Saturday, March 29, 2008

Creating a Culture of Vocations in the Parish

This is the text version of the PowerPoint Presentation I gave at the Annual National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) National Convention this past week in Indianapolis. It's pretty long, so I'm gonna try to break the post, if I can figure out how.... (didn't work, sorry for the long post) BOLD text is the slide header, and the bulleted points are what was actually displayed, with the text block below a general outline of what I said.

General Overview
· Four Themes:
o Catechesis
o Family Life
o Vocations
o Respect for Life

About a year ago, the Diocese of Cleveland developed a new pastoral plan that was consisted of the following four aspects: Catechesis, Family Life, Vocations and Respect of Life. They struck a cord with me, as these four aspects can also help in the promotion of the priesthood, as they form four key, constitutive elements of Catholic life, each informed by the Gospel, and they obviously build upon one another.
Catechesis begins in relationship with Jesus and learning all there is to know about Him and the religion He founded. But it is not enough to just know the faith, it is to be lived in the family, put in to practice. By doing so, I am convinced that vocations to the priesthood, religious and consecrated life will erupt.
And a key way to energize and enliven the faith is to speak for those who are less fortunate, and that is the building of the Culture of Life in the parish and home, and standing against the culture of death which the world advocates.

Catechesis: Formation for Mission
· What is the point of Catechesis?
o “To lead boys and girls to Christ.”
§ Incomplete answer!
· Henrietta Mears:
If you stop there, you will never be successful. Every man and woman,
every boy and girl, must feel that there is a task for them to do, that there is
a place marked X for every person in God’s Kingdom.

We begin with Catechesis, the foundation of religious education, and I ask: What is the point of catechesis? Henrietta Mears, who worked as a catechist for 35 years at Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, and had over 400 of her students go into full time church ministry (including a young Billy Graham) stated that she often got the answer: “To lead boys and girls to Christ.”
Her response: NO! That, of course, is part of the answer, but if you stop there, you will never be successful. Every man and woman, every boy and girl must feel that there is a task for them to do, that there is a place marked X for every person in God’s Kingdom. Here is my X, no one can stand in this place but me. I must help others to find their places. (From Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story, 191; as quoted in Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles from the Catherine of Siena Institute.)
Catechesis is not just another subject in school, or something done on just Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings; it is formation to live a life in Christ! We must help our students come to realize their need to ask the question of the Rich Young Man in the Gospel: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit Eternal Life?” If they ask that question, honestly, they are trapped!

Catechism: Know the Faith!
· In order to equip our faithful to be able to find their place in the Church and in the world, they need solid catechesis!
o Take advantage of new resources:
§ Didache Series of textbooks
§ US Catholic Adult Catechism
§ Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
· Catholics are reluctant to share their faith because they feel like they do not know it well enough.

How did John Paul II introduce so many young people to the faith? Because he led with Christ and drew them into the mystery of the personhood of Jesus, and then began to teach them about what it means to be a Christian in our world today.
Once we have, through our own personal witness, introduced our students to Christ, we need to equip them to be able to live their faith, and defend it in the world, to both the secular challenges and to the Evangelical Protestants. In order to do this, they need to know the faith, deep down, backwards and forwards, in the end: solid catechesis.
Often, we think we have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t. Take advantage of the newer resources that have come out in the last five years, resources that are finally translating the Universal Catechism into language that our people of today can take advantage of.
As an example, because I come from a family of engineers, I can read and understand blueprints, I can talk competently about building and understand the concepts involved. But I cannot take lines on a sheet of paper and actually construct them into a building. We need to equip our faithful to be able to take the faith in the books and apply it to their daily life so that they can confront the challenges that they will face.

