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Newsletter of Mater Dei Seminary
March, 2006

Other articles in this newsletter:
   Moral Theology: Mass for an Excommunicated Person
   Moral Theology: Confession of Theft

Dear friends and benefactors,

The holy season of Lent and also the month of March, dedicated to St. Joseph, both remind us of the great need to pray for priestly and religious vocations. As we meditate on the Passion of Our Lord, we reflect on the great price He paid for our redemption. How great is the need for more priests and religious to labor for the salvation of souls. And it is not without special reason that the Church invokes the intercession of St. Joseph for those who are called to the priesthood and religious life inasmuch as St. Joseph's primary vocation was to watch over and to protect the Virgin of virgins and the eternal High Priest.

In these times of crisis in the Church and in society, when the harvest is indeed great and the laborers are few, I would like to review the meaning of a vocation. What is a vocation?

The word is derived from the Latin word vocare, to call, and so, a vocation is a calling. In general, everyone has a vocation, a calling, for Almighty God gives everyone particular talents and abilities in order for them to provide for the different needs of the Mystical Body of Christ. For many, their calling is to the marriage state: to be good husbands and wives, to be good fathers and mothers, raising children in a God-fearing manner. However, the word vocation is more commonly used when we speak of a person chosen by God to be a religious or a priest. In the New Testament, we find many references to the call of souls by God to His service. Among them, in the Gospel of St. Matthew we read of the young man who came to Jesus and asked Him what he must do to have life everlasting. Jesus replied:

“‘Keep the commandments’ . . . The young man saith to Him, ‘All these have I kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me?’ Jesus saith to him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow Me.’” (Matt. 19:16-22)

In another place of this same Gospel, St. Peter asked Our Divine Lord what reward would he and the other Apostles receive for their leaving all behind to follow Him, and Jesus answered:

“Amen I say to thee that . . . everyone who hath left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold in this life and in the next, life eternal” (Matt. 19:28-29).

Why does Our Lord make this great promise to those who follow Him as a priest or a religious? The reason for this is that they are dedicated exclusively to His service. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul explained the great advantages of the priestly and religious vocation:

“He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:32-34)

In his encyclical Sacra Virginitas, Pope Pius XII reiterated this truth expounded by St. Paul:

“It is easy to see, therefore, why persons who desire to consecrate themselves to God’s service embrace the state of virginity as a liberation, in order to be more entirely of God’s disposition and devoted to the good of their neighbor. How, for example, could a missionary such as the wonderful St. Francis Xavier; a father of the poor, such as the merciful St. Vincent de Paul; a zealous educator of youth, like St. John Bosco; a tireless ‘mother of emigrants,’ like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, have accomplished such gigantic and painful labors, if each had to look after the corporal and spiritual needs of a wife or husband and children?”

Chastity and celibacy obviously involve a great sacrifice on the part of the priest and the religious, and it was for this reason Jesus Christ said:

“All men take not this word [virginity or celibacy], but they to whom it is given ... he who can take it, let him take it” (Matt. 19:11-12).

Our Holy Mother the Church in Her wisdom and prudence does not allow one to be ordained to the priesthood or to take final vows as a religious until they have been sufficiently tested in their vocations. Just because someone may desire to be a religious or a priest does not mean that they have a true vocation. A true vocation is known when the individual joins the convent or the seminary and lives the life of a religious or a priest. During that time, it becomes apparent to both the superiors and the aspirants if the candidate is indeed called. That is why it is so important for our laity to realize that when someone leaves the convent or the seminary in the early years, they should not be labeled or looked down upon as having rejected their vocation.

It is for this very reason, to try one's vocation, to put them to the test, that a religious or a seminarian goes through various steps or grades before final profession or before ordination to the priesthood. For religious congregations, Canon Law regulates a six month postulancy, followed by a one-year (in some congregations, two-year) novitiate. During this time, the young religious is exposed to the religious life. If they desire to continue in the convent and if the superiors see that they possess the necessary qualities (both spiritual and natural) to be good religious, they take vows for one year, then for three years, and at the end of their triennial vows, they make their final profession. In reality a religious vocation is actually tested for five and a half years before one can take final vows.

