January 12, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Call to holiness is more than a career choice

God willing, 2007 will be the 43rd year of my priesthood, the 20th as a bishop and the 15th as an archbishop.

In many ways, it seems like an unlikely outcome for a kid from a small rural community in southern Indiana.

In faith, we can believe that God gets us where he wants us. It is only by his grace that any of us can live our call to holiness and make a difference in our world.

No one is born a priest or a religious. Yet God’s grace does such things and, often enough, in unlikely circumstances.

A lot has changed in our world since I entered the seminary many years ago. The cultural environment is dramatically different.

Years ago, seeking a lucrative career was not the first priority for most of us. Not that wanting to live a successful life wasn’t on our minds; it was. But I didn’t have the impression that our parents were as pressured to direct us toward financial success.

True, once in awhile one would hear that parents wanted their children “to have it better” than they did. For the most part, like my Mom and Dad, parents were ready to support sons and daughters who felt called by God to serve as priests or religious sisters or brothers.

In the environment of today, often that is not the case. Families are smaller, and the desire to have grandchildren can trump having a priest or religious in the family.

Yet, an amazing number of our youth are searching for a way to make a difference in life, perhaps as consecrated religious and priests. They need support, but may not find it from their parents or from many of their peers.

Some of our youth who inquire about a possible religious vocation want to do so in a confidential manner because they don’t want their folks to know. Some are embarrassed for peers to know of their thoughts about holiness and vocational discernment.

A lot of our youth who sense that they are called to holiness in the Church—whether as lay persons or priests, sisters or brothers—found their inspiration from Pope John Paul II. And they continue to admire his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

These days, as in earlier times, many young people are inspired by a priest or nun or brother. I find it admirable that these youth and young adults, if given the opportunity, are comfortable praying alone or with others.

Given the opportunity, many love to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and they are willing to spend time in quiet adoration. I suspect that some may be more comfortable in prayer than their parents might be.

Our seminarians and those who are postulants and novices in religious communities pursue their vocational discernment at great personal cost and sacrifice. Some forgo successful career starts. Some sell their houses and give up the relative security they had begun to enjoy. Only God’s grace can make that possible—and moral support from parents, friends and peers.

The experience of our Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary provides that kind of environment for young college fellows. It gives them the opportunity to experience some human and spiritual formation while they live with like-minded peers in a college environment. Whether or not they continue on in a theological seminary or become priests, they gain an enviable personal, academic and spiritual development that serves them for a lifetime.

The challenge to find vocations to priesthood and consecrated life among our youth and young adults is large. First of all, societal mobility makes it difficult to find them. Secondly, because the needed contact with priests and sisters is not as easy to find because of declining numbers, we have to be more creative in providing such opportunities.

Helping youth and young adults to walk against the mainstream of secular, materialistic and individualistic values of contemporary society requires a multi-faceted effort on the part of all of us Catholics: parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches as well as priests and religious.

I thank God daily for the gift of my parents, family, friends and mentors along the way to priesthood. They demonstrated faith in God and God’s grace in a simple, no-nonsense way. I had the blessing of being formed, nurtured, encouraged, challenged and supervised.

Surely that is no less possible or needed by youth and young adults today. We need to keep in mind that we share a call to holiness that is more than a career choice. By God’s grace, it is the road to happiness and peace.

I plan to sponsor an opportunity for young men to join me in prayer and reflection about the call to priesthood on the Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday. Details will follow. †

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