The Voice In The Wilderness
How did John know? Somehow John the Baptist knew that the "voice in the wilderness" in Isaiah 40:3 was his own voice, not Isaiah's. The Bible is sometimes silent even when God is not. There must have been the Voice before the voice, a time when God's voice called John to use his vocal chords to shout to the remnant of God's people and to baptize them, and especially Jesus, as a sign. God called John to his special role in God's plan, i.e., to reveal the Messiah to Israel. John shows us that the best way to make sure that we never miss God's call is to live every day close to God. He lived a life from little on up under the full control of God's Spirit. Every Christian is called to this type of discipleship. It just makes sense that God would call those who show the good disciplines of discipleship to the priesthood and religious life. John is a sterling example.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
How A Good Hymn Can Promote Vocations
When I was a Protestant child of four or five, I would pretend that I was a Protestant minister. The organist at our church was the Sunday School teacher who had the greatest influence upon me. She was also a distant relative. (For some reason, many of the people in our small country church were related to me.) There was a hymn that stirred my spirit whenever she played it, and she played it often. Years later I discovered that Roman Catholics often sang these words as well. "Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things. Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings." In the classroom, she would every now and then suggest that my brother and I would make good ministers. Today my brother pastors the church where I grew up, and I am pastoring a church nearby. She died a few years ago. Both of us went to her funeral. She knew how to add her voice to God's Voice, and reinforce potential vocations with music. Can we do the same?—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Lent Is A Time When God Calls
As we begin Lent, we face anew the importance of gaining a deeper awareness of our own sinfulness. This flows from a new vision of God. The prophet Isaiah saw the LORD in the temple, and he became aware of his sin-filled lips. Simon Peter saw Jesus in the flesh in a whole new way after the great catch of fish, and he cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road, and Saul humbled himself three days later by washing away his many sins in Christian baptism. God always brings the grace of forgiveness to one whose heart is truly rent because of guilt. Not only does a deeper awareness of our sins flow from a new appreciation for God. It also leads to a new vocational awareness. There's guilt, then grace, and then a life plan that embodies gratitude. God called Isaiah to go for Him. Jesus called Peter to be a fisher of men. Paul was sent to share the power and the truth of the Good News of Christ's Resurrection. Lent is a time of call. Let's pray that many hear it.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Personal Vocation, What We All Share, Even With Popes
As a young man, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, would kneel on the wooden floor of a chapel before Jesus truly present in the Holy Eucharist. He was struggling with a question, “What should I do with my life, what in the end is my life really for?” He had lost his parents and brother, had lost his place at the university, was working long hours in a factory and was all alone, in the dangerous streets of the city. For a year and a half he struggled with this question. He prayed, and prayed, and seemed to get no answer. Later, after this prayer was answered, he would say that we are only given our lives so we can one way or another give them to something great. It is not surprising that many Catholics called him “great,” but the greatness that he set out to find for himself was not any fame or success but the same greatness he lately wanted each of us to find, the greatness of surrendering each one of our lives to the unique, unrepeatable, personal vocation which is yours and mine. "Rise up, O men of God. Be done with lesser things."—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Holy Ruminations and Ramblings, or Amazing Discoveries?
We have a pope! We do not call him Pope Francis I, because there is no Pope Francis II. He is properly just "Pope Francis" to you and me and millions of others. The simplicity of this reference, however, makes us think almost automatically of St. Francis of Assisi, the favorite saint of so many. But might his choice of a papal name be more influenced by St. Francis Solano, the wonderworker and missionary to Argentina and Peru? Our new pope's papal name was not the only topic of my inquiry. I also wanted to know about his call to priesthood. More details about this will no doubt become available to us, but as of now, I could learn the interesting fact that Pope Francis was ordained a priest at age 32, "nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness." I wanted more. Well, he became a Jesuit priest, after years of preparation for the priesthood, and so his vocation was nurtured in some way by St. Ignatius of Loyola. So I decided to find facts about St. Ignatius' own call to the priesthood. I downloaded the key text to my Kindle, "The Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola." I discovered that St. Ignatius was called to living an intense spiritual life years before God called him to become a priest. One seemed to flow rather effortlessly into the other. Now here is my most amazing discovery. St. Ignatius was virtually a committed Serran (forgive the anachronism) when he was at the University of Paris. His autobiography indicates that he underwent his studies there "with the intention of fostering the vocations of those who wished to serve God." He wanted to be God's instrument to add others to his form of religious life. Today, the day of this posting, is March 14, 2013. On March 14, 1534, St. Ignatius graduated with the degree of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Paris. This was three years before he became a priest. The morale of this story about a saint who greatly influenced our new pope is that God can call people who do what Serrans do to the holy priesthood themselves. It has happened more than once in history. For example, God recently called, with sweet consolations, to religious life, the president of the Allentown Serra Club, Jen McLarin. While she fostered the vocations of others, she discovered her own vocation (AD Times, 2/14/13). All of us have a personal vocation, a gift from God.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Hesitant, or Just Humble? Don't Judge Vocations Hastily!
