the Gospels, following him on the path envisaged by the founder through the vows (2).

Renewal is to be sought in the more faithful observance of the rule and constitutions (4).
It calls for a religious consecration that means not only dying to sin (baptismal vocation) but renouncing the world and living for God alone, service of the Church and fostering of all the virtues, especially humility and obedience, seeking God alone, joining contemplation to action (5).
The priority of loving God and nourishing one’s life on Scripture and the Eucharist (6).
The Council sees no dichotomy between contemplation and action; the latter springs from the former (7).
The priority of spiritual training if members of secular institutes are to be leaven in the world (11).
Chastity, Poverty, Obedience (12, 13, 14), are all cast in an eminently supernatural light, based on faith, hope and love. The radicality of their implications is clearly laid out.
The need for common life lived in prayer, charity, and mutual support as highlighted in number 15.
Papal cloister should be maintained by nuns dedicated exclusively to the contemplative life (16).
The habit should be adapted, implying it should remain (17).

A number of the better-known new religious orders and movements were already under way at the time of the Council. These invariably examined themselves in the light of the orientations issued by the Council, and were unanimously faithful to its authentic spirit as expressed in the letter of the Council. And the new congregations founded since then also find the key to their own self-understanding in the Council’s doctrine. Though the concept of “renewal” is not applicable to a new group, the element of continuity and the essential elements of religious life as spelled out by the Council has guided these foundations without exception. Is it mere coincidence that they are growing?

The Holy Father summed up the fruits of this hermeneutic as follows:

“Wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.”

We now need to face the question: Where can we go from here? Is there new life for religious communities in North America seeking authentic reform?

Here we must note that, though the background to the problems is the same, and there are common problems and challenges faced by both men and women religious (the engineering of language, the slant toward relativism, the fading of a sense of the supernatural, in some cases doubt about the relevance and centrality of Christ), it is also true that each group faces its own particular challenges. Women religious especially need to engage critically a certain strain of feminism by now outmoded but which still nevertheless continues to exert much influence in certain circles.

Let me focus on some of the common elements. If rupture and confusion are what characterize the recent difficulties in religious life, then the way forward has to be a greater seeking of continuity and clarity. Like the scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven, we should bring from our storeroom both the new and the old.

1. Continuity with the essentials, first of all of our Catholic faith.

It would seem superfluous to make this remark, for one would imagine there is no discussion on this point. However, we have all, sadly, experienced the presence of groups or individuals who, by their own admission, have “moved beyond the Church,” yet remain externally “in” the Church. Surely, such an ambivalent existence cannot bring forth fruits of joy and peace, neither for themselves nor for the Church. We pray that the Holy Spirit will give them the light to see the path to true peace and freedom, and the courage to follow it.

I quote again the instruction on the Service of Authority and Obedience: “Persons in authority have the task of helping to keep alive the sense of faith and of ecclesial communion, in the midst of a people that recognizes and praises the wonders of God, witnessing to the joy of belonging to him in the great family of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The task of following the Lord cannot be taken by solitary navigators but is accomplished in the bark of Peter, which survives the storms; and consecrated persons contribute a hardworking and joyful fidelity to good navigation.32 Persons in authority should therefore remember that “Our obedience is a believing with the Church, a thinking and speaking with the Church, serving through her.”

2. Continuity with the concept of religious life as understood by the Church.

According to the Council, “Church authority has the duty, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of interpreting these evangelical counsels, of regulating their practice and finally to build on them stable forms of living.”

Both Church authority and the tradition of the Church throughout the centuries have spelled out what the substance of consecrated life is. Pope Benedict put it this way: “Belonging to the Lord: this is the mission of the men and women who have chosen to follow Christ – chaste, poor and obedient – so that the world may believe and be saved.”

3. Continuity with the charism of the founder.

This is of capital importance, and a key to renew and revitalize our congregations, attract vocations and fulfill our obligations toward the young people who eventually enter our religious families. The council insists on this. We must ensure that life in our congregations is both fully Catholic and fully in line with the charism of the founder or foundress. There can be no contradiction here, since the charism was given to the founders in the context of the Church, and it was submitted to the approval of the Church. Many congregations are making strenuous efforts in this regard.

