Category Archives: Vocations

The Laity’s Response to the Clergy Sex Scandals

After one sex scandal after another involving clergy has broken out, it has been proposed that since the hierarchy cannot be trusted to weed out corruption from their own ranks, the task of saving the Catholic Church must fall on the laity.

There have been exhortations to the laity to demand accountability – and even resignations – from their bishops, to divert their contributions to the Church from their bishops to more trustworthy channels, and to speak out against misdeeds committed by clergymen.  There have even been calls to include laypersons in committees that will investigate erring priests and bishops.

At the outset, I must clarify that I have nothing against these proposals, lest I be misunderstood because of the inherent limitations of online discourse and the intense justified outrage that the recent scandals have provoked.  However, a lot has been written about the said proposals already, and it is important to discuss other options for the laity helping the Church recover from the clergy sex scandals.

While the laity can indeed play an important role in saving the Church, this idea can be a temptation to hubris if misunderstood, which would in turn result in sterility or worse.  While the proposals mentioned in the first paragraph of this article are good, they can only do so much.

Since the problem of clergy sex scandals is inherently spiritual, the solution to it is spiritual. The clergy sex scandals are, essentially, the failure of the clergy to live consistently with their vocations.

Thus, to respond to these scandals, the laity should examine themselves if they are living unity of life, that is, whether their words, actions, and choices are consistent with their own vocations as lay Christians.  Like, choices of entertainment, for example.

The point is not that the laity’s own failures take erring clergymen off the hook.  Rather, like good soldiers of Christ, the laity should, as good battle strategy, reinforce the Church’s ranks where there are breaches.

Or rather, the laity – like all Christians – must, as Christ said, be the salt of the earth and preserve the world and the Church from corruption.  To do this, they must themselves stay salty and never become insipid.

Furthermore, any reaction of the laity to the clergy sex scandals, to be meaningful and effective, must be realistic. It must take into account the limitations of the laity, as well as the laity’s specific vocation.

While there is room for more participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church, the extent to which the laity can exercise government functions is limited. The laity can never replace the hierarchy in fulfilling the functions of the ministerial priesthood.  Nevertheless, there are things that the laity can do which capitalize on their specific strengths and opportunities.

The clergy sex scandals are merely consequences – disastrous, to be sure – of the world’s inability to understand, appreciate, and practice chastity.  A big part of solving the problem is to preach chastity through word and example.  As St. Josemaria Escriva put it, “There is need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.  And that crusade is a matter for you.” (The Way, 121).

It is true that the clergy are primarily responsible for propagating the Church’s teachings on human sexuality from the pulpit. But there are areas where the laity can do it more effectively.

For example, most, if not all, who work in the arts, in the mass media, in fashion, in advertising, and other similar fields, are laity. By raising their professional standards and challenging the dubious mantra that “sex sells”, they can create a moral environment conducive to the practice of virtue for everyone, including priests.

Some of the laity have more opportunities than others to wage the “crusade of manliness and purity” that St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of.  But all of them can wage this crusade.  By the way they speak, act, work, deal with others, and entertain themselves, they can raise the spiritual temperature around them wherever they are.  They can exert a positive influence on those who come in touch with them, and “undo the savage work of those who think that man is a beast.”

To emphasize, this is not to say that more direct actions and reactions to address the clergy sex scandals are unnecessary. Indeed, tough measures must be taken, the truth must be told, justice must be served.

But all Catholics should remember that the clergy sex scandals are also, like other crises in the Church, calls to be holy.  The Church is no stranger to difficult times, and difficult times for the Church have, in the past, raised great saints. There is no reason the current crisis cannot raise great saints, including laity living and working in the middle of the world, sanctifying temporal realities by doing so.

___

Image: François Brunery, An Eminent Gathering /PD-US

Joachim

Guest post by Br. Gregory Liu, OP.

Just a few days ago, I heard about the death of a brother, a Dominican priest, Fr. Joachim Li, OP who on June 27th, died at the young age of 32. While enjoying his day off at the seaside in Rome, he lost his life successfully rescuing and saving two swimmers from drowning. Fr. Joachim’s heroic death reminded me of the story of his patron saint, St. Joachim Royo, OP, a Dominican missionary martyr in China. As Fr. Joachim gave up his life to save the two swimmers, St. Joachim gave up his life to save the souls of many.