In the Bible, almost always, when God calls someone and we are not told his or her name, it is a bad sign. In a sermon entitled "Divine Calls," Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th century Anglican convert to the Catholic Church, traces the vocations of great figures in the Old Testament and the New: the call of Abraham, our father in faith, the vocations of the prophets Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, the call of Samuel, and, in the New Testament, the call of the apostles, and St. Paul and, of course, of Mary, our Blessed Mother. Newman contrasts these with those biblical characters who were called but hesitated and lost their vocations, such as the rich young man in the gospel who had many possessions and walked away sad, the man who wanted to bury his father first, the one who wanted to say goodbye to his family first, and those wedding guests who just failed to show up. None of us are able to name any one of these individuals because God's Word does not recall for us any of their names. It is almost as if they are dead to God, forever out of His mind, big zeros in the fulfillment of His plan. But we must be careful not to read too much into this biblical silence. Anonymity in the Bible can also be a sign of being faithful to God as His humble servant. Although tradition tells us who wrote the Gospels, the inspired evangelists fulfilled this important calling of theirs by not mentioning their own names. This happened in the Old Testament too. Samuel's first prophetic message was declared beforehand by an anonymous, faithful "man of God." Because Eli the priest knew about this earlier message and Samuel did not, Eli knew that God was genuinely calling Samuel before Samuel did, and that God was the Author of both prophetic messages. But just because all true vocations come from the same God, Who may choose to repeat Himself, does not make all vocations alike. They are unique because God is infinitely creative. In my rectory are these words etched on a plaque for all to read, "Always remember everyone is unique just like everyone else." Each vocation is unique, but always in harmony with the divine nature and our own. So let's tread lightly on this holy ground.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Something I Need to Tell Barbara Walters If I Can Find Her
In my homily this past Sunday, I mentioned Andy Rooney (years ago he told Sam Donaldson, "It is foolish to say there is no God. It is also foolish to say there is a God"), and now I am mentioning a comment made by Barbara Walters over thirty years ago. Andy is dead, Barbara is old, and so I am showing my age. But age offers us the promise of perhaps a greater wisdom, something for all of us to keep in mind whenever we hear people lament about the way the priestly population as a whole seems to be aging. Father William J. O'Malley, S.J., tells us that Barbara Walters, while hosting the "Today Show," once leaned over to him during a commercial and said to him, "How can an intelligent man like you be a priest?" He tells this story in his book, The Fifth Week, and uses it to describe "The Enemy" that we face whenever we try to promote vocations in our day. He identifies this enemy when he writes, "Today and tomorrow the faceless, amorphous, disdainful enemy will not be antagonism but indifference," an indifference born of secularism, and a secularism born of the conviction that all true knowledge is the result of applying the scientific method to life. Could it be that we need to get young people thinking in another direction? People used to know that their hope was not in this world but in the next. But with the increase of practical atheism, people place their whole hope in this world. They think science will solve all their problems. This is not science but scientism, the idolization of science. Science was originally a gift from God. Many of our first scientists were Catholic priests and monks. They used to observe the stars from the cathedrals. The cathedral served as man's first observatory. Over half of the craters on the moon were named after the Jesuit priests who first discovered them. True, there were some tensions between the Church and Galileo, but it was because of Galileo's indiscretions about his inductions, not any scientific inductions themselves. Copernicus postulated the hypothesis of the sun at the center of our planetary system before Galileo, and Copernicus was a cautious cleric member of a Catholic religious order. Life is not just a finite set of problems, all able to be solved by science. No, life is also a mystery to be lived in God, the Three-In-One from Whom all blessings flow, including science and intellect. Our perverse generation is looking for a sign, as did the generation when