Every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter—Good Shepherd Sunday—we celebrate Vocations Awareness Sunday in the United States. Ordinarily I would write my article about Vocations on that Sunday, but this year the date snuck up on me, and I had already formulated my message for the Fourth and the Fifth Sundays of Easter, so I had to postpone my thoughts and comments on vocations until now. Since hopefully every Catholic is interested in learning more about and actually fostering priestly, diaconal, and religious vocations, I trust the following will be helpful no matter your age, your vocation, or whether you think God might be calling you personally to consider such a vocation.
Much of what we know about the vocational picture in the United States comes from an organization known as CARA—the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. For the last three years CARA has done annual surveys of all the men and women entering religious life across the United States. Every year around 500 men and women enter religious life. Of these roughly 500 men and women, about 20 percent are foreign-born. Generally they have been in the United States for at least 10 years or more. In this sense, they typically are well-adapted to the cultural landscape of the United States.
The ethnic makeup of these men and women is similar to that of the wider Catholic population. About two-thirds are white, non-Hispanic, about 11-12 percent are Asian, about 15 percent are Hispanic, about 3-4 percent are African-American. The five most common countries of birth among the foreign-born are Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, Columbia and Poland.
Fully one-quarter of diocesan priests currently serving in the United States are what are known as “international priests.” These are men who did their seminary training elsewhere and then came to the United States. In some cases they came before ordination, but in others they are on a sort of temporary assignment by the agreement of their home bishop as well as their host bishop. It can be a challenge for international priests to adjust to cultural norms in the United States, especially when it comes to family life. In many dioceses where quite a few international priests serve, they will have introductory programs to help familiarize these men with American culture and help them learn pastoral care practices here at home. At any rate, the number of these international priests is certainly helping to supply many parishes with a resident priest at least for the present.
The statistics for religious communities of women are roughly similar to those above: 57 percent are Caucasian/Anglo, 17 percent are Hispanic, 16 percent are Asian, 8 percent are African American/African, and 2 percent are Native American or other. Many women religious over the past years have also expanded the types of ministry they engage in, trying to match particular talents of an individual to the needs of the people they serve. Some communities still stress the importance of living in community, whereas others leave the residence up to where the ministry is found. Lastly, it seems that cloistered/contemplative communities are drawing more candidates than those who are engaged in active ministries outside the community. Over the recent years these latter communities have been in the forefront of emphasizing justice and peace initiatives and being examples of how to model and practice the social teachings of the Church.
Religious brothers have similar statistics as religious sisters. They serve in a variety of ministries, including education at the high school and university levels, hospital services, peace and justice initiatives, administrative positions both in parishes and diocesan chanceries, and working with the elderly. They continue to give great witness to religious life both by their witness of community living and by the work they do.
Deacons also now are an important part of the American Church. During this Easter season once again we are hearing the stories of the early Church through the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, and there in chapter 6 we listen to the change that took place while the church was growing by leaps and bounds, so much so that the Apostles felt they needed more help to address the growing needs of those who had converted to become followers of Jesus, the risen One. Even though originally they were to “serve at the table,” quickly they too began to preach and teach such as Stephen and Philip portrayed in Acts.
Deacons, above all else, are servants, and it is a role they have enthusiastically fulfilled since the time of the apostles. For hundreds of years, deacon was a transitional step on the way to becoming a priest, not a permanent, lifelong ordained ministry within the Church. While there had been an interest in restoring the permanent diaconate for centuries—even back to the Council of Trent in the 16th century—it did not gain steam until the years following World War II. After much discussion at the Second Vatican Council, it was restored in June 1967. By the end of 1970, there were around 100 permanent deacons in the United States; today there are more than 19,000.
If you would like to learn more about the Franciscans, I invite you to contact our Vocation Office here at St. Peter’s either by calling 312-853-2384 or by going to www.befranciscan.com. Our next Come and See Weekend here in Chicago is June 22-24, 2018. Either Br. Thom Smith or Fr. Paul Gallagher at the Vocation Office can fill you in on details. For information about the diocesan priesthood, call the Office for Vocations at 312-534-8298. For information about a vocation to become a sister or a brother, please call the Office for Religious at 312-534-8333, and to learn more about the Permanent Diaconate, please call their office at 708-366-8900. God may be calling you to one of these ways of serving in the Church in this special way. Don’t delay if you sense that the Holy Spirit may be urging you in that direction!
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, we continue our focus on the community of the resurrected Christ, the Easter community that is living and life-giving. In the First Reading, Luke tells the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a “God-fearer” (a Gentile proselyte to Judaism). Biblical scholars think that these were the first Gentile followers of Jesus. Peter’s speech highlights one of the four marks of the Church, namely, its universality or catholicity. As Peter expresses his new insight, that “God shows no partiality,” the Holy Spirit descends on Cornelius and his relatives even before they were baptized.
In the Second Reading, we hear again about the love relationship between God and the Christian community. Genuine and self-giving love is an attribute of God, which was revealed in the person of Jesus. But as with any good relationship, this divine love comes with an obligation: to love one another.
