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Fostering a 'Culture of Vocations'

There is no doubt of the importance of the priesthood, consecrated religious life and sacramental marriage in the Church, but to foster and build these vocations, there must be a culture of vocations in each parish.
 
That was the message Rhonda Gruenewald, author of “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry,” brought to a daylong workshop on the topic at St. Anthony Church in White River Junction Nov. 4.
 
The aim of her book — and of her presentations — is to inspire laypersons beginning or reviving a vocation ministry or committee and provide tested activities to bring about a culture of vocations in their parish.
 
Each of the 40 participants in the workshop at St. Anthony’s received a copy of the book, which gives background and ideas for a vocations ministry like a family Holy Hour for vocations, Eucharistic adoration for vocations, an altar server lunch with priests, a fish fry for vocations, seminarian trading cards, recognition of married couples at Mass and panel discussions.
 
“We are trying to create an environment where young people can hear and answer God’s call” to priesthood, consecrated religious life or sacramental marriage, Gruenewald said in her presentation entitled “Forming a Vocation-Friendly Parish.”
 
With some 3,500 parishes in the United States without a resident pastor, the number of religious sisters diminishing in many orders and many young people not considering marriage in the Church an option, this is a “clarion call to do something,” Gruenewald emphasized.
 
Though there is an uptick in the number of seminarians in some dioceses and some religious orders are receiving more new members, “we need an entity in every parish to pray and promote vocations,” she said. “We know God is calling. We have a listening problem.”
 
Members of vocations ministries must “till the soil” by making parishioners and visitors aware of vocation options and comfortable discerning God’s call for them, she continued.
 
Some suggestions: place a poster of seminarians in a prominent place in the church, include prayers for an increase in vocations in the Prayers of the Faithful at each Mass and make vocation-related materials available in parish book racks.
 
And to reach young people, it is important to reach families. “We need to equip families to talk about vocations,” Gruenewald said. “We need to get to work in age-appropriate ways when families are bringing their children to the parish.”
 
In addition to the ideas presented in her book, she provides a plethora of information on vocations ministry at vocationsministry.com.
 
Rita Baglini of Our Lady of the Snows Church in Waitsfield attended the workshop. “We have to promote vocations,” she said. “This is our faith.”
 
Even in a church like hers where many worshippers are vacationers, a culture of vocations is important so visitors can be inspired to listen to God’s call.
 
Fostering this culture of vocations can be a challenge especially in aging parishes, in the least religious state and in communities where many young people leave to find opportunities, she said.
 
But all parishes — regardless of the number of young parishioners — can be involved in vocations ministry at least with a prayer component. “Do something!” Gruenewald said, saying youth are attracted to the truth, to authentic witness for Christ and to the example of it being lived boldly.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne thanked participants for their interest in vocations ministry and said he hoped the workshop would “bear [the] fruit” of vocations in their parishes.
 
Father Jon Schnobrich, full-time vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington, offered workshop participants an overview of vocation work in the Diocese including the Totus Tuus summer programs that cultivate a culture of vocations directly and indirectly, his visits to parishes throughout the state to preach about vocations, his visits to Catholic schools, Masses at eldercare homes at which he encourages residents to pray for vocations and summer seminarian assignments in parishes where they are “joyful witnesses” to young parishioners.
 
Children can be inspired to a vocation at any age, Gruenewald said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do to affect vocations in God’s time. We just have to keep tilling the soil.”
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Vietnamese seminary candidates

Three candidates for the seminary for the Diocese of Burlington from Vietnam arrived in Vermont in May and spent the summer studying English at Boston University –- where they will study for two more semesters -– as they prepare for seminary studies, ordination and service to the Catholic community of Vermont.
 
Giang Nu, 24, Thang Nguyen, 24, and Luan Tran, 31, answered what they consider to be God’s call to become missionary priests in Vermont.
 
“I was in the seminary in Vietnam and wanted to become a missionary. I prayed very much,” Nu said.
 
The three men made their way to Vermont with the help of a Boston Vietnamese Jesuit priest, Father Bao Nguyen, who works to raise funds for Vietnamese religious sisters, seminarians and priests to be trained in the United States.
 
Funds for their living expenses and education also come from the Vocations Office of the Diocese of Burlington and endowments.
 
There is a great need for evangelization, outreach and engagement of the culture to share the joy of the Gospel, said Father Jon Schnobrich, vocations director for the Diocese. “These men bring that witness of faith. They are following God’s will for their life.”
 
The presence of the men from Vietnam “helps us realize there is a universal dimension of the Church,” he continued. “We have a family of faith in all parts of the world.”
 
