Archive for the ‘Vocation’ category

At the Mercy of Others

January 14, 2009

There is a real danger that whenever we pray for something, God will actually give it to us.  For over a year now, I have prayed for God to make me more humble, to strip me of the pride I take in my own natural ability.  I have always been quite satisfied with my own natural virtues.  Although I have always been aware that even the natural virtues can be considered gifts from God, I have always had trouble considering them as such.  After all, we can cultivate the natural virtues on our own power.   The harder we work, the more we grow in virtue.

Despite the wisdom of the philosophers, I think there is a sense in which the natural virtues are a stumbling block to grace.  The natural virtues are “fair”:  if we just act in the right way, we can obtain them no matter what our status in life, no matter what our histories are like.  Grace does not work that way.  

I am reminded of Matthew 20, 1-15, the parable where the generous vineyard-owner gives the same wages to those who worked the whole day and those who started work at dusk.  How can God give the same wage to each one of us?  The answer is that grace has nothing to do with fairness, but everything to do with mercy.  No one deserves grace, but God gives it anyway.  No one can achieve grace through his good works, but only in cooperation with grace can he do good works.

The problem with naturally virtuous people is that it is difficult for them to relate to the idea of being completely at another person’s mercy.  Their natural virtue blinds them to the fact that they are actually helpless before God.  I was sent to Washington DC to study philosophy because I was one of the guys that could handle it, one of the guys that could do the things that others can’t do.  But in the last month, I have spent more time on my knees begging for the clemency of others than I have at any other time in my life.  I have begged for those things that I felt entitled to or that I took for granted.

But isn’t that the purpose of the Gospel?  That those who are the worst off are those in most need of a savior?  How much happier will those people be when God gives them every good gift.  But until that time, we must accept the lessons he gives us, hard lessons about suffering and self-denial. 

Maybe I’ll take comfort in knowing that Job had it much worse than I do.  The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.


A Note on Archbishop Burke

June 28, 2008

It was announced yesterday that Archbishop Burke would be leaving St. Louis to become what is in effect the chief justice of the Catholic Church’s supreme court.  I will miss Archbishop Burke for many reasons, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis is losing a great leader, no matter how the St. Louis Post Dispatch tries to demonize him. 

However, I want to put to sleep a myth concerning Archbishop Burke:  everyone seems to think that he is responsible for the vocation surge that we are having in St. Louis.  Undoubtedly he has done an outstanding job keeping the morale up among his seminarians.  Unlike many other bishops, he makes time to talk to each of his seminarians individually, listening to our concerns and keeping us happy.  So if anything, Archbishop Burke has done an outstanding job keeping seminarians in the seminary.

But with that said, he is not  the only reason for St. Louis’ surge in vocations.  A simple look at the number of men entering the seminary seems to prove my point.  Before 2002, St. Louis had about 15 men entering the seminary every year.  Some years, we were close to having classes of 20, but we were never quite able to reach that number.  Then in 2002, the priest scandals broke.  Morale among seminarians hit an all-time low, as one of our vocations directors was accused and later found guilty of six counts of sodomy.  A large number of seminarians dropped out, and only 5 men entered seminary that year.  In fact, one man–who later did enter the seminary–said that he was driving up to the seminary to turn in his application when he heard the news about this vocation director.  He immediately turned his car around and went home.

The Archdiocese had fewer vocations over the next few years.  But even in 2002, Fr. Michael Butler, the head vocations director in St. Louis, said that Americans have a short memory, and that on average people forget about such shocking scandals after approximately four years.  Sure enough, by 2006 the number of vocations for the Archdiocese had returned to the same levels that they were before the scandals broke.  We have been seeing high numbers of seminarians every year since then.  If Archbishop Burke is responsible for the surge in vocations in St. Louis, then how does everyone account for the large number of men entering seminary before Archbishop Burke even arrived?  No:  Archbishop Burke was icing on the cake, a more public symbol of the renaissance that was already occuring in St. Louis, a renaissance which he helped to augment. 