Using the imagery of slave and friend, today’s Gospel continues to explore the theme of divine love and love for one another. During his farewell discourse on the night he is arrested and put to death, Jesus explains to his disciples that they are no longer slaves. Rather, they are his friends. This is possible because he is about to complete the most perfect act of love on their behalf, and because they know him as one who abides with the Father and with them. The lesson is for us as well as the disciples: as a community of faith, we are Jesus’ friends if we love one another.
The First Reading is only the dramatic ending of a wonderful story. In your Bible read all of chapter 10 and reflect on how God brings about changes in our thinking. What prompts Peter to say “God shows no partiality” and how does he know that the Holy Spirit had come upon Cornelius and his household?
We hear in the Second Reading that God sent his Son that we might have life through him. That life is one lived in the love of God, which we are to spread through our everyday interactions. Gaudium et spes notes that there is to be no holding back on the love that we have received from God. The document from the Second Vatican Council states, “This love is not something reserved for important matters but must be exercised above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life” (#38).
Christ’s command to love one another that we hear in the Gospel is a directive to share what we have been given. In Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI explains that the love God gives us never stops with us. The love that comes from the Father through the Son is to be poured out to others. The pope states: “Charity is love received and given. Its source is the wellspring of the Father’s love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Love comes down from the Son. It is creative love, through which we have our being; it is redemptive love, through which we are recreated. Love is revealed and made present by Christ and ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5). As the objects of God’s love, men and women become subjects of charity, they are called to make themselves instruments of grace, so as to pour forth God’s charity and to weave networks of charity” (#5).
For Your Reflection: How does praise for God fit into your prayer life? How does loving one another bring us closer to God? Jesus describes our love as bringing him joy. How do you see loving God as giving you complete joy?
DEACON ORDINATIONS IN THE ARCHDIOCESE
This coming Saturday, May 12, deacon ordinations for those seminarians preparing for the priesthood will take place at St. Mary of the Lake Chapel in Mundelein, and for those who will be permanent deacons in the Archdiocese at Holy Name Cathedral. Obviously Saturday will be a most important day for our Archdiocese, and we want to congratulate all those who will be ordained. Both of these groups will take on new roles of service throughout our Archdiocese, and we wish them well as they begin this new way of serving God’s People.
In a special way we congratulate two of these new deacons who have been associated with St. Peter’s during the last years. Mr. David Pham has been a reader and acolyte often during the week at the 6:15 Mass, and Mr. Ron Stricker has been an acolyte and reader periodically at the 12:15 Mass on Tuesdays and also sometimes at weekend and feastday Masses as well. After their ordination on Saturday, they will primarily serve as deacons in their home parishes (David at St. Henry and Ron at St. Ita), but they also hope to continue to serve at St. Peter’s when they can. Please remember them in your prayers and thank them for their willingness to answer God’s call in this fashion.
SECOND COLLECTION NEXT WEEKEND
Next weekend we have the annual Mother’s Day Collection for Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities touches the lives of so many people around us. Their locations are strategically located where needed most with 153 programs and 154 locations across Cook and Lake counties. Whether it is a young mother struggling to make ends meet, an at-risk teen from a violent neighborhood looking for a safe place to do homework, a homeless person needing affordable housing, or a veteran receiving professional clothing and guidance as he/she searches for a well-paying job—Catholic Charities is there for them.
One such person is Kathleen. Kathleen was a caregiver and often came to Catholic Charities to pick up food, medical supplies or to schedule transportation for the people she cared for. Little did she know that she would soon need the help of Catholic Charities herself. In 2014, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and had to stop working. She reached out to Catholic Charities and qualified for services that allowed her to remain independent and in her own home. She now has a caregiver that helps keep her safe, assists with household chores and gets her to medical appointments. Kathleen also takes part in the Catholic Charities senior dining programs that allow her to get out of the house, socialize, and enjoy her life as much as possible.
To the people who donate to Catholic Charities she says, “Thank you, thank you, and God bless everyone involved. You make a difference in so many lives.”
Please come prepared next week to make a generous donation to this Mother’s Day Collection for Catholic Charities.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
Arthur is 90 years old. He has played golf every day since his retirement 25 years ago.
One day he arrives home looking downcast. “That’s it,” he tells his wife. “I’m giving up golf. My eyesight has gotten so bad that once I’ve hit the ball, I can’t see where it went.”
His wife sympathizes and makes him a cup of tea. As they sit down, she says, “Why don’t you take my brother with you and give it one more try?”
“That’s no good,” sighs Arthur. “Your brother is a hundred and three. He can’t help.”
“He may be a hundred and three,” says his wife, “but his eyesight is perfect.”
So the next day Arthur heads off to the golf course with his brother-in-law. He tees up, takes an almighty swing, and squints down the fairway. He turns to his brother-in-law and says, “Did you see the ball?”
Of course I did!” replies the brother-in-law. “I have perfect eyesight.”
“Where did it go?” asks Arthur.
“I don’t remember.”