St. Joachim Royo, OP was born around 1691 in Spain. In 1708, he joined the Dominican Order in Valencia. Filled with the zeal to preach the Gospel to the end of the world, he arrived in Manila in 1713. There he finished his studies and was ordained as a priest. St. Joachim arrived in China in the spring of 1715. In the missionary territories of southeastern China, he not only baptized many, but he formed the newly baptized converts into Dominican tertiaries and lay catechists. During the persecution of the early Qing Dynasty, he went into hiding in the wilderness and caves. Only in the cover of the night, was he able to administer sacraments for the faithful. While in prison, he continued his penitential practices, even going as far as asking the prison guards to whiplash him! He finally gave the ultimate witness of faith in Fujian, China in 1748. St. Joachim’s heroic life is just one story out of those of the 108 martyrs in China (33 of which were missionaries), whom we commemorate on July 9.

Even now, there are countless missionaries making all kinds of sacrifices, even risking their lives, so that people may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you help? First of all, you can pray for them. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in 1896, to Fr. Adolphe Roulland, MEP, who was about to be sent to Sichuan, China,

“Distance can never separate our souls, even death will only make our union closer. If I go to Heaven soon, I shall ask Jesus’ permission to visit you in Sichuan, and we shall continue our apostolate together. Meanwhile I shall always be united to you by prayer…”

If you hear the Lord’s call to be a missionary yourself and go to Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Brother Gregory Liu, OP serves with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society, which prepares and sends missionaries to spread the Good News throughout Asia, in the footsteps of the great Jesuit.

Image: 120 Martyrs of China

My Vocation Story: Father Jason Smith, LC

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary of Christ priest today. As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.
When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go. That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers.

As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called True Devotion to Mary. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short. The book changed my life. It explained how St. Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It inspired me to truly seek God and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a remarkable resonance I will never forget: If there is one thing I should do, it’s that. It was the defining moment of my life and it came entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where. To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then 25 years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by His grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

___

Originally posted by Catholic Convert. Reprinted with permission of Fr. Jason Smith LC.

Sell Everything

I began my discernment journey 11 years ago with these two words that kept coming up in prayer, but I wasn’t sure what it really meant.

Months later, I attended a Vocation Discernment Retreat, hoping for God to give me an affirmation that I wasn’t called to the priesthood, so that I could get a confirmation on marrying the girl of my dreams then. But God instead revealed a path that immediately gripped my heart with excitement and joy, even amidst the pain of knowing I would have to leave the one I love with all my heart. I then realized: God was asking me to sell my dreams of marriage, for a higher calling to the priesthood.

Many years later while in my 6th year of seminary formation, I went through a vocation crisis. I was experiencing desolation in prayer, unworthiness in sin, and even an attraction towards someone. I thought God changed His mind, and I was close to calling it quits. That’s when I learnt that just as love is more than a feeling, but a choice, so too is my vocation dependent not just on my feelings, but on a choice to remain faithful regardless of how I was feeling. At this stage, I was asked to sell my need for spiritual consolations.

Recently, after having completed my seminary formation and waiting for my ordination, I went through another round of crisis, feeling frustrated and disappointed with things that seemed to obstruct what I wanted to do in my eventual priesthood. It wasn’t till someone challenged me if I had fully given up my life to Christ that I realize I had placed so much emphasis on my priesthood as the pearl of great price, that I hadn’t really fully given my life to Him who ought to be my pearl of great price. This time, God was asking me to sell my attachment to the vocation of priesthood in order to more fully give my life to Him and really do whatever He tells me. And when I did, all desolation was removed, and I felt immense peace once again.

For now I’ve learnt, that seeking one’s vocation is not about the WHAT, but about WHO am I giving my life entirely to, so that I do whatever He tells me to, even if it means SELLING EVERYTHING.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

My Alabaster Jar

“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. ‘Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wager and the money given to the poor.’ They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” (Mk 14:3-9)

The gift of the woman at Bethany was not small. She came to Jesus with repentance and sincerity of heart; with her broken jar she anointed Him with the best that she had, holding nothing back. She gave to Christ from her heart.

