Pope Addresses New York’s Bishops

Here at An Undivided Heart, we will be examining the statements of the Holy Father as he concludes his ad limina meetings with the U.S. bishops at the Vatican with an eye toward capturing the Pope’s thoughts on the subject of vocations.

Unlike the first ad limina address, Pope Benedict did not explicitly address the subject of vocations in his address to the bishops of region II, which includes the Catholic dioceses of New York.  However, he did discuss the need for re-evangelization and interior conversion, as well as the importance of engaging college students. Here are some excerpts from his address:

“[T]he seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that “quiet attrition” from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel. . . .

“In the end, however, the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion, and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches. I think in particular of the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested by the discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and such inititiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization. Young people have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his Church.

For the complete text, click here.

Bands of Brothers

Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Texas

Last week the National Catholic Register published an article entitled “Surprising Revival for Men in Religious Life,” which the emergence of new religious communities for men despite the sharp overall decline in the number of men in consecrated life.

Michael Wick, the executive director of the Institute on Religious Life, was quoted at length in the article. He affirmed that there are many young men today who take religious life seriously and who joyfully accept the necessary sacrifices that are a part of it.

Wick addressed the popular misconception that religious brothers are men who are not smart enough to be priests: “Catholics tend not to have a problem with women religious, but when it comes to non-ordained men religious, they are a bit uncertain. What they might not realize is that a religious brother has just as legitimate a consecrated vocation by striving to be a brother to all.”

Wick sees the various thriving men’s communities as unique expressions of the Holy Spirit in the Church. “There are so many different charisms,” he said. “We have the older, more established orders, newer communities in the tradition of an older order, and then altogether new orders. There’s something for everyone, but a common thread among the communities doing well is their faithfulness to the Magisterium.”

American Deacons

The online edition of Catholic World Report published this month an interesting report on the permanent diaconate by Jeff Ziegler, fittingly entitled “Servants of the Lord.”

Vatican II (1962-65) expressed the hope that “the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” in the Latin rites, especially in mission territories.

Ziegler summarizes the subsequent history:

“In 1967, Pope Paul VI issued general norms for the restoration of the permanent diaconate where requested by episcopal conferences. More than four decades later, 46 percent of the Church’s 37,203 permanent deacons serve in the United States, according to figures published in the 2011 Catholic Almanac, while an additional 5 percent serve in other parts of North America. A third of the Church’s deacons minister in Europe, 13 percent in South America, and approximately 1 percent each in Africa, Asia, and Oceania. There are more permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago than in all of Africa and Asia combined.”

Ziegler then gives interesting statistics on “deacon rich” and “deacon poor” dioceses in the United States. Interesting, one of the “deacon poor” dioceses Ziegler cites in his article is my own Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. However, the most recent figures Ziegler had at his disposal did not include the 17 deacons ordained in the Archdiocese’s first class six months ago.

Ziegler also notes that the Church’s theological understanding of the diaconate is beginning to deepen in recent decades:

“Catholic teaching on the diaconate, while not as fully developed as magisterial teaching on the episcopate or the priesthood, has not been lacking over the past 50 years. The Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI’s 1967 apostolic letter on the restoration of the permanent diaconate, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all briefly summarize the ministry of the deacon; Blessed John Paul devoted three general audiences to the diaconate in 1993, and Pope Benedict delivered an important address on the diaconate in 2006. In 1998, two Vatican congregations issued documents on the life, ministry, and formation of permanent deacons, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a national directory devoted to the same topics six years later.”

Most recently, Bishop Alexander Sample published for the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan this past June “The Deacon: Icon of Jesus Christ the Servant,” a 19-page pastoral letter—perhaps the lengthiest and most thoughtful examination of the diaconate by an individual bishop in the deacon-rich United States.

While the information in the article is excellent, it remains for chancery offices around the country to make sound pastoral decisions as to how to best implement the ongoing restoration of the permanent diaconate. Ziegler’s statistics dispel the still-prevalent notion that the promotion of the diaconate somehow undercuts the promotion of vocations to the priesthood.

