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Becoming fully alive: vocational discernment

By Father Jon Schnobrich

What is vocational discernment? Vocation comes from the Latin word, “vocare,” which means, “to call.” God calls each one of us by name to become saints, thereby the first vocation in our lives is the universal call to holiness: “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
 
How do perfection and holiness relate to each other?
 
Let’s understand what our Lord means by “perfect” as that word today is so unfortunately misunderstood. Being perfect is not perfectionism. This call to be perfect comes as the climax in our Lord’s teaching on Christian love:
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:43-48).”
 
Jesus points to the Father’s love, which is without calculation or condition. The Father loves in truth with mercy. He loves sinners and saints alike. To freely conform one’s life, one’s inner attitudes and one’s way of thinking so as to love unconditionally and mercifully is the holiness of life to which our Lord calls all of His disciples without distinction.
 
However, to love like this means to love in the way that God reveals. God is love, which means that we as creatures look to our creator to define love. To love as God loves, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, is to will the good of the other for the other; to desire another to flourish in their being. The perfection to which Jesus calls us relates to holiness of life precisely in love. Love conforms itself to its object; thereby the more we love God who is love, the more we become like God who is love.
 
To put it simply: If God is LOVE, the more we love LOVE, the more we are able to love as LOVE loves.
 
The universal call to holiness is the call from Christ through His Church to become fully who God intended us to be. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Because Christ is holy, we, His body, are called to strive each day for the sanctification of our lives, the integration of all that we are into all that Christ is: “Each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus helping others grow in holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 5, 39).
 
Every disciple is called to perfect love, to love the way the Father loves.
 
Father Schnobrich is vocations director of the Diocese of Burlington.
 

Book review: 'Things My Father Taught Me about Love'

By Lois Rogers
 
In her small book, “Things My Father Taught Me about Love,” author, editor and educator Mary Regina Morrell offers a bouquet of insights on faith, spirituality and family life gleaned from her own garden.
 
Brushed with humor, tenderness and a sense of reverence for the way small and meaningful moments can illuminate life, Morrell’s 54-page book opens the door to her world and bids readers come inside and experience the spiritual gifts of her loving father.
 
Over the years, she has shared these lessons with readers of her award-winning, syndicated column, “Things My Father Taught Me,” which weaves together insights drawn from life as daughter, wife, mother of six and friend to many.
 
In what she calls “just a snippet of our lives, a whirlwind of blessing and loss, joy and heartbreak, grief, frustration and accomplishment,” Morrell gifts us with endearing glimpses into her own life and a reflection of our own.
 
She begins with a simple litany of these gifts which run the gamut from doing good and loving well to laughing often as we embrace the mystery of God.
 
Traveling with her in the all-too-brief pages, we see the possibilities that emerge as “life unfolds while we are not looking.”
 
The landscape Morrell creates winds through the garden nurtured by her father which, in turn, inspired her boundless ability to marvel at God’s creation.
 
It surfaces in a pond full of koi where, leaning over to view the aquatic parade, her own reflection in the water brings to mind the myth of Narcissus – the Greek youth in love with his own image. She notes presciently how this ancient and sometimes fatal character flaw seems sadly to be “flourishing in this day and age.”
 
It’s a vision that ranges from pathos – Morrell writes movingly of the deaths of her parents – to the joy experienced when the ordinary suddenly becomes  extraordinary; the immeasurable gratitude of a friend, for instance, when one of her six sons bestows upon him a huge container of cannoli cream rescued from the shore bakery where he worked as it closed for the winter.
Morrell’s fluid and approachable style is, in itself, a gift to readers. She’s able to weave a considerable body of knowledge into a book filled with basics that everyone can savor.
 
In demand as a speaker and catechetical consultant, she begins each entry with a quote, drawing mostly from Scripture, the saints or Catholic apologists including G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Hardy.
 
Opportunities to pause and enter into prayer and reflection with excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, provide welcome respite in these troubled times.
 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred the Messiness of Life,” captured the essence of this book in his endorsement: “If you want to find God, know love and truly understand these are the same, read this beautiful book. But be prepared to have your heart opened up, to laugh and to cry, to take many deep breaths of awe and wonder and to shout out to the Heavens and to the people in your life, ‘Thank You! Hallelujah!’ What a perfect dose of grace this book is for people of all backgrounds.”
 
“Things My Father Taught Me,” with cover designed by Clara Baumann, is available on Amazon as an e-book.
 
Lois M. Rogers is a long-time journalist and creator of “Keeping the Feast,” an award winning blog on food, faith and family.
 
