If you are actively discerning a vocation to the Priesthood, Diaconate, Consecrated Life, or Marriage and you are looking for information to help in your discernment, BE SURE TO CHECK the section at the bottom of the right sidebar for the "labels" on all posts. By clicking on one of these labels it will take you to a page with all posts containing that subject. You will also find many links for suggested reading near the bottom of the right sidebar. Best wishes and be assured of my daily prayers for your discernment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Foundations of Religious Life

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious has maintained the historical form of religious life, with sisters living in community and wearing the habit. While many religious orders are currently facing marked decline in novitiates and the aging of their members, the communities of the CMSWR are experiencing growth on a worldwide scale.In this collection of foundational articles, the CMSWR articulates how its perspective is in keeping with the vision set forth by Vatican II, suggesting that its commitment to a more visibly countercultural life and ministry is what sustains its orders and attracts young women to the CMSWR communities. The Foundations of Religious Life is ideal reading for sisters and those in formation, as well as their counterparts in men's communities.


VATICAN CITY, 29 SEP 2009 (VIS) - "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word" is the theme of the Pope's Message for the next World Day of Social Communications which is celebrated every year on 24 January, Feast of St. Francis of Sales, patron saint of journalists.

A communique made public today explains that the aim of the Message is "to invite priests in particular, during this Year for Priests and in the wake of the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to consider the new communications media as a possible resource for their ministry at the service of the Word. Likewise, it aims to encourage them to face the challenges arising from the new digital culture".

The text continues: "The new communications media, if adequately understood and exploited, can offer priests and all pastoral care workers a wealth of data which was difficult to access before, and facilitate forms of collaboration and increased communion that were previously unthinkable".

The communique concludes by noting that "if wisely used, with the help of experts in technology and the communications culture, the new media can become - for priests and for all pastoral care workers - a valid and effective instrument for authentic and profound evangelisation and communion".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Benedict XVI: The role of priests is irreplaceable"


VATICAN CITY, 29 SEP 2009 (VIS) - Made public today were the contents of a video Message from the Pope to participants in an international spiritual retreat for priests at the French shrine of Ars for the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney. The preacher of the retreat, which is taking place from 27 September to 3 October, is Cardinal Christoph Schonborn O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and the theme of the spiritual exercises is: "The joy of being a priest, consecrated for the salvation of the world".

"The priest", says the Holy Father in his Message, "is called to serve human beings and to give them life in God. ... He is a man of the divine Word and of all things holy and, today more than ever, he must be a man of joy and hope. To those who cannot conceive that God is pure Love, he will affirm that life is worthy to be lived and that Christ gives it its full meaning because He loves all humankind".

Benedict XVI then turns to address priests who have to serve a number of parishes and who "commit themselves unreservedly to preserving sacramental life in their various communities. The Church's recognition for you all is immense", he says. "Do not lose heart but continue to pray and to make others pray that many young people may accept the call of Christ, Who always wishes to see the number of His apostles increase".

The Holy Father also invites priests to consider "the extreme diversity of the ministries" they perform "in the service of the Church", and "the large number of Masses you celebrate or will celebrate, each time making Christ truly present at the altar. Think of the numerous absolutions you have given and will give, freeing sinners from their burdens. Thus you may perceive the infinite fruitfulness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Your hands and lips become, for a single instant, the hands and lips of God".

"This thought", the Pope added, "should bring you to ensure harmonious relations among the clergy so as to form the priestly community as St. Peter wanted, and so build the body of Christ and consolidate you in love".

"The priest is the man of the future. ... What he does in this world is part of the order of things directed towards the final Goal. Mass is the only point of union between the means and the Goal because it enables us to contemplate, under the humble appearance of the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Him Whom we adore in eternity".

"Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the heart of the Church", the Pope concluded. "You are the living witnesses of God's power at work in the weakness of human beings, consecrated for the salvation of the world, chosen by Christ Himself to be, thanks to Him, salt of the earth and light of the world".

"Apostolic Nuncio Speaks on Vocations"

From The National Catholic Register
Posted by Tim Drake

This morning Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., gave a historic address to the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors gathered for their annual convention in East Rutherford, N.J. Archbishop Sambi had several stirring things to say to the nation’s vocation directors.

“The enemy of every vocation is selfishness,” Archbishop Sambi told the group. He quoted at length from Pope John Paul II’s book Gift and Mystery.

In an interesting comparison, Archbishop Sambi compared the post-sexual abuse-crisis priesthood to that of post-Nazi-occupied Poland. He spoke about how Karol Wojtyla’s witnessing so many priests being arrested and deported impacted the future Pope’s priestly vocation.

“As the Pope was encouraged by the many priests brought to concentration camps, you should be pushed by the fact that many priests have abandoned their mission,” said Archbishop Sambi. “We are in a poverty of priests, but are coming on a New Springtime in which there will be more priests, and of a better quality.”

Given that it’s the Year for Priests in honor of St. John Marie Vianney, Archbishop Sambi then posed a hypothetical question to all of the vocation directors.

“If St. John Vianney came to you today as a prospective seminarian, would you help him in his vocation?” Archbishop Sambi asked.

He then presented two scenarios for how a vocation director might respond.

In the first scenario, the vocation director describes an older, dedicated, devout individual with a rural upbringing who is behind in his studies, but knows the faith because of the example of his family. He doesn’t grasp Latin well, but has a real sense of sacrifice. Other priests support him and see his vocation as authentic.

In the second scenario, the vocation director describes an individual with long hair and a provincial faith, who is focused on the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and is described as perhaps being too Eucharistic and too much into the cult of Mary. He describes the priest as speaking of being available for confession, but the vocation director questions, “Really, who goes any more?” Finally, the vocation director says that the candidate sounds a bit old Church, so the director says he’s probably suited to a more traditional order and says, “No, thank you.”

Those gathered shared a good laugh over the descriptions, but it was an effective exercise in getting vocation directors to think about what’s important. Archbishop Sambi urged caution in dealing with prospective candidates because “one of them could be a future saint.”

Pope Benedict's Address to Youth in the Czech Republic

STARA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic, SEPT. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Below is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today when he met with youth on the final day of his visit to the Czech Republic.

Dear Young Friends,

At the conclusion of this celebration I turn to you directly and I greet you warmly. You have come here in great numbers from all over the country and from neighbouring countries; you camped here yesterday evening and you spent the night in tents, sharing an experience of faith and companionship. Thank you for your presence here, which gives me a sense of the enthusiasm and generosity so characteristic of youth. Being with you makes the Pope feel young! I extend a particular word of thanks to your representative for his words and for the wonderful gift.

Dear friends, it is not hard to see that in every young person there is an aspiration towards happiness, sometimes tinged with anxiety: an aspiration that is often exploited, however, by present-day consumerist society in false and alienating ways. Instead, that longing for happiness must be taken seriously, it demands a true and comprehensive response. At your age, the first major choices are made, choices that can set your lives on a particular course, for better or worse. Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone. Yet there are also many young men and women who seek to transform doctrine into action, as your representative said, so as to give the fullness of meaning to their lives. I invite you all to consider the experience of Saint Augustine, who said that the heart of every person is restless until it finds what it truly seeks. And he discovered that Jesus Christ alone is the answer that can satisfy his and every person's desire for a life of happiness, filled with meaning and value (cf. Confessions, I.1.1).

As he did with Augustine, so the Lord comes to meet each one of you. He knocks at the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend. He wants to make you happy, to fill you with humanity and dignity. The Christian faith is this: encounter with Christ, the living Person who gives life a new horizon and thereby a definitive direction. And when the heart of a young person opens up to his divine plans, it is not difficult to recognize and follow his voice. The Lord calls each of us by name, and entrusts to us a specific mission in the Church and in society. Dear young people, be aware that by Baptism you have become children of God and members of his Body, the Church. Jesus constantly renews his invitation to you to be his disciples and his witnesses. Many of you he calls to marriage, and the preparation for this Sacrament constitutes a real vocational journey. Consider seriously the divine call to raise a Christian family, and let your youth be the time in which to build your future with a sense of responsibility. Society needs Christian families, saintly families!

And if the Lord is calling you to follow him in the ministerial priesthood or in the consecrated life, do not hesitate to respond to his invitation. In particular, in this Year of Priests, I appeal to you, young men: be attentive and open to Jesus's call to offer your lives in the service of God and his people. The Church in every country, including this one, needs many holy priests and also persons fully consecrated to the service of Christ, Hope of the world.

