On Vocations Awareness Week

This week is Vocations Awareness Week. I’ve written on the topic of vocations, before. There are two things that I find interesting about the topic of “vocations”. Typically, when we talk about “vocations” we talk about vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. While these are obviously important to the life of the Church, they are specific vocations, which only come after our general vocation: holiness. The other thing that I find interesting about the topic of “vocations” is that we tend to try to encourage young men to consider a vocation to the priesthood in a manner that resembles prohibition era mob tactics. No one wants to be forced to do anything and neither the Church, nor the Lord, wants anyone to enter a vocation to the priesthood or religious life in a manner that isn’t freely chosen. Coerced vocations are kind of antithetical to the whole idea, in the first place.

If we really want to increase the number of vocations we have to the priesthood and the religious life, we should really start with the primary vocation to which we are all called: holiness. If we focus first on growing in holiness, ourselves, and then in our children, they will naturally hear the voice of G_d calling them to their specific vocation. Designed by G_d to fulfill that vocation and drawn to him, they will naturally follow the Lord, after first seeking holiness.

If we really want to promote vocations, promote holiness through daily prayer, the Eucharist, and spiritual growth and development.

On the beauty of daily Mass

I often encourage people to attend daily Mass as part of their quest for holiness. Especially with young people, I frequently hear the response, “but, I don’t have to go to daily Mass.” This is precisely the point; we aren’t obligated to go to daily Mass. 

The liturgy contains the greatest sacrifice we will ever know, and each time the liturgy is celebrated, that sacrifice is re-presented before us. It is that sacrifice that makes the liturgy what it is. 

I think we recognize our personal sacrifice in a unique way during the week, when we’re not otherwise obligated to go to Mass. Sure, on Sunday’s and Holy Days we make our own sacrifice, but we’re also obligated to do so. The greatest sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, is most impressive in the freedom with which it is given. We see in the agony in the garden (Matt. 26:39-44) that Christ, recognizing the fate before him, doesn’t want to die. Terrified, he begs his Father to spare him the terror of the cross. But he accepts the will of G_d and freely gives his own life. How great is this sacrifice, given freely, out of his own love for us? 

When we attend daily Mass, we don’t go because we are obligated, we go because we want to, because the sacrifice and the grace of the sacraments are more important, more desirable, than the things we give up, just as our salvation and obedience to the will of the Father was more desirable to Christ than his own life. 

It is precisely the sacrifice, freely given, that makes daily Mass so beautiful. So quit kidding yourself. Make the sacrifice to make the time and get to Mass. 

On being intentional in the quest for holiness

I often find myself encouraging people, especially young people, to be intentional about seeking holiness though spiritual growth. Whether we want to run a marathon or grow a business, we have a plan for most of our goals in life, especially the ones we’re actually successful at. Yet, in our spiritual lives, few of us even consider developing a plan to grow in holiness. Like most of the things worth doing in life, the task is not easy, but the plan is not complicated. I recommend three things:

  1. Daily Prayer – This means quiet time for just you and the Lord. The Dynamic Catholic Institute has a great Prayer Process. I recommend it often, as so many people simply don’t know how to pray. I do recommend adding one step: silence. We hear in the gospel, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” Matt 10:27 If you want to hear the voice of G_d, you have to listen in silence.
  2. The Sacraments – Recieve the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist as often as necessary and possible, respectively. People often tell me it is hard to get to Reconciliation, especially. I usually suggest asking a priest if he can hear a confession after Mass. Except in rare circumstances, they are usually willing. Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once per month is a good goal. As for the Eucharist, find time to go to daily Mass, if not every day, at least regularly. The Eucharist provides incredible grace, not only drawing is closer the to Father, but it is also, quite literally, food for the journey, giving us strength to resist the temptation of sin, furthering our journey towards holiness. 
  3. Spiritual Reading – Spiritual Reading provides outstanding opportunity to grow in our faith and understanding of the Lord. Even just a few minutes, or pages, per day can make a significant difference. Try fifteen minutes or five pages. I recommend starting with The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, by Matthew Kelly, which is available from the Dynamic Catholic Institue for free, but there are a whole host of books available. 