Mary Morrell is a life-long writer who has served as associate director of religious education in the Diocese of Metuchen; assistant editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; managing editor of The Monitor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, and is author of Angels in High Top Sneakers, Loyola Press. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Don't give up trying to love God better

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet. … Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”
 
~ Rebecca Harding Davis

 
Passing the ice cream store recently I noticed something unusual – a number of Great Danes standing outside the entrance as if they were waiting in line for a treat. I chuckled at the image of the dogs striding up and resting their big heads on the counter while their owners ordered them a large vanilla cone.
 
Then I recognized the name of a Great Dane rescue organization on the banner hanging from a table nearby and realized it was an adoption event.
 
I haven’t seen a Great Dane in a long time, probably not since my son and daughter-in-law brought one home from a similar organization to their little apartment, where they nursed and nurtured this abandoned, disturbingly skinny Snuffleupagus of Great Danes back to health. He shared apartment space with his counterpart, a feisty little Schnauzer, and two ferrets.
 
Years later my son and his wife would welcome another Great Dane just hours from her being euthanized, to nourish and nurture her, as well, until she was ready to be put up for adoption.
 
No longer in an apartment, this new pony-sized pup had more room to roam, but she was so weak and emaciated from a lack of care, she had trouble walking and was grateful for the generous couch where she could stretch out her body and be showered with attention and affection, plied with high quality food and, eventually, learn to play.
 
Looking at a photo of her gaunt body, I imagined the dogs in Scripture who scavenge under the table for scraps, dropped by the children who were fed first, and best. Fortunately, these two Great Danes no longer had to scavenge for scraps. They thrived under the care of my children, who eventually had children of their own, and who understand that real love provides more than leftovers.
 
It is a lesson suited not only to how we love our pets, our spouses, our children or our friends, but, most importantly, our God.
 
Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He did not say love the Lord in bits in pieces, a little here, a little there, when the mood strikes or when we can find room in our hearts or our lives.
 
Jesus calls us to understand, and the saints remind us, that loving God requires complete abandonment to God’s will -- an acceptance of the joy and struggles, but always with gratitude.
 
That can be a real challenge.
 
St. Francis de Sales pointed out that “many people say to our Lord, ‘I give myself wholly to thee without any reserve,’ but very few actually practice this self-abandonment.”
 
Many of us, perhaps more often than we’d like, fall into that category of people who truly want to serve God, but mostly in an advisory capacity. Still, St. Francis encourages us to not give up trying to love God better. He writes, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so you learn to love God and man by loving. Begin as a mere apprentice and the very power of love will lead you on to become a master of the art.”

--By Mary Morrell
 
 

Mary's mantle

Superman has his red power cape. Elijah wore a cape to manifest his divine authority. Most famously, the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed wearing a cape-like garment known as a mantle, often blue and sometimes adorned with stars, to highlight her extraordinary role in history.
 
In the Church’s oldest Marian prayer we say, “Beneath your mantle we take refuge, O Mother of God.”
 
Medieval artists often depicted Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, with her arms outstretched to reveal a crowd of tiny suppliants huddled in the folds of her mantle. All kinds of people found a place at Mary’s feet – from princes and pious nuns to slaves and peasants.
 
In The Virgin of the Navigators, a Spanish work, Our Lady’s mantle is full enough to envelope a whole armada of ships!
 
Through these paintings, whether they were seeking refuge from pirates or the
plague, medieval women and men expressed their faith in Mary’s motherly protection and powerful intercession.
 
Our Lady’s mantle had a special significance in the New World too. As Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, she assured him, “Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. … Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? … Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
 
Mary explained to Juan Diego that a sanctuary should be built on the hill of Tepeyac so that she could demonstrate her merciful concern for God’s people: “I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection,” she told him. “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
 
The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, was also known for her mantle, a black hooded cape that billowed in the Breton winds and under which she fingered her rosary beads as she traveled on foot seeking alms for the elderly poor to whom she had given a home. Perhaps finding inspiration in the traditional images of Our Lady of Mercy, several artists have portrayed Jeanne Jugan gathering the elderly under her mantle and holding them tightly to her breast.
 
I find solace imagining those I love and care for sheltered in the folds of Mary’s mantle or nestled close to the heart of St. Jeanne Jugan. But I also sense a challenge, and I believe that is why God has inspired me to contemplate these images, which manifest the powerful yet gentle and merciful love of God himself.
 
I believe that God is calling the Church today, and each of us, to open our arms, reach out and draw all those on the peripheries of society into our circle of love. “We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us … stooped down in a gesture of consolation,” our Holy Father once said to consecrated women and men.
 
These words of Pope Francis can motivate all of us. This is how we will be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to the field hospital of today’s world.
 
St. Jeanne Jugan’s feast day is celebrated on Aug. 30, and during these last weeks of summer we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and queenship, as well as her birthday. On these special days let’s ask Our Lady and St. Jeanne Jugan to teach us how to extend a mantle of compassion over wounded souls, creating – and becoming ourselves – sanctuaries of that powerful yet gentle love which animates the heart of Christ.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 
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