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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

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

Responding to domestic violence

Abuse and violence have no place in marriage. Period.
 
That was the message of a presenter at the “Responding to Domestic Violence” workshop, Feb. 22, sponsored by the Diocese of Burlington and Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
 
“There is no way you can justify abuse and violence in a Catholic marriage,” emphasized Dr. Sharon O’Brien, director of Catholics For Family Peace at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “We are called to honor ourselves and protect our children.”
 
In “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral response to domestic violence against women, the United States bishops condemned the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form. “A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love,” they wrote.
 
O’Brien emphasized the hope, help and healing the Church offers to victims of domestic violence.
 
That was illustrated by “Nicole,” a survivor of domestic violence who told the gathering of about 50 people, including priests and deacons, at Holy Family parish center in Essex Junction that she “never would have made it through” without the strength she found in her faith and the compassion of a priest.
 
Pregnant, unmarried, underemployed, physically and emotionally abused, “scared beyond anybody’s ability to understand” and often locked in a room, she ran when she had the opportunity.
 
When the priest saw her crying at the back of the church one day, he spoke with her and suggested she contact Vermont Catholic Charities for help. “If he had not done that, I would still be in an abusive relationship and my child would be abused,” she said.
 
At Catholic Charities, she learned of services and resources available to her.
 
During her presentation, O’Brien explained that domestic violence is behavior that is used to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It can include emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, financial and spiritual abuse as well as stalking.
 
She encouraged her listeners to “recognize, respond and refer” when they encounter abuse, but she stressed the importance of the abused person having a plan for what she/he will do later, before leaving. She suggested faith communities pray for both the abused and abusers, support local resource providers and showcase local resources and programs (by, for example, posting helpful information in rest rooms).
 
O’Brien noted that both men and women are abused. Signs of abuse include name calling, insults, constant criticism, humiliation; forced isolation from family and friends; monitoring of how time is spent; control of finances and refusal to share money; threats of deportation or of reporting to a welfare agency; death threats; destruction of property, such as household furnishings; and forced sex.
 
“The Church is crystal clear: There is no place for abuse and violence in marriage,” O’Brien reiterated.
 
Tom Mott, director of counseling services for Vermont Catholic Charities, addressed the gathering on “Catholic Charities Counseling Services for Victims and Perpetrators of Domestic Violence.”
 
Information about Vermont Catholic Charities, or call (Burlington) 877-250-4099 or (Rutland) 800-851-8379.

 
  • Published in Diocesan

Annual Marriage Mass

Forty-four couples, celebrating 1,836 years of marriage, gathered Feb. 5 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington for a special Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
Sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter in Vermont and the Diocese of Burlington’s Office of Marriage and Family Life, the Mass uplifted the Sacrament of Marriage.
 
“Marital love makes present to the world God Himself since God is love,” Bishop Coyne said in his homily.
 
Punctuated with humorous anecdotes of marriage and family life, the homily emphasized qualities of marriage like faithfulness, forgiveness, patience and the creation of families.
 
“Marriage is certainly a way in which light breaks into the world,” the bishop said. “Marriage is not a silo that stands separate from the rest of life and the rest of culture and the rest of creation. It stands in the midst of all of creation and is that salt that gives a particular flavor of God to the world. It is intended to illuminate and strengthen the rest of creation.”
 
Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington, commented after the Mass, "The joy of the family is the joy of the Church as Pope Francis reminds us. I always look forward to this annual event as it is a witness to the joy-filled hope of what is possible in Christian marriage. Thank you to all of these couples for being such beautiful witnesses."
 
Couples from throughout the diocese celebrating significant anniversaries were invited to the Mass and were recognized by Bishop Coyne.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

'Beloved Date Night' series brings couples together, strengthens marriages

Peter and Claire Curtice agree that marriage fluctuates among phases of romance, disillusionment and joy, lasting from about 10 minutes to years before moving into one of the other phases.

Though in a joy phase, the parishioners of Mater Dei Parish in the Northeast Kingdom are attending the Beloved Date Night series at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Derby Line.

The 12-part series takes place six times a year for two years, and during the third session, they spoke about their marriage, saying that even after 43 years, they still work on it. "It's a lifelong process," Mrs. Curtice said. "We change as people."

Date Night gives them a chance to focus on themselves as a couple, said the parents of three and grandparents of eight. "It helps us make the choice to put each other and our relationship first," she added.

There are 14 couples – of different ages and backgrounds – that attend. Preceded by the 6 p.m. parish Saturday Mass, Date Night continues with a potluck candlelight dinner at 7 and then a Beloved DVD presentation and discussion about the joys and challenges of married life.

The Beloved program helps couples discover the meaning of their marriage, how their marriage fits into an eternal story, the truth about the bonds and commitment of love, God's plan for true spiritual and physical intimacy, how to communicate and resolve conflict, the importance of healing and forgiveness and tools for protecting their marriage.

It explores Scripture, tradition and Church teaching to bring God's plan for their marriage alive.

Steve and Ann Gonyaw facilitate Beloved Date Night for their parish; she is also the director of the family faith formation program. Because the Church offers various programs for marriage preparation and few for married couples, she saw the need for the Beloved program. "We need to provide support for marriage, to strengthen them [because there are so many] life challenges," she said. "There is a need to refresh, revitalize" marriage.

The parents of two who have been married for 15 years, the Gonyaws appreciate the perspectives on married life offered by couples married for many years and a few years all in the Catholic environment of the parish program.

Topics this year are marriage through salvation history, the importance of marriage, the meaning of sacrificial love, total gift of self, the sacramental bond and challenges marriages face.

The second year's topics will focus on practical conflict resolution and communication to build deeper unity and protect the bond of marriage.

Cheryl and Andre Lefebvre have been married for 38 years and have three children and four grandchildren. "We're all on the same page" about marriage at the Date Nights, she said. "Our marriages are important to us."

Dr. Chuma Ezenwa and his wife, Chinelo, had been thinking about participating in a marriage program when they heard about Beloved Date Night. "It was providential," he said with a smile.

Married for eight years with four children, he described today's world as one that "kind of takes oxygen away from marriage," so the program is "a way to get fresh air" and re-energizes, reinvigorates and refreshes marriages.

And the church setting helps couples stay focused on the marital relationship as a sacrament, Mrs. Ezenwa said.

Nathan and Regina St. George agreed. Married for four years with one child and one on the way, they are new to the parish but enjoy getting to know other couples and sharing the same faith values and focus on family and spouse. "We have a greater appreciation of marriage and married life" thanks to Beloved Date Night, Mrs. St. George said.

After viewing a DVD that emphasized that marriage is meant to mirror God's love and that individual marriages are part of God's plan for salvation, the couples engaged in small group discussion and then spread throughout the parish center to talk privately, spouse to spouse.

"Our society has lost the concept of (marriage) being a permanent choice," Mr. Curtice lamented during a group discussion. That's why the grace of the sacrament of matrimony is so important.

Mr. Gonyaw said marriage is "so big and wonderful and hard, and it is a total commitment. You can't do it without grace."
  • Published in Diocesan
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