Such sincere gift left her vulnerable in the eyes of others. They were irritated and criticized her gift. Why wasn’t she following convention? Why wasn’t she displaying kindness in the popular way?

Perhaps this woman knew what their reaction would be beforehand. Her actions were somewhat radical… but at the same time, they weren’t. Would one who truly loves hold anything back from the beloved? Nothing is wasted on Christ.

Amid the scoffing of the bystanders, Christ read the woman’s heart. “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me…She has done what she could.” These words must have been a wealth of consolation for the woman. She had the guts to run to Christ and now He was hiding her in His bosom, acknowledging that her actions were beautiful and pleasing.

The woman cared little for human respect and public opinion. She gave glory to God in the best way she knew how, and let the others think what they wanted.

The bystanders thought that she should love God through charity to the poor. But the woman went far beyond mere external actions- she gave God her heart. This woman gave all that was most precious to her to Christ, without bothering about people’s opinions and envious thoughts.

What is in my alabaster jar? What is my gift of priceless worth that I am holding back from God for fear of the opinions of others? Dear Lord, help me to break my alabaster jar and give my heart to You.

My outraged Jesus, / by the weakness You suffered in going to Calvary, / give me enough strength to overcome all human respect / and all my evil passions which have led me to despise Your friendship. / I love You, Jesus my Love, with all my heart; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. (The Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguori) 

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

The Vocation of Motherhood

One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.

In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?

Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.

I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.

We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.

And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.

God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.

Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love.  The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.

That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.

Dear Future Husband

Dear Future Husband,

I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions.  Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.

I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.

Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.

I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.

I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.

Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.

I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.

My Chrism Mass Experience

After having been curious for so many years about how it is to experience a Chrism Mass, I finally got a chance to attend one.

From all that I heard about it, I expected that it would be an awesome experience:  the spine-tingling sight of a multitude of priests simultaneously consecrating the bread and wine, the blessing of the oils to be used for the sacraments, the renewal of priestly vows. I imagined I would be in ecstasy witnessing these rituals rich in history and symbolism.

I knew the church would be full so I went there early in hopes of getting a good seat. It turned out I did not arrive early enough. There was already a crowd spilling out into the grounds of the church, and the Monobloc chairs the parish put out were not enough. Grudgingly, I found a place for myself on the steps leading to the church, out in the heat during this hottest time of year in tropical Philippines. “Outside the Church, there is no air condition,” I quipped to myself as I saw those lucky enough to be seated inside.

But from where I was, I could hear the choir singing and it was beautiful. The entrance hymn was longer than usual. I imagined a long entrance procession with all the priests in the diocese. When the door to the church opened slightly, I smelled a whiff of the incense.

I could also hear the liturgy, and it was beautiful too. The first reading was the passage from Isaiah which begins with “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.”  The responsorial psalm was Psalm 88, which speaks of God finding David and anointing him with oil. The second reading was the passage from the book of Revelation which says that Christ “loves us and has washed away our sins with blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father…”  The Gospel was the passage from Luke about Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth reading aloud the passage from Isaiah.

I heard the homily of the bishop, where he spoke about fidelity to the priestly vocation. I also heard the renewal of commitment to priestly service, the special preface for the Chrism Mass, and the Roman Canon.

As I listened to the liturgy, I thought of all the priests in the world. I thought of all the priests who have accompanied me in my spiritual life:  the priest who baptized me, the bishop who confirmed me, all the priests who gave me communion, all the priests who have absolved me in confession, my past spiritual directors and my present one, the priests who have preached the retreats and recollections I have attended, the priests who led the pilgrimages I have joined…I thought of our parish priest; priests in far-flung provinces and mission territories; priests who serve as chaplains in schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions. I thought of all the saintly priests. I thought of priests who are being persecuted for their faith and their vocation.