However, some religious superiors have found that this is not enough. They are making great efforts to revive the figure and centrality of their founder; they are renewing religious observance and life in their communities; but they say the vocations are still not coming. There are two further, very important elements to take into consideration.

4. The formation of the new generations. The formation program.

In the present circumstances, offering an adequate, faithful formation program is a particularly significant challenge. No individual can do it alone, no individual house can do it, sometimes not even a province; resources are scattered; there may not be much unity or agreement as regards what the substance of formation should be. Nevertheless, this is probably the single most important element that affects the long-term renewal of our congregations and our ability to attract new vocations. Therefore it is essential that it be addressed by all those who desire to see their institutes flourish once more.

I offer some considerations in this regard:

a. It is worth any sacrifice to dedicate to formation the most outstanding of your members. They must be fully in communion with the Church. They must be prudent, eminently spiritual and practical. They must love their congregation and identify with the founder’s charism, have a spiritual love for their charges, be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of young people today, and have the complete support of their major superiors.

b. Postulancy and novitiate programs are easier to cater for, but the challenge is greater as regards the study of philosophy and theology, or other college careers necessary for the apostolate of the members. When it is necessary to have religious study in centers of learning outside the congregation’s own, these must be chosen prudently so that the doctrine the young religious receive will be sure and in depth, and the external circumstances will allow them to live an authentic community and religious life, continuing to cultivate all areas of their formation, including the spiritual, the sacramental and the human.

c. The new vocations should be educated in the light of the rich contributions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as regards understanding the dignity of the human person, the nature of freedom, the nature of the religious dimension of our lives, the need for human formation.

d. They should be imbued with love for their own founder, history, traditions, contributions, and a healthy ambition to serve souls.
e. Fidelity to the spirit of religious life and of one’s institute should not be depersonalized or static. It should rather be creative, capable of finding innovative ways to develop and apply the charism and of reaching out to the new generation of Catholics and to potential members to the institute.

5. Active promotion of vocations.

Vocations are a gift from God, the initiative is completely his. Nevertheless, as is his custom, he normally uses secondary causes and he depends on our collaboration to carry out his plans.

I distinguish two different and complementary ways to promote vocations: One I will call indirect and the other direct. And, counter-intuitively, I think that what I call indirect promotion is actually the more important of the two in the context of the Church today because all of us can engage in it, the whole body of the Church benefits from it, and without it the direct promotion of vocations remains mostly sterile.

“Indirect” promotion is everything that builds up the life of Christ in the Church, and it can be summarized in three dimensions of life: spirituality, catechesis, and apostolate or ministry. And we have to focus these three dimensions to Christian life on the two places that most affect the vocation to consecration: on the family and on the heart, mind and soul of the individual young person.

Very often in our own lives and communities the reason the seed does not bear fruit is not that the ground is rocky or otherwise bad, but that many other concerns clamor for our time and attention. What I mean is, today we are engaged in and worried about many things, like Martha. Committees, conferences, social justice issues, press releases, and such like, clog our calendar. But there is one thing and one thing alone that will ultimately change the world, and that is the inner transformation of the human person through contact with the grace of Christ.

Spirituality is centered not on a vague religious feeling of being right with God and neighbor and having nice experiences in prayer. Its essence is continual conversion, nourished on the sacraments, and the fulfillment of God’s plan for one’s life. It has an objective dimension.

Catechesis is not limited to initial instruction, but is the continued deepening in the riches of our Catholic faith that alone among all religions and all versions of Christianity provides solid and completely satisfying nourishment for the intellect as well as the soul. It is essential that catechesis go hand-in-hand with spirituality, and to be able to give a reason for one’s hope, as Peter said. Witness Pope Benedict.

The third dimension is action, the external living of Christ’s charity that takes one beyond the boundary of his own comfort. For the individual, this is a new experience of Christ. In prayer and the sacraments you are transformed by your contact with Christ, in catechesis your mind is nourished, but it takes the practice of Gospel charity to enter fully into the charity of Christ who didn’t hold onto what he was, but came among us to serve. In doing apostolate you walk as it were “in Jesus’ sandals”.