Hope! This word, to which I often return, sits particularly well with youth. You, my dear young people, are the hope of the Church! She expects you to become messengers of hope, as happened last year in Australia, during World Youth Day, that great manifestation of youthful faith that I was able to experience personally, and in which some of you took part. Many more of you will be able to come to Madrid in August 2011. I invite you here and now to participate in this great gathering of young people with Christ in the Church.

Dear friends, thank you again for being here and thank you for your gift: the book of photographs recounting the lives of young people in your dioceses. Thank you also for the sign of your solidarity towards the young people of Africa, which you have presented to me. The Pope asks you to live your faith with joy and enthusiasm; to grow in unity among yourselves and with Christ; to pray and to be diligent in frequenting the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession; to take seriously your Christian formation, remaining ever obedient to the teachings of your Pastors. May Saint Wenceslaus guide you along this path through his example and his intercession, and may you always enjoy the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. I bless all of you with affection!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Bless Me Father!"

Written by Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN (photo at left)
Monday, 31 December 2007 00:21
Thank you Lord for my priesthood!

01Jan08: What am I, a priest, doing in Iraq? God brought me here to be with my Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers. I am here to bring God to them and to bring them to God. Every day is a different story.

The other day, a young Marine arrived to SSTP (Shock, Surgical and Trauma Platoon) hospital. He was so young and at the age where he was just starting to experience life. He had lost his legs from the waist down; he had a very low pulse. There was something special about his young man that made him different from every other one that arrived at the SSTP hospital up to that date. I knew him personally. He attended Mass twice a month while the other days he went on missions. It is different when you know someone personally. I still remember his face; he would ask for a blessing after each Mass. He would tell me: "Bless me, Father, I need your blessing." These are the last words that I heard from him a week ago. His words till resounded over and over in my head, "Bless me, Father." I will not give his real name out of respect for the family.

I could not control my right hand while holding Jose's, praying to God for him; my hand was shaking. In my mind, I was asking God to save Jose. I was thinking of his parents, of his brothers, of his friends, but especially of his mother. Lord, do not shatter Jose's mother's heart. Save him, Lord! Bring him back to his mother alive.

I was looking around the operating room. The doctors were speaking to Jose telling him, "Fight, do not give up, please fight!" Jose's commanding officer was at a corner of the room with tears in his eyes, looking at me as if he were asking, "Please tell God to save him!" He then would turn to the doctors as saying, "Fight for him please save him, save my Marine!" Another officer entered the room, looked carefully to the doctors and then turned to me asking me with the gesture of his hands to pray. Then, he turned to Jose's officer and greeted him as if giving his condolences.

Please Lord, save him! I prayed with all my strength while the doctors tried frantically to save his life. "He has no more pulse!" one doctor shouted, while a female doctor with her hands inside Jose's chest caressed his heart trying to revive him. After 45 minutes of massaging the heart and electrical shocks, the doctor declared him dead.

In my mind, I was praying Lord, do not allow Jose's mother to receive him without life. Looking at Jose on the stretcher, I only saw half of his body. How would his life be if he would have survived without legs and only part of his hands? I wonder if God instead of answering my prayer answered Jose's prayer. Maybe Jose was telling God, please take me with you, do not leave me here this way. I don not know; the only thing I know is that Jose will not suffer anymore.

I still hear Jose's voice when he would tell me, "Bless me, Father... Please, Father, bless me... I always tell my mom that you bless me, and she gets very happy..... My mother told me to thank you for your blessing." What will go through Jose's mother's mind? Will she be angry at God? Will she hate the Marine Corps that her son loved so much?

I wish I could tell her: "Senora, I was with your son on his last moments." My hope is that she will find some comfort in the knowledge that her son had a priest by his side in his last moments.

Jose's officer asked for my name to tell his mother that I prayer for Jose, and that he received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I would love to look at her eyes, and let her know that I was with her son on her behalf. I would like to embrace her, and tell her that her son asked for my blessing every time he could come to Mass.

I thank God for the gift of my priesthood and to my Cardinal who allowed me to come and serve as a chaplain. I am a priest not only to celebrate Holy Mass, but also to live it. The gift of my priesthood allows me to bless and bring peace to my muchachos and muchachas, that's the way I see them as my young kids, in the midst of this war.

Please, ask God that I may never get tired of blessing those who ask and wherever they ask me. Jose would ask me to bless him in the Chapel, or while I was walking to my "Humvee" (my transportation), which would bring me to my base or where ever he would see me.

"Father would you bless me?" Who will be the next priest to hear these words? Will our young men and women in the military services have priests to come to and ask for a blessing, or to come for confession, or will they have the opportunity to attend Mass? I pray that young men and women in the military will get the spiritual guidance they need. The only way this will be possible is if more men respond to God's call to the priesthood. When the Lord asks, "Whom shall I send?" many will say "Here I am, Lord!"

Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN is currently serving as a US military chaplain in Iraq. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1999, and has previously served at various parishes including St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys, CA.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Leprosy patients to see 1800s priest canonized"

From AP

HONOLULU — Most need wheelchairs. Their average age is 80.

Neither fact is stopping 11 elderly Hawaii leprosy patients from traveling 12,000 miles to the Vatican next month to watch as the Catholic Church canonizes Father Damien — a priest who cared for leprosy patients throughout the islands more than a century ago before dying of the disease himself.

Damien, who was born in Belgium as Joseph de Veuster, remains a beloved figure among many in Hawaii. In the 1870s, the leprosy patients Damien cared for were shunned by most people, even doctors, because of an intense stigma that was associated with the disease.

Today's patients from Kalaupapa, the isolated peninsula where Hawaii's leprosy patients were banished for more than 100 years, feel particularly close to Damien.

Dr. Kalani Brady, their physician, said Thursday the trip to Rome will be an "energy-laden" voyage for many of his patients.

"They're going to see their personal saint canonized," said Brady, 53, who will accompany the group to Rome. It's "incredibly important, incredibly personal for them," he said.

The reverence for Damien transcends religious sects, Brady said, noting that one 84-year-old making the trip is Mormon.

"He's bound to a wheelchair, he's completely blind. So it's important enough for him to go, despite the hurdles which he has to overcome," Brady said.

The Catholic Church announced earlier this year that it would make Damien a saint after determining a Hawaii woman was cured of terminal cancer after she prayed to Damien and he interceded on her behalf. The church found there was no medical explanation for the woman's recovery.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to preside over Damien's canonization on Oct. 11. Damien was beatified — a step toward sainthood — in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

The pope is expected to meet privately with the patients during their stay in Rome.

The 11 are among about 20 patients who still live at Kalaupapa. The Kingdom of Hawaii began banishing leprosy patients to the remote section of Molokai island in the 1860s to control an outbreak of the disease that was killing Native Hawaiians in large numbers.

Many Hawaiians had no natural immunity to leprosy, as well as other diseases that led the Hawaiian population to shrink 70 percent in the seven decades after Captain James Cook, the first European to visit the islands, arrived in 1778.

Some 90 percent of the 8,000 people exiled to Kalaupapa were Native Hawaiians.

Successive governments continued to exile patients to Kalaupapa for over a century through 1969, when the state of Hawaii finally stopped the practice more than two decades after the discovery of drugs that could treat the disease.

Many patients chose to stay at Kalaupapa even after the medical isolation order was lifted because the community had become their home.

Today, many patients still have to fight the indignity of stereotypes and misperceptions about the illness.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is spread by direct person-to-person contact, although it's not easily transmitted. It can cause skin lesions and lead to blindness.

But it's been curable since the development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, and people treated with drugs aren't contagious.

Damien built homes for the sick, changed their bandages and ate poi, a Hawaiian staple, from the same bowl as the patients. He put up no barriers between himself and those he ministered to.

He was diagnosed with leprosy 12 years after he arrived and died five years later in 1889.

Overall, some 650 people from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the canonization. Most, between 520 and 550, are expected to be part of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu's delegation.

Those going also include a Boy Scout troop and Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona.

Some will visit Belgium, including the town of Tremelo, where Damien was born, and Leuven, where his body was buried in 1936.

