Mercedarians Show Healthy Signs of Growth

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Pope John Paul II with Mercedarian seminarians

When Fr. Joseph Eddy was looking for a religious community to join ten years ago, there were several characteristics that just had to be there. He found these and more in the Order of Mercy.

“I was looking for a community that was Marian, Eucharistic, and faithful to the Magisterium,” explained the 33-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2008.

“It was amazing to find this ancient order which possessed all the characteristics that I was looking for,” said Fr. Joseph, who serves as the vocation director for the order, which has as its formal title, The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.

The U.S. branch of the order boasts of ten men in formation against a backdrop of 22 solemnly professed friars. “That’s a healthy sign,” Fr. Joseph said. “The older orders such as ours tend to struggle to get vocations. God is blessing us with these new men, and we look toward a grace-filled future.”

The order’s friars, which consist of brothers and priests, wear crisp white habits, pray the Divine Office together, and live a community life based on the Rule of St Augustine. The men teach in schools, administer parishes, and engage in other apostolic work.

No wonder the order is doing well. Traditional groups are those that are attracting vocations today, according to a 2009 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

The Order of Mercy, also known as the Mercedarians, has its U.S. motherhouse in Philadelphia. Their website is www.OrderofMercy.org. Hear the men chant the Salve on their YouTube video, or visit Fr. Joseph’s Facebook page.

2010 Profession Class, By the Numbers

What do we know about the women religious in the United States who made their final vows this past year?

Plenty!

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) released a report last week on the women who professed perpetual vows in 2010. This report, commissioned by the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), contains an overwhelming amount of statistics and demographic data.

Here, I will provide a “top ten” list of findings that I found most significant:

(1) 77% of the sisters have three or more siblings (the average was five), while only one sister reported being an only child.

Need I say any more about the critically important role of large Catholic families as fertile ground for religious vocations? The generosity of Catholic parents who are open to life speaks volumes to their children.

(2) Prayer matters.

74% had attended a retreat prior to entering the community, and two-thirds of them prayed the Rosary and participated in Eucharistic adoration on a regular basis before entering religious life. While this is a positive stat, I hope that the other one-third picked up these religious practices after they joined! 

(3) 52% reported that they were encouraged by other religious to consider religious life.

And nine out of ten reported that they were encouraged by someone in their life. This stat shows the importance of inviting others to “come and see,” and of supporting them in their discernment process. This is especially important in light of the next item.

(4) 66% reported that they were discouraged from considering a vocation by one or more persons.

Even more, 51% reported that they faced opposition within their own families! It makes one wonder how we can make families a more hospitable seedbed for vocations. Certainly a renewal of faith and sense of vocation among Catholic parents is crucial if we are to reverse this trend. 

(5) 78% had already completed some college, and 59% had already graduated from college at the time they entered the religious institute.

The new sisters are well-educated, not only for work in education or health care, but other fields as well. The one balancing factor is that this goes hand in hand with older vocations, as the median age of the sisters is 44.

(6) Kudos to Franciscan University!

Six percent reported that a youth conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville played a role in their religious vocation. Makes me proud to be an alumnus.

(7) World Youth Day.

A staggering 20% of the sisters reported that they participated at a World Youth Day prior to entering their religious community. Memo to pastors: Keep these pilgrimages in the budget!

(8) The median age at which the sisters began considering a possible vocation to religious life was 18.

The mean was 20, as some older vocations skewed the average. This points to the critical importance of college campus ministry and evangelization programs like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

(9) 51% attended Catholic elementary school and 25% attended Catholic high school.

This figure isn’t that impressive to me. Where did all the others go? At some point, it would be useful to distinguish between those who were homeschooled by Catholic parents versus those who attended public or non-sectarian private schools.

Still, the figures here are above the national averages for Catholics in the United States. Since Catholic schools continue to be such a significant source of religious vocations, the ongoing religious formation of Catholic school teachers must be a priority. Also, in light of (3), I think the more religious we have in the Catholic schools, the more likely it is that the school will foster religious vocations.

(10) 84% of superiors reported no new religious professions, and another 13% reported only one.

That means 311 of the communities that participated in the survey did not have anyone take final vows. Many of those communities are aging and have not had many vocations in recent years. While it’s a fact of Church life that some religious communities die out and others spring up, I found the numbers this year a bit sobering. So let’s get busy, people! All of us have the duty to pray for vocations to the religious life, and to support those who have already entered. 

