home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page

July 24, 2014

Making Catholic preaching better -
How Catholic colleges foster priestly vocations -
Encouragement, essential for vocations --
Locating "the sacred" in today's world

In this edition:
1. Catholic colleges and priestly vocations.
2. Encouragement vital to priestly vocations.
3. Vocations and Hispanic Catholics.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Children crossing U.S. borders.
b) Interreligious dialogue.
c) "Sacred," a term redefined.
5. Making Catholic preaching better.
6. Care for the sick: perspective on Lourdes.

1. How Catholic Colleges Foster Priestly Vocations

Encouragement is vital to a man's decision to enter the priesthood, according to just-published report from the Division of University Mission at Jesuit-run Boston College. The report also shows that Catholic colleges and universities foster priestly vocations by providing an environment in which to participate frequently in the Eucharist, meet priests or have a priest as a professor and pursue spirituality in retreats or through spiritual direction.

The report, titled "College Experience and Priesthood," reflects the findings of a study of more than 1,500 seminarians or recently ordained priests, along with an analysis of that study conducted at a national vocations summit of bishops, college presidents, campus ministers, vocation directors and other spiritual directors.

Early in 2012, Boston College and the U.S. Jesuit Conference commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate to study Catholic higher education's impact on vocational discernment among men entering the seminary and religious life in the United States. Then, in June 2013, Boston College convened the summit on priestly vocations to discuss the study's findings.

CARA found that those in its study who "entered priestly formation were just as likely as the broader Catholic population to have attended Catholic elementary or high schools," but were "significantly more likely to have attended a Catholic college," the report notes. Forty-four percent "attended a Catholic college."

One key way Catholic colleges and universities foster vocations is through the access they provide "to priests, sisters or brothers in the roles of professor and campus minister," according to the report. Nearly two-thirds of those responding to the CARA study said "that a priest/sister/brother professor had a 'significant positive influence' on their vocational discernment." Fifty-six percent said the same of a "priest/sister/brother campus minister."

In addition, friends and roommates at Catholic colleges often were influential. CARA learned that those who entered the seminary were "substantially more likely than those who attended a non-Catholic college to report being influenced and supported by their roommates and friends in their vocation discernment and choice."

Who encouraged men who entered the seminary? The CARA study showed that for two-thirds or these men, the encourager was a priest, though "almost as many reported that friends were encouragers." Yet, "half reported that friends or classmates discouraged them from becoming priests, and four in 10 reported that a family member discouraged them."

CARA researcher James Cavendish suggested to the vocations summit that the importance of peers in fostering priestly and religious vocations should not be underestimated. Sociologists long have "recognized the importance of friendship networks in sustaining belief and practice," he observed.

2. Threefold Encouragement: Priestly Vocations

Encouragement by one person is invaluable for men considering a priestly vocation, but encouragement by three people is much better, the new Boston College report on vocations makes clear. Thus, Mark Gray, a CARA researcher, suggested to the 2013 vocations summit at Boston College that it is essential to encourage the encouragers.

Of those who responded to the CARA vocations study that Boston College and the Jesuit Conference commissioned, just six percent reported receiving no encouragement from others. Gray said this means that most men entering the seminary at some point were encouraged to do so by a family member, teacher, pastor or someone else.

The study found that "respondents who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged. Each additional person encouraging these respondents increases the likelihood of consideration. The effect is additive. Respondents who had three persons encourage them would be expected to be more than five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone who was not encouraged by anyone."

Commenting on that finding, Gray said:

"You can imagine: One person encourages you, and you think, 'Where did that come from?' Two people encourage you, and you think, 'That's weird!' Three people encourage you, and you begin to say, 'I've got to think about this.' And that appears to be exactly what happens."

But Gray added, "It just seems to be that, in our culture today, there are not three or more people around many young Catholic men encouraging them to do this."

Jesuit Father William Leahy, president of Boston College, noted in an address to the 2013 vocations summit that students thinking about priesthood "often feel isolated." Mentioning the value of priesthood support groups on campus, he said that if these students "can be part of a group that meets once a month, have time for prayer and conversation, and hear the vocation stories of others, they will feel encouraged and can confirm a sense of direction."