Jesus walked among us. (Some things never change.) It is for a sign that God exists despite the secular indifference to Him. The most intelligent, careful application of our common sense leads to the inescapable conviction that what exists could not have come from absolutely nothing. As Julie Andrewes used to sing, "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could." So everything that exists cannot be caused but there must be an Uncaused Cause, which we call God. A road sign that is occasionally posted by a few devout non-Catholics in our area of Pennsylvania is itself an indirect commentary on our secular generation, a sign for it. It reads, "No God ‐ No Peace ‐ Know God ‐ Know Peace." Another of their road signs reads, "Wise men still seek Jesus," and you and I know that wiser men and women still serve Him in a consecrated life. Barbara, O Barbara, where are you? Now hear this. The most natural thing in the world is that an intelligent man would seriously consider becoming a priest. It is not only natural, but also supernatural, because it always happens by cooperating with God's gift of grace. Priesthood is a wise investment in the infinite Supreme Being, a wise investment of a smart man's entire being, including his finite intelligence.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Mothers, Be Careful As Well As Prayerful
Recently we celebrated Mother's Day, and Father's Day is around the corner. Soon after I became Catholic, I became very much aware that not a few priests that I knew were greatly influenced in their vocations, in various ways, by their pious mothers. A few of these men proved to be over-invested in their mother's own desires for them, so that, when their mothers passed away, their vocations imploded. Like Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet, the good Catholic mom should be generous in promoting vocations. Hannah put Samuel in a situation where he could better hear God's voice. Samuel was a miracle baby, the result of Hannah's prayers. Although Samuel's father was from the tribe of Ephraim, Samuel "became" a Levite, as someone unofficially adopted by the tribe of Levi, thanks to his mother's dedication. Hannah put young Samuel under the care of a priest named Eli, who took responsibility for the Ark of the Covenant and its important altars. Samuel became Eli's helper, his altar server and assistant, thanks to Hannah. Samuel slept closer to the Ark than Eli did, probably because he could do more of the detailed work than the aged and blind Eli could do. What a privilege it was for Samuel to be there, as it is for an altar server at God's altar today! All this was because of the piety of his mother Hannah. Yet she did not presume to transgress her proper role; she left the actual calling of her son to God Himself. Each son must have the freedom to hear "the divine whispering in the silence" (St. Bernard). Parents can be a great help to finding one's true vocation, but they can also be a great hinderance. A good example of this is another miracle child of sorts. Marjoe Gortner was a Bible Belt star from his childhood. His parents were traveling evangelists, and they noticed Marjoe's ability to mimic others, and his amazing powers of recall when he was only three. So they set out to make him into a preaching sensation. They taught him to memorize long sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and preaching postures. Marjoe was ordained to be a Pentecostal minister when he was only four. His parents even made him perform a marriage in front of a newsreel camera from Paramount Studios. This stunt got him into "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the "World's Youngest Minister." Much later he fully renounced his ministry and denounced it as a con, and became a second-rate star in Hollywood movies. His parents called him to ministry instead of God. As a result, they laid the groundwork for a future scandal. Unlike Protestantism, though, in the Roman Catholic Church, each and every man who is ordained is truly called by God by virtue of the Church ordaining him. This does not mean that he cannot make a shipwreck of his true vocation, however. If his vocation falls apart, he cannot ever blame God, because God is always faithful. From the start of his priesthood, the grace of ordination was there for every priest to embrace freely in order to fulfill his vocation. If what appears to be a vocation falls apart before ordination, however, it is often a fallible sign that this man is no longer being called by God, if he ever had been. This is always a bad sign, and at times it is even a sign of maternal affection to the point of serious misdirection. So beware!—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
So What Are We Expecting Anyway?