Beyond all the numbers, though, the most important consideration is that we have all these beautiful sisters who have now consecrated their lives completely to Christ. What a blessing for them, and for the Church!

Intimate Friendship with Christ

Pope Benedict XVI devoted his weekly general audience last Wednesday to St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82), one of the most revered spiritual guides in the history of the Church.  

While the Pope  gave a brief overview of her life and her reform of the Carmelite order, he spent most of his address on her immense contributions to Catholic spirituality, noting “her profound christocentric spirituality and her breadth of human experience.”

The most important lesson of St. Teresa, the Pope said, is her understanding of “prayer as an intimate friendship with Christ leading to an ever greater union of love with the Blessed Trinity.”

Here is an excerpt from the Holy Father’s address:

“It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points.

“In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life–in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water–without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture.

“In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus. 

“The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, ‘means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent Him whom we know loves us.’ St. Teresa’s idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as ‘amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum,’ a type of friendship of man with God, who first offered his friendship to man; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

“Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa’s is a true ‘mystagogy’: She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with Him; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.”

For the entire text of the Pope’s general audience, click here.

Consecrated Life: A Precious Gift for the Church

At the conclusion of his general audience this past Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that February 2nd was also World Day of Consecrated Life, saying:

“To your prayers I entrust those who, having made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, strive after sanctity in the service of children, young people, the sick, the elderly and the lonely. We are grateful to them for their prayers and for the work they do in parishes, hospitals, care homes, and schools. Their service represents a particularly precious gift for the Church. My heartfelt blessings go to all those who live in accordance with the evangelical counsels.”

World Day of Consecrated Life will be celebrated this weekend in the United States.

For a summary of the Pope’s comments on consecrated life later that evening, click here.

Courtesy of Vatican Information Service.

Nun Run ’11

I just received this invitation from the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Arizona. This is a worthy cause and hey, if you don’t live too far from Tempe, consider joining the fun!

Dear friends,

March 12th  is our 2nd Annual Nun Run!  It is hard to believe all that the Lord has accomplished since our 1st Annual Nun Run last year!  May He be praised!  In October 2010, we moved to Tonopah, and in May 2011 the new Chapel will be consecrated! 

The funds raised from NUN RUN 2011 will go into our Monastery Building Fund, which will be used to build our new cloistered monastery that will house 28 nuns!  So how can you be a part of turning this dream into a reality?

(1)  Please donate at  my newly created fundraising page.  The competition is on to see which Sister will raise the most funds for the cause!  (All in sisterly love, of course!)

(2)  Register to participate in the Nun Run.  You can join in the fun on March 12th in Tempe, AZ…or as a shadow participant you can run wherever you are.  Simply register as a shadow participant and a race shirt will be mailed to you!

(3)  Become a Nun Run Fundraiser.  This year we have an awesome incentive prize: All fundraisers who raise $150 or more will receive a beautiful fleece blanket with the Nun Run emblem embroidered on it.  Also, largest in-state fundraiser will win “Dinner With the Nuns” at Serranos Mexican Restaurant.  Largest out-of-state fundraiser will receive a nun-made Souvenir Gift Basket!  The race is on . . .

Thank you, in advance, for however you are able to participate in Nun Run 2011!  Above all, please keep this event’s success in your prayers.

With a promise of prayers in return,

Sr. Mary Fidelis

World Day for Consecrated Life 2011

Today the Church is celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life simultaneously with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Pope Benedict XVI is observing the two celebrations by presiding over Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica this evening.

The World Day for Consecrated Life will be celebrated in U.S. parishes this weekend. This would be an apt occasion to walk up to a religious after Mass to say hello and to thank them for their service to the Church.

The World Day was inaugurated in 1997 by Pope John Paul II as an initiative for the entire Christian community to celebrate the mission of the consecrated life in the present and the future of the Church.
The Holy Father founded it for three reasons:

(1) to praise the Lord more solemnly and give thanks to Him for the gift of the consecrated life,

(2) to promote knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God, and

(3) to give consecrated persons an opportunity to return to the sources of their vocation.

It is no accident that the event coincides with the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.  This celebration, wrote Venerable John Paul II, is an “eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels ‘the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.’ ”

At its inception as a World Day in 1997, the Pope entrusted it to the Virgin Mary in the hope that it will “bear abundant fruits for the holiness and the mission of the Church” and heighten the esteem in the Christian community for consecrated vocations. 