Because "a priestly vocation comes from God," the question before the vocations summit was "a modest one," Father Leahy felt. The question really is, "How do we assist God?" or, "to put it differently, how do we in colleges and universities encourage the inclinations and desires of young men who seriously consider answering God's call to priesthood?"

3. Vocations and Hispanic Catholics

Hispanics in the U.S. are particularly underrepresented in the priesthood. About 15 percent of 2014 ordinands were Hispanic. Notably, "only 14 percent of students in Catholic schools today are Hispanic, meaning that the majority of Hispanics miss that potential source of vocational encouragement," the Boston College priestly vocations report states.

Moreover, the present "ethnic profile of priests does not match the ethnic profile of all Catholics in the United States," especially when one recognizes that Hispanics "will in the near future comprise a near-majority of U.S. Catholics."

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley told the vocations summit at Boston College that "the days of our clergy and religious coming particularly from Irish or Italian heritage are long behind us. The universal church is very much in our midst here and now, and we must provide opportunities for these young people to consider a vocation."

A challenge vocations directors face, the report says, "is to find ways to reach Hispanic youth in settings other than Catholic schools: parish youth groups, Newman centers and others. The same challenge exists in reaching out to young men from areas with significant Catholic migration to the United States: Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, Poland, Colombia, and Nigeria, among others."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Children Crossing U.S. Borders: "All of us today, I know, are thinking about the tens of thousands of children who have been coming across our borders -- sent by their parents who are trying to save them from the poverty and violence in their home countries. I can't imagine how sad and desperate it must be for those mothers and fathers to have to make that kind of decision! Our Holy Father Pope Francis said this week that we are facing a real 'humanitarian emergency' with these unaccompanied children. . . . Pope Francis is right. And in the face of this emergency our first duty must be to protect these children. My brothers and sisters, what we are doing for these children as a church -- it's not about politics. We all know that. It's about who we are as Catholics. The church in Southern California has always opened its doors to receive the refugee and immigrant. But we don't do it because we are 'social workers' or 'nice people.' We do it because we are being faithful to our identity and duty as Catholics. We do it because Jesus calls us to do it." (From the July 20 homily of Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez during a Mass in the Los Angeles cathedral celebrated "in recognition of immigrants.")

Interreligious Dialogue: "Buddhist and Christian ethical teaching on fraternity is based on loving kindness and compassion. Buddhists teach that friendly speech, friendly thought, sharing of gains, moral harmony and harmony of views lead people to think of each other with loving kindness, which subsequently generates authentic bonds of fraternity. Christians believe that the human person is made for reciprocity, for communion and self-giving. Both religious traditions teach that human acts of selfishness, which are at the root of so much hate and evil in the world, prevent us from seeing the 'other' as brothers and sisters. The dialogue between Buddhists and Christians is necessary more than ever today because of new threats to fraternity. The logic of dominion, egoism, tribalism, ethnic rivalry, violence and religious fundamentalism, etc, belittle the sanctity of fraternity and poison peace in the human family. The followers of both religions, therefore, have a special duty to address the threats to fraternity and to search together for common solutions to build a culture of fraternity that would render the modern world more just, more humane, more respectful and more peaceful." (From a recent interview in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, on the importance of dialogue between Christians and the world's 350 million Buddhists.)

"Sacred," a Term Redefined: "Throughout the history of salvation, those called out of love by God are called to become part of the family of God's holy people. That is what it means to be a people sacred to the Lord. Pope Francis is quite effective in exploiting this point in the 'Joy of the Gospel,' as he literally redefines the word 'sacred,' which becomes clear if we look at the dozen or so times he uses that word. Instead of the sacred being that which is set apart from the ordinary and mundane, outside of the temple, as the word 'pro-fane' suggests, the sacred, according to the pope, has to do with human solidarity, bringing 'others to a communitarian experience of journeying toward God.' He speaks of the need to learn the 'art of accompaniment, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5).' Seek this kind of holiness; keep your priesthood sacred, not by separating yourself from people, but by accompanying them and building up the family of God's people. Be the kind of merciful father in Luke's parable who invites others, especially those easily rejected and judged, into the banquet of life. Remember that Jesus' heart is sacred because he remains in God and God in him, and because he shares that life of God with us." (From the homily Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., gave for the ordinations of five men to the priesthood in Spokane June 27.)

