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From the Office of Vocations

You’ve heard the term, made popular by Bl. Mother Teresa, “Come and See.” It’s used commonly now to refer to an immersion experience of discernment, whether it’s a short visit or an extended period of active discernment. It can be a great help if you’re doing everything you are supposed to, but seem “stuck” in your discernment.

peaceObviously, if you’re committed to a diligent discernment, you are living a moral life, making sure you are applying yourself to prayer and study of the Faith, being  active in some sort of apostolate, and meeting regularly with a competent spiritual director, if possible. For some, God makes His will known through these things alone. But sometimes they do not result in a clear answer, and you may be left with the same (or even more!) uncertainty about where God is calling you to go with your life. In this case, God may be prompting you to take another step and “jump into the water.”

Take Kevin, for example. A couple of years ago, he acknowledged that God seemed to be calling him to discern the priesthood. He became more active in his parish, began reading about the Faith, praying every day, and his life is generally focused on discerning his vocation very strongly. For a year, he’s been in contact with the vocation director. However, God hasn’t given him a clear indication of what to do next. His spiritual director encouraged him to apply for seminary, and then see what direction God gives him.

God doesn’t always give an obvious answer. He may want you to show Him you’re willing to trust by handing over your insecurities and delving into a more radical discernment. A “Come and See” in the form of active formation (e.g. a house of studies program, seminary, or postulancy) shows God that you’re really willing to take the next step, and are ready to openly listen to His prompting. Once you do that, it’s crucial to be prepared to be patient and let God show you what He wants to do with you next. If you’re faithfully living the “Come and See,” He will show you whether it is His will that you continue; and if it is not His will, He will show you the path that He wants you to take next.

It’s easy in this situation to assume that, since God isn’t clearly saying “continue on this path,” He’s indicating a change of direction. But an important principle of the “Come and See” is that God will give some clear direction on the next step to take.

What’s nice about this approach is that you don’t have to worry about discovering or making a decision regarding your vocation. God does the work, either directly in your heart (sometimes it will be painfully obvious that you don’t fit in the formation program), or by external circumstances (maybe your formation director says it’s just not a good fit). There is no need for fretting over “figuring it out.” You just have to be faithful and patient until He speaks clearly.


Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God and He will bless you greatly!

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give Fr. J.D. Jaffe, Vocations Director of the Diocese of Arlington, a call or send him an email.

This was originally featured in June of 2014 in the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Vocations’s E-Newsletter Discernment, a monthly subscription-based email of vocations insights. These posts will be a monthly feature on Encourage & Teach to help those interested in learning more about vocations, to shed light on what it’s like living a vocation in everyday life, and as reminder to pray: for our priests and religious and that all people may discern and live their vocations with joy.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

The now Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once summarized the book of Job with the pithy statement: “The questions of God are more satisfying than the answers of man.” …which is really just a riff on Chesterton’s summary of the same book: “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” Reflecting on that perplexing book, Chesterton observes that God does not mind being questioned, as Job questions Him. God just expects the same right to ask questions of us. He wants His turn at cross examination. We frequently look to God for answers, and He sometimes mercifully grants them. But He seems just as likely to pose a question — a source of frustration for those who demand nice, tidy solutions…and an invitation for those who want to ponder the questions with Him. Indeed, it is in the questions themselves that we find great spiritual nourishment.

Utrecht_Moreelse_HeracliteThe questions of God call forth from us, first of all, humility. Our wounded human nature always slouches towards that first sin, that first false promise: you will be like God. The heart of our problem is that we want to be like God…not by His grace, but on our own terms. All sin has this characteristic. It is called pride. In the last chapters of Job, the Lord asks him questions, all designed to humble Job before Him. They all have the same fundamental point: I am God, you are not. He not only knows all and can do all, but He is all. Without humble recognition of this fact, we completely misunderstand Him and our relationship with Him.

Put another way, we have the tendency to put God on trial — to put “God in the dock,” as C. S. Lewis phrases it — to demand that He prove Himself to us. Pope Benedict describes our trial of God: God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? God’s questions — especially in the book of Job — confound and shock us to the realization that He has no need to prove Himself…but that we have every need to humble ourselves before Him.

Second, and closely connected to humility, the questions of God cultivate reverence.  One who is humble recognizes what we are in relation to Him. One who is reverent bows down before Him. Job’s friends thought God could be explained and managed. They thought they had Him all figured out and came with human-sized explanations for their friend’s woes. We likewise seek to decrease the distance between us and God, to make Him manageable — to domesticate Him. So we say foolish things such as, “God is an important part of my life…” (as if He could be merely a part of anything) or “God is my copilot” (as if we keep Him on retainer). His questions preserve His transcendence. They provoke reverence because they confound us and ultimately elicit from us the answer: “I don’t know.”

