What's in Your Vocation?

By Richard Gonzales
Star-Telegram [Fort Worth TX]
December 28, 2003

At a time that the Roman Catholic Church has suffered scandalous revelations of sexual abuse and is facing lawsuits, monetary losses and humiliation, the call for vocations may sound incredibly optimistic.

"We have every reason in faith to be assured that the Lord will hear our prayers and will give us the priests, deacons, consecrated religious, as well as many, many lay people to bring in the harvest that grows bigger every year," says Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney.

It is this "reason in faith" that has driven the church for two millennium to overcome internal corruption and external attacks.

Catholics have sought to balance reason and faith -- one well-planted foot in this world and another foot in the next -- to produce a parade of saints and sinners. The church is home to earth-bound humans seeking to fly like angels.

St. Peter's church has witnessed the Crusades, licentious popes, inquisitions, the persecution of scientists, apologies for slavery, and tolerance of Nazis and other tyrants.

Like members of other denominations, Catholics are imperfect men and women searching for holiness in a world of snakes and apples.

Despite its flaws, the Catholic Church has seen saintly Americans answer the call to faith.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, born in 1774 in New York City to a prominent family, married a handsome man in the shipping business. As a mother of five, she found her spiritual calling after her husband died in Italy. Although raised as an Episcopalian, she was introduced to Catholicism in Italy and satisfied a spiritual hunger that had gnawed at her.

Despite protests from her family and friends in New York, she converted, embarked on a life of teaching and founded the order of the Sisters of Charity. Pope Paul VI canonized her in 1975, anointing her as the first American-born saint.

Katharine Drexel, born in 1858, was educated by tutors and toured the United States and Europe to complete her education. She inherited millions from her father, a banker, and an abiding desire to care for others.

Plowing her money into the Bureau of Colored and Indian Missions, she created schools and social services for Native Americans and blacks. She founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the only predominately black Catholic university in the United States.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized her as the second American-born saint.

The Fort Worth Diocese is hunting for holy men and women. It has declared the new liturgical year that began on the first Sunday of Advent "The Year of Vocations, Baptized for Ministry."

The diocese counts 113 priests, 62 deacons, 93 sisters and 13 brothers to serve the spiritual needs of 400,000 Catholics in 28 North Texas counties.

In deliberations last year by clergy and laypeople about how to address the church's needs, the diocese concluded that "the shortage of priests and religious was noted by the Synod as the greatest single challenge facing our Diocese in the coming years."

It has issued a challenge to its 88 parishes to muster resources and create a culture of discernment for parish youth. They're encouraged to view the religious life as a joyful path to self-fulfillment.

Beset by Ambercombie & Fitch's catalog of sensuous youth images, intrigued by the Tom DeLays of Congress grasping for political control, and seduced by the sweet-looking Lexus that purrs in the streets, young people are hard pressed to see the attraction to a celibate life in service to others.

The secular world shines too brightly for many to see the spiritual light within.

In response, John Paul II advises that "to modern men and women, often dissatisfied with a shallow and ephemeral existence in search of authentic happiness and joy, Christ offers his own example and issues the invitation to follow him."

The church asks youths to turn off the noises that clamor for their attention, to keep quiet and to listen and watch for signs.

Parents and mentors must challenge youths with the question Quo vadis? -- where are you going?

They must encourage the young to shake the dust from their shoes, sit a while in the sun and think on the lives of saints and sinners.

Pray in the new year that our youth find reason in faith.


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