The vocation to the holy priesthood is tested in a similar manner. A seminarian spends two years in academic and spiritual formation in the seminary before he can become a cleric. During his next two years, he advances slowly through the minor orders of Porter, Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte, which bestow upon him the fundamental responsibilities associated with the priesthood. Throughout his first four years, he is free to leave the seminary if he thinks it is not his vocation. Only after these four years does he make a final commitment to the life of celibacy by ordination to the Subdiaconate.

How does one know whether or not they have been called to the priesthood or to the religious state? Young people sometimes worry about their vocation; they wonder how they may know if they are being called. Each person must work out the problem for himself.

One great mistake made by young people is to think that if God is calling them to His service, He will manifest it to them in some extraordinary way. They must not expect an angel to tell them. This is certainly not the usual manner that vocations are given. The call from God may be an interior voice within the soul, it may be a certain spiritual attraction for the religious life or priesthood, or it may be a very faint whisper that one occasionally hears from God — “Come, follow Me.”

The most important disposition our young people must have is the simple desire to do the will of God. Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary prayed at the Annunciation, “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum,” “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” If our young people have this attitude of conformity to the will of God, they will find the vocation to which God is calling them in life. It is also very important that they receive counsel from their spiritual director or confessor who spiritually knows them very well and can give solid advice.

The primary grounds for the fostering of vocations is the Catholic home, the place where the parents raise their children with a love for God and for their precious Catholic Faith. The members of the family frequent the sacraments, and a spirit of humility, obedience, love for one another, and discipline prevails. Vocations are fostered at a very young age when parents teach their children, by word and by example, a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice.

In his encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, Pope Pius XI taught:

“But the first and most natural place where the flowers of the sanctuary should almost spontaneously grow and bloom remains almost always the truly and deeply Christian family. Most of the saintly bishops and priests whose ’praise the Church declares’ (Ecclus. 44:15) owe the beginning of their vocation and their holiness to the example and teaching of a father strong in the faith and manly virtues, of a pure, devoted mother, a family in which the love of God and neighbor, joined with simplicity of life, has reigned supreme.”

Catholic parents should remember that no greater blessing can come to their family than to have one of the members called to the religious life or to the holy priesthood. In his encyclical Sacra Virginitas, Pope Pius XII exhorted parents to reflect on the great privilege it is for them to have children called by God:

“Let parents consider what a great honor it is to see their son elevated to the priesthood or their daughter consecrate her virginity to her Divine Spouse. In regard to consecrated virgins, the Bishop of Milan (St. Charles Borromeo) writes: ‘You have heard, parents, that a virgin is a gift of God, the oblation of parents, the priesthood of chastity. The virgin is a mother’s victim, by whose daily sacrifice divine anger is appeased.’“

Furthermore, in the writings of the great Doctor of the Church St. Alphonsus de Liguori, we find that after the gift of the true Faith, the vocation to serve God is the greatest gift that God can give to a soul. The saintly doctor declared that a vocation is a singular proof of God’s special love for that soul.

In our own times, when there is such a great need for priests and religious to carry on the mission of the Church, we must work for an increase in vocations. But how can this be done? The answer is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“And Jesus was going about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel . . . But seeing the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then, He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is abundant, but the laborers are few. PRAY THEREFORE TO THE LORD OF THE HARVEST TO SEND LABORERS INTO HIS HARVEST.’“ (Matt. 9:35-38)

This year there will be four young men entering the religious life as postulants here at Mater Dei Seminary and new seminarians beginning their studies for the priesthood this fall. With all the attractions and allurements of the world to keep young people from answering God’s call, we are grateful for the new vocations who put first the kingdom of God. Please pray for their perseverance, for the devil will not cease to try to thwart their holy intentions.

Thank you for your prayers and support! May you have a grace-filled Lenten Season!

With my prayers and blessing,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Other articles in this newsletter:
   Moral Theology: Mass for an Excommunicated Person
   Moral Theology: Confession of Theft

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