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Don't wait to be perfect to answer vocational call, pope says

Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said.
 
"Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
 
"It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!"
 
The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."
 
In his message, Pope Francis said God's call "is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experiences" because God "comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom."
 
Christians, he said, must learn to listen carefully and "view things with the eyes of faith" in order to listen to his voice which is "drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts."
 
"We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world," the pope said.
 
Listening is increasingly difficult in today's society, which is "over stimulated and bombarded by information" and "prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation" and discerning God's plan, he said.
 
Often stifled by "the temptations of ideology and negativity," he said, Christians need spiritual discernment which allows them to "discover the places, the means and situations through which" God's calls them.
 
"Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to 'read within' his or her life and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on His mission," Pope Francis said.
 
He also urged men and women to live out their calling once it is discovered and "become a witness of the Lord here and now," whether in marriage or priesthood or consecrated life.
 
"If (God) lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to His kingdom, then we should have no fear!" Pope Francis said.
 
"It is beautiful -- and a great grace," he said, "to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters."
 
  • Published in World

Pre-priesthood professions

Not every priest went from the family home to the seminary to the rectory. Many pursued other careers before answering God’s call to priesthood.
 
Whether they worked in business, in government jobs, in the medical field, as a contractor or a teacher, for them, it was a major change in lifestyle and in work.
 
For example, Father Dallas St. Peter, pastor of St. Mark Church in Burlington, worked as an actuary, but after two years, he realized he “didn’t want to work behind a desk at a computer” but wanted to work more directly with people.
 
But he didn’t enter the seminary just them. He got involved in education first as a teacher’s assistant in public schools then as a teacher at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski.
 
While he was teaching, he debated about going back to school for a teaching degree or entering the seminary. “I was ready to go back to school,” he said.
 
He chose the seminary because although he enjoyed teaching, he was drawn to the priesthood.
 
Like Father St. Peter, other priests of the Diocese discerned their call to priesthood while working. They include:
 
Father Karl Hahr
Father Karl Hahr worked for his father, the late Edward Hahr, at Hahr Construction as a contractor in New Jersey and in the St. Johnsbury area. They built houses and commercial buildings.
 
He began working in the business when he was 11 and learned about carpentry, putting in sidewalks and working with steel and concrete.
 
By the time he graduated from Lyndon Institute in 1986, he has worked is way up from laborer to skilled laborer and a few years later worked as a carpenter.
 
“I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none,” said Father Hahr, pastor of All Saints Church in Richford and several other area churches. He has experience in plumbing and electrical work and can operate a crane.
 
The construction work helped to foster his vocation to the priesthood. “The crew I mostly worked with were all good Catholics which made for an atmosphere conducive and supportive of living a good Christian life,” he said.
 
He has done some roofing (which he does not like to do), put in a floor at St. Anthony Church in Sheldon and poured a new cement sidewalk at All Saints with the help of a seminarian. He has done renovations at the rectory, including construction of a chapel; sometimes his brothers (who worked with their father too) or parishioners help him. When the parish office needed a large table, Father Hahr built one; when a friend in Boston needed a tabernacle for a convent, he built one and lined it with marble, adding a carving of the Sacred Heart on the front.
 
“There is something about seeing the result that is satisfying,” he said about working with wood.
 
Through his work as a contractor and carpenter, Father Hahr learned patience and perseverance.
 
Carpentry has always been a part of his life, but though it still is, the priesthood is his focus. “I can’t take on something that takes me away from my ministry,” he said of building projects.
 
Father Chris Micale
Before his ordination, Father Christopher Micale worked in occupational therapy and mental health counseling and as administrator of recruiting for Dartmouth College football. 
 
While at Dartmouth he had a reawakening to the Catholic faith and was asked to consider the possibility of a priestly vocation by his parish priest and another parishioner. “I think I was becoming increasingly unfulfilled over the years with my work experience, and when I was confronted with this possibility, I began to see that the work I had done up to that point was in preparation for serving the Church in a more formal way,” he said.
 
He had been on his own, working and living independently, so living in a house of formation with about 70 other men, praying and sharing meals together would be quite a change. “Then returning to a rigorous academic program after being out of school for years was also quite a challenge,” he said. “This was six-year commitment, a frightening thing for someone who was entering middle age at the time.”
 
He managed the change through prayer and a strong commitment that God had asked him to do this. 
 