Catechesis: Living the Mystery
· Archbishop Edwin O’Brien:
o Young people will give their lives for a mystery, but they will not give their lives for a question mark.
· What is different about the study of the faith versus the study of math, science, literature, languages?
o We have to help our students to realize that the Faith is there to help them in good times and bad!
· GK Chesterton:
o Mysticism keeps men sane.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien new Archbishop of Baltimore, and former Big Boss of the Archdiocese of the Military Services. He is a past Rector/President of two seminaries: Dunwoodie in New York and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He has seen his soldiers die, he has seen his priests (who are on loan from other dioceses) give their lives for their men. He gave this quote at the Catholic Men’s Conference last March in Cincinnati: “Young people will give their lives for a mystery, but they will not give their lives for a question mark.”
In a sense, we are forming our young people to be martyrs in the world today. I think they want that challenge, they want to stand for something more, and they are ravishingly hungry for it.
In order to pass along that mystery to them, you must model and live that mystery for them. Your example, as their catechist, will inspire them to embrace the fullness of the truth. Do not give them watered down crap, they can see through it and they will reject it. If it is not of value to you, it will not be of value to them.
You have to help your students realize the value and Truth of the Faith. You have to believe it yourself! Ask yourself the question: How is the study of Catholicism different from the study of mathematics, science, literature and modern languages?
I don’t know about you, but when I am in crisis (usually on a daily basis), I do not turn to my college Chemistry book! I look to the Bible, I hit my knees, I grab a rosary. All of those other subjects are important, but will they help when my wife nearly gives her life in bearing my children? Will they help when my husband goes to serve in Iraq? I don’t think so!

Family Life
· Primary Building Block of Church and society
o Primary place where the faith is handed on!
· Young parents need formation in how to hand on the faith to their children.
· Programs on the parish level need to encourage and support what is happening at home.
o You can use already existing methods to accomplish this task.

All of this emphasis on catechesis, however, will be pointless if we do not have an impact into the life of families.
Family life remains the basic building block of the Church and society, this is also the place where the initial foundations of the faith are formed, as well as where the most effective catechesis happens, and most of it happens implicitly! Think of how children learn the language: they listen, they slowly start to put together the basic building blocks and then start to use it themselves, and it is something that continues to grow throughout their lives. I am still learning new words, are you?
The same thing happens in the faith! The most effective form of catechesis happens at this level, this is where the next generation learns to pray, learns to hope in God, and begins to discern how they are being called into the world, forming the foundations of an adult life of faith.
The problem is, the current generation needs help to do this! I’ve seen it, there is a hunger to know the faith, you must help your parents to know the faith and how to pass it on to their children. I had it easy, I had an eight year formation program of preparation for the priesthood, and I still wasn’t ready! And we think six months will be enough for a couple preparing for marriage?!?!?

Defense of Marriage and Family
· Be cautious of ‘Rights Talk’
· Remember:
o All that we do as Christians should be based in LOVE!
o A love that is sacrificial, giving, and complete.

It is no secret that marriage is under attack. The more progressive elements of our society are attempting to redefine marriage into something that it is not. The Rule of Law is no longer about a reflection of the Natural Law of God, but is now who has the most power to implement their own interpretation of how things should be.
Obviously, this has some very dire consequences for the life of the Church as well. What is important to keep in mind is that we, as a Christian community, not fall into the “Rights” talk that pervades modern society. We need to keep the conversation on obligations, on a reflection of the Natural Order, as established by God.
If we allow marriage laws to start to erode, there is no end. It will continue to erode until we even question the meaning of the word ‘is’!
So, how do we combat this, especially in the realm of vocations: Love! We hold to a higher degree, a higher standard, that does not let us embrace a false teaching of sin.

Family as Seedbed for Vocation
· Equip parents to address:
o What is the unique set of gifts that each of my children have?
o How is God asking me to enrich and nourish those gifts to send my children into the world?
· To Teens:
o Don’t ask: “What do you want to do with your life?”
o Rather: “What does GOD want you to do with the gifts He has given?”
§ A subtle but important distinction.

One of the challenges that I give parents is to realize that they are called to prepare their children to be able to go out into the world, to enable them to embrace their call from Christ, and take up their own Cross to follow after him.
So, how do you do that? What I challenge parents to do is two-fold: first, they must come to realize the unique combination of gifts that each child has, and then how is God calling you, as their parent, to nourish and enrich those gifts so that you can send them out into the world.
I see it often that parents want to live vicariously through their children, they want their children to have what they wanted when they were that age. That is fine and noble, yes, but is it what God wants for that child? That is the more important question.
In fact, as they get older, especially into high school, we often ask teens the wrong question: what do you want to do in College, in the working world? It is a fair question, but a wrong question nonetheless. Rather, I propose that we ask them: What does God want them to do? That begins to address the question that each Catholic Christian is called to be an active disciple of Christ in the world. I am also convinced that this second question will ultimately lead to a greater happiness in life than the first.