Damien still has a grave at Kalaupapa, but it now only contains a relic of his right hand.

"Pray for a Harvest of Holy Priests"

From The National Catholic Register
By Father Salvatore DeStefano

No priest ever forgets his first day in the seminary. After all the discernment, he has left the job behind, the girlfriend behind, his own family and friends behind — all to journey down an unknown path, hoping and praying that he is doing God’s will. My first day was just like this.

We had an excellent president, or rector as we call him, who summoned all the new recruits together for his annual opening conference of the academic year. You might think that he called us together to give us a bit of a pep talk, to tell us that we were bold for making this difficult decision to follow the Lord’s call in a world that was distancing itself more and more from God. You might think that he complimented us and told us to pray hard for the strength to find God’s purpose for our lives (ordination was never a given).

He did none of these things. Instead he said to us: “Gentlemen, if you’re not prepared to make every sacrifice necessary to become holy priests, then get out.”

The message was clear. The Church and world don’t need greater numbers of priests necessarily. What’s needed are holy priests. If we weren’t willing to accept this, we needn’t bother wasting our teachers’ time or our own — or God’s.

Some of the guys assembled that day were put off by this approach, but I wasn’t. Actually, I was very impressed. Here was a man who wasn’t concerned with playing the numbers game. He wasn’t interested in merely producing more vocations or impressing his superiors with his flourishing seminary program. What he cared about was producing holy priests, even at this beginning stage of priestly formation.

He did this because he felt with all of his heart, as he told us so many times, that “the people of God deserve the best.”

That was many years ago, but that phrase has always stuck with me. A good, holy, prayerful Catholic priest can do great and mighty things for God because the Holy Spirit will work through him. The people will truly be able to see God through him, which is what the Lord intended when he established the priesthood.

On the other side of that equation, an unholy, evil priest can make people lose their faith through his words and actions.

Scripture is very clear on this point. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of the pasture … but I will take care to punish your evil deeds” (Jeremiah 23:1-6).

This is a direct warning to all priests. If you mislead my people, says the Lord, you’re going to pay. Jesus was moved to pity in the Gospel of Mark because the vast crowd was “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:30-34).

This is a crucial point to remember, because Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the Year for Priests. I suspect he is doing this not so much to celebrate the gift of the priesthood or the great priests we all know in our lives. There is plenty of time for that. Rather, it is the Year for Priests to pray for priests.

Benedict is imploring the people of God to pray for holy priests, men who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to configure themselves to Christ the Good Shepherd. In his homily to open the Year for Priests, the Holy Father said that the faithful should “pray that the Lord inflame the heart of each and every priest … because the greatest suffering in the Church is the sin of its priests.”

Benedict rarely minces words, and he’s not going to start when it comes to something as important as the sanctity of the clergy.

I personally would like to forget the scandals that broke not so long ago. I’d like to forget them because I know in my heart, and in my experience, that the great majority of priests are good, devout, dedicated men — men who want nothing more than to serve God by serving the flock entrusted to them.

I’d like to forget the scandals because I know that the majority of the hideous acts we read about in the papers and heard about on television were committed by a relatively small group of sick, perverted, twisted men who should never have been ordained in the first place.

I’d like to forget the scandals — but I can’t. I can’t forget because I am reminded of them every time a little child rushes up to give me a hug after Mass, or whenever I visit a parish school. An uneasy feeling comes upon me at such times. In the back of my mind, always, is the question: Is someone looking at this scene and thinking something terrible? Are they seeing something that isn’t there?

This is tragic. Most priests love children, present company included. In fact, for me, the biggest stumbling block on the way to ordination was the lingering question as to whether I would be happier with a wife and children.

But there is hope. There is hope because Christ rose from the dead — and promised the same for you and me, if we try to follow his will. Christ rose from the dead, and he is still married to his Catholic Church, 2,000 years and many sins later. We are not always faithful to his teaching, but he is always faithful to us.

There are two sides to the Church, of course: the human side and the divine side. The human side gets us into trouble. But no matter how unfaithful we can be, he is still married to his bride, the Church.

This is the Year for Priests, and the Pope wants us to pray for holy priests — not just for more priests. Like the rector of that seminary so many years ago, God doesn’t play the numbers game. He wants his priests to be holy. Why? Because his people deserve the best.

Father Salvatore DeStefano is a priest of

the Archdiocese of New York.


VATICAN CITY, 26 SEP 2009 (VIS) - At 12.30 p.m. today the Pope arrived at the church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague, which was built by German Lutherans between 1611 and 1613 on a site once occupied by a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Trinity. Following the victory of the Counter Reformation in Bohemia, emperor Ferdinand II gave the building to the Order of Discalced Carmelites and it was consecrated to Our Lady Victorious.

The church houses the famous image of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The statuette, made of wax over a wooden frame, comes from a convent in southern Spain and was given to the Carmelites by princess Polyxena von Lobkowitz in 1628. The cult of the Infant Jesus spread during the Baroque period and is associated with the visions of St. Teresa of Avila, the great reformer of the Carmelite Order.

Benedict XVI was greeted by the rector as he arrived at the church, which was crowded with families and children. He adored the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel of the Infant Jesus then placed a golden crown on the statuette before moving on to the main altar to greet those present.

"The image of the Child Jesus calls to mind the mystery of the Incarnation, of the all-powerful God Who became man and Who lived for thirty years in the lowly family of Nazareth", he said. "My thoughts turn to your own families and to all families ... as we call upon the Child Jesus for the gift of unity and harmony. ... We think especially of young families who have to work so hard to offer their children security and a decent future. We pray for families in difficulty, struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by strife or infidelity. We entrust them all to the Holy Infant of Prague, knowing how important their stability and harmony is for the true progress of society and for the future of humanity".

"In the Holy Infant of Prague we contemplate the beauty of childhood and the fondness that Jesus Christ has always shown for little ones. ... Yet how many children are neither loved, nor welcomed nor respected! How many of them suffer violence and every kind of exploitation by the unscrupulous! May children always be accorded the respect and attention that are due to them: they are the future and the hope of humanity!"

The Holy Father concluded by thanking all the children who had come to greet him and he asked them to pray for their parents, teachers, friends, and for him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

USSCB site hosts pictures of class of 2009 Priests

Click on the image above to see the Ordianation Class of 2009!

"Women and the Priesthood"

A 1994 lecture given by Dr. Peter Kreeft about women and the Priesthood. Women and the Priesthood — Why "only boys can be the daddies"

If you have an hour, and you can hang in there philisophically, this is an incredible presentation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Bishops receive advice from Pope on caring for priests"

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 21, 2009 / 10:43 am (CNA).- As he does every year, the Holy Father hosted a congress for all the bishops who were consecrated this past year. Noting that helping priests is an essential task for a bishop, Pope Benedict reminded the prelates to urge priests to seek "intimate and personal union with Christ."

Addressing the recently-consecrated bishops at Castel Gandolfo today, the Holy Father recalled the importance of "not forgetting that one of a bishop’s essential tasks is that of helping priests – by example and fraternal support – to follow their vocation faithfully and to work enthusiastically and lovingly in the Lord’s vineyard."

Priests, said the Pope, must "remain united to the Lord; this is the secret of the fruitfulness of their ministry." Increased workload, difficulties, and the new requirements of pastoral care "must never distract us from intimate and personal union with Christ. Our readiness and openness to people must never diminish or overshadow our readiness and openness towards the Lord."

"The time that priests and bishops consecrate to God in prayer is always time well spent," he emphasized. "This is because prayer is at the heart of pastoral work, it is the ‘lymph’ which gives it strength, it is a support in moments of uncertainty and discouragement, and an endless source of missionary fervor and of fraternal love towards everyone."

Focusing more closely on priestly life, Pope Benedict stated that, "At the heart of priestly life is the Eucharist." The Pontiff also pointed to a devout recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours as "one special way to prolong the mysterious sanctifying action of the Eucharist throughout the day." In addition, priests can participate in Eucharistic adoration, ‘lectio divina’ and the contemplative prayer of the Rosary, he said.

With the Church celebrating the Year for Priests, the Pope turned to its patron, St. Jean Vianney, who "showed us the importance of priests’ immersing themselves in the Eucharist and of educating the faithful in the Eucharistic presence and in communion."