Now administrator of St. Thomas Church in Underhill Center and St. Mary of the Assumption in Cambridge, Father Micale’s pre-seminary work required good interpersonal skills and the ability to analyze and integrate through observation of human behavior both physically and psychologically. “The positions I held over the years gave me an understanding of the emotional and physical needs of the human person, his or her development and function,” he said. “This was a perfect foundation for the spiritual work God would ask of me as a priest.”
 
Also, his office administration background was helpful in running a parish. “You start with God's vision and then through the organizational and interpersonal skills the priest can follow through on what Christ wants for His people at the local parish,” he said.  “Every parish has its own identity and its own history within the greater culture. It's a balance in which the priest must express the love of God to the parish and local community especially when difficult decisions must be made.”
 
 
Father Lance Harlow
Father Lance Harlow was a radiologic technologist (X-ray technologist) when his vocation to the priesthood emerged. “God was calling me from a profession to a vocation,” said the rector of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Co-Cathedral parishes in Burlington. “Generally speaking, a profession is a work one does as a means to fulfill a greater good or lifestyle,” he said, adding that his career as an X-ray technologist was a beautiful profession, and taking care of the sick is a noble end in itself, but my life was empty outside of work.”
 
A vocation, he continued, fulfills the fundamental need a person has for meaning and purpose and appeals irrevocably to the very core of one’s nature, talents and aspirations. “As a calling from God, a vocation enables one to be fulfilled in the will of God which leads one to a recognition of something far greater than happiness; it leads one to peace.”
 
The discernment process from his profession to his vocation was the most difficult
decision he has ever made because he enjoyed my colleagues and worked hard in his profession. “I had to abandon both in an act of faith guided only by the restless search to hear God’s voice.”
 
It took a year of vocational discernment with his pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Windsor.
 
He was the first priest ordained in Vermont by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell.
 
Apart from the changes that occur with maturation over time, Father Harlow said that the most significant change in his life since my professional days has been a marked sense of “gravitas,” feeing the weight of the world. “As an X-ray technologist, I saw a lot of sickness and suffering, but it was within the controlled environment of a radiology exam room or hospital room. As a priest, I confront human suffering on a daily basis, and people look to me to take it away. That is weight.”

--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Diocesan

Father Sanderson's ordination

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne ordained the Vermont Catholic community’s newest priest at a special Mass June 17 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

The newly ordained Father Joseph J. Sanderson has been assigned to serve as parochial vicar at Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington.
           
“The call to be a Christian is a call to a life of self-emptying sacrifice, which is deepened even further in the priestly ministry when through ordination one is configured even more deeply into the person of Christ as the great High Priest,” Bishop Coyne said during the ordination Mass.
 
Born in Middlebury in 1990, Father Sanderson is the eldest of the three children of Jennifer and John Sanderson. He grew up in Orwell and attended Fair Haven Union High School, Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence College and St. John's Seminary in Boston.
 
“I chose to be a priest for the Diocese of Burlington because Vermont has always been and will always be my home,” Father Sanderson said. “It will be a great honor, privilege and joy for me to serve the people of this great State of Vermont, to labor for souls in this little corner of our Lord's vineyard.”
 
Read more in an upcoming issue of The Inland See.
 
 

Q&A: celibacy, chastity, promises, vows

Three weeks of testimony from Australia's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have included many discussions about whether celibacy might be a factor in clergy sexual abuse. Catholic News Service asked Father Michael Fuller, executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to explain the difference between celibacy and chastisty, a promise and a vow.

1. What is celibacy? Do priests take a vow of celibacy?

Simply put, celibacy is a promise not to marry and is based on the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel where Jesus says, some "have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." In the Latin rite, candidates for the priesthood, when they become deacons, make a promise of celibacy along with other promises, such as the promise to hold true to the mystery of faith, to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer, and to conform their lives to the example of Christ. All of these promises are for the sake of the kingdom and for the service of the people of God. The promise of celibacy, of not to marry, is seen by the church as not only a gift of the person to God, but even more so, a special grace given to the priest that will allow him to faithfully serve the people.

2. Is there such a thing as mandatory celibacy as opposed to voluntary celibacy?

The promise of celibacy is one that a person freely resolves to follow. Some people argue that it is mandatory, but that word is not used by the church and conveys a certain negative attitude toward the gift of celibacy. It is true that celibacy, along with all the other promises a priest makes, are obligatory -- meaning that they are part of what it means to be a priest in the Latin rite. What always must be remembered, however, is that no one is forced into becoming a priest; it is a decision that is -- and must -- be made freely and without any coercion. It is also a decision that can only be made after years of discernment and study, and part of that study and discernment includes understanding what a life of celibacy entails. After such discernment, the promises of celibacy, prayer, imitation of Christ, and obedience are freely made at ordination.