At the same time, the Church is already benefiting from the advances in diaconate formation that have been put into place in recent years. She will further benefit from an enhanced understanding of the deacon’s three-fold munera of word, liturgy, and charity, which are summed up in the call to serve the people after the manner of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life for others.

Don’t Let Uncertainty Stop You

A fear of not having all the answers is stopping many young women from seeking a beautiful vocation as a religious sister, says a Franciscan sister from Illinois in a new video.

“That’s where the fear is,” explains Sr. Michael, of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi. “The person is hesitating to take that next step because they don’t have all the answers. You are not going to have all the answers, until you take that next step. And then the answers will come.”

In a candid, unscripted video interview, Sr. Michael, Vicar Provincial of the congregation, provides fresh insight on overcoming reluctance in pursuing a vocation, as well as the spiritual benefits of living in a community dedicated to following Christ through the life of St. Francis.

“Let me tell you what it’s like to be in a community of sisters,” Sr. Michael explains in a surprisingly popular 10-minute video. “It’s a mystery at first because you realize that there is a spiritual bond with each one of them. . . . We all come from different parts of the world and different parts of the country. Yet we all have that bond, that common bond. . . . That bond follows us into eternity.”

The video also features an interview with the congregation’s bishop, Most Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, who says, ”I am very happy to say I have great admiration for the zeal of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi.”

The Sisters’ provincial motherhouse is in Lacon, Illinois, and the congregation has its general house in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. They have been operating St. Joseph Nursing Home in Lacon since 1964.

Poor Clares “Adopt” Diocese of Bismarck

The Poor Clares of Rockford, Illinois have had a spiritual bond with the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, that goes back a few years. That bond increased dramatically October 19th, when their former chaplain, Msgr. David D. Kagan, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rockford, was named the Bishop-elect of Bismarck.

Several years ago, the vocation director for Bismarck asked the sisters to pray for all of the diocese’s seminarians. The Poor Clares had been faithful to that commitment ever since, and now their chaplain in Rockford will become the new shepherd in Bismarck!

The sisters were delighted to spend an hour with Bishop-elect Kagan in their visiting parlor recently, learning all about his new diocese.

A fellow “worker” at the chancery office, Border collie Dash (whose duty it was to keep the geese off the chancery grounds), will accompany the Bishop-elect to North Dakota. “At least he will enjoy the snow,” comments Msgr. Kagan.

There is a wonderful presence of religious men and women in the Bismarck diocese. However, since the diocese does not have a cloistered contemplative community, the Poor Clares are spiritually adopting the Diocese of Bismarck along with its new bishop!

The desire of St. Clare–that her sisters support the Mystical Body–is alive and well.

For Those Who Pray

Catholics throughout the world today are invited to celebrate Pro Orantibus Day, a special day set aside to honor the cloistered and monastic life.

“The primary purpose of Pro Orantibus Day (‘For Those Who Pray’) is to thank God for the tremendous gift of the cloistered and monastic vocation in the Church’s life,” noted Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem., National Director of the Institute on Religious Life.

“Since the lives of these women and men religious dedicated to prayer and sacrifice are often hidden, this annual celebration reminds us of the need to support their unique mission within the Body of Christ,” he added.

In 1997, Bl. Pope John Paul II asked that this ecclesial event be observed worldwide on November 21, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Presentation in the Temple. It is a most fitting day to thank those in the cloistered and monastic life for serving as “a leaven of renewal and of the presence of the spirit of Christ in the world.” It is also intended to remind others of the need to provide spiritual and material support “for those who pray.”

Pope Benedict XVI has also spoken often of the tremendous value of the cloistered, contemplative life. Speaking to a group of cloistered Dominican nuns in Rome, the Holy Father referred to such religious as “the heart” which provides blood to the rest of the Body of Christ. He noted that in their work and prayer, together with Christ, they are the “heart” of the Church and in their desire for God’s love they approach the ultimate goal.