"Wichita Pastor To Lead U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat For Clergy, Consecrated Life, Vocations"

From the USCCB Office of Media Relations

WASHINGTON—Father W. Shawn McKnight, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita, Kansas, has been named head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Father McKnight, who is 41, will assume his USCCB position in July, succeeding Father David Toups, interim secretariat director.

Msgr. David Malloy, USCCB General Secretary, made the appointment.

“Father McKnight brings extraordinary background to the position,” Msgr. Malloy said. “In addition to parish work, his experience includes years in seminary formation, education of deacons, college chaplaincy and membership on his diocesan presbyteral council. I am grateful that Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita is permitting him to serve the U.S. bishops in this national position.”

Father McKnight is the son of Mary Elizabeth (O’Reilly) and the late William Thomas McKnight and is the oldest of eight siblings. He was ordained a priest for the Wichita Diocese in 1994.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Dallas, Master of Arts and Master of Theology degrees from the Pontifical College Josephinun in Columbus, Ohio, and licentiate and doctoral degrees in theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, in Rome.

Father McKnight taught graduate studies at the Josephinum, 2003-2008, where he also served as Director of Liturgy, Dean of Students, Director of Formation in the school of theology and Vice-president for Development and Alumni Relations. He currently serves on the faculty of the St. Meinrad Permanent Deacon Formation Program.

He served as chaplain at Newman University in Wichita, 2000-2001, where at the same time he was an adjunct professor of theology and visiting scholar at the university’s Bishop Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies.

Father McKnight has been published in the Deacon Reader and the Newman Review and has spoken at assemblies of the National Association of Deacon Directors, National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education as well as at arch/diocesan programs in Wichita; Wheeling, West Virginia; Lafayette-in-Indiana; Houston; Ogdensburg, New York; Phoenix; Denver; Charleston, South Carolina; and Dodge City, Kansas.

"US Bishops Name Leader for Vocations Secretariat"

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 21, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. episcopal conference has named Father Shawn McKnight to lead its Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Father McKnight, 41, is a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. He will begin the position in July.

"Father McKnight brings extraordinary background to the position," Monsignor David Malloy, general-secretary of the episcopal conference, said. "In addition to parish work, his experience includes years in seminary formation, education of deacons, college chaplaincy and membership on his diocesan presbyteral council. I am grateful that Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita is permitting him to serve the U.S. bishops in this national position."

Shawn McKnight was ordained in 1994, after studying biochemistry at the University of Dallas, and then theology in Ohio and Rome. He is serving as the pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish.

The previous pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish, Monsignor James Conley, is now the auxiliary bishop of Denver.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Sacramento-area nuns puzzled, indignant over Vatican probes"

From the SacramentoBee
By Jennifer Garza

Everybody knows the nuns run this corner of Oak Park.

There is Sister Jane, telling a young mother that she needs to make a doctor appointment, today. Nearby, Sister Judy makes sure another woman is served a healthy breakfast. And Sister Esther, though officially retired five years, assists in the Wellspring office on Fourth Avenue.

Together, the three nuns helping the poor have served in the Catholic Church for 156 years.

"They're good women, pillars," says Deena Smith, a regular at the drop-in center that provides free breakfasts for neighborhood women and children.

What many don't know, and what has concerned the sisters and others, is that the Vatican is investigating nuns like them across the country without explaining why.

Earlier this year, the Vatican launched two investigations of American nuns, prompting speculation about what it means to the many "women religious" or sisters who have been working for decades on the front lines for the church.

"They have a lot of nerve," said Sister Esther O'Mara, referring to the investigation that seemed to come out of nowhere. O'Mara, 75, is a sister with the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary religious order. "What is the point? They haven't said."

They have to live with the uncertainty until the Vatican completes its investigations in 2011.

Some church experts suggest the investigations are one more sign that the Roman Catholic hierarchy doesn't understand American nuns, who are often better educated and more theologically progressive than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

"They are educated, smart women and they ask questions. Frankly, Vatican officials don't know how to deal with them," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University.

"There are some people in the church who would like to see the sisters in more traditional practices," he said.

Many U.S. nuns traded in their habits for casual blouses, pants and comfortable shoes long ago. They live in residential houses, not convents. They're more likely to be found working at social service agencies than at parish schools. They're not shy about attending rallies and marches. Many support the ordination of women.

Their outspokenness has not pleased the Vatican, experts say.

Declining numbers

The number of nuns in this country has declined dramatically – from 180,000 in 1965 to fewer than 60,000 today.

In the Sacramento area, 127 women from 26 religious communities serve in the Sacramento Diocese.

"This seems to have come out of the blue," said Maura Power, a sister of Mercy, the largest religious order in the Sacramento Diocese with 70 members. Power works in adult religious education at Our Lady of Mercy in Redding.

"My hope is that some good will come out of it. … but I'm also wondering, who is funding it?" asked Power.

One of the Vatican investigations, which will look into about 340 U.S. congregations, is called an "Apostolic Visitation." The Vatican has stated the purpose, "is to look into the quality of life" of religious institutes.

Reese said church leaders have not explained what, exactly, that means. "It's like a grand jury investigation that has an open agenda to look anywhere for anything," he said.

Typically, the Vatican conducts such visits after serious problems. Vatican officials ordered a visitation of American seminaries after the sexual abuse scandal. It is currently conducting one on the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder, Marcial Maciel, was accused of sexually molesting students. He died in 2008.

The second investigation, headed by the Doctrine of the Faith, cites the nuns' failure to follow 2001 instructions to conform to church doctrine. Church experts believe this refers to the national gatherings held by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has had guest speakers who support women's ordination as priests. The organization is the largest association of American nuns.

American nuns intend to cooperate with the Vatican investigations, leaders said.

Diocese of Raleigh Unveils Year for Priests Vocations Poster

"What made the Curé of Ars holy was his humble faithfulness to the mission to which God had called him; it was his constant abandonment, full of trust, to the hands of divine Providence. It was not by virtue of his own human gifts that he succeeded in moving peoples’ hearts nor even by relying on a praiseworthy commitment of his will; he won over even the most refractory souls by communicating to them what he himself lived deeply, namely, his friendship with Christ. He was “in love” with Christ and the true secret of his pastoral success was the fervor of his love for the Eucharistic Mystery, celebrated and lived, which became love for Christ’s flock, for Christians and for all who were seeking God." Pope Benedict XVI

Special thanks to John D'Amelio and the folks at Fabrik Agency for the design and Cameron Smith for his beautiful painting of St. John Vianney.

"Deacons are a living sacramental sign of Christ the servant, today"

From TheCatholicSpirit.com
(Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

By Joseph Michalak

Whenever I tell people I work in the Office of Diaconate, the most common response is “The office of what? Can you spell that?”

And whenever I speak with Serra Clubs or at parishes about the vocation and role of the deacon, the most common question is: “What does a deacon do that a priest or lay person can’t do?”

The response is: That’s the wrong question — at least to begin with. As with any vocation (marriage, religious life, priesthood), we first need to answer “who we are” before we can describe “what we do.”

Christ the servant

In the words of Pope John Paul II and the church documents that govern diaconate formation, the deacon is ordained to “sacramentalize service” and to be an “icon of Christ the servant.” In other words, the deacon is a unique living sacramental sign in our midst of Christ the servant, the one who knows suffering and who pours himself out for the good of others.

Therefore, the deacon is ordained — he is no longer a layman — into Jesus’ own apostolic ministry. In theological terms, the deacon, like priest, stands “in persona Christi capitas” (in the person of Christ the head). But the deacon does so not as victim and priest, but as servant.

As one theologian has put it, a priest presides at the Liturgy of the Eucharist that gives rise to charity; the deacon, however, presides at the “liturgy of charity” that culminates in the mystery of the Eucharist.

(This, by the way, is why the church envisions a normal Mass to be one with a deacon, and it is why you will see after the consecration both deacon and priest holding up the host and the chalice. Here is a more robust sign, so to speak, of the dimensions of Jesus the head of the body, victim-priest and servant laying down his life in love.)

At the end of Mass, it is the deacon’s role to intone “The Mass is ended; go in peace,” and he then is ordained to do precisely that: to lead in extending the sacramental charity of the Eucharist — the apostolic ministry of Christ himself — into the world. The deacon often then goes forth as “icon” of Christ where a priest is unable to go, and the deacon is meant to do so as an “animator of the laity.”