5. Making Catholic Preaching Better

"A homily should be simple and practical," Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Ontario, told the July 7-10 conference on preaching at the archdiocese's St. Augustine Seminary. Those who preach, he said, ought to "use few or no notes." For, if a homily "is too complicated" for the homilist to remember, "it is too complicated" for the congregation to remember.

The church "cannot rely on the 'born preacher,'" since there are not enough born preachers "to supply the need we have in our church of the new evangelization for effective preachers," said Cardinal Collins. Thus, "we have to be able to train enough people to be effective preachers and develop habits in these ordinary people that will allow them to be effective preachers."

Homilists "need to know intimately at ground level the struggles of those" they address, the cardinal stressed. He explained, "If we preach theoretically we will be expending time on matters that do not touch the lives of the people and so will be ineffective -- tuned out." He judged it "fatal, for many reasons, to become disconnected."

While there are ways to communicate with unbelievers, "or those who dominate a secular culture," Cardinal Collins said that "the key to preaching at the Eucharist is to nurture those who are practicing their faith." The two-pronged hope is "that they may be unharmed by their culture in which they live daily, but also that they may be able to reach out beyond the parish to evangelize the society."

If a homilist is "to recognize the plan of God that is made evident in particular biblical passages," it is essential that he "read the whole Bible continuously," the cardinal observed. He said that "in the liturgy, as the sacred text is proclaimed and interpreted, the believer is shown how God spoke in ancient times and how that relates to the whole of the divine plan," as well as "to the particular situation of this congregation as it goes about its mission of bringing the Good News to this world."

The cardinal cautioned, though, that while the homilist "needs to know the literal sense of the Scriptures" and to "work diligently to discover what God was saying to those who first heard" a particular passage, preaching "does more than simply retail scholarly exegesis to the congregation. Doing that is fatal."

Exegesis, Cardinal Collins said, is just one stage in a homily's preparation. He explained:

"Once the preacher has a fuller understanding of the original context of the Lectionary passages, he must relate them to one another and to the insights which he has gained from prayer, from a knowledge of the whole faith of the church and from a personal understanding of the needs of the particular community. Then, using all the resources of imagination and insight available to him, he will be able to situate the scriptural readings for the benefit of the congregation so that the Word of God comes off the page and comes alive in the hearts of the people."

In order to confront the problems Christians face in the world, those problems need to be viewed "within the perspective of the whole of God's plan," the cardinal told the conference on preaching. He said, "The Scriptures proclaimed and interpreted within the liturgy make that possible. This is all the more important in light of the teaching of Vatican II on the evangelizing mission of the lay people of the church."

6. Care for the Sick: Perspective on Lourdes

The "pride of place" given to people who are sick in a place like Lourdes, France, was on Cardinal Vincent Nichols' mind July 17 in an interview with BBC Radio.

Some people may tend to associate Lourdes mainly with miraculous cures. But in this case, the cardinal focused mainly on compassionate care for the sick. He spoke prior to a visit to the shrine of Lourdes and against the background of a debate in the British House of Lords over a proposed assisted dying bill.

"Traffic gives way to wheelchairs" in Lourdes, "and space is always made for them in the cafes and bars. Young volunteers are ready to help," Cardinal Nichols told the BBC. He said that "in Lourdes they learn to see beyond the terrible effects of illness, age and physical deformity to the character and spirit of the person they are caring for. Each day they learn to express the compassionate love of God, who never abandons us, even when we feel lost and abandoned ourselves."

It is a place, he added, where "all the lessons about caring for the sick and dying are spelt out boldly: the innate dignity of each person; the exhausting demands and the rewards of caring for them; the horizon of eternity, of heaven, in which we live each day; and how through love, care and medical skill we help each other to bear the sufferings that life brings -- the real meaning of 'compassion.'"

Moreover, the cardinal continued, in this place "there is no talk of the futility of needless suffering or that suffering should have the last word on our existence. There are no cruel implications that the terminally ill are a burden on our way of life and our resources. Here no one points to the dark door of suicide, whether assisted or not."