It is fitting that as I write this blog in anticipation for National Vocation Awareness Week, the liturgical calendar has us moving through Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this letter, we find Paul emphasizing that we are now entering into a ‘new exodus.’ Just as Israel was liberated from Egyptian slavery, we are now liberated from the slavery of sin. The sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist are the means by which Catholic Christian believers are joined to the new Exodus. Baptism is prefigured by the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea, and the Eucharist is prefigured by the manna and the water from the rock in the desert.
As we know well, the story does not end at our baptism. Rather, it is there that the story begins. Israel, having escaped from Egyptian slavery, quickly discovered that serving the Lord was even more demanding on the will than serving Pharaoh. In order to reach the Promised Land, the people of Israel had to take a path through a wilderness of trials and temptations. This path required a valiant conquest of all the obstacles of sin that stood in their way. In fact, the difficulty of the journey had some yearning for the days when they were slaves in Egypt.
As children of the ‘new exodus’, our vocation in life is to travel through the wilderness of human life. Our exodus differs from the old in some ways, though. Our proclamation of the freedom found in Christ occurs while we travel. Our baptismal vocation calls us to ongoing sanctification, but it also calls us to witness this great exodus from sin and the new freedom in and won by Jesus Christ.
We often desire the commitment to this ‘new exodus’ after seeing the commitment of others. This is a point that Fr. Luigi Giussani makes in his book titled, Is it Possible to Live this Way?. Fr. Giussani stresses the necessity of faith by which one encounters Christ indirectly through the witness of another. This witness tugs at our hearts to the point where we have no choice but to respond. Witnesses are therefore crucial to our discovery of this vocation - a vocation to partake in the new exodus.
In my own life, my first example of such witnesses began with my parents. They not only gave me life, but they witnessed the faith by making the home a domestic church. Their marriage provided a template for me in my own vocation. They helped me see that the expression of freedom from the tyranny of selfishness comes through a spousal love. This spousal love is not exclusively expressed through the sacrament of matrimony, but it is also expressed through the sacrament of holy orders. As a diocesan priest, my local church in Harrisburg, particularly St. Francis Xavier in Gettysburg, is in a sense my spouse. I could not have such an understanding were it not for the witness of my parents.
In addition, every seminarian and newly ordained priest can think of at least one other priest who first witnessed the presence of Christ to them through their own ministerial priesthood. In my case, I watched and learned first from my childhood pastor in New Hampshire, Fr. Marc Montminy. He was, and continues to be, a witness of Jesus Christ and a faithful spouse of the Church. Other priests who have taken on a similar role in my life are Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. (the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center), priests of the Diocese of Harrisburg, faculty priests at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, and priests elsewhere.
As a priest, I seek (despite shortcomings and failures) to always be attentive to this desire - a desire to reach the promised land of eternal life through this new exodus. This is only possible because I have encountered people who not only accompanied me in discovering this desire, but who also witnessed it. This is, in essence, what it means to be a ‘humana viator’ (a wayfaring pilgrim). This is what it means to be an apostle. This is what it means to imitate Jesus Christ, the apostle of the Father. This is what it means to fulfill our baptismal vocation.
During this National Vocation Awareness Week, may we be more attentive to this desire. May we recommit ourselves to this new exodus, which we have already begun through our baptism. May we also maintain and express our gratitude for those who have (and continue to) accompany us as witnesses.
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This week is National Vocations Awareness Week. When I tell my vocation story, I usually describe my vocation as a response to the great love that God has shown me throughout my life. I talk about what a joy it has been to fall in love with Christ and to give my whole life to him in a specific way in religious life. And that is absolutely true and beautiful. But if I’m being honest, it’s only part of the story.
I am a novice with the Daughters of St. Paul, a congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelization through the media. Shortly before I entered the convent, I was plagued with a series of doubts regarding my vocation. I had discerned that God was calling me to enter religious life, but suddenly the vocation seemed too big for me.
One time in particular, I went to my spiritual director deeply concerned that I had misrepresented myself to the sisters. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a normal 21-year-old. I’d watched The Office more times than I’d care to admit, had a newly acquired taste for craft beer, and had only kicked my swearing habit a few months before. As I prepared to move to the convent and begin my formation, I was worried that the sisters might be shocked to find out that I was still pretty far from being holy.