3. Why do some people suggest that not being married might be a cause for child sexual abuse?

This is a difficult one, and must first be answered by the fact that studies conclude that there is no link between celibacy and child sexual abuse. For thousands of years, and in many different religious traditions, celibacy has been practiced and has not been a cause for child sexual abuse. In our times, people have a great difficulty in thinking anyone could live a life of celibacy (even with the countless number of people who do) and so they think that there must be a link between the two. Our culture today is oversexualized, which has led us to think that sexual relationships are something unreasonable or unnatural to forgo, and so when there is a crisis such as child sexual abuse, people believe there is a link, when of course, there is not one. Sadly, child sexual abuse is all too common, and involves abusers from all walks of life and it is something that should never happen. One good that has come out of this crisis is the growing awareness of this terrible abuse, which is leading to better means of prevention.

4. What is chastity and how does it differ from celibacy?

Chastity is a virtue that everyone is called to live by; it is the state of being chaste. Chaste comes from an old Latin word which means being pure from any unlawful sexual relationships. In other words, chastity is the virtue of living out your sexual life in the proper way, which is, if you are married, to be sexually intimate only with your spouse and, if you are unmarried, to refrain from sexual intimacy with anyone, for the proper place for sexual relationships is within a marriage. Therefore, chastity is a virtue that should be lived out by everyone, according to their state of life. The person who chooses celibacy promises to remain unmarried for the rest of his life. In this case, to practice the virtue of chastity means he will refrain from all sexual relationships.

5. Are only priests called to be chaste, or is that expected of everyone? Do people make vows of chastity?

Everyone is called to chastity, as defined by their state of life. Men and women who enter the religious life do make a vow of chastity. The vow of chastity is one of the three evangelical counsels that a person entering the religious life vows to follow. The three counsels are obedience, chastity and poverty. Each religious community -- such as Franciscans, or Dominicans, or Benedictines -- will have different ways of expressing these, but they are the common denominator of religious life. The vow of chastity that a religious professes is to live in a state of integrity regarding sexuality, which, in this case, means to forgo sexual relationships. In practice, it looks just the same as celibacy, but is not called celibacy because of the difference between a vow and a promise. 

6. What is the difference between a vow and a promise?

These two often get confused, and people often think that a vow is more serious than a promise. That is not true; they are both equally strong and serious. A vow is a personal act of devotion in which you promise to live a certain way in order to grow in charity as a disciple. A vow then, is directed toward your personal salvation. A promise is directed differently, in that the focus is on others. A promise, then, is also an act of devotion, but one that is directed to growing in charity by serving God in a specific way that involves a focus on his church, his people. In the sacraments we make promises, because they always involve the community of faith, whereas a vow is more personally focused.

A vow is a promise a person makes to God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "A vow is an act of devotion in which the Christian dedicates himself to God or promises him some good work" (CCC 2102). So, a man or a woman entering the religious life, out of devotion to God, promises to live a life of chastity, obedience and poverty. It is something where he or she says, I am doing this out of love for God and for the salvation of my soul. 

Priests and deacons, however, do not take vows, but they do make promises, which are equally binding. A promise is made for the sake of the kingdom and for the church. In the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and marriage, promises are made (and therefore, it is not technically correct to say marriage vows). In a promise, you are saying, "I will do this out of love for God and for the sake of others." In marriage, you promise to be true to your spouse, out of love for your spouse and being the "domestic church." In baptism, you promise to be live as a disciple of Christ, rejecting Satan and all his works, and to serve God faithfully in his holy, catholic church. In the promise of celibacy, you promise to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and at the service of God's people.
  • Published in World

Father Luke Austin's call to priesthood

“I was interested in some form of government service, but as God methodically drew me to my vocation, He was calling me to another form of service and another way to love,” said Father Luke Austin.
 
The pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-St. Louis Parish in Swanton and Highgate Center said it was a challenge ending an approximate 2-year relationship, but he did not miss the law when he decided to enter the seminary. “There was, at the same time, a growing feeling of freedom to make such a decision.”
 