Using our individual charism, enriching the above with the example and experience of our founders and history, we can all contribute to the renewal of a vigorous, authentic Christian life in all those with whom we are in contact. It will be well worth our while to examine the nature and thrust of every single project we have under way, to look at the use we make of our time and what occupies it, and then to take the time to cleanse and prioritize. And we should also look at the content and quality especially of our youth programs.

I have called this work “indirect” because it prepares the seed-bed of vocations (the family) and the subject of vocations (the individual young person), to have an open and generous disposition toward God’s will (spirituality) to appreciate the greatness and gift of the faith (catechesis) and to be able to sacrifice and give oneself to the call for the good of souls (apostolate).

In those families and in those individual lives is where God will normally plant the seed of a vocation. And this brings us to our next point: direct promotion.

“Direct” promotion of vocations is when we set out to find and encourage those young people God is calling to our own community. It supposes that we truly believe God is working in those souls, and therefore we seek with confidence and don’t get disheartened if success does not come immediately.

We do direct promotion in many ways: We advertize, we speak in schools and colleges, we write, we invite, we offer retreats and “Come and See” programs, and so forth. This must and should continue and increase if possible, using all the means we have at our disposal today.

I believe three elements contribute to making this direct promotion effective:

First, the indirect preparation mentioned above (whether it was done through an apostolate or ministry of one’s own community, or another community or ecclesial movement, or in the individual’s home parish).

Second: What we offer must be genuine. In other words, the community life and formation I invite this young person to, must reflect the particular charism of my religious family and be in full, joyful communion with the Church.

Lastly, the vocations promoter must be equipped humanly, intellectually and spiritually for his or her delicate task.


It should not surprise us that the road ahead is fraught with challenges and difficulties. However, I want you to be sure of my complete support for any honest effort to renew individual religious families along the lines of fidelity to the Church and to the founder. Much honesty, humility, courage, open-mindedness, dialogue, sacrifice, perseverance and prayer will be needed, for as Pope Benedict reminded us, “Jesus warned us that there are two ways: one is the narrow way that leads to life, the other is wide that leads to destruction” (cf. Matthew 7:13-14).

You are justly proud of the religious and civic heritage of North America, and you are aware of the impact that life here has on the world at large. The Catholic Church, as evidenced by the receptivity of civic and social leaders to the message of Pope Benedict, is called to enrich and enlighten consciences and thus give a stable foundation to society, being a true leaven in the mass. And the renewal of the Church in this great country, and her ability to serve, necessarily passes through the renewal of religious life.

One of the sources of my hope is the experience I had of the power of communion with the Holy Father. In communist Slovenia, people were afraid to speak out against the regime, for fear of reprisals. One month after the election of John Paul II, I was giving a speech in the theology faculty of Ljubljana University before a crowd of 1,200 people. The theme was “Christianity in Slovenia Yesterday and Today.” I surprised myself by making a radical critique of the communist regime and demanding the rights of Christians. The speech ended in a thunder of applause such as had not been heard in Slovenia for 40 years.

The communist ideology commission called a hasty meeting to discuss how anybody could dare to speak out in such a way. They concluded that it must be the effect of the new Pope. And they were right. John Paul had given us courage. I knew that from then on, despite the consequences, I would never be afraid to speak the truth. This incident taught me the spiritual, psychological and pastoral value of fidelity to the Holy Father. That is why I am convinced that if we adhere to what John Paul II taught us yesterday and what Benedict is teaching us today, we will emerge from the crisis of consecrated life into a new springtime of renewal in consecrated life in America.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your gift of self to Christ and humankind, for your testimony and your work, and not least of all for your patience and kindness in listening to my words today.

Let me now end with a prayer taken from the Opening prayer and the Prayer after Communion of the Mass for Religious in the Roman Missal:

“Father, you inspire and bring to fulfillment every good intention. Guide your people in the way of salvation and watch over those who have left all things to give themselves entirely to you. By following Christ and renouncing worldly power and profit, may they serve you and their brothers faithfully in the spirit of poverty and humility. Make them one in their concern for each other and in their common dedication to the works of charity. By their holy way of life may they be true witnesses of Christ to all the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.”