Category Archives: Vocations

Vocation, Freedom, Holiness

My gorgeous sister and husband on their wedding day

The last few days, I’ve been with a very good friend of mine who is now a Dominican. He is like a brother to me, we have been friends since university days. We were blessed enough, these last few days, to have a good amount of time to chat properly. Not just the catching-up-type-stuff, but the real, deep, meaning-of-life-type-stuff. A spiritual and intellectual gift to spend this precious time together. He has been in the Dominicans now for just over three years. It is an inspiration to watch his vocation to religious life. The commitment he has been called to make, the joy and peace this entails, the ensuing sacrifice.

What I have observed is that, in all vocations – whether to marriage, priesthood, apostolic celibacy or religious life – once we commit, limitations result. Choosing one definite pathway rules out a lot else.

My friend and I are both the creative types. (If you’ve read Bill Hybels’ book, Courageous Leadership, this is what he calls ‘visionary leadership’.) Give us ten minutes and we’d come up with ten different ideas for brilliant and exciting projects, and then we’d probably jump right in and get started. At university the number of initiatives we started was vast and varied… and some of them worked out! It is the kind of thing you can do when you are young and free.

Accepting your vocation, however, by its nature limits possibilities. When you are married, your freedom and obedience turns towards your family. When you are a priest, your obedience is towards your parish’s needs and your bishop. In religious life, you require permission for any initiative or project that pops into your mind (like the five ideas a day my friend gets before breakfast).

It could be tempting to think, “what a waste!” When a young, bright, creative person gives themselves to a vocation (any vocation) they surrender their freedom, whether to their spouse and children, their Order, or their bishop. Perhaps they might be given a project that suits their talents – they thrive and create something wonderful for the Church – but then someone else takes over and it ceases to be fruitful.

The ever-inspiring Nashville Dominicans

What I realised, as we were chatting, is that when we are young, we dream great visions of things we would love to achieve or help the Church to achieve. Many of these dreams I am sure are beautiful and good, and we shouldn’t lose them. We need these visions to urge us on!

However, the reality we receive in the Church is one where we accept a vocation in life that does not permit us absolute freedom. God knows that absolute freedom is not good for us. God invites us into a life in his Church where the main thing we achieve is never the projects, the activity, in itself (although it is important); rather, we – ourselves – we are the ‘project’ that remains constant, stays with us throughout our lives. There’s no escaping it! Hard as it may be, our own salvation, our sanctity, is the project God has entrusted us with, the main thing he is concerned about. And this is the main project that is dumped in our lap when we receive our vocation.

Absolute freedom is not good for us. Look at the limitation – of being human! – that God himself accepted in the Incarnation. Our culture, on the other hand, promotes absolute freedom under any circumstances. It seeps into our mentality, and is a cause, I am sure, of the countless young Catholic adults who have not discovered, or not accepted, their vocation. Clinging to their freedom for dear life, they want to leave all possibilities perpetually open. That is another topic for another day 🙂

What’s the takeaway message? I am deeply inspired by my friends who are preparing for priesthood, in religious life, or who are young and newly married. In accepting their limitation in freedom, they discover a deeper freedom of being united to Christ and growing towards holiness through their vocation. Thank you, dear friends, for your witness and inspiration.

The Summer Camp

One of the most exciting experiences I have had here in Kansas is Camp Tekakwitha. I quickly mastered how to say it (the camp is named after Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha who will be canonised on October 15) and soon felt right at home on this enormous ranch in the middle of nowhere, thanks to incredible American hospitality, which I wish I could take back home with me to England.

The land was transformed by the diocese 15 years ago to house their vision of a Catholic summer camp for teenagers. Now, hundreds of young people come every summer to camps dedicated to different age groups. A typical week includes adventure activities galore (from horseback riding to canoeing, and from high ropes challenges to archery) – but these are adventure activities with a difference. Every activity is connected with the Faith, so campers do not simply enjoy a morning of climbing – they also learn about Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and what it means to strive upwards in our life of faith. A blindfolded obstacle course is linked to the story of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, who, though partially-sighted, travelled 200 miles to a place she could freely practise her faith. After each activity, campers gather to share their experience (very American, you might think) but this time is often fruitful in discussing virtues learned through the activities, such as fortitude, strength, perseverance, putting others first, and so on.