“What makes you think that you haven’t been honest with the sisters?” my spiritual director asked me.
“Whenever I visit the convent, I find myself acting like a much better person than I actually am. They’re going to find out the truth once they start living with me,” I explained.
“Well,” he began chuckling, “Your vocation is the very thing that is going to make you into the best person you can be. That means you’re not there yet. But look, it’s already making you holier!”
It can be tempting to think that we need to get our life in order before we respond to God’s call. We want to be perfect before we think that God can work through us. But friends, that day will never come on this side of heaven. And besides, that just isn’t God’s modus operandi.
When we look at who God decides to call, it is never the person whom we would choose. Peter denied Jesus three times. Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out from her. Paul, whom my congregation is named after, literally persecuted Christians. God is not afraid of our weaknesses or our wounds. In fact, it is often the very things that we view as obstacles to his grace that make us into powerful witnesses to his grace!
The truth is, I’m not worthy of being called to be a religious sister. But no one is really worthy of this calling. That’s the beauty of a religious vocation and of the Christian life as a whole: it’s not about us and what we can do for God. It’s about God and what he wants to do in us.
Every sacrifice that I’ve made in these past three years, every mistake, every time I have had to ask forgiveness or forgiven someone has served to make me into the person God wants me to be. So has every hour of Adoration, every Spirit-filled conversation, and every birthday that we’ve celebrated in community. There are these kinds of moments in every vocation where God uses something that seems strangely normal to bring us ever closer to himself.
Vocation is a totally free gift that God has given to us. We could never earn or deserve it. It requires a response, but it begins with the fact that he has first loved us and desires to give us abundant life. That’s the truth about religious vocation— praise God for that.
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast, which commemorates the moment Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce the plan of salvation God intended to bring forth, can seem a bit odd to celebrate during Lent. The Annunciation is a moment that we would usually associate with Christmas, as it introduces us to the official incarnation of God as Man. While March 25th is exactly 9 months before December 25th, I believe that celebrating the Annunciation during this time has more meaning than simply the significance of 9 months to December. In this post, I hope to share with you my thoughts on a few of the many beautiful features of this event in Christianity and how it pertains to our mission in the Liturgical season of Lent.
The Annunciation emphasizes both the importance of Mary and how the Annunciation brings the Incarnation of God into the realm of human history. I have noticed that people, when discussing this crucial event, typically compartmentalize these two aspects while forgetting their interconnectivity. I also find that this can result in one compartmentalizing their relationship with Mary and their relationship with God, failing to recognize how the two are woven together. I say this because I am certainly guilty as charged! Seeing the beautiful harmonization of the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) can help us better understand the correct approach to bringing our hearts closer to God during Lent.
You might then ask how this interconnectivity between Mary and the Incarnation occurs. Yes, Mary did give birth to Jesus, and many people stop there. However, I believe the harmonization is more than the mere act of Mary giving birth. This is where the Annunciation comes into play, as Mary agreed to submit herself fully to God’s will. The nature in which such agreement is founded on remains an open question. With this, however, I have found that the best answer to this question (in the span of my short, and continuously developing spiritual journey) lies in the spirituality that is the source and foundation of the Catholic Apostolate Center. In a blog I wrote some while back, I talked about God as Infinite Love, and I reference this again because I am referring to a spirituality of collaboration, where the Love of God is a collaborative invitation to participate in His will, which subsequently leads to being one with His love. We walk on our journey together with God, and this connectedness is why such a harmonization between the role of Mary and the Incarnation of Christ exists.
The answer to how this harmony exists lies in the gift of free will. I mention free will because of it is important in the understanding of a collaborative relationship with God, one where we are free rather than forced to conform to His will. Another way of saying this is that God could have entered humanity, without our consent, into a new order where the original graces and gifts would be restored. However, God wanted us to love Him, and such love requires an act to freely choose Him while simultaneously rejecting something else (i.e. sin, worldly pleasures, and so forth). If God were to redeem humanity through the Incarnation of Christ, it would then be by human consent, in order that our dignity is maintained and we are ably to participate in this Infinite Love of God, and that God would offer the Incarnation (and therefore the opportunity to regain access to full participation in such Love) by means of collaboration with humanity. It is only through such collaboration that participation in the Love of God can occur.
