Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Vocations Promotion Day 2018: The Heart Speaks

For the fifth year in a row, the Religious Studies Department at St. Ignatius (where I teach) hosted Vocations Promotion Day. Though the prior focus of #VoProDay in the past has addressed a calling to religious life—as a priest, sister or brother—this year, we included a panel of speakers to share their thoughts and stories on living their vocation as a layperson. Both groups offered a beautiful witness to the joy of the Gospel and the power of God's love. Lay or religious, ultimately, a vocation is a call to love. How we do that—generously, selflessly, and wholly is our story. The Spirit calls and hopefully, we listen. Many times throughout the day, I realized I wasn't listening to the speakers in the way I usually do. No, I was listening with my heart. I can't think of a better way to hear, understand, and learn. Let me explain.

SI is very proud of Ryan Mak, SJ. One of our own, pursuing a religious vocation with the Society of Jesus
The men and women who spoke about their religious vocations are young (read: younger than me). They are dynamic and energetic, full of vim and vigor. They have given their lives to the Lord freely and wholeheartedly. They love God and the Church—messiness and all. As they shared their stories of choosing to respond to their call, of moving toward ordination, taking vows, living in a community, why they serve, and how God is at work in their lives, I realized they were speaking a foreign language. I wondered if my students could understand what they were talking about. I thought about the chasm that exists between the life these men and women have chosen amidst the culture in which we swim. Could they handle that our guests were this unapologetic about their belief in God and love for Christ? Would they understand faith and love demands something of us? It's not often my students hear a message this direct.

As I considered these questions and looked around the room, I paid attention to what I was feeling. Something was stirring in my heart. Though their message might seem foreign, the language of God's love is universal. Though not everyone in the room might feel like these men and women do or hold what they believe, hearing and learning about the love of God is a message for every human person—language, a degree, age, race or gender is irrelevant. I'm grateful my students had the opportunity to hear about the many ways young men and women are responding to this call to love. 
One might wonder why so few young people today are pursuing this call. Nothing about that call—the call to love— is easy. Lay or religious, ordained, single or married, love is scary. We run the risk of being hurt, we must make sacrifices, we are made vulnerable and we reveal our true selves. But the call to love is unyielding, relentless and transformative. It is something we must do in order to become fully human. We must do it afraid, but we do not do it alone. God meets us more than halfway. Every speaker gave testimony to that truth and how they have responded in their own way. The language might have been foreign, but the message wasn't.

One need not host a vocations day to promote this call to love...this challenge to do it afraid. Thanks to the Grotto Network, we have a testimony from (soon to be? Father) Anthony Federico in "From ESPN to Seminary: A Comeback Story." Their website states After he was fired from ESPN, Anthony Federico wondered where he could possibly go next. He remembered a voice once telling him, "One day you will be a priest" — and he couldn't ignore his calling any longer.
I shared his story with my own classes to prepare for Vocations Promotion Day. They appreciated the message he got from his mother. I was impressed by the fact Jeremy Lin reached out to him. Though his mistake at ESPN still confounds me—one for which he paid a big price—it is important to hear how it served as a path toward his vocation. 

Mother Teresa said "We can't all do great things. But we can do small things with great love." Something tells me that if we do respond to God's call to love in our lives, the small things will add up. For some, it will be in giving their lives to another person in marriage, for others in service as a deacon or a lay minister and still others it might be leading us to lead the faithful as a sister or a priest. My simple advice is to listen—not with your ears but with your heart. As John Dunne, CSC wrote, "the heart speaks." It will.

Photo Credits
Vocation Diagram 

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