“We Christians are called upon to preserve and spread the joy of waiting: we await God Who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him.” – Pope Francis
Over many years, I have been honored to accompany others in their vocation discernment and growth in faith through spiritual direction. Often, as is the case now, it is with young adults – undergraduate and graduate students, seminarians, and those beginning their work careers. In almost every instance, they try to prepare themselves well for the Lenten season, but rarely think about preparing for the Advent season. For many, the end of an academic semester as well as the gatherings, travel, and shopping for Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to leave little time to focus on Advent preparation and living.
May I invite you, as I do them, to enter well into the waiting of Advent? It is meant to be a quiet time of deeper reflection on the coming of the Messiah, not just the first coming (the Incarnation) that we celebrate at Christmas, but the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
The candles of the Advent wreath will be lit one after the other and the time will go by quickly. May we not let it not slip by, but use it well as a time of prayer, reflection, discernment, and deepening our encounter with Christ, through ongoing conversion of heart!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources to accompany you during the Advent season, please click here.
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
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.
Sister Cecilia Cicone is a novice with the Daughters of St. Paul living in Boston, Massachusetts.
O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.
“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” –St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Prayer
Perseverance always sounds nice; you hear the word and think “yes--I can do this!” Lately, I’ve been struggling to persevere in prayer. To combat this, I’ve found my American industriousness kicking in—resulting in my desire to impose on myself a strict prayer routine akin to that of St. Teresa’s (“If I just work hard enough, I’ll be levitating like St. Teresa in no time!”) only to wonder why it all seems to fall apart after 2 days. Discouragement soon follows, and I feel like I’m back at the beginning.
I have fallen into this trap several times since I started taking my spiritual life seriously a few years ago. At the beginning, persevering in prayer and good spiritual habits can seem daunting. But the need for perseverance is a normal part of our spiritual journey. Sometimes prayer comes easily, sometimes we struggle to quiet our minds. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “As the flames of your first enthusiasm die down, it becomes difficult to advance in the dark. —But that progress is all the more reliable for being hard. And then, when you least expect it, the darkness vanishes, and the enthusiasm and light return. Persevere! (Furrow No. 789)”
It wasn’t until I heard the same advice from my spiritual director for the 100th time, combined with many Catholic podcasts and YouTube Videos, advice from friends, and books, that it finally dawned on me: you can and should tailor your spiritual life to fit your state in life and your personality! In doing so, you will find the strength to persevere.
I made the mistake of thinking that the only way to grow in holiness was to follow the exact path of my favorite saints, only to end up frustrated as to why it wasn’t working or giving me any peace. After this struggle, I’ve learned four simple tips that have helped me develop better habits and persevere (and grow!) through a better spiritual routine.
As St. Francis de Sales also said, “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Get to know yourself, what spirituality works for you, and persevere!
For more resources to deepen your spiritual life, click here.
Mary DePuglio is a government contractor living in Yorktown, Virginia. She holds a Master's Degree in Russian Language and Area Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is applying to the Augustine Institute for the Fall 2020 Academic Year.
The beginning of summer is an exciting time. The school year may be done, and more leisurely activities may be planned, but for the ministry of a local church, the work never stops. The sacraments must be administered, the Holy Mass must be celebrated, the sick and dying must be cared for, and those with life’s burdens and clouds of uncertainty must be consoled: the sacred works of ministry never cease. As even our Lord observed, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” God calls upon certain men to embrace a unique vocation of humble sanctity, service, and obedience as priests. As such, seeing the result of years—even decades—of discernment and spiritual formation come to fruition is a cause of immense jubilation for a local church. Ordination day, then, gathers the diocese to happily witness the sacred rite through which the bishop consecrates these men into priestly service. And how wonderful such an occasion is— especially for those who have walked with these men—as new spiritual life is breathed into the church.
While recent scandals might cause some to worry or be wary, the celebration of priestly ordination serves as a reminder that God remains with us and never ceases in caring for the needs of his Church. The sinful actions of a few do not negate the sanctity and solemnity of a call to holy priesthood; the standard remains high even though some have acted beneath it. The saying “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good” serves as a simple but handy reminder of His faithfulness, which is manifested in the ongoing call for certain men to care for the immense needs of His people. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York observed:
Is that not good news? Aren’t you tired of hearing about priests who are trouble? Aren’t you fatigued about hearing of priests in scandals? Aren’t you kind of weary [hearing] about priests that have been removed? Don’t you get a little discouraged when you hear about the vocation crisis? Now, all of those are realities; we don’t need to run from them, but I don’t know about you, but I see six new priests who are enthusiastic and eager and raring to go. That gives me a lot of hope and a lot of encouragement. And it’s going to be a high honor for me to ordain them.
Discerning how to answer God’s calling to a vocation in your life is an ongoing process, but this does not mean you need to wrestle with it alone. The Church has a wealth of resources to aid in beginning to answer the questions regarding vocational discernment. Spiritual direction is a common method—whether in person or through a treasure trove of books and reflections which have been produced through the centuries and for a Church which has faced a whole spectrum of challenges and threats. God remains with us through it all!
Other means of discernment include retreats and talks offered by dioceses and religious communities. And this is also true for those who may be discerning marriage as a vocation. In Holy Scripture, priesthood can be traced back to the Levite tribe of the Israelites, but the family unit is often modeled after the Holy Family, the highest ideal. No matter what your calling in life, God has sanctified it and calls us all to best apply our lives to the service of others through our vocation.
Just as the United States has recently commemorated Memorial Day and the countless who have died answering the call to fight for and defend our rights and freedoms, we as a church can come together to appreciate and love our priests, who live to serve the Body of Christ. They have heard and answered the call of the Most High God and trusted in Him to illuminate the path they have been destined to follow in service. They walk with us in faith to celebrate the sacramental life of the Church and comfort those who seek consolation and peace. In supporting our priests and religious—who can be found in parishes, hospitals, cemeteries, battlefields, and schools—we can celebrate with them as their numbers increase during ordinations so as to aid in the beautiful works of holy ministry.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, D.C.