Like most plans, the execution is the difficult part. Setting aside time every day to do these three things is challenging. And the prince of lies does what he does best, using our own fears, uncertainties, and doubts against us, convincing us of things like,  “I’m too busy.” Or, “I just don’t have time for that.” Fifteen minutes for prayer and fifteen minutes for reading are possible. We just have to want them. Daily Mass is usually about thirty minutes and is often available early in the morning, before work or for some, over the lunch hour or in the evening. 

Make some time to grow in holiness and give this simple, if challenging, plan a try. 

Life Is About the Journey, Not the Destination

If you ask people what the meaning or purpose of life is, you might hear responses like, “to know, love, and serve God in this world, and be with Him in the next” or even simply, “to get to heaven.” These are both goals, and good goals, at that, but they don’t do anything to actually *get* there.

Imagine, for a moment, a basketball team of great talent. Certainly the goal of the team is to win games and, thanks to the wisdom of John Madden, we know that, in order to win games, you have to score more points than the other team. But if we only focus on the score, we probably won’t score many points or win many games. On the other hand, if we focus on fundamental excellence and playing the game well, we likely *will* score points, and while we may not win *every* game, we will certainly win many of them, if not most. Indeed, championship basketball teams handle the ball well, they have great communication, their shooting form is practically a work of art, and the dominate defensively with rebounds and challenging offensive players on the other team. You see? It’s the fundamentals that are the process or means by which they score points, which is, in turn, the means by which they win games.

The goal of life may be to get to Heaven, but we can’t merely hope and pray our way there. We have to focus on the fundamentals of life. What then, are the fundamentals of life? We see a glimpse of this in scripture, with the story of the Young Rich Man:

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. – Matthew 19:16-22

It is clear, from this passage of Matthew, that we must follow the Commandments, but Christ goes further, as he often does, and speaks to service and love of others. Finally, Christ says, “follow me.”

The fundamentals of life, then, are to love others with unbridled compassion, serve others at all costs, and follow the Lord. If we focus on the destination, we likely won’t get there. If we focus on playing the game and playing it well, we will surely achieve greatness.

Life is not about the destination; it’s about the journey. Will you follow the Lord?

Choosing to Know the Lord

The more I work with young people, the more I realize – or perhaps affirm – that they are, generally and overwhelmingly, terrified of having a relationship with the Lord. Don’t get me wrong. There are some that have strong spiritual lives and actively seek to know the Lord and his plan for them. But these are the minority.

When I really think about it, it’s not entirely surprising to me. The Church teaches quite clearly that man was made by G_d to know and love him in a personal relationship. In fact, it’s the very first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

Yet, the world, and society at large, seeks to fill this place reserved for the Lord with all sorts of stuff; whether material possession, food, drugs, or any number of other things, they try to find the fullness that comes with knowing the Lord by any means necessary, other than a personal relationship with him. But none of these things offer the infinite blessing that the Lord has to offer.

I’m not entirely sure why young people are so averse to knowing the Lord. I have some ideas, but that’s the topic of another post. What I do know, is that it completely incapacitates them in their willingness to know him.

Like starting anything for the first time, building a relationship with the Lord is much harder to start than it is to complete. Consider an athlete; getting into peak physical condition is much more difficult at the start than it is in the end. And once you get into peak physical condition, it’s much easier to maintain that it was to get there. It’s the beginning that’s the most painful and the forming of new habits that’s the most challenging.

My advise to young people is this: seriously consider the state of your relationship with the Lord. Do you want to know him better? Do you want to know his plan for you? If so, get over yourself; get out of your own way, and do it! People will judge you. Friends will abandon you. It’s okay. Are they really the kind of friends you want, anyway? And what kind of friend are they?

I’ll address actually coming to know the Lord, later, but the first step it to decide to get out of your comfort zone; be vulnerable, and trust in the Lord. Quit being a wuss; go big, or go home!

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