God did not reveal Himself much in the days of a youth named Samuel. We can read about these days in the Biblical book of First Samuel, chapter three. It is very instructive about vocations to the priesthood in our own day. God seemed hidden to many. This is not the same thing as saying that people did not do much religious activity in those days. They did, but they all too often did their own thing instead of what God wanted them to do. All this should sound familiar. One time a priest was riding in a taxi with another man who, for all practical purposes, had invented his own religion. The other man went into eloquent detail about the way that he had chosen to structure his worship of God. The priest simply remarked, "So, if I understand you clearly, you worship God in your way, while I worship God in His way." Of course he meant mainly the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, regular Catholic worship built around the Holy Eucharist. God's people were not really expecting to hear from God in any dramatic ways during the time of First Samuel. The call of Samuel in this way was out of the ordinary, and so the reader is not supposed to judge Samuel and Eli's initial confusion about it too harshly. We, too, live in a time of confusion, a time of spiritual sleeping. So many of us are not wide awake. But there is sleeping and then there is sleeping! It is better to be spiritually asleep in a Catholic Church than to live without any religion at all. And so young Samuel was sleeping near the Ark, the most sacred object possessed by God's people Israel. If the unexpected were to take place again, it would likely start there, and it did. Samuel was sleeping in the holy place while Eli, the priest, was sleeping in the vestibule, with the doors between them shut. God spoke to Samuel from the Ark, the focus of His presence. Eventually God even appeared in some form to Samuel, although Eli could not see this for two reasons. He was going blind, and the doors between him and the Ark were closed for the night. But Samuel was on the other side of the doors, and for some reason the youth first saw God only after God had spoken to him several times. God called Samuel by name. There is an intimate flavor in all this, to be sure. Samuel was, and is, very dear to God. By God calling Samuel so often, the reader is assured that Samuel was not just dreaming, and that God is able to get through! Samuel was wide awake, and so he really was seeing God as He spoke to him from the Ark. Might I suggest a contemporary moral to this story? If more Eucharistic Adoration took place in our day, perhaps more young people, female as well as male, would wake up spiritually and hear God's voice calling them to full-time service for the sake of His Kingdom.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
No Higher Calling Than Holy Priesthood
Jesus made His disciples priests at the Last Supper. He said, "Do this in memory of Me." He told them to do what He was doing, changing bread and wine into His living Body and Blood. Only Christ can do something like this! Yet He chose to do this through sinful men, His unworthy servants. What a wonder and a marvel! But this is just the beginning. There's more. Father Jean Baptiste Lacordaire (1802-1861) expressed this so very well in a poem entitled "The Priest." He wrote, "To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures. To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none. To share all suffering. To penetrate all secrets. To heal all wounds. To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers. To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope. To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity. To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life! And it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ." As Serrans we pray for the perseverance of vocations. This poem shows us why priests need our prayers. A priest is this, but only through God's grace. It has always been true, since the days of the Apostles, that apart from Christ we can do nothing. Priests who fully cooperate with God's grace are quite simply the eighth wonder of the world, perhaps even the first wonder of the world to come.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Holiness and Spiritual Hearing
Samuel lived a holy life from his childhood. Samuel was not perfect. Although psalm 99 celebrates the ministries of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, and the psalmist proclaims that these men prayed effectively ("they called on the LORD, and he answered them"), and that they heard God's voice and kept His law, he proceeds to address God as forgiving, "though You punished THEIR offenses." It is amazing--and I discovered this one day in the early 90's while I was at seminary--the Bible spends many chapters on the story of Samuel yet never mentions an incident in which a biblical writer presents God as finding fault with him. This hardly ever happens in an extended treatment of a biblical character, certainly not for Moses or for Aaron. Only Jesus seems to get more favorable press! Samuel spent much of his young life in a holy place, surrounded by many holy objects. While God's purposes for someone are not strictly limited by one's level of education, or occupation, or life experiences, and fishermen, tax collectors, even persecutors of God's people have been among those whom God has chosen to call, it is more likely that God will refine one's undertakings as concern Him than that He will totally re-define them. Very often, God speaks to us through a familiar voice easily mistaken for that of another. While we expect a dramatic Voice, God often surprises us by using what is so ordinary. Sometimes it is a friend or a relative who is responsible for bringing us to the place where God can best "get through" to us about His own special plans and purposes for our lives. God tends to call good men and women to full-time Christian service. Holiness of life and environment, while not absolutely necessary to hear God's call clearly, might, in many cases, mean the different between hearing God and missing His call.