Nguyen was in the seminary in Vietnam when he felt a calling from God pushing him to go to the United States “to do His will,” he said.
 
Tran, also a seminarian in Vietnam, said his bishop asked him to consider becoming a missionary priest. “I’m very happy because I decided to come,” the former lawyer said. “We will do our best.”
 
The men agree that it was God who brought them here, and all are happy to be here. They stay with host families when not in school and said people have been friendly and welcoming.
 
Nu, a seminarian in Vietnam, said with a laugh that he wants to see snow in Vermont.
 
Though they miss family and friends and have found it challenging to learn English, they don’t worry. “Here we have help from the bishop [Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne], Father Jon and many people,” Tran said. “And God is helping us.”
 
When Jesus called His disciples, He said, “Come, follow me.” To that, Tran added that God called the three men from Vietnam to “follow me to Vermont.”
 
While studying at Boston University, they live at St. John Seminary in Brighton.
 
Considering his call to be a missionary priest, Tran described it as being born in one place and going to another to tell people about God. “The most important thing is you want to bring happiness to everyone. You want to make others happy. My father told me if you want to bring happiness to others, you have to be happy.”
 
To bring happiness to others, he said, priests celebrate the Mass, pray and listen, and that is what he intends to do.
 
For Nu, being a missionary priest also includes helping people – especially the poor – and being charitable.
 
“Being a priest is being a servant,” Nguyen said. “God is in the midst of everyone. I will serve God and everyone.”
 
Father Schnobrich said it is anticipated that the three men will enter the seminary in the fall of 2018 and be ordained in 2023 and incardinated for service in the Diocese of Burlington.
 
They have met members of the Vietnamese community in Vermont, now served by a priest from Montreal.
 
The addition of these men to the ranks of the diocesan priesthood is especially welcome at a time when the Diocese is facing a shortage of clergy and entering a synod to plan for the future.
 
Their arrival – with the assistance of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy during the immigration process – “is incredibly hopeful for us,” Father Schnobrich said. “It’s exciting. … We feel incredibly blessed.”
 
He said he is inspired by the men’s faith and courage and praised their host families for giving them the sense that this is now their home.
 
“Sometimes my mother and father call me and are sad” because they miss him, Nu said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. The Lord wants me to be here.’”
 
-- Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Vocation in the Church: Universal and Primary

The first time I had a thought about a vocation I was a child. My sisters and I would play Mass in our home. Always on the search for the perfectly rounded Lay's potato chip for the host, we enjoyed the idea of bringing something so sacred into something so familiar. 

National Vocation Awareness Week begins Nov. 5 and continues throughout the week as a way to teach and encourage our young people about the gift and variety of different vocations in the Church. This week we celebrate two aspects of Vocation in the Church: the Universal and the Primary. The universal call from God to each and every one of us is that we conform our lives to that of God’s Son, Jesus. Through our communion with Him we are sanctified, meaning we are made saints. The primary, or what is commonly referred to as "the big V vocation" in one’s life, is how we live that universal call to holiness. 

By Baptism we are consecrated to God, set apart for God’s purposes. As God’s life in us is strengthened by confirmation and nourished by the Eucharist and Reconciliation, we prayerfully begin to discern our state in life: ordained life, consecrated life or the life of the laity.

In the ordained state of life, a man may hear the Lord calling him to serve the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop. Each of these offices has particular graces and particular responsibilities for the building up of God’s holy people.

If someone is drawn to consecrated life, he or she may consider several different ways that God may be calling: as a consecrated virgin living in the world; to apostolic religious life (sister or friar); as a member of a secular institute or a contemplative institute; as a diocesan hermit; or as part of a monastic community as a monk or a nun.

In the lay state, a person discerns between married life and dedicated single life.
 
Although the focus of this week in our parishes and schools may highlight one vocation or another, the goal is to help raise awareness about the various possibilities within the Church for persons to explore how the Lord is asking them to make a gift of their lives and a gift of their love to others. 

Together, let us build a culture of vocations where our youth are inspired by the idea of the sacred coming close to them and in which the guiding principle for their lives becomes this prayer of their hearts, “God, help me to want what you want for my life.”

Check out a video featuring the priests of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington responding to the question, “What do you love most about being a priest?”
 
For more information and resources on National Vocation Awareness Week, visit: Vianney Vocations and the U.S. Conference o Catholic Bishops.
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Father Jon Schnobrich is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Burlington.

This article was first published in the Nov. 4-10, 2017, issue of
The Inland See bulletin.
 
  • Published in Nation

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.
 
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