Thus, like laity, the deacon by virtue of baptism shares in the three-fold office of Jesus (prophet, priest, and king). In addition, like bishop and priest, the deacon is ordained into a more specified three-fold participation in the ministry of Christ for the church and the world: ministry of the Word (the foundation), ministry of the Eucharist and liturgy (the heart) and ministry of charity and justice (the expression and fruit). What a deacon does flows from this three-fold ministry.

As a servant of God’s Word, the deacon daily contemplates that Word, especially in Scripture. The deacon always proclaims the Gospel at Mass (even if the pope presides); he evangelizes, teaches, instructs, preaches and leads others into “lectio divina.”

As servant of the Eucharist and the sacramental and liturgical life of the church, the deacon presides at baptisms, assists in the mystery of the Eucharist, is the normal bearer of the Eucharist to the sick and suffering, can witness marriages, bury the dead and preside at benediction.

The deacon commits himself to praying morning and evening prayer on behalf of the church and intercedes as Christ for all. As servant of charity and justice, embodying the eucharistic self-gift, the deacon takes the sacramental presence of the church into the most far-reaching corners of suffering: to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and dying, to immigrants, to the mentally ill, to the estranged — to wherever there is need and suffering.

What does a deacon do? The list is too long to describe fully. But whatever he does, he does as sacramentally ordained into the ministry of Christ the servant; he is icon of that servant, the living bearer of the Word and doer of the Father’s will. That is why the day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of Deacon Stephen, Proto-martyr, who was so perfectly conformed to the Incarnate Word that he died with Jesus’ own words on his lips. And he died as a good servant would: pointing toward and gazing upon his master, Jesus.

Archbishop’s man

Because he is ordained to be a sacrament of service, the deacon is an extension of the bishop’s apostolic ministry; at ordination, only the bishop lays hands on the new deacon, and the deacon promises obedience to the bishop. In the words of an early church father, the deacon is the “eyes, ears, hands” of the bishop, ordained first to serve the diocese and only then a specific parish.

This is why today deacons usually receive a dual assignment, one to assist in a parish setting and one to serve at the archdiocesan level or in some specific ministry such as in a prison, hospital or nursing home, with the police force, with the homeless, at the university or wherever he may be needed.

Often, a deacon can be more aware of specific needs than a priest can be, and the deacon can then bring those to the attention of the archbishop.
With the recent economic downturn, for instance, we have deacons who assist people in dealing with both the material and spiritual effects of foreclosures on their homes.

Although deacons usually serve under the supervision of a priest-pastor, the deacon is not a “mini-priest” — he is both “alongside” the priest as well as “under” the priest, and he often is active in secular settings where a priest is unable to go.


Here is an especially unique feature of the deacon: he is ordained clergy, but he lives a lay lifestyle. He then is supremely suited to be, and to bring, the sacramental presence of Christ and the church to the world. The majority of deacons (but not all) still work full time in secular employment; the majority of deacons (but not all) are married and have families.

They, therefore, are clergy who know and live with the same kinds of challenges as lay folks. But they are ordained and sent by the bishop to do so even as they live a life of contemplation and prayer and charity and sacramental presence. They then are especially able to activate and assist laity in carrying out their specific apostolic role in professional and poli­tical and civic life.

It is noteworthy that the roots of the modern diaconate began during World War II in the Dachau concentration camp as priest-prisoners began praying and thinking about what would be needed for the restoration of culture and civilization in Europe after the war.

Is it indeed possible that the Holy Spirit has ideally suited the deacon (and his wife and family and work) to help rebuild the culture of life and marriage and family that is so under attack today? Many deacons will tell you that some of their most significant ministry takes place at home or at work when not “on duty” but when those around them come to them for prayer or counsel or a listening ear, precisely because they know and see that this is a man of the church.

We recently had a deacon candidate leading others in praying the Liturgy of the Hours at his work simply because others — and not all Catholic — saw him praying and wanted to join in. When we look at the five strategic priorities for the church identified by the U.S. bishops this past year, we see the deacon ideally ready for the New Evangelization.

Pursuit of holiness

Finally, because the deacon usually lives as a lay person would, he can be a singular model of the holiness — the self-gift — to which we are all called. He comes from our midst. As he stands at the altar and raises the chalice of suffering, he is offering not only his own self to the Father, but he carries with him the suffering and needs of all those with whom he comes in contact. He knows the injustice; he bears the challenges. He makes the sacrifice of his life for the sake of all.

Who does this — and why?

We are grateful for the more than 200 men from all walks of life who have been ordained a deacon in this archdiocese since 1975. About 140 are still active in official ministry; all are servants in prayer and witness.

For those who are married, their wives and children (and even grandchildren) likewise make an offering of their lives — and certainly of their husbands and fathers.

Many of the wives generously serve in their own right.

And considering that diaconate discernment and formation is at least four years long, at 15 to 20 hours per week, and a deacon then does “official” ministry about 10 hours per week (and the majority often do much more) for no pay and, too often, for little thanks, the question naturally arises: Why do this?

The answer, all will tell you, is simple: love.

Why be a mother or father? Why be a priest? Love. Why be a disciple of Christ? Love — the generous “giving of self,” the dying to self for the good of the other.

"New study reveals rays of light on the vocations front"

From the National Catholic Reporter
By John L. Allen Jr.

Though it’s usually said with great caution, hemmed in with enough qualifications and caveats to feel almost like death by a thousand cuts, nonetheless talk of a rebound in men’s religious life in America is quietly making the rounds.

While relations between some orders and church officialdom still have their ups and downs, overall there are signs of an improving climate. For example, the keynote speaker for the most recent assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the main umbrella group for men’s orders in the United States, was the papal nuncio, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who voiced admiration and encouragement for the work of religious orders in America.

Now, a new study has revealed some rays of light on the vocations front.

Sponsored by the National Religious Vocations Conference and conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, the 406-page study was released in early August. It contains a massive amount of data, but here’s one sample finding: Fully 43 percent of new members of religious orders today, both men and women, are under the age of 30.

Holy Cross Br. Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocations Conference, spoke with NCR in late August about the study, a multiyear effort based on surveys of religious institutes, focus groups with new members, and a close-up examination of selected orders that have been especially successful in attracting and retaining new members.

NCR: What do we learn from this study?
Bednarczyk: First of all, that religious life has a future. While the numbers aren’t huge, the presence of young people is striking. Where once many people were looking at older vocations, we found that among men the average age of new entrants is 30. Second, we’re becoming more diverse, and not just in terms of culture, ethnicity and language. Seventy percent of new entrants now have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have either had full-time jobs or were doing some sort of church ministry before they entered.

What works in generating vocations?
The days are long gone when a vocations director can simply sit in his office waiting for candidates to come to his door. You have to be present where young people are, which means ministries that target young audiences, and it means the Internet. You have to be proactive.

Communities with a full-time vocations director, working as part of a team, have a higher percentage of new members. The team can be made up of laypeople, other members of the community, or whoever. What matters is that at some point in the history of the congregation, a commitment was made to building a vocations culture, so it’s not just the vocations director. There’s a sense of corporate responsibility. They’ve done the internal work to understand what this means. All members are vocations directors, in that they feel a responsibility to give witness and to actively invite people to join them. They give an example of joy, integrity, and the conviction that their charism is a gift to the church.

Can you point to an example of a community that does this especially well?
In the study, we looked at three men’s orders that have had success: the Divine Word Missionaries of the Chicago province; my own community, the Holy Cross Fathers of the Indiana province; and the Marianists. At Moreau Seminary [a Holy Cross seminary adjacent to Notre Dame], we’ve got 11 new candidates. There’s been an awful lot of work done in this area within the congregation itself. (How about the Dominicans of the St. Joseph Province, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Benedictines at Clear Creek, and the Institute of Christ the King among others. Pretty big omission not to mention any of these communities and the number of vocations they're getting.)