Asked to share his vocation story with Vermont Catholic readers, Father Austin offered his thoughts not only on his own vocation but ways to encourage men toward the priestly life.
 
His parents, Pauline and the late Dr. David Austin Sr., were raised in Vermont and attended Catholic schools; they met in Burlington.
 
When Father Austin was in kindergarten, he would “play priest,” and his grandmother’s housekeeper sewed him some “vestments.”
 
“But the funny thing is that I never considered it as something I would be when I grew up,” he said.
 
He attended Christ the King School and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, graduating in 1994; he treasures his Catholic school experience. He graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1998, majoring in government and obtained a law degree from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., in 2002.
 
It wasn’t until the end of law school that he first considered the priesthood as a real possibility. “The [clergy sex abuse] scandals had broken in Boston, and I was thinking about all the good priests and nuns who had a cloud of suspicion because of all the uncertainty,” he said.
 
He spoke with his university chaplain, who then became the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Washington, and he encouraged the young man to stay in touch as he entered to workforce.
 
Before entering the seminary, Father Austin worked as a legislative correspondent for the Senate Judiciary Committee and had various summer clerkships in at prosecutor’s offices in the Washington area. He worked as an attorney on contract basis for the Department of the Interior.
 
The Washington vocation director encouraged him to become more involved in his parish, attend vocations events and see a spiritual director. “After peppering my spiritual director was all sorts of questions and running out of them, he said to me: ‘so what are you waiting for?’ At that point, I knew I had to speak to someone back in Vermont, just to make sure God wasn’t calling me there,” Father Austin continued. “But after speaking with a number of Vermont priests, I felt the sense of community and greater need in Vermont, and through that, my call to diocesan priesthood here. I am grateful God called me back home!”
 
He had no one role model, but talking to a number of priests played a role in his discernment to first enter seminary. He contends “the call” is best described as “living out God’s specific grace given to us at baptism, lived out in a certain time and place.”
 
After attending Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., he attended North American College in Rome and studied canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
 
Ordained in 2010, Father Austin has served churches in Manchester Center, Arlington, St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville and Danville.
 
Father Austin, who enjoys reading and skiing, is now judicial vicar for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
He advises men considering the priesthood to speak to their parish priest. “You need to talk to someone about it, because chances are, the questions you have are the same that your parish priest had,” he said.
 
He tries to encourage vocations to all callings, not just priesthood. “I ask my confirmation students if they have asked God what His plan is for their lives,” he said.
 
He also planned a Chalice Prayer Program in which each week a family takes a chalice home as a centerpiece for daily prayer for different vocations.
 
“As much as government service or a wife and children would be a beautiful thing, I know my family is the Church,” Father Austin said.
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Actor Mark Wahlberg praised priesthood in video

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Typically, the Facebook page for the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations in Rhode Island gets anywhere from three to 40 likes on its posts — most which celebrate seminarians, priests and their ministry.
 
But it took an actor and former member of a boy band to set its Facebook page on fire, not with a song, but with a video praising the priesthood, and one which had been viewed — as of Oct. 6 — 560,000 times and received more than 6,000 likes and upward of 8,000 shares.
 
Actor Mark Wahlberg, a native of Boston, where the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors had its annual conference Sept. 30–Oct.7, made the homemade video shown to those who attended and later posted on the Diocese of Providence vocations office Facebook page.
 
"We, the Catholic faithful, are counting on you to bring us good and holy priests," Wahlberg said in the video. "Enjoy my hometown this week and know that I will pray for you and for your success. Thank you for all that you do and God bless."
 
Some priests from the Boston area, who know Wahlberg, had brought up the idea of asking the actor to attend the conference once the city had been chosen as the location, said Rosemary Sullivan, executive director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. But as his schedule got tighter and tighter, he asked if he could do a video instead.
 
Wahlberg was promoting a film in which he stars, "Deepwater Horizon," about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it affected the workers. The film was released the day the conference began.
 
He wasn't given a script for the priesthood video, but spoke from his heart, Sullivan said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service from Boston Oct. 6. Wahlberg spoke about how priests have helped him during difficult moments in his life and also are there for the good times: when he got married, when his children were baptized, when members of his family died and were buried, when he needs God's forgiveness, when he receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ to replenish his faith.
 
In the video, Wahlberg said he wants his children and future generations to have "good priests in their lives, just like I had." And even though he got into trouble in his youth, "I always had a priest to stick by me," he said.
 