Our Lord’s parables have the same purpose. Never a theological treatise or a direct answer, they always have something mysterious about them, something beyond our reach no matter how often we hear them. So also the Liturgy: vestments, incense, vessels, chant, veils, bells, and so on — they all serve to provoke reverence for the mystery, to remind us that we do not understand, that we are dealing with something, Someone, beyond us. Although God is near — “more intimate to me than I am to myself,” in Augustine’s words — He is still beyond our grasp and control.

Third, the questions of God remind us of the relationship. Yes, some of His questions are rhetorical. But all admit of some response because He is a personal God… sometimes more personal than we would like Him to be. The anonymous force of eastern religions is not personal. Allah is not personal, at least not in any way that would admit of a relationship or dialogue. But the Triune God — eternally three Persons — is personal, seeks a relationship, desires a dialogue. He asks questions to be answered, to become part of our conversation with Him.

Finally, the questions of God lead to reflection. Here is a fundamental principle: When God asks a question, He already knows the answer. He asks not because He needs the answer, but because we need to think about these things. Our fallen human nature always inclines us to complacency, to presuming things instead of reflecting and deepening our understanding and appreciation of them. His questions call us out of that complacency — they say, in effect: Stop and think…reflect on these things. He seeks to draw us out of ourselves, our self-referential thinking, and to apply our thoughts to Him, to His deeds, and to our relationship with Him.

The next seven posts here will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

By: Natalie Plumb

In my last post, I discussed decision-making, and the tendency of some Christians to “wait on God’s will” as a safety net — rather than making the hard decision between two positive choices, we fall back on waiting for some explicit sign from God.

falsehopeThis week, I wanted to discuss how, even when we do follow God’s will (I won’t go into details here and risk repeating last week’s post), we tend to start thinking in bargain form. We begin to treat God as if He were a human, expecting Him to “pay us back” with what we want in return. We might be tempted to think: “God, I did this for you. When are you going to pull through for me?”

Rather than writing a whole new piece on this subject, I figured I would just point you readers to “False hopes,” a stunning piece written by Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Mary Beth Bonacci. I was left meditating on my own life, and how I subconsciously face this challenge. Bonacci integrates everything — from C.S. Lewis’ wisdom, to her personal experience and that of others, all while answering the painful question: “But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?”

Read on…

“Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.” — C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

For years, I have been thinking of writing a book for single Catholic adults. I’m thinking of calling it “Lies People Tell.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was, of course, sad and struggling. But she said that her friends were trying to cheer her up by telling her, “I just know that God has really great things in store for you.”

I thought of the line above, from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters. The book, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is a fictional collection of instructional letters from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining to him the art of temptation. (Hence the somewhat diabolical-sounding advice.) In this passage, Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew that false hopes are deadly to the spiritual life.

People feed single Catholics this kind of spiritual junk food all the time. “God hasn’t forgotten you.” “God has somebody picked out for you, and He will reveal that person to you when the time is right.” And, my personal favorite, “If you date chastely, God will reward you with a spouse.”

It isn’t just singles. Everybody who has suffered in any way has heard some variation of this. “God will solve this.” “God will give you what you want.” “God will make it right.”

I was once doing a call-in radio show and got a call from “Roy from Boston.” Roy’s question was “So, what do you do when you’re getting into your late 30s, you’re losing your looks, you’ve been living by the rules, but God isn’t holding up His end of the bargain?”

I told Roy to speak for himself on the whole “losing your looks” thing.

I then told him that there is no “bargain” — that there is no Beatitude promising “blessed are the chaste, for they shall have a spouse by their 35th birthday.” God doesn’t work that way.

I think there is a real danger here — for singles, and for anybody else who believes that God is a God who somehow offers us guarantees in this life. We want to believe that’s who God is — the One who smooths the path for us, who grants us our hearts’ desires, who gives us whatever we want or expect or feel that we are owed.

But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

Heaven Over Harvard

By: Therese Bermpohl

I ran into some old friends at Mass last Monday. We convened outside Church to catch up and they introduced me to their 3-year-old son, Philip. After the small talk, we began discussing the importance of handing on the faith to children. I mentioned that I can’t believe how many parents start fretting over money and options for college just days after their babies are born without ever giving a second thought to their spiritual development. Philip’s mother, Christiane, quickly agreed, saying “Heaven over Harvard… that is my motto.”

