A Radical Life

In his column for the September 2011 New Earth, the newspaper for the Diocese of Fargo, Bishop Samuel Aquila shared his own rich experience of World Youth Day. Toward the end of his column, he quoted at length Pope Benedict XVI’s address to young women religious, given during his August 19th meeting with them:

“It is not by accident that consecrated life is ‘born from hearing the word of God and embracing the Gospel as its rule of life. A life devoted to following Christ in his chastity, poverty, and obedience becomes a living exegesis of God’s word. . . . Every charism and every rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it, thus opening up new pathways of Christian living marked by the radicalism of the Gospel'” (Verbum Domini, 83).

“This Gospel radicalism means being ‘rooted and built up in Christ, and firm in the faith'” (cf. Colossians 2:7). In the consecrated life, this means going to the very root of the love of Jesus Christ with an undivided heart, putting nothing ahead of this love (cf. St. Benedict, Rule, IV, 21) and being completely devoted to him, the Bridegroom, as were the saints, like Rose of Lima and Rafael Arnáiz, the young patrons of this World Youth Day.

“Your lives must testify to the personal encounter with Christ, which has nourished your consecration, and to all the transforming power of that encounter. Continue reading A Radical Life

The Vocation of a Theologian

Theologians gathered in Washington, D.C. earlier this month for a symposium to help prepare them for the new evangelization. The event was open to selected non-tenured theology or religious studies faculty members who have received their doctoral degrees within the last five years.

The speakers looked to the Church’s rich history as they offered advice on how to present the Gospel in a modern university setting.

One of the speakers that caught my attention was Archbishop J.A. DiNoia, O.P., who serves as the secretary for the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He addressed the symposium participants on the nature of theology as a field of study having internal roots within man.

God’s immense love for us is not something that we could have figured out simply “on the basis of thinking about God,” he said.

The infused theological virtue of faith received in Baptism allows for “the participation in God’s knowledge of Himself,” he added.

Therefore, the archbishop explained, the principles of theology come from the knowledge of God infused in us.

The challenge for the new evangelization, said Archbishop DiNoia is “securing the integrity and finality of theology as a distinctive field of inquiry.”

He urged the symposium participants to resist the “fragmentation of theology into disparate subviews and specializations,” as well as internal secularization within the Church.

In addition, he called for them to be courageous in recognizing the “compatibility between an academic profession and an ecclesial vocation,” seeing their work not merely as a job, but as a calling.

Courtesy of Catholic News Agency. For more on the vocation of the theologian and his or her relationship to the Magisterium, see this 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith.

Improving Your Prayer

At a website entitled The Integrated Catholic Life, readers are able to ask members of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles their questions. Here is an example, with the answer supplied by Sr. Laus Gloriae, O.C.D.:

Question: Dear Sister, My prayer experiences don’t seem good enough or holy enough, long enough or intense enough. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can pray better?

Answer: Dear Friend,  Yes, I do have a few suggestions. That’s easy . . .

First of all, I suggest not using the expression “prayer experiences” at all. Hit the delete button on that one.  A lot of people tend to speak about their prayer experiences. To me, it’s not the best choice of words. I believe that to use the expression “prayer experience” lessens, or taints my prayer. Prayer isn’t just “an experience.” It is so much more. Continue reading Improving Your Prayer

London Calling

Allen Hall, the Diocese of Westminster’s Seminary in London, has seen a modest increase in the number of men preparing for the priesthood in each of the past six years, according to Independent Catholic News.

In an interview published by Independent Catholic News, seminarian Damian Ryan gives all sorts of good advice to those considering the priesthood. I particularly like the way he summed it up:

“The main thing is to be courageous, relax, and  let Jesus do the work. He knows what He’s doing.”

Happy Birthday, Sister!

Sister Teresita, the world’s oldest contemplative nun, celebrated her 104th birthday last week, and received a birthday letter from Pope Benedict XVI.

The Holy Father, who met with Sr. Teresita during his visit to Madrid for World Youth Day, encouraged the Spanish nun to continue “being an ardent lamp of faith, hope and charity.”

Father Angel Moreno, the chaplain of the monastery where Sr. Teresita lives with her Cistercian community, explained in his blog that “Sister Teresita follows the daily rhythm of prayer, from 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and she continues giving thanks to God for the grace of having met the Pope, which, she says, motivates her even more to pray for him and to be holy.”

Courtesy of Catholic News Agency.

Open to the Light of Christ

“Through Christ we know that we are not destined to wander into an abyss, or the silence of nothingness or death, but that we are pilgrims on a journey to the promised land.”

With these words, Pope Benedict XVI greeted the seminarians gathered in the Cathedral of Santa María la Real de la Almudena to participate in the Eucharistic celebration. In the joyful climate of World Youth Day last month, the Holy Father invited all of the men to live these years of preparation in interior silence, constant prayer, and assiduous study in order to understand if the path they are on–a path that “requires audacity and authenticity”–is the right choice for their lives.