When the video was shown in the conference, the reaction was silence, but a good kind of silence, Sullivan said: "He was so deeply sincere and you could feel it when you're watching the video."
 
"My Catholic faith is the anchor that supports everything I do in life," said Wahlberg, adding that he would be praying for the success of the conference and of the vocation directors.
 
What's plain to see is that the actor "spoke as a son of Christ" in his plea to keep the priesthood alive and about a responsibility that doesn't belong to vocation directors alone, Sullivan said.
 
"We all bear that responsibility," she added.
 
And Wahlberg, as a Catholic, took that responsibility seriously in trying to see what he could do to help.
 
"This is an example where you use a gift God has given you," she said, adding that Wahlberg also was present at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 and emceed an event attended by the pope.
 
It's important to follow his example and, as Wahlberg did, let priests, those who are thinking about the priesthood and vocation directors know what they mean to Catholic communities, Sullivan said.
 
"They need to know how much we love them and support them," she said. "Mark Wahlberg is challenging them, saying 'We need you to help us.'"

[Wahlberg's video can be viewed on the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations Facebook page.]
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Celebrating Priesthood

As we celebrate the Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians this month as part of the diocese's year-long celebration of the Year of Mercy, I am reminded of my own priestly ordination that occurred 23 years ago on May 8, 1993. I was the first priest of this diocese to be ordained by His Excellency, Bishop Kenneth A. Angell. The ordination took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and I keep one special photo of the event in my living room. The photo captures the moment during the rite of ordination when the ordinand makes the promise of obedience to his bishop. It is one of two sacred promises. The other sacred promise is celibacy. During the rite of ordination, the bishop asks the ordinand: "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?" To which the ordinand responds: "I do."

In the photo, I am kneeling before Bishop Angell with my hands held in his. On that day I did promise respect and obedience to him–and to his successors; that is, Bishop Matano and Bishop Coyne. I remember the moment clearly. I also remember it every year when the entire presbyterate assembles with the bishop at the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week at which we renew our priestly promises.

That promise of obedience opens a door of special graces for the priest. As he physically places his hands into those of his bishop, he surrenders his priestly ministry to the bishop's discernment for the greater good of the diocese. While there is always place for discussion and collaboration with his bishop, ultimately the priest believes that through his promise of obedience, God will manifest his will through the bishop. That belief is not just an abstract theological notion; it is ratified through the lives of countless saints over the course of two thousand years. Not once has a priest-saint ever said, "Do your own thing" or "Your career comes first." But rather, every priest has sought grace through obedience–and it has always borne fruit in his ministry.

While most parishioners view their priest as belonging to "their parish," he really belongs to the entire diocese. (I am speaking here of diocesan priests. Priests belonging to a religious order fall into a broader category defined by the scope of their apostolate). A diocesan priest must live in that poverty of obedience by which he realizes that he belongs to no single parish, but rather that he belongs to all parishes. His pastorates are temporary depending upon the needs of the particular parish and those of the whole diocese. Jesus made that lifestyle clear in the Gospel in the following scene where, humanly speaking, He should have stayed in one town and made a very successful career for himself. But such was not God's will:

"Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, 'Everyone is looking for you.' He told them, 'Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come. So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee' (Mk 1:35-38).

The Holy Spirit opens and closes doors throughout the priest's life leading him to "nearby villages"–even when things seem to be going well for him in a particular parish. The Holy Spirit knows the souls who will benefit from the priest's new ministry, and the priest desiring nothing more than to do God's will, goes where he is sent empowered by the graces brought about by his promise of obedience.

And so, on the day of his ordination, the young priest kneeling before his bishop enters into a new reality of grace. So young and without any priestly experience, he makes those sacred promises certain of the correctness of the Church's wisdom. And then years later, seasoned by age and experience, he not only remembers those sacred promises, but he has an even greater certainty of their correctness, fruitfulness and protection. Those two words, "I do," freely given on the day of his ordination, allow him to teach, to preach and to heal, not for his own personal success or comfort, but for the common good of all of you who constitute the people of God in Vermont. When you see the young ordinands on June 18 kneeling before Bishop Coyne and placing their hands into his, promising obedience to him and to his successors, remember that those sacred promises will open the doors of special graces for them to have very fruitful priestly ministries.

Father Lance W. Harlow, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston and Our Lady of the Rosary in Richmond, is the diocesan chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith. (See official on page 3.)

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