Food for Discernment This Lent

I was just browsing through www.vocation.com, one of the finest vocation sites that I’ve visited lately, and discovered a “Discernment Library,” with vocation-related meditations that are sorted by Gospel passage, liturgical year, and theme.

One way to more deeply enter the Church’s liturgy this Lenten season would be to take the time to use the weekly meditations on the Gospel, which contain thought-provoking (and prayer-provoking!) reflection questions at the end.

Here is a short excerpt from the meditation for the First Sunday of Lent:

“There are two dimensions to life: our life here that depends completely on ‘bread’ and our life in eternity, for which we need another food, ‘the Father’s will.’ So bread alone will not suffice, at times it will have to be set aside for the food that gives eternal life. We have to learn to set our hearts on eternal life, so as to use every moment of this life to take another step toward it and not away from it, often giving up material goods for spiritual goods, like when we fast and do penance in Lent. If we continually look at Christ we will never be afraid to leave anything behind to follow after him.”

But first things first. Have you gotten your ashes yet?

Apostleship of Prayer

I always keep on my desk a leaflet from the Apostleship of Prayer, containing the Pope’s intentions for each month. It just dawned on me that this would be a most helpful thing to post at the beginning of each month.

It’s good to recall that all vocations come through the Church. They’re not about “doing our own thing.” Uniting ours prayers with those of the Holy Father and the universal Church is an excellent way to open ourselves to God’s personal call in our lives.

Before giving the Pope’s intentions for March (I’m almost a week late, so another few minutes won’t hurt anybody), I’d like to recommend two privileged times for remembering the Pope’s intentions:

First, there’s the Morning Offering, which is a great way to commit our day to the Lord:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and for all the intentions recommended by our Holy Father this month. Amen.

Second, there’s the family Rosary. At the beginning or end of the Rosary, to gain the indulgence for praying the Rosary–and again to manifest the unity of our prayer with that of the universal Church–it’s customary to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the Pope’s intentions.

But what are the Pope’s intentions this month? Here they are:

Latin American Nations.  That the nations of Latin America may walk in fidelity to the Gospel and progress in justice and peace.

Persecuted Christians.  That the Holy Spirit may give light and strength to those in many regions of the world who are persecuted and discriminated against because of the Gospel.

I will post his intentions for subsequent months at the beginning of each month. In the meantime, check out the website of the Apostleship of Prayer for more information on this pious practice.

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men opened last week in several theaters across the United States. It’s a true story about a group of Trappist monks, stationed in an impoverished Algerian community under threat from fundamentalist terrorists, who must decide whether to stay or leave.

Catholic movie critic Stephen Greydanus  calls the French film “last year’s most profoundly and transcendently religious film—conspicuously not nominated [for an Academy award].” However, it has received other awards, including the grand prize at the Cannes film festival.

Of Gods and Men had a “monastic adviser” on the set to help the film makers realistically depict the hidden lives of the French monks who are at the main protagonists of the story. 

The film may be a little graphic and intense for children, but otherwise this beautiful, meditative film is highly recommended. Here are a couple reviews:

And here’s the official trailer: Of Gods and Men – official trailer HD

Give It Up!

I remember well my first Lent in a religious community in the 1980s. Most of us seminarians, like many people out in the world, gave up sweets for 40 days. The one time that this penance really came into play was during the afternoon coffee break. The nearby Au Bon Pain restaurant donated day-old pastries to the seminary, and these were typically brought out to give us a little sugar boost to get us through metaphysics and epistemology.

So, while the rest of us were wistfully looking at the full tray of Au Bon Pain goodies, one delightfully chubby seminarian walked up and started munching on a big chocolate croissant. In between bites (barely) he told me, “This year I decided to do positive penance, so I’m just going to be charitable.”

The seminarian was joking, but this did illustrate how our image of ”Lenten penance” can become skewed. With Ash Wednesday just around the corner, I thought I would point out four approaches to Lent that seem a little disordered. Continue reading Give It Up!

Religious Names to Avoid

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:

  1. Sr. Rosary Bede (after Venerable Bede, of course)
  2. Sr. Polycarp Esther (or Sr. Polyesther, for short)
  3. Sr. Chrysostom Chrysologus
  4. Sr. Esther Sylvester
  5. Sr. Dies Domini (although every Sunday would be her feast day!)
  6. Sr. Michael Jordan
  7. 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?

Sacrifice and Vocations

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

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.

Newest Consecrated Virgin

Elizabeth Lam, photo courtesy of Jose Luis Aguirre/The Catholic Voice

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:

JPII’s Vocation

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.

Pope’s 2011 Lenten Message

This week the Vatican released the 2011 Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI. The message’s title is taken from St. Paul: “You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him” (Colossians 2:12).

The message in its entirety may be viewed here. (Scroll down for the English translation.)

As the title suggests, this year’s focus is on the relationship between Baptism and Lent. The Holy Father writes:

“The fact that, in most cases, Baptism is received in infancy highlights how it is a gift of God: no one earns eternal life through their own efforts. The mercy of God, which cancels sin and, at the same time, allows us to experience in our lives ‘the mind of Christ Jesus,’ is given to men and women freely. . . .

“Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptised to reach the adult stature of Christ.

“A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favorable time to experience this saving Grace. . . . Continue reading Pope’s 2011 Lenten Message

Looking for Nuns in All the Right Places

In recent weeks we have offered some commentary on the February 2, 2011 CARA report on the profession class of 2010.

Today at the National Catholic Register blog, Tim Drake offers additional commentary on the report. 

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.

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