Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Retreat Reflection on Priesthood and Religious Life

Just before Lent in 2006 I was on the Catholic Answers Forums when a small group of those with whom I had been chatting challenged me to offer some sort of an online Lenten retreat.

I thought I'd share one of the "talks" that I gave as part of that retreat.

Let us pray,

Loving Father, you call us to serve you in all that we do. You call many of your people to serve your church as priests or religious. We ask that you help your people respond with generosity to this call and that they receive the support and encouragement of their family and friends. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-8)
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the LORD to show his glory. They shall rebuild the ancient ruins, the former wastes they shall raise up And restore the ruined cities, desolate now for generations. Strangers shall stand ready to pasture your flocks, foreigners shall be your farmers and vinedressers. You yourselves shall be named priests of the LORD, ministers of our God you shall be called.

(http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/isaiah/isaiah61.htm)



My last talk I spoke a little bit about the vocation of marriage, the love that should be exhibited between a husband and wife and the support that single people should give to married couples. I would like to look at God’s call to priesthood and religious life. Just as I said that single people have a role to play in respect to married life, those who are married have a role to play in supporting those who are called to priesthood or religious life.

I’d like to start by telling you a little about myself. May dad is Catholic, and my mom was not a church goer for the most part. Dad had drifted away from the practice of his faith while in the Air Force, before he ever met my mom. While I was growing up, I usually only attended Mass when Grandma was visiting, or we were visiting her. It wasn’t until the family moved to Forsyth, Montana and I got involved with the Boy Scouts that I started attending Mass regularly. A family in the scout troop volunteered to pick us up and drive us to Mass on Saturday nights. I was a sophomore in high school when I received my first communion.

While growing up, there were several times I thought about being a priest. These times may have been an awareness of the calling God had in store for me. I remember once when I was probably in 5th or 6th grade thinking that it would be neat to be a priest, but realizing that I had to be going to church in order for that to be a reality. Later, while in high school, I had the thought about being a priest, but I realized at the time I did not like the idea of getting up and speaking in front of people. I was also concerned about what my classmates would think if they heard I was thinking about priesthood. I pretty much dismissed the idea of priesthood. Perhaps another sign was when I started to apply to college. I had applied to several schools and the first that I heard back from was Regis College in Denver. I told my mom that I had been accepted and that it was a Catholic college. Her first response was that she did not want me going to a Catholic school because she was afraid that I might decide to become a priest or something and that all priests were alcoholics. I ended up going to Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. March 9th , my first year at MSU my mother died.

That summer, the priest who had been the pastor where I went to high school was substituting for the pastor in Bozeman while he was on vacation. He invited myself and another high school classmate of mine to lunch and asked us if we had ever thought about being priests. I said I’d thought about it but gave the excuses about talking in front of people and concern about what my friends would say. He said to keep thinking about it.

I did keep thinking about it and eventually mentioned the idea to my Grandmother. She supported me in my quest. When I finally called my dad and told him I planned to go to the seminary he responded with, “Well, I guess you know what you are doing.” I did go off to finish my college at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon and then did my graduate seminary work at Mundelein Seminary, University of Saint Mary of the Lake outside of Chicago.

I tell you the story about my own call to help others reflect upon a call to priesthood or religious life. Our calls are not always like St. Paul’s where we see a flash of light and find ourselves knocked on our butts. God is calling many people to serve him using the little hints in our lives. For those who are still discerning your vocation, what is God calling you to be? Are you ready to be like Mary and say, “Let it be done unto me according to your word?” or are you more like me, looking for excuses to try to do something else? Sometimes we get past those excuses, but sometimes we just keep adding to them, trying to ignore God’s call. We all need to be open to what God wants us to do with our lives, not what we think might be convenient.

I also share my story to talk a little bit about the support that those being called need to receive. How often do we discourage vocations? Neither of my parents said anything real supportive as I was hearing God’s call. Mom had a stereotype of priesthood that was not true, but she did not have a lot of experience to show her otherwise. I’m not sure what Dad’s initial concern was. As I went off to the seminary he thought it was an ok thing, not that he seemed overly excited about it. He does like to show off his priest-son when he gets the chance.

When I gave my reflection on marriage I commented on the need for all of us to find ways to support married couples. We also need to find ways to support those who are being called to serve the Church as priests or religious. Parents need to encourage their children to think about being a priest, brother or sister. Parishes need to offer public prayer for vocations. People need to speak of the positive things that priests do in their lives so young men can get excited about a possible call to priesthood. We need to expose our kids to religious sisters and brothers so they can see the value of their lifestyles, whether they be apostolic or contemplative.

We realize that we are a Eucharistic people and that we need priests to offer the Eucharist. Let’s pray and work to support those called to serve the church, not only as priests, but those called to religious life as well. You might want to listen to this Catholic Answers Live program from Feb 13, 2006, to give you some additional insights.



Let us pray,

Holy God, we ask that you continue to call your people to serve you as priests, brothers and sisters. We ask that you give those you call the courage to follow you. Give their family and friends the generosity to support those you have called. Help us all to be open to the ways we can support these vocations. We ask this through Christ, our High Priest. Amen

I hope you found this retreat session helpful.
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