January 7, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Future seminarian’s speech to peers offers unique public witness

The vocation apostolate, particularly the call to the priesthood, is very close to my heart.

Vocation promotion is part of my ­responsibility as a bishop. I am pleased that The Criterion is including a Religious Vocations Supplement this week. The supplement addresses all particular vocations in the Church except marriage, which will receive its own focus in February.

I want to begin with the vocation story of a seminarian from Evansville, who is enrolled at Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. The story is unusual and already known by some people so I am not revealing secrets.

I tell the story with the permission of Tyler Tenbarge. It was the subject of a speech he gave to 18,000 Future Farmers of America peers during a convention in Indianapolis. It was Tyler’s retirement address as he concluded his term as vice president of the FFA eastern region. It was a dramatic speech. I will try to do it justice in abbreviated form.

He began the speech by inviting the audience to listen to an experience he had in third grade. He and his classmates were invited to come to school dressed in the outfit of the career they wanted to undertake when they grew up.

Tyler chose to dress as a priest. Other classmates were dressed as doctors, nurses, farmers, astronauts, etc. When it was his turn to stand and tell his story, he noticed that classmates were giggling and poking fun at him. He sat down and was too embarrassed to tell his story.

I will abbreviate the speech here by saying that Tyler spent a lot of intervening years trying to convince people that he was not becoming a priest. He is a talented public speaker and presented his story convincingly. He ended the story by standing up and declaring that, despite everything, he is becoming a priest.

To his surprise, his declaration was greeted with a standing ovation by 18,000 young adult FFA peers that brought him to tears. He concluded his address urging his peers to make their life decisions by listening to their hearts and not the reactions of other peers or the world.

Tyler Tenbarge declared his vocational intent before 18,000 peers on Oct. 8, 2008. He entered the seminary in January 2009. He plans to become a priest, God willing.

I recount his story because I believe that it tells us something important about the dynamics of a vocational decision. It also tells us that 18,000 young adults applauded his decision to become a priest. He was stunned.

It also reminds us that there are ­extraordinary young men like Tyler, who have the courage to declare themselves before their peers. Of course, whether Tyler completes his preparation for the priesthood is up to God’s intention. He is willing to take that risk.

His admonition to his peers about the dynamics of decision-making, namely that it is important to listen to one’s inner voice, to what one’s heart has to say, and not just to peer pressure is on the mark.

I suspect that Tyler’s parents, sitting in the audience at that FFA convention, were proud of his courage as well as his competence as a public speaker. They support him in his decision and are pleased to visit him at Bishop Bruté seminary.

That is another important dynamic of discerning a vocation—parental support—which is not always there. However, I see evidence of supportive parents more and more. That will make a telling difference.

Tyler chose to make his decision public as a way to make an important point with his FFA peers. His dramatic story told publicly is unusual. The content of his conviction is not unusual. Talk to any of our seminarians and one finds that Tyler does not stand alone.

There are more and more young men entering the process of priestly formation at the college level. It is apparently a national phenomenon.

A noticeable characteristic of the guys in our Bishop Bruté College Seminary is that they are balanced and happy young men.

Will they all stay the course and become priests? No. But a good number will. And those who do not will have received a personal and spiritual formation that is invaluable.

I am featuring the vocation of college-age candidates. Our seminarians who are engaged in formation at the graduate level also exhibit a winning balance of personality, and are bright and happy candidates.

I am optimistic about our future. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading more and more young adults to consider the call to priesthood. They will find themselves in company with some great guys.

Please join me in praying for our young adults who are contemplating giving themselves to serve God and our Church with courage and good spirit. †

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