The nationwide effort to publicize Pro Orantibus Day is coordinated by the Institute on Religious Life (“IRL”).  Visit cloisteredlife.com, also sponsored by the IRL, for more information on cloistered and monastic communities.

Pope, U.S. Bishops Discuss Vocations

Religious freedom, the “new evangelization,” and the push for vocations emerged as key issues during the first round of U.S. bishops’ “ad limina” visits to the Vatican.

Eighteen bishops from New England met with Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials earlier this month. It was the first of 15 U.S. groups making ad limina visits over the next several months, and the bishops said some particular questions and challenges surfaced quickly in the talks.

While the Church leaders addressed many issues, a popular topic was vocations, especially to the priesthood, according to a Catholic News Service report. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, Connecticut said it was nice to be able to share good news with the pope.

“Many of us here can say we’re very much thrilled by the large increase in vocations to the priesthood. In my own archdiocese, eight years ago we had six seminarians, now we have 47 and more on the waiting list,” the archbishop said.“Stories like that are true and real and offer great hope now and for the future.”

The archbishop said that in the meetings: “The Holy Father is very encouraging. He sees the large picture and he’s very conscious of the work that goes on.”

According to Servant of God John A. Hardon, an ad limina visit  is a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, canonically required of every bishop every three to ten years. On this visit he renders an account of the complete condition of his diocese to the Pope.

Discernment Retreats

A discernment retreat is a prayerful visit with a religious community, perhaps for a weekend or even a week. Such a retreat is a good way to test your vocation. You can get to know the community and its charism, and consider whether God may be calling you to its way of life. Many communities hold retreats for groups for just this purpose. Or you may be able to visit them as an individual.

One of the most important outreaches of the Institute on Religious Life (“IRL“) is assisting those who are discerning religious vocations by directing them to opportunities to “come and see,” often in the context of a retreat.

The IRL provides information on retreats for men and women alike. In addition, the IRL offers online vocation retreats, consisting of daily meditations and reflections sent to you via email to help you discover your vocation in life.

Visit the IRL site today for more vocation-related resources!

Demographics Is Destiny?

I recently came across this article in The Baltimore Sun entitled “Catholics look to younger students to stem priest, nun declines.” What struck me was that the profiled fifth-graders “were so unfamiliar with a nun’s habit and veil” that they referred to a nun as “the lady in the blue dress.”

Unfortunately, the author eventually trots out the usual “mainstream” explanations for the shortage of priests and religious, such as the sex scandals, the male-only priesthood, and mandatory celibacy, without going deeper.

This shortcoming was adroitly exposed by Terry Mattingly on his blog:

“One of the major problems these days is that millions of Catholic parents are no longer sure if they want their sons and daughters to surrender their lives to the church.

“This is the factor that the Sun continues to miss in its coverage of stories linked to Catholic statistics–such as struggling parishes, closing schools and, yes, the declining number of priests. A key fact: Birth rates for most white American Catholics now resemble those found in liberal Protestant churches.

“I dug into this a few years ago in a pair of Scripps Howard columns that shipped with this title: ‘Fathers, mothers and Catholic sons.’ The key interview was with the progressive Catholic academic Father Donald B. Cozzens, a former seminary vicar in Ohio and author of the influential 2000 book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood.

“The bottom line: How many Catholic young people will even considering entering religious life if this step is actively opposed by their fathers and mothers?

“In the past, when large families were the norm, it was a matter of pride to have a son enter religious life. But what if most Catholic families contain only one son?

“’When it has become normal to have two children or less, you are not going to find many parents who are encouraging a son–especially an only son–to become a priest,’ said Cozzens. ‘They want him to get married, to have grandchildren and carry on the family name.

“’So there are fewer sons and there are more mothers who are asking hard questions.’

“Grandchildren or no grandchildren? . . .

“Once again, demographics is destiny. I would also note that, especially in Catholic pews, demographics are often shaped by doctrine.”

Read the entire article here.