I also thought of all the weak priests. I remembered the priests depicted in Grahame Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo and realized that there are real life counterparts to these priests who would have to render an account to God for themselves and for the souls they were entrusted with.

I also realized that I could offer up all the inconveniences I was experiencing there and then for all the priests all over the world.

The church grounds became festive after the Mass, as the priests exited the church and crowds greeted them with flowers, streamers, tarps, party poppers, specially composed cheers, drums, whistles, party horns, and vuvuzelas. Some groups gathered in the restaurants close to the church to treat their parish priests for breakfast.

 

 

Seeing the outpouring of love and support for the priests moved me. At the same time, I also felt bad thinking that some priests have no one to support them.

Some criticize the special treatment given to priests, especially in Philippine society. I acknowledge that it can indeed lead to temptations and abuses. I acknowledge, too, that priests are not impeccable. But considering how much we owe these priests and the weight of the burden entrusted to them, I think we laypeople should ask ourselves if we are helping them enough.

We should ask ourselves if we can perhaps share more of our resources to help our priests in their mission. More importantly, we must offer sacrifices and pray for priests more. We should pray for holy priests that they may remain holy. We should pray for weak priests that they may be strengthened in their weaknesses.

Finally we should thank God for giving us the priesthood, and thank our priests for being shepherds who give their lives for their flocks.

To all priests who may be reading this, I know being a priest is not easy, and I know that I, for one, can do more to support you in your vocations. But I want you to know that I appreciate what you do for souls. Let me tell you this Holy Thursday, from the bottom of my heart: thank you for your perseverance in the priesthood!

Learning to Listen to the Divine Whisper

It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!

In deep waters.

A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college.  As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.

Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.

At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.

Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.

Let’s Hear It For The Church!

While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)

That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.

I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.

The Inescapable Poorness

I remember I was walking down the hall one Sunday afternoon, after a very hectic lunch. On the third floor of the Mullen Home for the Elderly in Denver, Colorado, naptime had commenced for most of the residents. The sisters were most likely at lunch and recreation; a time that was, for them, short and very deserved after a usually busy morning. The nurses were keeping up with their charts at their stations, and the CNAs were making rounds, attending to each resident who had called them.

It was quiet, except for a weak voice calling for help in one of the rooms at the further end of the hall. This didn’t cause for any alarm, however, as the third floor housed those most advanced in age and with mental disabilities. Dementia, paranoia and severe disability present in various residents created a different atmosphere, demanding extra care and virtue from the able-bodied caretakers assigned to the floor.

I sought out the voice and found a lovely little lady (we’ll call her Marisa), whom I had often assisted at mealtimes, in her wheelchair, facing the window overlooking the city. Upon asking how I could help her, she told me her legs hurt due to the muscle spasms she often had. Marisa was also looking for her sister, Katie, who had told her she would stop by after work. Except Katie had been dead for twenty years. Marisa was ninety-four now, with advanced dementia. Due to recurrent confusion and frustration, it was difficult to get along with her unless you could figure out what she needed. Her sons would visit her once or twice a week, but on afternoons like these, she was often left alone.

I made conversation with her for a little while, thinking of excuses for why Katie wasn’t showing up.

“She’s probably running late, Marisa. Why don’t you give her a few hours and see if she’ll call?”

Marisa agreed, commenting on how her sister never knew how to be on time. With her frustration still lingering, I tried to distract her by asking about her day. Then we prayed a rosary together. I held her hand for a little while, gave her a compliment on her freshly painted red nails, and then stood up to leave. I would have stayed for longer, but activity time was about to start. The sisters told me we weren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I wished she could be my grandma.

As I was about to reach the elevator, I heard her calling for help again. It broke my heart because I knew I if I went back in, she would ask again who I was and why Katie wasn’t there. This soul was still in her vicious cycle of loneliness, pain, and confusion. But at least she wasn’t alone for the hour I was with her.

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. In our world of privilege, luxury, opportunity, and comfort, it is easy to forget what it can be like to be in need. But if we think we can escape being poor, our Creator grants us the gift of old age. Each one of us will be robbed of our abilities, independence and in some cases, our mind. Our senses will deteriorate and simple tasks like eating will become a struggle. It is a time that demands patience, humility and a never ending source of love. This applies not only for the elder but also for the caretaker.

