Sr Louise O’Rourke is a Sister of the Disciples of the Divine Master and lives in community in Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. The following is an address to the AGM of the Foxrock branch of St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society. Reproduced here with permission.
The Congregation to which I belong, the Disciples of the Divine Master was founded in 1924 by Blessed James Alberione, who also founded the Pauline Family, a Family which consists of five religious congregations including ourselves, four secular institutes and an aggregated institute. The Founder intended that as Disciples, our life of contemplative Eucharistic prayer would support the activities of the other Pauline congregations. In daily life, we were the maternal presence to generations of young boys who joined the minor seminary of the Society of St. Paul and diocesan seminaries in the early 20th century; hence how the vocation to support and care for priests flowered and developed. Today, this ministry to priests takes on different expressions according to the needs of the local Church throughout the world.
During Adoration we hold up to God the needs of humanity and of the Church, praying particularly for priests who are in difficulty and struggling with the different challenges of their life and ministry. We pray for priestly vocations, assisting and accompanying them in their formation and in the exercise of their ministry, through friendship, caring and practical support to priests, especially in times of suffering and crisis and also with our presence and prayer when they are elderly and infirm. For us, the priest is the ‘alter Christus’, another ‘Christ’, and we walk with them, just as our Mother Mary walked alongside Jesus in his earthly life. This support of the priesthood also extends to helping all the baptised understand the call of the priesthood of the people of God and how this compliments ministerial priesthood.
You can see how our mission overlaps with that of St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society which exists to help student clerics on their journey to priesthood and fosters vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It assists students for the priesthood both financially and by prayer as it promotes the vocation of the laity and fosters a greater understanding and love of the Mass. As Sisters who are encouraged to support priests and seminarians, ‘from the womb to the tomb’ and as SJYPS, where you do likewise, it is good for us to rediscover how we can walk together as Church, supporting young people and helping them discern the plan which God has for their lives and also to learn from them.
When Dominic asked me to speak, I asked him if there was a theme and he said: “Something positive!” We need to hear the Good News and see the hope that springs eternal within our Church and world. For me, one of these signs of hope is the emphasis and energy that Pope Francis and the Church is dedicating to understanding our young people and their relationship with Jesus, their faith, religious and living it out or not living it out in the world.
Last October 2018, Pope Francis convoked a Synod of Bishops with the theme “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Then on the 25th of March 2019, he promulgated a 74-page post-synodal apostolic exhortation, a reflection on the findings of the Synod entitled Christus Vivit, “Christ lives” or “Christ is Alive.” He addresses this exhortation primarily to young people but also to the whole People of God.
Many were disappointed that the Pope didn’t spend more time in the exhortation encouraging vocations specifically to the priesthood and the religious life. However the word ‘vocation’ does appear 45 times, more than often, vocation as the call to holiness, which is common to every Christian. In the very first paragraph the Pope writes: “With great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people. It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation.” (CV1). Later, he also dedicates a whole Chapter, chapter 9, to discernment.
I would like to take some of the paragraphs where Pope Francis talks about vocation and reflect briefly. Where our young people are, we have been, because for all of us, in the words of Christus Vivit, “Discovering one's vocation has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.” This is not just for youth, but for the whole People of God.
In the Chinese language, the same word is used for crisis that is used for opportunity. We continue to speak of a 'vocation crisis', but maybe we need to change our language to ‘vocation opportunity’. Pope Francis writes: “A vocation, while a gift, will undoubtedly also be demanding. God’s gifts are interactive; to enjoy them we have to be ready to take risks. Yet the demands they make are not an obligation imposed from without, but an incentive to let that gift grow and develop, and then become a gift for others. When the Lord awakens a vocation, he thinks not only of what you already are, but of what you will one day be, in his company and in that of others.” (CV 289).
He continues: “The word “vocation” can be understood in a broad sense as a calling from God, including the call to life, the call to friendship with him, the call to holiness, and so forth. This is helpful, since it situates our whole life in relation to the God who loves us. It makes us realize that nothing is the result of pure chance but that everything in our lives can become a way of responding to the Lord, who has a wonderful plan for us.”(CV 248).
Our young people are formed by different environments but as the Pope writes: “Young people need to have their freedom respected, yet they also need to be accompanied. The family should be the first place of accompaniment.”(CV 242). Elsewhere he says: “In discerning your vocation, do not dismiss the possibility of devoting yourself to God in the priesthood, the religious life or in other forms of consecration. Why not? You can be sure that, if you do recognize and follow a call from God, there you will find complete fulfilment.” (CV 276)
As followers of Jesus all of us are first called to ‘be’ and then ‘do’ but our being Christian, Christ-like must be echoed in our words and actions. Here the Pope writes: “Your own personal vocation does not consist only in the work you do, though that is an expression of it. Your vocation is something more: it is a path guiding your many efforts and actions towards service to others. So in discerning your vocation, it is important to determine if you see in yourself the abilities needed to perform that specific service to society.” (CV 255) Continuing this thought, he says: “Social engagement and direct contact with the poor remain fundamental ways of finding or deepening one’s faith and the discernment of one’s vocation.” (CV 170) . “Your vocation inspires you to bring out the best in yourself for the glory of God and the good of others. It is not simply a matter of doing things, but of doing them with meaning and direction (CV 270). “ In discerning your vocation, do not dismiss the possibility of devoting yourself to God in the priesthood, the religious life or in other forms of consecration. Why not? You can be sure that, if you do recognize and follow a call from God, there you will find complete fulfilment.” (CV 276)
To those promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, he encourages, saying: “If we are indeed convinced that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, we can “once more cast out the nets” in the Lord’s name, with complete confidence (CV 274). And again: “The Lord cannot fail in his promise to provide the Church with shepherds, for without them she would not be able to live and carry out her mission. If it is true that some priests do not give good witness, that does not mean that the Lord stops calling. On the contrary, he doubles the stakes, for he never ceases to care for his beloved Church (CV 275).