The Feast and World Day will be celebrated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday evening with Vespers at the Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City.  A special invitation is made every year to members of the Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Catholic Shadows . . . and Lights

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

A reader sent me this trenchant analysis by Fr. Dwight Longenecker of the collapse of cultural Catholicism, which provides the context for the so-called “vocation crisis” we see in many parts of the world.

After all, when young people are presented an uninspiring version of “American Catholicism” rather than the real deal, it’s an uphill battle to keep them Catholic, let alone willing to dedicate their lives as a priest or religious.

Yet the problem also suggests the solution when it comes to vocations.

Now, of course we need “vocation awareness” programs and resources for those on the threshold of making life decisions. Fr. Longenecker’s piece, however, reminds us that we also need to back up the bus a little further.

Specifically, if we can do a better job of transmitting the faith in our parishes, schools, and above all in our families, then more young people will make the faith their own in adulthood. We all need to be laborers in the vineyard, even if we’re not around for the harvest (see Matthew 20:1-7; John 4:37-38; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

And many of these convinced, young adult Catholics will generously respond to vocations to the priesthood and religious life–including the many men and women featured on this blog!

It’s all about laying the foundation, as the Catechism teaches in its challenging presentation on the duty of parents to provide for the Catholic formation and education of their children:

“A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life” (no. 2225).

New Norbertine Community

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!

Aquinas on the Vow of Obedience

Here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast the universal Church celebrates today,  had to say on the excellence of the vow of obedience:

The vow of obedience is the chief of the three religious vows, and this for three reasons.

First, because by the vow of obedience man offers God something greater, namely his own will; for this is of more account than his own body, which he offers God by continence, and than external things, which he offers God by the vow of poverty. Wherefore that which is done out of obedience is more acceptable to God than that which is done of one’s own will, according to the saying of Jerome (Ep. cxxv ad Rustic Monach.): “My words are intended to teach you not to rely on your own judgment”: and a little further on he says: “You may not do what you will; you must eat what you are bidden to eat, you may possess as much as you receive, clothe yourself with what is given to you.” Hence fasting is not acceptable to God if it is done of one’s own will, according to Is. 58:3, “Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found.”

Secondly, because the vow of obedience includes the other vows, but not vice versa: for a religious, though bound by vow to observe continence and poverty, yet these also come under obedience, as well as many other things besides the keeping of continence and poverty.

Thirdly, because the vow of obedience extends properly to those acts that are closely connected with the end of religion; and the more closely a thing is connected with the end, the better it is.

Taken from the Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, q. 186, a. 8.

Signs of a Priestly Vocation

In To Save a Thousand Souls: Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood (Vianney Vocations, 2010), Fr. Brett Bannon devotes an entire chapter to the characteristics of a good candidate for priesthood. He identifies 20 “signs” of a possible vocation to diocesan priesthood, since that is the focus of the book. However, I think these particular signs could also point to a vocation to the priesthood as a member of a religious community.

Fr. Brannen, an experienced vocation director and vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, gives two important caveats before diving into his list of signs.

First, the Lord can call anyone to serve as a priest. A potential candidate may not initially have all the qualities listed here, and that’s okay.

Second, the discernment of a priestly vocation should be a deliberate process involving one’s spiritual director, vocation director, and other sound spiritual guides. 

According to Fr. Brannen, a good candidate for priesthood should . . .

(1) Know and love Jesus Christ and experience a thirst to bring Jesus and His teachings to the world.

(2) Be a believing, practicing Catholic.

(3) Be striving to live a life of prayer.

(4) Live and desire a life of service to others.

(5) Have a desire to be a priest.

(6) In many cases, have his call validated by other people.

(7) Find his calling validated in Sacred Scripture.

(8) Be striving to live a virtuous life.

(9) Have good people skills.

(10) Have above-average intelligence (but those who struggle academically should not lose heart!).

(11) Be physically, emotionally, and psychologically stable.

(12) Be joyful and have a good sense of humor.

(13) Have a “priest’s heart.”

(14) Have self-possession and self-mastery.

(15) Show stability in lifestyle.

(16) Be a Christian gentleman.

(17) Have life experiences that point toward priesthood.

(18) Be able to accept both success and failure peacefully.

(19) Have a healthy psycho-sexual development and orientation. 

(20) Be truly open to the will of God for his life.

For an explanation of each of these possible signs, see pages 77-108 of Fr. Brannen’s excellent vocation resource.

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