The fruits of the experience are plentiful to see. Each night, every cabin of eight campers share their highs, lows, and ‘God-moments’ of the day. I was blown away by the maturity of faith and sincerity of the 13-14-year-old campers I met. You can tell they are generally extremely well catechised and evangelised, and the camp experience seems to deepen this even further. Here, they are with 100 other campers for the week, share in with chores, umpteen crazy traditions and codes I couldn’t keep up with, campfire songs, humorous skits, and a full prayer and sacramental life. One girl said she couldn’t wait for Reconciliation night.

One extremely powerful element of the camp is the role models it provides. Each cabin is led by a young adult – mostly college students and seminarians. These young adults are fully dedicated to their cabin for the week, from early morning to late at night, taking part with them in activities, leading their catechesis sessions, eating meals with them, praying with them… This non-stop service and spirit of generosity impressed me the most. Many of the young women were discerning religious life, many of the young men were seminarians, a few were engaged to be married. One of the camp directors told me that many vocations to priesthood and religious life have come through camp, and you can see how! Here is a culture of discernment, of seeking the Lord, which the campers naturally absorb.

There’s one thing I want to say – come on Church in England and Wales! We need to pray for a new spirit of eager evangelisation, and be open to starting initiatives such as this.

Oh, and did I say, in the spirit of fully entering into camp life, I jumped off a thirty foot pole?! Possibly the most terrifying experience of my life, but I did it… Despite needing a bit of encouragement and cheering from thirteen-year-olds…

Catechetics in the seminary

Last week, I spent some time at the seminary teaching on catechetics. What a fantastic few days. It was difficult to know how to pitch it, given that I’m used to speaking to adults in the parish without a great deal of theological background. But how refreshing to be able to share some catechetical principles along with concrete examples from our parish, with a wonderful group of seminarians. We discussed different experiences of catechesis – what makes good practice and what makes bad, we explored the pedagogy of God in the GDC and compared methodologies to it, we looked at the goals of catechesis outlined by Mgr FD Kelly as well as his ecclesial method, we looked at liturgical catechesis, particularly how to teach ‘from’ and ‘to’ the rite, we discussed the importance of the four dimensions of Christian life in catechetics, and the ‘symphony’ of the Catholic faith whose main themes are the five foundational truths. It was an enjoyable and inspiring three days, and I was privileged to be able to share ideas with them. For the future of catechesis in the Church, vital to her flourishing, is the solid formation of seminarians in catechetics. These few days showed me the importance of this, and I am increasing my prayers for seminarians in our country. Please increase your prayers, too!

Vocation: what you do with your love

I once heard someone say that your vocation is ‘what you do with your love’. If we are trying to live out God’s will day by day, we’re all living our personal vocation right now, even if not yet in the vocation or state of life to which God has called us for our whole life. It is really interesting to look at your life and ask yourself: to whom or to what do I give my love – my time, energy, passion? What do the events of my life or how I use my time reveal?

When he came to this country nearly a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI said to young people: “I ask each of you first and foremost to look into your own heart, think of all the love that your heart was made to receive, and also love it was meant to give, after all we were made for love” (18th Sept, 2010). For young people, the single life before marriage or priesthood or consecrated life should be a ‘school of love’, receiving the love of God into our hearts, knowing ourselves and finding our identity completely in Him, so that we can pour out our love into our vocation when that time comes.

A couple of weekends ago, I was at the first talk of the Invocation festival in Birmingham. Fr John Hemer was the speaker and he said, memorably, that the young person who spends their life partying is at least on one level following their desires – unlike the ‘couch potato’ who does not know what they desire anymore. At least the party animal is doing something with their energy and passion, albeit in a ‘disordered’ way: the couch potato however is doing nothing with their heart – neither giving or receiving love. This is for what we were made! Love, relationships, family. This plan for human life is written in the very heart of God himself.