God's call to each person is individual, made-to-measure just for him or her, so discovering that call can be done only with calm, silence, prayer and the wise help of someone who truly knows how to listen and ask the right questions. A vocation is a gift that “will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life; it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life.”
Yet we know that it is not always easy to hear the voice of God. To this fact, Pope Francis writes: “Jesus is walking in our midst, as he did in Galilee. He walks through our streets, and he quietly stops and looks into our eyes. His call is attractive and intriguing. Yet today the stress and quick pace of a world constantly bombarding us with stimuli can leave no room for that interior silence in which we can perceive Jesus’ gaze and hear his call. In the meantime, many attractively packaged offers will come your way. They may seem appealing and exciting, although in time they will only leave you feeling empty, weary and alone. Don’t let this happen to you, because the maelstrom of this world can drive you to take a route without real meaning, without direction, without clear goals, and thus thwart many of your efforts. It is better to seek out that calm and quiet that enable you to reflect, pray, look more clearly at the world around you, and then, with Jesus, come to recognize the vocation that is yours in this world.” (CV 277).
The good news is that men are still responding to the call of God to priesthood. Every response is an ordinary person responding in an extraordinary way. Each call and response is unique. I would like to share a few examples:
On the 2nd of June 2019, Fr. Probo Vaccarini, a priest from the Diocese of Rimini, celebrated his 100th birthday! His celebration was concelebrated by many priests including his 4 sons who are also priests, one of whom is a Founder of a religious order. After Fr. Probo was widowed in his sixties, he became a diocesan priest.
Br. Michael Los, a Polish brother from the Congregation Sons of Divine Providence was granted a dispensation by Pope Francis allowing him to be ordained both a deacon and a priest in the same Mass on the 24th of May 2019. He was ordained by Bishop Marek Solarczyk of the Diocese of Warsaw-Praga on his hospital bed, having being diagnosed in previous weeks with terminal cancer. The day after his ordination, Fr Los celebrated his first Mass from his bed and peacefully died 10 days later.
On the 25th of May this year, in Italy, identical 26 year old twins, Giacomo and Davide Crespi were ordained for the Diocese of Treviso, Italy. Although it’s a path they walked together, they both emphasise that each one’s discernment was “personal, autonomous, and free.” Fr. Giacomo explains, “My brother David and I never confronted each other, asking, ‘What are you going to do?’ We simply shared the same path.” Closer to home, on the feast of Pentecost this year, in the Cisterican Monastery of Mount St. Joseph, Roscrea. Br. Malachy Thompson, OSCO, a native of Finglas, Dublin, also received ordination. Br. Malachy had a long working life and career before joining the Cistercians.
The exhortation of Pope Francis gives a powerful message for young people to hear; indeed for ‘the entire people of God’ to be reminded of: To be a disciple of Jesus means to ‘stake everything on the Lord and offer the world new testimonies of holiness. In these few examples of men ordained as priests, we see their commitment and willingness in responding to the call to holiness specifically as priests. In the coming weeks, there will be a few ordinations in different dioceses and religious orders, so we remember them in prayer and thank God for their response and pray it may cause other young and not so young people to reflect on the beauty of the call to priesthood and religious life.
The month of June is a month where many priests celebrate the anniversary of their ordination to priesthood. It’s an opportunity for us to thank them for their generous service, pray for their fidelity and their intentions. It’s an opportunity for us to remind them that they don’t journey alone and that we appreciate them and care for them. It’s an opportunity for us to appreciate the vocation which God has planted and brought to fruition in our own lives.
As Disciples of the Divine Master, we are always happy to support the St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society in your mission. Together let us continue to pray for all our seminarians and priests, and those discerning God’s plan for their lives.
Today as we celebrate the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, a memorial newly instituted last year by Pope Francis, we commend all our seminarians, priests and the People of God to the maternal protection of Mary our Mother.
Let us pray: O Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church to you we recommend ourselves and the entire Church. Your mother's heart is ever mindful of the many dangers and evils which threaten to overpower men and women in our time. At the same time your heart also takes notice of the many initiatives undertaken for good, the great yearning for values, and the progress achieved in bringing forth the abundant fruits of salvation.
You who were gathered in prayer with the Apostles in the Cenacle, awaiting the coming of the spirit at Pentecost, implore his renewed outpouring on all the faithful, so that we might more fully respond to our vocation and mission, as branches engrafted to the true vine, called to bear much fruit for the life of the world. Remember us your children, support our prayers to God. Preserve our faith, strengthen our hope, increase our charity. Remember us now and at the hour of our death. AMEN.