—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
A Saintly Pope Reflects On Priesthood And Its Joys
As God's people await the day when Blessed John Paul II is canonized, I thought it might be encouraging to recall some statements concerning his own vocation to priesthood. For him, priesthood is both a gift and a mystery. These words indirectly suggest, by good example, the value of telling young people about the joys of priesthood. These are some of the remarks he made while he was visiting Los Angeles in 1987: "I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply. I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what He had said to thousands before me: 'Come, follow me!' There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve Him as a priest. And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy that to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope." There's a humorous story told about a little old lady who corrected a well-known scientist during his public lecture on cosmology. She is reported to have said, "The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a rather smug smile and then replied, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down." Impossible? Yes. But in the case of priesthood, Blessed John Paul affirms that it is joys all the way up, with personal sacrifice, to be sure. Those priests who give themselves completely to their calling would heartily agree. This is just a little of the everlasting joy of the World To Come overflowing into the present.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Priestly Vocation and Salvation Through the Good News of Jesus Christ
Is celibate priesthood of any great value for humanity? The truth is that many Catholics cherish the efforts of trained social workers over those of priests, because they sincerely believe that priesthood makes no appreciable difference in eternity. According to Dr. Ralph Martin in his recent book, Will Many Be Saved?, there is today a pervasive, pernicious assumption among American Catholics that everybody, or almost everybody, will end up in heaven anyhow, no matter what anyone does. However, holy priesthood is not a call to promote as good news a theological speculation that everyone, or almost everyone, will be saved in the end. Rather, it is a call to promote the traditional Good News that Jesus Christ is alive and so is able to save anyone from sin's penalty, power and presence. We priests help God's saving acts to bear enduring fruit in countless lives by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by absolving sinners and preaching, and, like all other Christians, by personal prayers and sacrifices. We encourage everyone everywhere to cooperate with God and His amazing grace, whenever He comes to us. We summon forth an explicit faith in Jesus as our Risen Lord, the One Who can save us through the sacraments of His Church. To Fatima, Portugal, almost a century ago, Mary came to three children and showed them a vision of Hell. In her Memoirs, the oldest among them, Sr. Lucia, then in a convent as a religious, described the vision of Hell: "She [Mary] opened her hands . . . [and] rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we [Jacinta, Francisco, and myself] saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear." Of the three, Jacinta, the younger girl, was the most affected by this vision. She prayed, "Mother of God, have pity on those who do not amend their lives." "If men only knew what awaits them in eternity, they would do everything in their power to change their lives." She said to her brother, "Francisco, are you praying with me? We must pray very much to save souls from hell, so many go there. So many!" Jacinta asked Lucia, "Why doesn't Our Lady show Hell to sinners? If only they saw it, they would never commit sins again." "Look, I am going to heaven soon but you are to stay here. If Our Lady lets you, tell everyone what hell is like so that they will stop sinning and not go there." Over thirty years later, a priest interviewed Sr. Lucia. His name was Father Riccardo Lombardi. He asked, "Do you really believe that many will go to Hell? I myself hope God will save the greater part of humanity." He had just written a book, The Salvation of the Unbeliever. She replied, "Father, many will be lost." He replied, "It is true that the world is full of evil, but there is always a hope of salvation." She said, "No, Father, many will be lost." Later Fr. Lombardi recalled Lucia's vision and commented, "Her words disturbed me. I returned to Italy with that grave warning impressed on my heart." Now hear Mary. She told the children at Fatima, "Many souls go to hell because no one prays or make sacrifices for them." The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most powerful Prayer on earth. Without a priest there is no Mass! The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is not just to "lead all souls" from purgatory "to heaven." Rather, at Mass Jesus and the priest unite with one another to save "all souls" who are still alive but "most in need" of God's mercy, from ever suffering "the fires of hell."—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
Vocations and the Mystery of Perpetual Virginity in Holy Family Life
I recently "googled" the phrase, "Christmas magic," and got over a million and a half hits! A well-informed Catholic should be talking about mystery instead of magic. A mystery in the Catholic sense is a sublime truth which a human could never have figured out without God's help. Christians know the reality of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation only because God has revealed them. Our puny human minds are just not capable of fully understanding them, but you and I can still better understand them than we now do. Careful reasoning and prayerful reflection, along with God's revelation, can take us much deeper. So let's stand before a nativity set in quiet reflection, and not rush away. And let's come to Bethlehem and enter into that "silent night." Do we see Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? Have you also noticed their peacefulness as the Holy Family? Someone has remarked that when Jesus Christ was born, the divine innocence, like an explosion of goodness, spread over the entire world. Everything good became better, and everything bad lost its strength and its power to attract. There is even a pious legend that all the images of false gods throughout