What else works?
You’ve got to be present on the Internet, including making use of online promotional materials, keeping your Web site up to date, and so on. Given the diminishing numbers in religious life, young people are more likely to meet a congregation when they Google “vocations” than physically. Having a successful Web presence helps, including social networking, Facebook and Twitter. Some communities post video clips, or invite people to e-mail members of the community. At [the National Religious Vocations Conference], we launched a vocation-network.org [2] site in response to sites like eHarmony.com [3], in this case connecting candidates with communities. You can fill out an online profile, which includes things like your geographic region, desired community size, whether or not they wear a habit, etc., and at the end a list of maybe 20 communities pops up where you can begin your discernment. We used to rely on mail-in coupons, which would generate maybe 1,000 responses a year. Over three years, this Web effort is averaging about 7,000 responses a year, which obviously confirms the importance of being on the Internet. A high percentage of these Web contacts say they expect to be in an initial formation somewhere within a year.

You don’t want to be too slick, of course. What’s most important is that there has to be consistency between what you say about yourself on the Web site and how your community actually lives. If a candidate comes in and senses an inconsistency with the lived reality, they’ll move on.

The thing to remember is that these are only tools to bring someone into contact with a real person. Relationships are ultimately what make the difference. Any program or event that brings a potential candidate into relationship with members of a community is very helpful, such as “Come and See” weekends, retreats and so on.

What about traditional springboards for vocations, such as Catholic schools?
The study found a difference between men and women in terms of how they find the community they end up joining. Men are more likely to learn about their community by going to a school or other institution sponsored by that community. Women, on the other hand, either know members of the community personally or were recommended by a friend. Partly, I think that’s because men’s orders are still connected to the institutions they sponsor a bit more thoroughly, so that the religious are still a presence within those institutions.

The conclusion seems obvious: If we want vocations, we need to put our members into ministries where they’re most likely to come into contact with target groups, which means being present in schools, doing campus ministry, youth ministry and so on.

What style of religious life seems most attractive to younger members today?
Communities with a strong sense of Catholic identity are clearly finding more vocations. As one sign of that, two-thirds of younger members belong to communities that wear the habit. That’s only one manifestation of identity, however. Younger members are also concerned with prayer styles, commitment and fidelity to church teachings, and a strong community life. They’re interested in a disciplined prayer life, including the daily Eucharist, the liturgy of the hours, and traditional Catholic devotional practices.

Why is that?
I think generations have a lot to do with it. Religious today under 30 have had a very different experience of church than their older brothers and sisters, who came in during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) or before. For the younger ones, their defining experience has been John Paul II and now Benedict XVI, emphasizing a strong sense of Catholic identity and a call to service. That’s what they’re responding to. They’re not making judgments about other communities, but they’re simply going to those communities that respond to their needs.

Does the study find significant differences between men and women?
The broad trends apply equally to men and women, but there are some interesting wrinkles. For example, more men are in formation right now than women, even though there are fewer men’s institutions. The men, however, have a lower retention rate. In part, I suspect that’s because some men’s communities have pre-seminary and pre-novitiate programs where there’s greater turnover. Three-quarters of men are in seminary formation leading to the priesthood, while one-quarter are preparing for religious brotherhood.

Men are also more likely to have participated in youth ministry programs before entering religious life, which again illustrates the imporance of that kind of outreach.

One interesting point about the habit is that 48 percent of men who belong to a community without a habit said they’d wear one if they had that option, but only 25 percent of women said that. Sometimes the perception is that it’s the women who are embracing the habit most enthusiastically, but that’s not what the study showed.

What’s the bottom line?
Our numbers are smaller, but religious life is going to continue. I hope that the study will serve as a benchmark for this century, because sometimes I think we keep comparing today’s membership numbers with the post-World War II surge, which actually was an anomaly. But that’s what we know, so it’s what we think about. I think this study gives us a better baseline for looking ahead.

Over our 2,000-year history, religious life has undoubtedly faced greater challenges than those confronting us today. Whatever happens, the religious will still be here

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Called to Love: Common Vocation, Uncommon Joy"

Getting Beyond a Hope-Killing Culture

By Carl Anderson

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, SEPT. 14, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A couple of years ago, when Benedict XVI visited with some students, two of them asked him a question that could have come from anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic alike.

They asked: "Is there someone or something by means of which we can become important? How is it possible to hope when reality negates every dream of happiness, every project of life?”

I think many people share these questions. The poor, the elderly, the sick, the immigrant, the stay-at-home parent or the 9-to-5 worker -- nobody wants to be dispensable or to feel worthless or trapped. Unfortunately, many people feel that way in different areas of their life. And I think it’s a dangerous symptom that we can’t overlook. It’s a symptom that something about our culture is so unhealthy that its people lose hope.

But although the two students asked what seemed to be a secular question, the only good cure is returning to one’s original vocation: the call to love.

Often, when speaking about youth and the future of the Church, people bring up the “vocation crisis.” However, in order to respond to the crisis it is vital that we respond in a way that underscores the underlying sameness of the vocations.

However different each vocation is -- priesthood, marriage, consecrated life -- they each have the same goal. All are different manifestations of the vocation we all have in common: the vocation to love.

Each vocation requires a total gift of self. Each vocation endures for a lifetime. Each is a path on a journey by which we become more like God who is love. Each has a component that is loving toward each other, manifesting God’s love.

Of course, the reality of this isn’t always clear.

This is especially true looking at the state of Catholic marriage.

Hypothetically speaking, if 23% percent of priests left the priesthood, would we believe we had given them adequate formation for the priesthood? So when in the United States 23% of adult Catholics divorce, is this adequate formation for marriage?

When three out of five failed Catholic marriages are between two Catholics, what does Catholic marriage mean?

When 69% of Catholics between 18 and 25 years of age believe that “marriage is whatever two people want it to be,” what obstacles has their Catholic education faced? And when there is still a paucity of people entering priesthood and religious life, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the future of our vocations?”

Now, this may seem like a hopelessly dire situation. But there is good news. We were created for love, and nothing -- not even secular culture -- an eradicate the call to love from our sensibilities.
The fact is, we cannot dismiss the avoidance of vocational commitment as a result of rampant immaturity. It is also in part due to the fact that people are questioning the authenticity of the love they experience.

Inauthentic love has a name: hypocrisy.

It speaks the language of love, but not its meaning. It offers a unique, unrepeatable gift, but then is quick to take it back. It can be seen in a loveless or careless marriage, a self-centered or apathetic priest, a religious sister or brother without compassion.

The consequence of seeing only inauthentic love is this: Love is seen as something that doesn’t belong to the structures created for love. When families are separated from love, then love is seen as something to be separated from family. When the Church family becomes unloving, then loving becomes something to be found outside the Church.

But there is more good news: Living our own vocations well helps other people live their own vocation.

It helps those already in a vowed vocation to be true to it. It helps those who have not yet given themselves through a specific vocation to be open and to have the courage to say yes to their vocation. A vocation well lived restores trust in love.

The answer is, in Pope Benedict’s words, to have a “harmony between what we say with our lips and what we think with our hearts.”

Another facet of authentic love is perseverance. The witness each of us can give is to continue to love through one’s vocation even during times of spiritual aridity, like Mother Teresa experienced, and St. John of the Cross and many other saints. Such an experience shouldn’t simply be looked on as a step in the spiritual journey of life. It is an experience by which we can relate to all of those who feel disconnected from the love of God in some way.

In a way, this type of spiritual aridity, this failure to “feel” the power of love, is exactly what so many young people feel today. In other’s perseverance, they can find and see the strength of love, the strength of a heart that does not simply feel but a heart that sees and loves according to the truth.

And for many, a litmus test of this authenticity is joy -- and rightly so. And perhaps the greatest obstacle to the reputations of each vocation is not scandal but joylessness -- or what we might call the scandal of joylessness. For this reason, too, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger said the Church doesn’t have “such urgent need” for reformers, but rather what the Church really needs are “people who are inwardly seized by Christianity, who experience it as joy and hope, who have thus become lovers. And these we call saints.”

Each vocation offers a particular answer to the questioning of authentic love. And thus all vocations are necessary.

Additionally, Christ’s transformation of the vocations of marriage and religious life is only made possible -- and fulfilling -- through something else: the establishment of the Church. We are relatives not by our own blood but by Christ’s blood.

In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, family -- in the eyes of God -- was broadened to everyone. God redeemed and involved himself with not just a Chosen People, a people defined by bloodline, but with all people, a people defined by a common origin, the Creator, the one who instilled in us all that common call: that vocation to love.