Christiane is a highly educated woman. She knows well the benefits of a good education and still she recognizes that the most important role in life is to give her children the tools they need to get to heaven. It is a sad reality that so many parents place more emphasis on a secular education than on an education that promises a life of eternal happiness.

beach-164288_640Many parents even choose to limit the number of children they bring into the world for fear that they won’t be able to afford to send all their children to college. I knew a student at The Catholic University of America. He had eight siblings and his father was consistently needled by colleagues about how he would pay for college for all those kids. To answer his critics, the good father would call one of his children over to where the vibrant debate was occurring and ask: “If you had a choice of never having been born or never going to college which would you choose?” Needless to say, the kids opted for the chance at life.

The motto “heaven over Harvard” is not to suggest that our Heavenly Father is opposed to a university education. It speaks, however, of the proper priority of living the Christian life and a parent’s sacred duty to pass on knowledge of Jesus Christ on to his or her children.

As we head into the new academic year, be sure that, in addition to placing your children in good schools, you also enroll them in CCD (Sunday school) and take them to Mass on Sundays. It will speak volumes to your children about what is truly important in their lives.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Crosby, Stills and Nash were on to something with their 1970 hit, “Teach Your Children.” Education has been so important in the formation of society and cultures. U.S. Catholic education has a long tradition of effectively presenting and teaching the systematic truths of the faith, and yet, for the past 40 years, that education system has experienced a number of challenges in forming virtue and holiness. It is an unfortunate truth that many U.S. Catholics have no clue what we believe or understand, our theology of work.

For the public schools here in the fair Commonwealth of Virginia, school is back in session. The Catholic schools are already a week into the year. Summer is waning and the hustle and bustle of academics and sports have only just begun. I thought I might offer a total of seven thoughts for parents and students to consider as they ease back into the academic year.

Parents

  1. Teach your children that eternity is more important than this short time here on terra firma. The education of your son and daughter is vitally important to their future employment and development of proper character for an individual participating in society and the local business community. Neither academics nor science will get them into heavenacademic-152358_640 — a placement that will last slightly longer than their job on Wall Street. They need to be active members of the parish community and participating in the sacraments regularly (Mass at least once per week on Sundays and monthly confession).
  2. Teach your kids that the unity and community of the family is important to their success in life. Schedule your family meals so that everyone may sit and eat not eat and run. Meals are not just about eating. They are also about community where they may share and experience laughter, dreams, trials and triumphs. Mealtimes are meant to point us to and remind us of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Communion is not just with the Lord, but with the community that gathers at the altar and table.
  3. Teach your children that you love them for who they are, not what they accomplish. Accomplishments are great, but not necessary. They need to know that their worth is because of who they are, not what they do. Tell them that you are proud of them even when they do not meet their goals, and most especially your goals. Many times the journey is more important than the destination.
  4. Teach them to enjoy life and that rest is an important part of that life. If your kids are not getting home or going to bed until the wee hours of the morning, they are doing way too much. They need to learn how to relax and rest in order for their pyschosocial development to mature in a healthy manner.

Students

  1. Learn that you are more than your academics and achievements. Your parents, family and friends love you because of who you are, not what you do. Enjoy academics and sports, but remember that they do not determine your worth or salvation.
  2. Learn that religion is the greatest of all sciences. It is true that your academics will help you secure a good job and, one day, independence. Jesus, through His Church, offers you eternal joy, happiness and salvation. Religious education, youth group and theology classes will teach us the most important information: how to love and be loved; “Who am I?”; “Why and I here?” and “What is my purpose on this planet?”
  3. Learn that rest and relaxation is part of your education. You do not have to be moving all the time. In fact, it is unhealthy. You were built to sit back and relax in order for your mind to process and integrate all the experiences of the day. If you are always moving and doing something, your mind neither has the time nor the resources to keep you mentally sound. Did you know that creativity is directly linked to relaxation and reflection?

Hopefully these tips will assist in a fruitful academic year, not just in academics, but the school of prayer and holiness.

By: Sr. Clare Hunter

Come on, world! You can’t have it both ways! You cannot think it is okay to abort and euthanize (that would be you, Belgium and The Netherlands) children with Down syndrome, handicapped, disabled and dying children, and then be shocked and outraged when parents abandon or refuse to pay for or raise them. The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reports another “shocking” story of a surrogate mother raising a handicapped child because the “intended parents” (that is the official term, which I suppose is better than “the customers”), refused to take the disabled baby home. Of course, there are four, or five, eight or ten sides to the story, depending on parties involved with the sperm, eggs, uteruses, partners, spouses, surrogates, clinics, doctors, family members, and nations. Each version, in addition to being revolting, is inconsistent and confusing. The fact remains that we have two known cases of “intended parents” not taking a child that was born to a surrogate.  We also have four innocent children who will be forced to grow up separated from their beloved brother or sister.