the world were broken on that first Christmas Day. Like many Serrans, I believe that we will never have enough vocations to priesthood, the deaconate, and religious life unless we first recover holiness in our family circles. The idols of secularism, selfishness, and sexual sensuality must be smashed. I also believe that the mystery of Mary's perpetual virginity is at the heart of the holiness within the Holy Family. It lays the foundation for vocations from within our own Catholic families. This is because it speaks so eloquently of the great generosity and goodness of motherhood and fatherhood, and of the ability of family members to practice chastity through the gift of God's grace. Let me be a bit bolder. Catholics must rediscover their belief in Jesus' supernatural, virginal birth as well as in His supernatural, virginal conception. Our Savior was not born naturally, in the way other babies are born. We must renew a commitment to chastity, not only in single life but also in married life. Only then will the false god of sexual sensuality erected by our secular culture be smashed, holiness in Catholic families be restored, and vocations once again start to flourish.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
We walk along and often wonder, don't we? We wonder about this world of ours, and what it's coming to. Among factors worth pondering is children. More children in our families and our neighborhoods could make a big difference and, generally, lift our spirits as a society that hopes to thrive. Sadly, generations of young adults are now missing almost a third of their peer group. Without a sickly tolerance for abortion, modern life in America could, and would, be more human, more heavenly, holier, and happier for sure. Every day could, and would, be more joyous for millions of us who are now trapped within a depressing culture of death, if only children without exception were appreciated for the gifts that they really are. Adult selfishness and irresponsibility have brought us to this very sad situation of malaise. I write this on the feast of St. John Bosco. He invested so much of his priestly ministry in the youth of Italy, and he was not disappointed, not at all. While anti-Catholic forces were politically undermining the Catholic Church in Italy, and causing many elderly Catholics just to shake their heads and fear for the future of the Church, Don Bosco emphasized the positive. He planted seeds of virtue and character in youth. He optimistically said, "I know young people well; a large proportion of them have, in germ, the vocation to a higher life." St. John Bosco's greatest harvest was the short life of St. Dominic Savio, who experienced a call to priesthood when he was only twelve years old. But God and Don Bosco did not cultivate this precious vocation without parental cooperation. No, God and Dominic's parents laid the most important foundation for Dominic's spiritual growth in the home. His parents trained Dominic in habits of goodness, including how he should love God and use his freewill to serve Him. At home, before Dominic ever met St. John Bosco, Dominic committed himself to cooperate fully with God's grace. This did not happen by accident. It happened, in part, because holy parents used their own habits of goodness and virtues under God's providential guidance. When he was only seven years old, on the day of his First Communion, Dominic scribbled four life-long resolutions in the fly-leaf of his prayer book: "I will go to Confession often and will receive Holy Communion as often as my Confessor will allow me. I will keep Sundays and days of obligation holy. My friends will be Jesus and Mary. Death rather than sin." This last commitment, in the form of a sentence fragment, truly expresses the entire trajectory of his short life, and he lived up to this motto. Today Dominic Savio is the patron saint of juvenal delinquents. I suspect that we would have far more vocations to the priesthood and religious life today if we had far fewer Catholic parents who shirk their responsibilities to God and to their children. Is not parental delinquency the greatest problem in the Church today?—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel
THOSE WHOSE SUFFERINGS PROMOTE VOCATIONS
Today is Good Friday, 2014. It is a very pleasant day, with no downpours in our region of the country, quite common in the past. Yet today almost every Christian's mind inevitably thinks of suffering. The Sacred Head "now wounded" moves us to compassion, even as our faith teaches us that our sufferings always move the Sacred Heart of Jesus to compassion for us. A few days ago I saw a Serran who was suffering a great deal and for a long time, and it got me thinking as we discussed Easter. Can this pain be used to promote vocations? There is a story that Bishop Fulton Sheen used to tell about a medical doctor who lived in Belgium at the turn of the twentieth century. His name was Dr. Felix Leseur, an avowed atheist. He became the editor of an atheistic newspaper and wrote a book against Mary's shrine at Lourdes, supposedly because he deemed it to be a fraud. Dr. Leseur eventually married a young Catholic woman named Elizabeth, who became seriously ill in 1904. She was bedridden, and lived in almost constant pain for ten years. When she was close to death, in 1914, she called her husband to her bedside and said to him, "Felix, when I am dead, you will become a Catholic and a Dominican priest." He responded, "Elizabeth, you know [how I feel]. I've sworn hatred of God. I shall live in that hatred and die in it." She repeated her words and not long afterwards passed away. Later, Dr. Leseur found her last will and testament, in which Elizabeth had written these words to her husband: "In 1904 I asked Almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die you will have been bought and paid for. Greater love than this no woman has." By a special grace of the Spirit, Dr. Leseur was converted, and eventually he did become a Dominican priest. Bishop Fulton Sheen may have heard the story first-hand, because four years after he was ordained a priest, the young Father Sheen attended a retreat given by an elderly Dominican priest named Father Felix Leseur. Like Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Elizabeth Leseur did her very best work for vocations in the midst of her suffering. By the power of our Lord's Cross, may all of us learn to do the same.—Rev. Paul L. Rothermel