I study in Washington DC, and at least once a week I hear seminarians from other dioceses praising Archbishop Burke and lamenting the fact that their dioceses cannot have a bishop who is so good at recruiting men to the seminary, or offering him some other high praise.  What these seminarians fail to realize is that while St. Louis was indeed lucky to have such a great Archbishop, it was due to good fortune that we have so many vocations.  The secret to our success does not rest in our former Archbishop, but in less earth shattering ways.  In St. Louis, we stress Eucharistic adoration; we are beginning to form summer camps where teenagers feel comfortable and safe living out their faith, if only for a week.  We are seeing young, holy priests preaching the Gospel in truth and charity, and actively promoting priestly vocations among young men at the parish level. 

The recipe for success in St. Louis can easily be replicated elsewhere:  other diocese don’t have to wait to get an outstanding bishop in order to replicate St. Louis’ success.  As our vocation director reports, the recipe for success is very simple:  if you make the opportunities available for young men and women to come closer to God, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

I will miss Archbishop Burke.  May he remember St. Louis as fondly as his seminarians remember him.

The Human Experience

October 2, 2007

Grassroots films has done some very good work over the past few years.  They have made two outstanding videos promoting vocations, both of which can be found on youtube.  They are developing a new video entitled the Human Experience, which looks outstanding.  The details in the trailer are sketchy, but it looks like a documentary of two brothers looking for goodness amidst the poorest of the poor in a world which seems to have ignored its moral compass.  Hopefully, it will be as good as their other work.

Quick Note

June 13, 2007

(Un)fortunately, there have been a lot of comments on my thread this week.  Normally that would be a good thing, but this week is very hectic.  I am helping out with a vocations camp in my Archdiocese, and I am incredibly busy this week.  Worse, I didn’t have internet connection for a while, and when I had the time to write I found that the seminary filter blocked my blog! 

The camp is going very well.  We have a whole day before the final camp begins, and I am exhausted.  None of the kids in my last group had been on the camp before, meaning that they were nervous and perhaps homesick.  I couldn’t count on enthusiasm carrying over from past years, so I had to generate all the enthusiasm myself.  For a person who is so extremely introverted as I am, that is a highly draining task.  Thankfully, all the campers had a good time. 

The Flip Side of the Roman Collar

May 30, 2007

In my last post, I discussed how the Roman collar/being a priest or seminarian opens the door to some very interesting conversations.  However, there is another side to the coin.  Sometimes, people start telling us things that we would rather not hear, or we field the same questions so many times that some of us (i.e. me) think about carrying FAQ cards in my pocket to hand out to people.  Like all vocations, the priesthood has its ups and downs.  Whereas every once and a while a priest may hear a Confession so sincere that it marks an obvious sign of God’s grace, I’ve hear priests say hearing grade school Confessions (especially during Lent, when every Catholic school offers Confession) is like being pelted with popcorn.  You can only hear so many “I once hit my sister” Confessions before you begin to lose focus and/or sanity. 

The other day, I was working in my parish’s garden.  One of the gardeners whom I had never met came up to me and gave me a few instructions.  Within five minutes, she had expressed her strong dislike of my parish’s priests, told me how this parish had been going down hill since my last pastor left, and sternly told me not to “be like that.”  Such is the flip side of the coin.  I abhor gossip(which is distinguishable from blowing off steam, methinks) enough as it is, and I feel dirty just listening to people make such comments.

Every priest/seminarian has encountered such things, and every one has been annoyed by it.  I try to put a positive spin on these types of encounters.  Whereas talks about celibacy and Catholicism are mostly for the benefit of the other person, these annoying conversations are for the benefit of the priest, giving him a chance to exercise patience, restraint, and charity. The priest has to be very careful regarding what he says.  Everything he says gets spread around the parish like wildfire.  Not only that, but mean words from a priest tend to stick with a person for the rest of their lives.  While I can only recall a portion of the times that I have been chewed out by laymen, I can probably recall most if not all of the times I’ve been chewed out by priests.  The priest has a lot of power over souls.  He can do great good, but he can also do a lot of harm.  Hence, I say it’s better to be silent in those situations than to let one’s temper go, even if only a little.

