Yesterday we received a letter from our delightful daughter, Sr. Mary Kate. This one was special as it’s the last letter we will receive from her until after Easter.
One area of discernment and discussion among the postulants is the new religious name they will receive upon entering the novitiate this summer. The postulants have considerable input on this, though the final decision comes from the mother superior.
Anyway, Sr. Mary Kate said that she and some other postulants had fun one afternoon coming up with a list of names never to take–a process of elimination, of sorts. So, for your amusement, here are some of the names they came up with:
Sr. Rosary Bede (after Venerable Bede, of course)
Sr. Polycarp Esther (or Sr. Polyesther, for short)
Sr. Chrysostom Chrysologus
Sr. Esther Sylvester
Sr. Dies Domini (although every Sunday would be her feast day!)
Sr. Michael Jordan
Sr. Immolata Victima Sanguine (one of the professed suggested this, with a straight face, to a peppy, personable postulant)
Can you come up with any other religious names to avoid?
With Lent only a week away, I thought readers might be interested in “Sacrifice and Vocations,” a reflection by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., the late founder of the IRL.
In this reflection, Fr. Hardon notes that instilling in our children a spirit of sacrifice goes hand in hand with fostering vocations. He says that God “generally calls those persons to follow Him as priests or religious, who have been taught the value of sacrifice from childhood.”
He further explains:
“The experience of self-denial in the use and enjoyment of material things is the normal predisposition for a lifetime practice of evangelical poverty. Training in self-control of the senses, especially in the use of the media, is the ordinary preparation for a lifelong dedication to consecrated chastity. Careful and loving nurture in self-denial, almost from infancy, is God’s usual way of conditioning the human will for commitment to the counsel of obedience.”
Click here for access to a dozen of Fr. Hardon’s beautiful reflections on religious and priestly vocations.
Last week, my friend Elizabeth Lam became a consecrated virgin in and for the Diocese of Oakland. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was the presider for the rite of consecration, which was performed in the context of a Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.
Elizabeth is not bound to a religious community, but rather lives in the world. Through her consecration, she has made a total gift of herself to the local Church under the leadership of her bishop.
There are only about 200 consecrated virgins in the United States, but there is a revival of this ancient rite taking place. As Bishop Cordileone noted at the outset of his homily, some of the most revered saints of Christian antiquity were consecrated virgins, like Sts. Cecilia, Lucy, Agnes, and Agatha.
For more information, check out the following links:
As I was navigating through the outstanding new Vocation Boom website, I stumbled upon this short video in which Pope John Paul II comments on his own vocation story.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since JPII’s death. The images, events, and messages in this clip will bring back many inspiring memories of his amazing pontificate, as we count down the days until his beatification.
Drake cites one Church source, corroborated by other studies, who says that the CARA report ignores the ‘elephant in the room,’ namely, “the rather obvious fact that religious communities that preserve traditional elements such as the habit, common prayer, communal life, focused apostolates, and strong affirmation of Church teaching, are doing well in comparison to orders that do not.”
Drake also notes that the CARA report does not examine the difference in those joining orders associated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) versus those joining the smaller Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). A 2009 study showed that just 1% of religious orders associated with the LCWR have more than 10 women in the process of joining, whereas among the CMSWR, 28% reported having 10 or more candidates.
One of my favorite lines from Fr. John Hardon, the late, great Jesuit theologian whose cause for sainthood is working its way through the Church, is: “even a corpse can float downstream.”
Yet, as Saint Irenaeus famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” If we are fully alive in Christ, then we have the vitality to swim against the current, to work against the pull of the flesh that wants to drag us downstream. And there is no neutrality here: if we do nothing but “go with the flow,” then we will be dragged along with those who have made a conscious decision in favor of the “flesh” as opposed to the lifegiving “spirit.”
Those who are faithfully answering the radical call to the consecrated life are the most “alive” people I’ve ever encountered. A few months ago my wife Maureen and I had the privilege of visiting with our daughter at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What struck me even more than the calls to chastity and obedience was the way they live the call to poverty.
Like the woman in the Gospel who was healed of her infirmity and was able to stand upright for the first time in many years, these beautiful young ladies are not “bent over” and worried about things here below. Rather, with Our Lord as their strength and constant companion, they see things from a more God-centered perspective. They are free. They appreciate and enjoy everything. They are not bored or thinking about what they’ve “given up” or don’t have. What an amazing paradox: By becoming poor, they have truly become rich!
I’m particularly drawn to Eucharistic Prayer III. One phrase from that prayer that has had rich meaning for me through the years is, “Father, hear the prayers of the family you have gathered here . . .” as I’ve written frequently on the image of the Church as the “family of God” as well as on the “parish family.”
But at Mass the week Sr. Mary Kate entered the Dominicans, it was the next line that really struck me: “In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.”
Even though Sr. Mary Kate is now a thousand miles away, we are still united in God’s mercy and love, particularly through our participation in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church in general (a “communion of saints” thing). This is another one of those teachings to which we give notional assent, but every now and then we have moments in which a truth of the faith penetrates us in a more real, experiential way.
It’s all right here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2232-33):
“Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me’ (Mt 10:37). . . .
“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow Him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”
This brings me back to the call to poverty. Young religious need to incorporate a healthy spirit of detachment from worldly things, including even one’s family, if they are to be “worthy” disciples of Christ. This assuredly means swimming upstream, and I was so impressed with how well the young sisters seemed to be making this transition, despite the inherent difficulty.
It’s also a challenge for parents to have their son or daughter enter religious life, especially when they enter right out of high school. We had about as much advance warning as possible (Sr. Mary Kate told me when she was 5 that she wanted to be a nun), and it was still a shock to the system.
I think that letting go of a child who is entering religious life is an act of poverty on our part. We not only are creating “space” for our children to seek evangelical perfection, but also growing in our own feeble spirit of sacrifice and detachment. Not surprisingly, Maureen and I have become fast friends with a whole fraternity of families who are also going through the same process.
Please remember in your prayers for religious vocations those who have already responded and, like Sr. Mary Kate, are going through the initial stages of their formation. And while you’re at it, please pray for their families, too!
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Religious Life, the bimonthly magazine of the Institute on Religious Life.
I thought I would post today a link to a 2008 article entitled “Will Shields and the Objective Superiority of Consecrated Life.” What does a retired, 300 lb. football player have to do with consecrated life? Check out the article and find out!
His thesis is that we don’t have a vocation problem so much as a discipleship problem. We can’t assume that everybody that has some connection to the Church is already a disciple–and thus a ready recipient of sundry “vocation programs.”
Fr. Ference points to the fact that most people do not discover their vocation from vocation literature, but from real-life disciples who are living witnesses of what it means to be a married person, consecrated person, or priest. Such disciples beget other disciples.
Also, it is true that the programs that we provide for young people (and older people, for that matter) are sometimes light in the discipleship department. Fr. Ference writes:
“Let us take the example of a parish youth group to serve as a microcosm for our current situation. A youth group has a similar structure to most parish groups, in that most parish groups identify themselves in four ways: spiritual, service-oriented, social and catechetical. For a parish youth group to be what it is supposed to be, the first priority of the group must be to make disciples of young people who do not know Jesus, and to make stronger disciples of the ones who already know him. Such a suggestion seems quite basic and even simplistic at first glance, but this is precisely the point. Far too often we as a Church have failed with the most basic principle of discipleship while loading up on service projects and social activities, and the parish youth group becomes just one more line on a young person’s college résumé, without ever calling that young person to real conversion.”
A lot of food for thought. To view the article in its entirety, click here.