· Starting aspect:
o Priesthood and religious life
o Leads to self-examination about how one is being called to follow Christ.
· After this initial introduction, introduce married and single life also as vocations in the Church.
o Helps break the mentality that ‘this is the next thing for my life.’

As we start to enable parents and teens to approach those questions, we then need to introduce them to all the options. First among them are questions about priesthood and religious life. I start with these because they are the toughest questions to embrace, and they also require the most soul searching for the person asking these questions.
When I first met a friend of mine, Kelly, she was a single young adult volunteering her time as a youth minister in a parish where I was stationed for a year. As I got to know her, she asked me a lot of questions about how I knew that I was called to the priesthood, and how she might figure out if she was called to religious life. (She had a lot of people suggesting that she consider it!) She kept coming to the answer that she was not called to religious life, but was called to get married. The problem was, she hadn’t found the right guy, yet! But an interesting thing started to happen in her life, as she came to the conclusion that she was called to get married, she started changing the criteria that she was using in looking for a spouse. Instead of looking for a handsome fireman, she started looking for someone she could have a spiritual connection with, someone she could make a lifetime commitment to and with. Because she had to ask herself questions about religious life, she came to a very definite conclusions about marriage.
By addressing the questions in this order, what starts to happen is that it breaks the routine that so many young people implicitly fall into in their lives: I’m 25 now, I have to get married. No you don’t! You are to get married if you are called to it and if God has placed you with the right woman/man! It is too easy to get a divorce today, and hence too easy to get married, because there is a way out. Help your young people to see this as a call!

Nurturing Vocations
· Children want to be heroes, especially boys.
· Introduce the option of the priesthood and religious life before adolescence.
· That way, they are formed with the idea already in their heart.
o Then, when they ask the question: “what does God want me to do?” they already have this option in the background.

The topic of priesthood and religious life is not something that can be addressed once, and then dropped. It is something that needs to be fostered early on, and nourished and enriched throughout a young person’s formation for life as a Christian. Joe Campo is the producer of the Fishers of Men DVD which has gained very wide acclaim in Church circles for its strong promotion and identity of the priesthood. His idea, as reported in an interview with National Catholic Register, was to show the video during preparation for First Communion, not just at later stages of formation. He says, “My suggestion is that they show (Fishers of Men) to second graders. Where I come from, little boys want to save the world. They want to be police officers and fireman. Why not give them the option of saving souls? That's the priesthood. And you have to give it to them before adolescence. If you do, then adolescence will be formed with this in the heart.”
Obviously, not all are called to be priests and/or religious life, that would certainly cut down on the Catholic population after one generation! But, if you form all young people with this idea of the priesthood, they will be more likely to support their friends and peers whom might be considering the idea. One thing that holds back many young people from considering the idea of priesthood and/or religious life is the concern that they will be made fun of/experience negative peer pressure. Hence the need to change that around to help them experience positive peer pressure to consider the idea.

Public Support of Vocations
· Priests and religious are not as visible as they once were.
· Use positive steps to help combat that lack of visibility.
· Show a variety of religious sommunities.
o Highlight the unique charisms of each order.
· Make the parish support of vocations OVERT!

As the numbers of priests and religious have unfortunately continued to decline, there is a direct correlation with a decrease in the visibility of priests and religious among our young people. They may recognize that the priest is ‘up there’ at Mass on Sunday’s, but do they realize that he is also a real person, has the same hopes and dreams that they do? Do they even know a religious sister? The first one I really met and got to know was when I was in the seminary!
In response to this, there should be a permanent, but not static display of vocations present in every parish! One of the things that we provide in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is the display poster of all the seminarians currently studying for the Archdiocese. Is that prominent in the school and parish? Do the children see it at CCD? As part of the rotating display, include items from the myriads of religious orders, they are always more than happy to send out information on what they do and what their specific charism is.
Things that we once soaked up just because we swam in a ‘Catholic Culture’ now need to be much more overt, because our young people do not get it in that way anymore.