Reflections on John Chrysostom

April 19, 2007

Recently, I posted a passage from St. John Chrysostom.  That reading is my favorite reading in the entire breviary.  It’s nice to see a Chrysostom reading in there to break up the monotony of Augustine, Augustine, and more Augustine. 

I don’t want to spend to much time going over old ground, but I’ll spend a paragraph doing so before I get to the reflection.  I think St. John pretty much sums up my problems with conservativism in the liturgy.  It’s not that I think “having nice things” is such a bad thing, especially in liturgy.  On the contrary, I would prefer people spending their money on Christ in that way rather than spending it on themselves.  However, Christ makes it perfectly clear where our priorities should be.  If anything, His most constant commentary on the liturgy was to avoid become pharisaical.  If people would be content to a) follow Jesus’ teachings on helping the poor spiritually and corporeally while having nice liturgy, I wouldn’t complain.  Granted, I never saw the appeal of what most people call “good” liturgy, but I admit that that opinion is a matter of taste, not of dogma. 

But that’s not what I want to write about.  Why is it so important to help the poor?  I’ve worked with the less fortunate long enough to know that they are not saintly people like many on the left make them out to be, nor are they lazy people like people on the right like to say.  They are just regular people, with bad apples and good apples.  Nor do we help the poor because we somehow think that we can solve the problems of poverty.  Catholicism is not reducible to social justice work.

Rather, Jesus commanded that we help the poor because all people are broken by our own sinfullness.  And yet, the rich are often not aware of their own sorry state:  we can surround ourselves with all the luxury we want and ignore the true state of our souls.  The poor don’t have that advantage.  They have been beaten down by life.  For many people, there is nothing more humiliating that relying on the charity of others to feed yourself.  We help the poor not because we can solve all or even a sizable chunk of their problems.  We help them because we see Christ in them.  And in seeing Christ living among broken people, we are reminded of our own brokeness, our own need for repentence, our own need to love and be loved. 

I have to admit, despite finally realizing how essential such work is to the Gospel, I find myself incapable of actually doing it.  I worked at the Missionaries of Charity last semester even though I wasn’t required.  I felt so inadequate.  While I was busy doing easy tasks with great difficulty, the sisters were cleaning sores, and doing other demeaning jobs.  I found myself so repelled to such things that I had to force myself to go back every week.  I couldn’t return this semester due to difficulties in my schedule; therefore, this semester I feel like I’m doing very little.  I do the minimum required by the seminary, and I punch my time card and leave, only to do my three hours again next week.  I keep asking myself for the grace to see the humanity of these people beyond their disabilities, to see Christ concealed by their broken bodies.  Thus far, I have failed pretty miserably. 

However, I try not to take myself too seriously.  Christ is undoubtedly working on me and through me, guiding me slowly towards being able to serve Him as He wants me to.  Christ knows me better than I know myself, and He knows how to fix me better than I do.  It’s all a matter of me submitting fully to the grace He gives me. 

Yes, we can and do encounter Christ in the liturgy; but the grace that we receive at the altar does us no good if we don’t respond to it.  We can only go to Mass once a day, and have Him within us for such a short time everyday.  If we truly desire to be united to Him for eternity, we should seek Him with our entire being while we are on this earth.  Jesus made it perfectly clear where we would find Him:  among sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.  What’s preventing us from going to Him?

St. Therese on the Christian Vocation

March 27, 2007
“I feel in me the vocation of the priest. With what love, O Jesus, I would take You in my hands when, at my voice, You would come down from heaven. And with what love would I give You to souls! But alas! while desiring to be a Priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood….
O Jesus, my Love, my vocation, at last I have found it … my vocation is Love! Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love.”

Exerpt from Story of the Soul.