26/365 - Hah!All of this is done, remember, in the name of “love” — whether an infertile party who want to love a child, a loving woman who wants to help an infertile couple have a child to love, or an impoverished mother who loves her biological children so much that she is willing to support them by carrying a child for others. In fact, the desire to abandon, or preferably to have aborted the disabled babies, was also to be done as an act of love. The “intended mother” of the baby in the U.K. reportedly said: “She’d be a…dribbling cabbage! Who would want to adopt her? No one would want to adopt a disabled child.” And most of us cringed watching Mr. Farnell, the father who left his disabled son in Thailand, explain: “They sent us the reports, but they didn’t do the checks early enough. If it would have been safe for that embryo to be terminated, we probably would have terminated it, because he has a handicap and this is a sad thing. And it would be difficult – not impossible, but difficult.”

We should in no way be shocked by these statements and responses. Once we have determined that a child is not a gift, but the right of adults who want or do not want them, we cannot expect to speak about them in any other way but as property or vegetation. Yes, the ability and desire to have a child is a privilege of being human. The inability to do so is very painful and a true suffering. We must support and pray for our loved ones who are not able to bear children. What we cannot do is ask them to buy into the lies and evils of modern medicine that have reduced human life to a commodity for profit and experimentation.

Clearly, we have ample proof that this Pandora’s Box of in vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, and the buying and selling of sperm, eggs and embryos has made The Age of a “Brave New World” the nightmare reality that was promised once we rejected the purpose and gift of human sexuality and fertility. And, as always, it will be the innocent who will suffer the most. It will be the children. Those who will never be born, disposed of because they were not chosen, or frozen indefinitely. The poor babies who will be eliminated because they were a girl, not a boy, or have a defect, or are part of triplets, which is just not what that parent really wants right now. Not to mention the siblings who will never know the twin that they clung to for months before they were aborted, taken, or abandoned.

How blessed the little Thai boy Gammy is, and little “Amy” in the U.K. whose surrogate mothers are willing to love and raise them. How can we begin to help the countless children who will not be discovered and saved?

By: Rev. Edward Horkan, Diocese of Arlington priest

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us…run the race that is before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1).

I recalled that line often when I prepared for and ran my first marathon two years ago as part of the Race for Seminarians for the Arlington Diocese. I had been running for 20 years, having initially taken up the sport mostly to keep company with a friend of mine and with the lawyers in the firm that I worked for. Over time, I have found that running, in addition to being good exercise that keeps us more fit, is very relaxing to the mind and even leads to more positive and creative thinking.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 MCM 10K.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon 10K.

It’s a constant temptation to dwell excessively upon the past, worry too much about the future, or be distracted by the superficial images of popular culture from the reality that God gives us — the real life through which we travel to the greater kingdom. Running requires a concentrated and sustained effort to focus on the present and real challenges on the path before us. This willingness to take on a demanding task, this disciplining of the body and concentration of the mind, makes us more open to the true joy that God offers. While certainly on a lesser plane than prayerful contemplation, this sacrifice and consistent application leads to a peace and exhilaration that reflects the uplifting of one’s heart and mind to the higher kingdom.

In 2011, I joined the Race for Seminarians by running the 10K that is connected to the Marine Corps Marathon to help our generous and enthusiastic seminarians, who sometimes come from modest circumstances, to avoid financial anxieties. After running this 10K, I resolved, with some encouragement from friends, to take on a greater challenge and run the full marathon, asking kind donors to sponsor me in this effort for the diocese and our seminarians. And once again this year, I am running the marathon for our current seminarians, and also to encourage young men to consider joining the noble brotherhood of priests. As with past years, I look forward to the common sacrifice and struggle of fellow runners in this cause, an effort that builds a sense of companionship, sharing with each other and the world the joy and adventure of our faith.

Find out more at the RFS Kickoff on Sept. 4 from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington. The evening will include a taco bar, tips from a trainer, and information on the Race for Seminarians. The deadline to RSVP to the Office of Vocations on Facebook or at vocations@arlingtondiocese.org is Sept. 1. You can sign up for the actual Race for Seminarians here.

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Rev. Edward Horkan is a parochial vicar at St. James Church in Falls Church. An avid runner, he has been participating in the Race for Seminarians since 2011, its inaugural year.

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