(The following excerpts are taken from a “National Vocations Awareness Week” homily given by Fr. Anthony Mary, MFVA, during a live television broadcast of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from “Our Lady of the Angels Chapel” in Irondale, Alabama, on Sunday, January 14, 2007.)
There are different ways that we are made aware of our vocation. I’m going to give you about five of them. Consider ordinary life experience: First, an alarm clock goes off in the morning. We’ve been asleep for hours and suddenly we know that it is too early in the morning to be getting out of bed, but we know what time it is. We are immediately aware of the time. Second, we are driving fast down the highway and see a police car. Suddenly we start driving carefully, following every rule in the book, hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel, and here we go. Now we’re the perfect driver on the road… but get a mile out of his radar, push the gas pedal and on we make it to our destination. So, we are aware of how fast we are going. Third, we have a fire station just down the road from our friary. When those trucks come flying by, we are immediately aware of danger. We are aware that something is wrong; something is not right, and these men are going out to provide assistance. Fourth, someone speaks some words to us. If we ever visit a hospital or nursing home, a nurse sees us come in wearing our habit. So sometimes they will pull us aside and tell us, “Mrs. Smith got some bad news today… just wanted to make you aware of that, Father.” Or, “Father, did you know that it is her birthday?” So we are made aware of something by someone else’s words. Or fifth, we hear in the back of the chapel “Sshh!” It’s a Catholic sound, I think, a sign that the Blessed Sacrament is nearby. In our chapel, people are coming in the backdoor all the time, and we hear that a lot. So they are just reminding each other that you have to be quiet because the Lord is here. Now how do these fit into vocations awareness? Sometimes we are made aware of our vocations through a word – through something that is said to us – by someone simply asking, “Have you ever considered being a priest?” or “Have you ever considered being a sister?” Or a sign – sometimes we need a spiritual squad car or the spiritual siren to go off. Thus, we ask ourselves these questions in our youth: “Where am I going?” “Where am I heading?” “Am I living life in the fast lane?” “Am I heading in the direction of danger?” “Do I need to be rescued from something?” For a young person, the spiritual squad car comes in various ways. Perhaps it may be this very homily… so he or she begins thinking, “I wonder if that’s what I am supposed to do?” Other times, young people show up at things like “Youth 2000” or these retreats that their parishes organize. Or maybe a guest, seen on “Life on the Rock” with Fr. Francis, mentions something that grabs his or her attention. Another thing that really gets a young man, especially, is when he runs into another young man who is discerning. And that gets him exited… A young man needs another guy who is suddenly thinking about the priesthood or religious life. You have this guy your age telling you, “Man, I went to Birmingham and it’s so great! These guys get up at the crack of dawn and they are praying the Divine Office… yes, they are in the Chapel for five hours every day!!!” And you start thinking, “Wow! What am I missing?” Soon you get on board and start giving consideration to that. Sometimes our awareness is sounded by an alarm. This happens most often by someone who is close to us and really knows who we are – mostly, our parents or siblings. They may ask, “Are you thinking at all about the religious life or have you given consideration to being a priest? Do you want to talk to Father?” Other times, it’s just telling us to get moving. They tell us what time it is. I know in my own situation… I was going through a period of time where I knew I had a calling, but I didn’t know what to do. I was looking, but I wasn’t being convicted. As Fr. Andrew Apostoli once told us, he said that Blessed Mother Theresa was known for often speaking of this “come and see” and of the disciples following Jesus. For He asked them, “What are you looking for? What do you want?” They said, “Where do you stay?” He said, “Come and see.” So we use that many times in our discernment retreats. Furthermore, Fr. Andrew told us the more important thing is to come and stay. Live the life with us if this is where the Lord is calling you. I was going through that little difficulty, looking around but not being able to be convicted enough. I came back from one of my visits here when my father asked me how it went. I said, “It was real nice and I really like it.” Meanwhile, I didn’t have a job at the time. And he knew that I wasn’t giving him the response that sounded like I was going to be leaving in the next two weeks to come to Birmingham, so he had found an ad in the newspaper while I was gone and he said, “Here, why don’t you call these people and apply for this job?” I thought, a job! I’m thinking about the priesthood! I’m thinking about the religious life! I remember going to that job in particular, thinking I am not going to be here longer than two months. Now I know exactly what my father was doing. Let’s get him moving. Let’s get the alarm going off, sounding in his ear and tell him to wake up. I ended up being there for close to two years before I got moving. But that’s what it took to get my attention. It was that same job I got comfortable in. And it was my twin sister who came home from college who told me that I was getting too comfortable. “Look at yourself! I thought you were thinking about being a priest. You were going to enter religious life. What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m still thinking about it and praying about it.” She asked the question that I ask people all the time, “Well, what do you think – that the Lord is just going to speak to you directly or open the skies and reveal to you what to do?” She lit the fire under me again and said, “Get going, get moving. Do you know what time it is? It’s getting late.” That’s what we need sometimes. It comes from people who know us, people who really understand who we are. Maybe they’ll wait for us when we need to wait and slow down, and they’ll give us a kick in the backside when we need to get moving. But we also need someone’s “Sshh” – and I believe only the Holy Spirit can do this – to tell us to be quiet and listen to what He is saying. There is a lot of noise and distraction in the world. Fr. Andrew said on our retreat – you hear it from people who are Catholic councilors: Narcissism, especially for men. Narcissism is the plague and the curse of our day. Why can’t our young people enter into anything and stay with it? They are too self-centered and too self-focused. So we need to help them encounter a sense of discipline in an appropriate manner, not something that is just beating them down. Why did Pope John Paul II appeal to young people? He was telling them they have to give themselves, give everything away, pour themselves out, and have discipline over themselves. You would think the young people would say, “I can’t handle that.” But instead, they were cheering, “Yes – he’s telling us what we know resonates with us down deep. We know that we are capable of it and that it is for our own good. He’s telling us that he has confidence in us that we can do it.” That’s what a young person responds to. Our youth are so willing to just give away everything. The older we get, the more we cling and it becomes more difficult. The younger the man is in our Community, the more liable he is to give everything away. He is willing to throw everything away and live for Christ. So let us turn to Our Blessed Mother to guide and protect us and spend time with Our Eucharistic Lord in adoration. Mary, Mother of Priests, Religious, and Consecrated, pray for us.