One woman knew the extent of this so well. St. Jeanne Jugan of France founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1839, after taking in a homeless elderly woman. Today, nearly every country and state in the U.S. has a home specifically for the elderly, especially the poorest of them. A small community of sisters resides in each home, along with the nurses, CNAs, cooks, laundresses, and countless others who come in each day to care for the residents. By the vow of hospitality, the sisters are called to carry on the mission of their foundress to serve the elderly poor in their last years and at their deathbed. As a result, a sense of familial love is created in each home. Within the interactions of everyone in the home, countless virtues reside within each person. The elderly are tended to physically, mentally, and spiritually, because no one should face the end of their life in loneliness, fear, or abandonment.

So I encourage you, if you are seeking to serve, find the elderly poor around you. It could be your family members or neighbor. If you find you have the desire to work at a home of the Little Sisters of the Poor or if you are a young woman discerning a vocation in the religious life, find the nearest home in your state and contact them. There are multiple volunteer and job opportunities that they offer. You can be single, married, consecrated and of any age. No matter who you are, you won’t regret it, because you may be just the one to offer companionship, love, and care to an elder who needs it most.

For more information, you can visit http://littlesistersofthepoor.org

Telos: For This I Was Made

kingfisherI once read an article where the author questioned the social convention of introducing people by their name and occupation. She pointed out that it can be a limiting way of getting to know a person, because you immediately make assumptions about them based on their job. Instead of delineating a friend by their employment, she suggested, we ought to tell others about their best characteristics, or amazing things they have done outside work.

Yes, one is so much more than what one does—but one’s job does make up an important part of one’s identity. That is how some surnames came about—Smith, Taylor, Brisbane even (“break-bone”, probably a surgeon, or a barber who performed surgery). What you spend most of your time doing and thinking about will form your habits and your character. Your job is also part of how you contribute to society, the body politic—engineers, lawyers, road-sweepers, garbage collectors, teachers, etc., are the various organs and limbs of human communities. Each part is specialized and essential to the functioning of the whole.

In Tony Hendra’s book Father Joe, the eponymous Benedictine monk ponders the effects of the satirist’s work on his soul. Hendra confesses: “I’ve trained myself in paths of thought—’ruts’ might be a better word—that reflexively denigrate certain people. People I don’t agree with or have contempt for or whose motives I suspect. I must admit I haven’t considered for years what effect that might have on my own moral state.”[1]

What we do changes who we are, and what we believe; it forms our perception of the world. Those who work in family law tend to be cynical about marriage, because they see the fallout from the worst cases. Prostitutes tend to have a negative view of men, experiencing firsthand how they give in to their animal impulses and treat the human being in front of them as an object for their own pleasure. Soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from the violence and death they witness and partake in.

Portrait photographers look for the beauty in people, even the lowliest or forgotten. Musicians discipline themselves in order to produce exquisite sounds that bestir the most hardened soul, moving people to tears, expressing the deepest longings of the human heart. Sportsmen too discipline themselves, testing the limits of the human body and willpower. Teachers become experts not only in their subjects but also in drawing out their students’ natural abilities, challenging them to learn and grow as a community that will someday reform the limbs and organs of human society.

A friend asked me if I had a goal in life. I responded that I hoped to get the Catholic media job for which I had applied. He said, “That’s short term, but what about long term?” I realized that to him, as to so many in society today, a job is just a job, interchangeable, disposable, not something to dedicate your life to.

Be that as it may, even if we no longer live in a society where one works for the same company for decades, but move from job to job, we can still offer our work up as prayer, in the Benedictine tradition: Ora et labora. Then, our whole lives, our very being, will be a gift of love, a hymn to God, fulfilling our ultimate telos and giving purpose to everything we do.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

 I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the father through the features of men’s faces.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ

 

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

– William Wordsworth

This article was published in the October 2016 issue of the Melbourne Catholic magazine.


[1]   Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, p. 192. Hamish Hamilton (London, 2004).
Image: Joy-Sorrow