As Pope Benedict wrote in "Sacramentum Caritatis," “Communion always and inseparably has both a vertical and a horizontal sense: it is communion with God and communion with our brothers and sisters.” We can’t have communion with our fellow human beings unless we have a proper communion with Jesus Christ.

This is why Ratzinger described the whole of human history as a yes or no to Love. And we can only say yes to love with a complete gift of self, first to God, then to neighbor, but to both always in love.

"Religious life: The path is less chosen, but young women still hear the call"

'I knew I wanted to do God's will'

By Ann Rodgers
Photo at left: Sister Mary Elizabeth Liederbach, center (with blonde hair), and Sister Angela Russell, right, with their fellow postulant class at St. Cecilia Motherhouse, Nashville, Tenn.

Angela Russell was a teenager visiting relatives in France when she prayed in a chapel where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1830. That was where she first felt a call to be a Catholic sister.

"It was an overwhelming sense that I was going to dedicate my life totally to Christ," said Sister Angela, 21, a Beaver native who recently entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn.

Far fewer women than in the past take that path, and those who do are often attracted to traditions that many communities no longer practice. Since 1965, the number of sisters in the U.S. has fallen from 180,000 to 61,000. A Vatican-ordered study is under way of conditions that may have contributed to the decline.

Yet women still answer the call. Sister Angela is among three local women seeking vows in the Nashville Dominicans. Two just made temporary vows in the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, formerly the Millvale Franciscans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a community in Brighton Heights known for traditional habits and ministry to the elderly, count a medical doctor among two novices. This weekend a half-dozen women were expected at a discernment retreat for the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Ross.

A recent study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that two-thirds of communities have at least one person working toward final vows, which typically takes at least seven years. Their average age is 32. But in less traditional communities, 56 percent of newer members are 40 or older. In more conservative ones, 85 percent of sisters make final vows by age 39.

Sisters born since 1982 prefer the habits and ancient communal prayers that were standard before the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s called sisters to re-evaluate how their lives related to their founders' intentions and to the world around them.

Communities with the most success in gaining new members "wear a religious habit, work together in common [ministries] and are explicit about their fidelity to the church," the study said.

That describes the 252 Nashville Dominicans, who gained 23 members this summer. The community doesn't accept postulants -- candidates -- past age 30.

"There is great hope for young people entering religious life in the future," said Sister Mary Emily Knapp, 39, the vocations director.

Their sisters teach in 34 Catholic schools nationwide, but none in Pittsburgh. The community has attracted local women through connections with the Newman Center, a university outreach in Oakland, and Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Sister Maria Francesca Wiley, a Franciscan University graduate who grew up in Washington, Pa., and Peters, just received a black veil in her third year with the Nashville Dominicans.

As a postulant she wore a black skirt and vest over a white blouse, while learning community life and studying philosophy and education at Aquinas College. Her novice year, she received a habit and white veil. The black veil marked first vows. Final vows likely will be in 2014.

She thought religious life would be more of a sacrifice.

"The biggest surprise was how happy I was," she said, of her life of prayer and academics.

Her preparation began in the youth group at St. Benedict the Abbot in Peters, where she developed a deep love of the Eucharist.

Becoming a sister "wasn't really on my radar. I had never known anyone who did it, and I wasn't in touch with any communities. But I knew I wanted to do God's will," she said.

When her family moved to South Carolina, she met a Nashville Dominican sister.

"She was very down to earth, a normal, personable young woman -- the kind of woman I thought would have been a great wife and mother," she said. "I had thought of sisters as people who wanted to flee the world. She wasn't like that at all."

She visited the Nashville convent her senior year of high school, and felt attracted to religious life. In college she considered other orders, including the Franciscans at Steubenville and the Sisters of Life, who assist women in crisis pregnancies. While she admired both, "when I was with the sisters in Nashville, I felt they were my family,"she said.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Liederbach, who entered the Nashville Dominicans after her April graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, said her plans left some students speechless.

"They just didn't know how to react because it's such an unknown thing," she said.

She can relate. She felt called years before she understood it.

"It was a very mysterious call for a long time because of my minimal exposure to religious life," she said. "I was captivated by the idea of belonging to Jesus, without having any concept of what that would mean for me."

She majored in civil and environmental engineering, hoping to bring water to drought-stricken lands. She knew of religious orders that would sponsor such work. She also seriously considered the Sisters of Life. But she felt drawn to the Nashville Dominicans, whom she encountered when two sisters visited her campus Bible study.

"As I grew in faith, I stopped asking 'What am I going to do?' and started asking 'Who am I going to be?' Instead of asking myself, I started asking God," she said.

"It wasn't a call away from the poor, but to look to a deeper, hidden spiritual poverty that is all around us."

As she looked at orders' Web sites, she rejected those in which the sisters wore street clothes.

"I think most women feel that our clothes matter. When you are consecrating your whole life to God, that is part of the consecration," she said.

Most of the 1,200 sisters in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are in orders where habits are optional. When Sister Teresa Baldi became a novice with the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Ross in 2006, she had to decide whether to wear a veil and habit, as about half the 40 sisters in her community do.

"I was really torn, and I prayed about it for a long time," she said.

She was moved by a sister in her 90s, who encouraged her to wear it as a witness for Christ. But she chose street clothes, with the medal that is the sole visible mark for many sisters today.

"In contemporary society there need to be contemporary ways of witnessing to the gospel," said Sister Teresa, who teaches at Immaculate Conception in Bloomfield.

She would never have chosen a community with a full habit.

"I sweat too much in the summer," she said, laughing.

Now 47, Sister Teresa resisted her call for decades. But she served the church full time as a youth minister at St. Bernard in Mt. Lebanon. An encounter with a Holy Spirit sister at a retreat center changed her life.

"She had a great devotion to the blessed sacrament, and would go and sit in front of the tabernacle for an hour," she said. The sister had such a peaceful radiance "that when I sat with her I thought, 'This is what I want.' "

Her life is governed by monastic traditions that some communities have abandoned. Although her wishes are taken into account, community leaders decide where and how she will serve. In her novice year, she could have only two family visits.

Now she has more freedom than would a Nashville Dominican but must clear outside visits with her immediate superior.

"It's like a family. You don't leave your family every night," she said.

Many orders have diverse ministries, and want new members to try several. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities have 530 sisters in education, health care, pastoral care, social services and serving as missionaries worldwide.

Moon native Sister Laura Hackenberg, 33, was an administrative assistant at FedEx before entering the Millvale Franciscans in 2006. Since then she has worked with the homeless and at two retreat centers. Speaking just before her temporary vows, she expected to move next to a health care setting.

A growing thirst for life with God led her to respond to a brochure for a retreat to consider religious life.

"I came to see that religious women ... have a great love for one another and, like St. Francis, are advocates for the poor and marginalized and are promoters of peace and justice. The sisters bring the depth of God's love to all that they minister to," she wrote in an essay on her decision.

Avalon native Sister Amy Williams, 37, recently took first vows alongside her. The former legal secretary has done hospice ministry and worked in day care for the elderly. She loved it all, and expects to attend nursing school, specializing in pain relief for the seriously ill.

"I found a sense of belonging with this community that I had never experienced before, and my life suddenly felt full and complete," she said.

"Priesthood is not a career, Vatican cardinal says"

From Catholic News Agency

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, cautioned that some priests have an "inadequate and superficial" encounter with Christ and have turned their ministries into "a sort of ecclesiastical profession.”

According to L’Osservatore Romano, which quoted the Portuguese news agency, Ecclesia, Cardinal Hummes made his comments this week at the Fourth Symposium of the Clergy of Portugal which had as its theme, "Rekindle the gift that is in you," At the symposium held in Fatima, the cardinal encouraged the more than 800 priests in attendance to be missionaries and to nurture their own spirituality each day. This requires "maintaining a regular contact with the Word of God, living an authentic life of prayer that includes the Liturgy of the Hours and devotion to Mary, celebrating the Eucharist daily as the center of ministerial life and regularly making use of the Sacrament of Confession.”

The prefect also said that every priest must "live in ecclesial communion with the Pope, the local bishop and the presbytery; be completely and tirelessly devoted to pastoral ministry and to missionary efforts to evangelize; be a man of charity, brotherhood, kindness, forgiveness and mercy towards all; show solidarity with the poor by acting as their advocate and friend and seeing them as God’s favorites."