Helping Priests Call Other Priests

I was just paging through a booklet published under the auspices of the United States Conference of Bishops entitled, “Lend Your Own Voice to Christ: A Helpful Guide for Priests to Call Forth Men to the Priesthood.”

The booklet was written by Fr. Thomas Richter, who for the past decade has served as vocation director for the Diocese of Bismarck.

Fr. Richter begins his presentation by giving us three “facts” that have been confirmed by many vocation-related surveys:

• Fact #1: The main reason young people do not consider the priesthood is because they have never been personally asked.

• Fact #2: Men first consider the priesthood because a priest encouraged them to consider it. Year after year, in surveys of classes of ordination, 80-88 percent of the men consistently report that it was a priest who invited them to consider the priesthood. Jesus calls men to the seminary and priesthood through a priest’s personal invitation encouraging them to consider it.

• Fact #3: The great majority of priests do not encourage men to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Surveys consistently show that only about 30 percent of priests actively invite men to consider the priesthood.

He then gives priests seven powerful lessons for calling forth young men to join them in ordained ministry.

This fine booklet, and several other vocations resources, may be found at the website for the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

I guess Fr. Richter’s work proves the old adage that “it never hurts to ask.”

Deception in Discernment

The following essay by Br. Gabriel Torretta, O.P.,  first appeared in Dominicana 60:1 (Spring 2011), 7-9, and it and was recently reprinted in its online edition. We reprint it here because of the excellent insights it provides on the subject of vocational discernment.

If you’ve ever thought about a priestly or religious vocation, perhaps this prayer has passed your lips: “God, if it’s your will that I do this, just give me a sign!” The prayer is easy, natural, and ubiquitous among those ‘discerning.’ But this little prayer may also be the single easiest way to short-circuit a vocation and leave a man dead on the waters of life.

The problem with this prayer is that it pits God’s will against mine, as two discrete entities, one of which must give way to the other. Will looks like a zero-sum game: if I win, God loses, and if I lose, God wins. The danger is that when I compete with God, whoever wins, I lose.

Moreover, the prayer assumes that God’s will is an inscrutable mystery that I must implore Him to reveal. My will bears no sure relation to God’s, and I have no way of knowing if my desires are really holy or just selfish. My desire and my will are like a mercury thermometer with all the numbers rubbed off; I could be edging toward spiritual hypothermia or burning with zeal, but I’ll never know unless God puts the numbers back on. As a result, I have to ask God to give me extraordinary signs so that I can know what to do and how to do it.

But asking for signs from God is a dangerous endeavor. More often than not, “God give me a sign” really means “God, do what I tell you,” or “Give me the kind of sign I want you to give.” Jesus himself addresses this problem in the Gospels; after a series of remarkable miracles and authoritative teachings, the disbelieving scribes and Pharisees tell Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You,” to which Jesus responds, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet” (Mt 12:38-39; cf. Mk 8:11-12, Lk 11:29). The question betrays the blindness of the questioners, because Jesus’ entire life is the sign they claim to be looking for. The Pharisees refuse to observe the reality unfolding before them and instead ask for a sign on their own terms. The honest men among the Pharisees may have asked the question in earnest, hoping that God would help them decide whether or not to follow Jesus. But their purported ardor for God’s will blinded them to the marvelous ways God was actually working in their lives.

This is the blindness of moralism. The moralist ‘discerns’ as if to wrest the secret of God’s will out of His hands by brute force; dashing from one spiritual program to another and from one vocation event to the next, he pours out novenas, rosaries, and mass intentions, begging God to reveal the mystery of his vocation. All the while the moralist ignores the actual signs God has been pouring into his heart. For God’s will is not radically opposed to my will; rather, God’s will works through mine, moving it by grace to respond to Him with a total gift of love. Jesus spoke of this to the great Dominican mystic St. Catherine of Siena after a period of spiritual darkness: “Your will is a sign to you that I am there, since I would not be within you by grace if you had an evil will” (Letter T221/G152). Formed by a life lived with God, my will can be the signpost by which God directs me where He wants me to go.

Vocation is not a shell game in which I have to outwit God and find the perfect life He has hidden among all the options in the world. Vocation is a call of love to love. God moves our hearts to love Him, to answer the one, universal call to holiness. The Christian’s task is to respond to that love concretely with the complete gift of himself. To give himself utterly, he needs the honesty, generosity, wisdom, and prudence that come from God, for which he must pray. Then, when his heart burns with a specific desire to love God with this woman, or this religious order, or in this diocese, then he decides and commits himself irrevocably into God’s hands. This is the mystery of vocation. This is the mystery of love.

Israel’s Hope

Earlier this month, fittingly on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  His Excellency Edward J. Slattery, Bishop of Tulsa, established the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope as a Public Association of the Faithful, in view of their becoming an Institute of Consecrated Life.

The foundress of the community, Rosalind Moss, is a noted convert from Judaism who is well-known in the Catholic world through her work with EWTN and Catholic Answers.

In religion, Rosalind Moss is now Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God. On this happy occasion, she received the traditional Benedictine habit, given that the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope have begun to follow the age-old Rule of Saint Benedict.

For more on this wonderful story, click here.