This is where our Blessed Mother, Mary, enters into the conversation. In the Annunciation, Mary is asked by the Angel Gabriel if she would freely consent to God’s plan to take humanity out of the abyss and to let him be completely enraptured by God’s Love (See Luke 1:26-35). Her response was the greatest act of liberty the world has ever seen: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). This freedom is perfect because her Son was willed, and not merely accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. There was no element of chance, but a desire of the Father to enact His will of salvation by means of collaboration. Mary, having full faith and love for God, essentially said “yes, I am willing to collaborate with Your will in order that I may participate in your Love.” Her willingness to collaborate is an act of harmonization, one that we cannot ignore in our lives of prayer and charity.
With this being noted, how does this pertain to our journey of faith during the Lenten Season? Like Mary, we are called by God to collaborate with His will in order that we may grow in holiness and be ravished by His Love. The Annunciation reminds us that we have this gift of freedom to participate in such collaboration. After all, it would not be collaboration if we were forced to participate! We are shown that we can choose God and reject the things that keep us away from Him. This choice is deeply rooted to the extent that God would offer such a choice pertaining to our very own salvation, the Incarnation of His very own Son. Fortunately, we have an example, a role model who perfected this very act of freedom. That role model is Mary, as she collaborated with God’s will. Because of such a harmonization between Mary and God’s plan, the same harmonization can occur with us and God. We can pursue this harmonization with God by asking for Mary’s intercession. She can then us respond to such an invitation by saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Growing up in a large Catholic family gave me the opportunity to interact with the Catholic Church’s love for Mary and the Saints. However, looking back just recently, it is no surprise that my appreciation of Mary came to being as I grew in a deeper appreciation of my own mother. I tell people that I would be content if I were a fraction of the person that she is. While I could go on forever about how wonderful my mother is, I’ll limit myself to just sharing one characteristic of her that I think is crucial for understanding and appreciating Mary as the Mother of God: when I go to my mom for advice, she will always end the conversation suggesting that I pray about it and ask God for the necessary virtues to make an action or decision. By asking me to pray about it, she helps me direct my attention toward Christ.
You may or may not have this same experience with your own mothers, but Mary is the Mother of God, making her Our Mother as well. We all have the opportunity to approach Mary’s open arms in the hope of receiving her comfort and love. But even more importantly, she is able to point us to Christ, to encourage us to grow our relationship with her Son. Look at scripture and you can see where Mary helps guide people to Christ. In particular, look at the Wedding at Cana, for instance, in John 2. Mary and Jesus were at a wedding, and the hosts ran out of wine. Mary went to Jesus and told him that they were out of wine and were in need of more. Jesus responded to her, "Woman, what is that to me and to you? My hour is not yet come." Mary did not really respond to this. Instead, she went to the waiters and told them, "Do whatever He tells you." Her remark shows that she knew that He was about to perform a miracle. She knew that he would fulfill her request. Jesus instructed the servants to fill some huge jugs with water. Because of Mary's advice they obeyed. Think about this now: Mary told Christ what the servants needed, and she then immediately told the servants to do as Jesus tells him. Does Mary not tell Christ our needs, and then instructs us to do as her Son instructs us to do? By going to our Blessed Mother, Mary can help us follow the path to Christ the way she helped the servants obey Jesus. Like the Wedding at Cana, she will tell her Son our needs and then, pointing to her Son, tell us to do as He instructs us.
Mary not only directs us towards Christ. Our hearts yearn to be like Mary. This is because Mary fulfilled God’s invitation of perfect love, which allows her to become the person she was meant to be. We have that same calling. While we will not achieve this goal in absolute perfection the way Mary did, we can look to Mary as our human role model for true, authentic Christian love towards God and towards our fellow human being. Mary, being the New Eve of Creation, can directly link us to God. Think about this, if Mary directly brought Christ to the world, then would she directly bring us to Christ through prayer? She is our direct route to growing closer in Christ, as she knew Christ better than anyone else. So maybe like some of our own earthly mothers, Mary is our role model and our guide towards holiness.
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center