In this context, the cardinal said that while the number of priestly vocations has dropped, “We must not be discouraged or be fearful of today’s society, nor must we simply condemn it.”

Christ’s will for priests is for them to be pastors and to guide the community, he added. “This is an urgent task which the recent Popes have untiringly reiterated.”

Because of the “new paganism” that has become prevalent, the cardinal said, it is not enough to just preach to the choir. “We cannot limit ourselves to the care and evangelization of people who seek us out in the Church,” he stated.

"Carmelites Renew Promise to Pray for Priests"

HAIFA, Israel, SEPT. 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Carmelite community of Haifa is renewing its commitment to priests: "to offer our humble supplication that you may be holy.

"The cloistered religious have made this renewal in a letter marking the Year for Priests, under way through next June.

The letter is directed to priests around the world.

"In our vocation as Carmelite Nuns, daughters of our Mother Saint Teresa of Avila , our essential mission is prayer; especially prayer for the holiness of priests," the religious affirmed. "Therefore, the invitation of our Holy Father to place your ministry, during this year, at the center of our concern, challenges us deeply."

The Haifa Carmelites point to a guideline from St. Teresa: "Be occupied in prayer for those who are defenders of the Church and for preachers and learned men who protect her from attack." (Way of Perfection 1:2)

And they send their encouragement and gratitude to various types of priests: elderly and young, those afflicted by suffering or trials, etc.

"Dear brothers, we find no words that can truly express our gratitude to each one of you," the Carmelites wrote. "To each and every one of you, we say with simplicity of heart: You can count on the silent prayer and the hidden offering of your sisters!"

"Human Rights Priest Slain in Philippines"

From Catholic.net

CATUBIG, Philippines, SEPT. 14, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Catholic priest who championed human rights for victims of injustice was shot in the head last week.

On Sept. 6, Father Cecilio Lucero, 48, was ambushed by some 30 men while driving from his parish in Catubig to Catarman, on the island of Samar.

The priest died immediately with a bullet to the head, and two men who were traveling with him were taken to the hospital with injuries.

Father Lucero was chairman of the Human Rights Desk and the Social Action Center of the Catarman Diocese.

The head of the diocese, Bishop Emmanuel Trance, is calling for "government officials to get to the bottom of this extra-judicial killing which has claimed the life of one of our priests," the Filipino bishops' conference reported.

The prelate said that in that area there have been some "18 killings during the past six months," and that Father Lucero sought a police escort because "he also feared for his personal safety."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Religious vocation may be easier than lifting debt load"

A young Chicago woman preparing to be a nun is running a road race seeking pledges to help her pay off $94,000 in student debt. Some experts even attribute the decline in vocations to the problem.

By Manya A. Brachear
Alicia Torres planned to run a Chicago half marathon, hoping for pledges to pay off her debt. (Heather Charles / Chicago Tribune / September 9, 2009)

Reporting from Chicago - Alicia Torres must raise $94,000 in order to take a vow of poverty.

Drawn to the Roman Catholic sisterhood while she was a student at Loyola University here, Torres faces the same barrier as many others considering such a religious life: college debt. Today, Torres and a group of friends will run Chicago's Half Marathon -- 13.1 miles along the lakefront -- in hopes of receiving enough pledges to pay off $94,000 in student loans.

"You can't live a vow of poverty with a bunch of debt," said Torres, a 2007 graduate. "If God wants you to do something, he clears the way."

Torres is one of hundreds who heeded the call of Pope Benedict XVI when, on his American pilgrimage, he bid his young flock to consider religious life. Though she has encountered romantic possibilities that tested her resolve, she said, she has had abundant moments of clarity that she is on the right path.

"I just know this is what Jesus asked me to do," said Torres, 24, who with two others is founding a new Franciscan community on Chicago's West Side.

Torres fits the mold of many young Catholics longing for traditions that waned after Vatican II and gravitating away from modern religious orders whose members live on their own, devote less time to community prayer or no longer wear habits. Experts say the inability of modern orders to attract new candidates and the lack of commitment among America's secularized youth have led to a sharp decline in religious vocations in the U.S.

But some attribute the downturn to debt.

Five years ago, Cy Laurent of Eagan, Minn., founded the Laboure Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to eliminating the educational debt of Roman Catholic religious candidates. He insists that a lack of capital, not a lack of commitment, has kept hundreds, perhaps thousands, of faithful from answering God's call. Torres is one of about 100 current clients.

"There are thousands discerning priesthood and religious life in North America. That's the good news," Laurent said. "The bad news is they all have debt. . . . We as families, as community, as institutions, as government, have said, 'Go right along to college on a credit card and when you make the big bucks pay it off.' "

Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference, a professional organization of Catholic religious vocation directors, said educational debt has become an issue as more men and women hear the call to serve the church after acquiring college degrees and student loans. Each religious order has its own policy regarding payback.

"Some communities are in a financial position to pay off the loans as long as the woman or man is with them through the formation process," Bednarczyk said. "If their [mission] is education, it can be seen as an investment."

Sister Kathleen Skrocki works with young women contemplating religious life in the Chicago archdiocese. She said a couple of women over the years have confessed to entering the process because they couldn't pay off their debt.

"Thank God for their honesty," she said. "That's why the discernment process is so important. If you know the woman is really sincere -- and vocation directors get a sense after a while that this person is meant for religious life -- how can we help her?"

Laurent said those who apply for assistance must go through a rigorous screening process, including a letter of support from a bishop, superior or abbot, before receiving help from the Laboure Society.

Leanne and Manuel Torres always knew their oldest daughter had the conscience to become a nun. Home-schooled with a Catholic elementary curriculum and enrolled in a Catholic high school, Alicia attended daily Mass with her mother and siblings and constantly engaged her mother in intense spiritual conversations.

"I thought that sooner or later she would be religious," said her father. "I suspected that for years. I knew she wanted to try to help the needy and promote the faith."

Alicia Torres and her two peers are founding the Franciscan community in the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, the site of a school fire 50 years ago that killed 92 children and three nuns. The blaze prompted an exodus of many families from West Humboldt Park to the suburbs, leaving poverty and crime in their wake. Drug dealers and prostitutes work the corners around the Our Lady of the Angels parish and rectory, where the three aspirants now live and worship.

She hopes to transform her marathon training into a running club for neighborhood youth, and she dreams of the day she can lead a 5K wearing her habit.

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Postulant Class of 2009

(l-r) Fr. Gabriel Bakkar, Vocation Director; Br. Pius Gagne; Mark Ames (California); Rusty Montgomery (Nebraska); Simeon Lewis (Vermont); Eric Pesce (Pennsylvania); Eric Chloupek (Nebraska); Adam Boyden (Ohio); Andrew Pasternack (Ohio); Anthony Redfield (Delaware); Brendan Laracy (Massachusetts); Br. Aloysius Mazzone; Fr. Luke Fletcher, Postulant Director

From the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal website:

Grace and peace to you!

On September 8th, the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, the friars and sisters gathered to receive and welcome our nine new postulant brothers. Earlier in the day, the sisters gathered to do the same for their six new sister candidates, who will become postulants in February. Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy at work in the lives of our new brothers and sisters! Thanks be to God for this abundant harvest of vocations for the Church. Thanks be to God for their simple “yes” because it was through one particular “yes” that the Creator of the universe took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

The men and women who join us each year are for us a real sign of God’s provision, mercy, and grace. This day is for us an opportunity to grow in a humble awareness of God’s blessings. The Lord increases our numbers, he multiplies our works, he gives us his joy, he anoints us with his Holy Spirit, he disciplines us as his sons and daughters, and he leaves us with his peace and joy even during the most difficult struggles – often with our own sinfulness.

Please pray that we learn more and more each day that it is only through God’s grace and mercy that he chooses to bless us as he does. Whatever good we do is not ours but is his alone. The Lord clearly has no problem using weak and rusty tools to carry out his work, because he certainly knows our faults, failures, and sinfulness. Let all the glory be his…please pray that we do not take any for ourselves!

Please pray for our nine new brothers who will now begin the six-month formation period prior to becoming friar novices, and the first stage of their lifelong formation period prior to becoming friar saints.

May Jesus and Mary reign in our hearts!

Ave Maria!

Br. Aloysius Marie Mazzone, CFR

St. Joseph Friary
Harlem, NY