Respect for Life: Lesson in History
· Communism fell through:
o Prayer
§ Consecration of Russia
o Witness of the faithful
§ Those here who prayed
§ Those here who gave their lives
o Leadership, civil and ecclesiastical
§ Pope John Paul II and President Reagan together

There is power in prayer, and there is power in a consistent ethic of life that informs all aspects of life for the community of faith. For those who are my age and older, how many of you thought that Communism would fall without a single shot being fired? (It is starting to come out the Gorbachov was a closet Christian and one of the figures in history he most admired was St. Francis of Assisi.)
Young people have a natural sense and curiosity about justice. If you are inconsistent in your classroom, they will jump on it immediately, trust me, I know! What they need help with is steering that justice and forming their conscience so that they can recognize social justice as an outgrowth of their faith, as a way of speaking for those who have no voice, especially the unborn but also the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, etc.
Again, look what happens when we set aside our differences and work for the coming of the Kingdom: Pope John Paul II and President Reagan were able to bring down Communism. That should give us a great deal of hope to recognize that God will triumph in the end.

Respect for Life
· A growing movement among young people
· Tap into their desire for justice, action, and witness.
· The recognize the emptiness of the culture of death and desire to embrace the culture of life!
· Respect for Life => Mission

Respect for Life helps to give direction and purpose to our relationship with Our Lord. He does not want us to sit and just adore, rather we pray so that we can also do. Laity are called to be active in the world, to bring Christ to their homes, their places of work and recreation, and through your witness to help bring the faith alive to all those Catholics that have grown lax in their faith.
So, in the growing secularism of our culture, direct your young people to embrace a culture of Life. The witness that they provide, especially at the March for Life, witnesses to their desire to stand up for change and to live for something greater than themselves, and it helps to prepare them for whatever God might have in store for them later in life.
By having a solid foundation in the mission of the church, that a relationship with Christ leads us to speak for the poorest of the poor, those for whom no one else will speak, the energy of our young people starts to be focused and driving to living for Christ and standing for change in this world.

Gifts to be Shared
· Respect for Life establishes:
o All are ‘Gifted’ by the Lord
o Gifts are meant to be shared.
o Without the sharing of these gifts, the world suffers; but by sharing these gifts the world rejoices!

Through all of this, the great challenge is to break the cycle of narcissism that our world engenders and to help our young people to recognize that they are called and gifted by the world; and that He gives them a specific and unique mission in the world. And if they fail, the world suffers.
Granted, I know you will not reach them all. Even Jesus failed to convert all of His disciples. Yet, there are those in your classrooms and parishes who are waiting to hear the challenge of the Gospel. Give them that challenge.

o resources and links in support of vocations
o Didache Series textbooks
o The Catherine of Siena Institute
o Intentional Disciples Blog
o Prominent Catholic Blogger and author of “Prove It!” series
· Footprints of God DVD series
o 10 volume series on Church History
· Fishers of Men DVD from Grassroots Films
· The Catholic Priest Today
o DVD from Midwest Theological Forum
· The Passion of the Christ
· Catholic Blog Awards
o Lists of the best and brightest writers on all things Catholic


Fr. V said...

"Every man and woman,
every boy and girl, must feel that there is a task for them to do, that there is
a place marked X for every person in God’s Kingdom."

Yes yes yes!


Anonymous said...

This is a terrific outline on vocations. Much to digest, and I will keep re-reading it. The thing that struck me first is the very same thing that the previous commentor mentions:

..every boy and girl must feel that there is a task for them to do, that there is a place marked X for every person in God’s Kingdom. Here is my X, no one can stand in this place but me.

I would love to discuss this with you sometime, Father. I believe this very thing with my whole heart. I have always believed it. Unfortunately for me (and, in my opinion, for the benefit of the whole Church) the powers that be didn't(don't) believe that I should occupy the place marked X that I so fervently believe that God wants me.

-- Michael

Sherry W said...

Fr. Kyle:

This is Sherry Weddell. I wrote the piece from which you pulled that striking Henrietta Mears quote.

She was simply amazing - and I'm sure never expected to be quoted on a Catholic priest's blog! If we only took evangelization and formation as seriously as she took it, we would be in a very different vocation situation today.

Mears also heavily influenced Bill Bright, the founder of Campus and Crusade and the founder of Young LIfe.

We are doing our best to do what Mears described: enable as many Catholics as possible to find their spot in God's purposes.

40,000 down, 1.1 billion to go. :-}

Talk about job security!

Father Schnippel said...


I keep trying to get a few of my brother priests here in Cincinnati who are pastors to bring you here to the queen city. No takers, yet, but I'll keep trying.

Adoro te Devote said...

OH, my goodness, Father, can I hire you to come speak at my parish? This is AWESOME! (And if you won't come speak, can I have freedom to plagiarize you shamelessly?) :-)