Browse by Topic: Vocation

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Fit for a True Calling from God

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The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them; for I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you. -- Oracle of the LORD.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

As a candidate for the Catholic priesthood, I have had the opportunity to speak with many priests and seminarians about their own unique vocations. Over the years, I have begun to detect a common theme -- a sense of unworthiness. They all tell of a moment of doubt, fear, and even paralysis at the beginning of the journey, due to a looming suspicion that “they can’t do it” or “God’s got the wrong guy,” because “I am not enough.” One seminarian even told me that he delayed the pursuit of Orders for over ten years out of fear of inadequacy.

This is not unique to priests. Married men often speak of the same phenomenon that strikes them soon before the birth of their children; and mothers, when they become awestruck at the task of motherhood, often feel the same. I believe that one of the most common human experiences is the feeling of unworthiness. In the face of responsibility, duty, and even honors, how often do we feel like we are not enough?

I think it probable that this very same all-to-familiar doubt was also churning in the soul of the soon-to-be prophet Jeremiah. The Lord tells the prophet that before he was ever formed in the womb, God knew him, formed him, dedicated him according to a plan known before all creation. It is only after assuring Jeremiah of this fact that the Lord then commands him to “prepare himself.”

The awareness that God has perfectly designed him for the task to which he was called is the only backdrop, the only frame, within which Jeremiah could ever muster the courage he needed to realize his calling. The Lord pleads with Jeremiah to “not be terrified” on account of His commands and tells him: “For I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze.”

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord teaches us an important lesson: when God calls us, it is He, not we, that first provides the necessities. It is God who qualifies us, not we that provide the qualifications. In fact, this providence is the very beginning of God’s call.

The wise artist, craftsman, or architect, before ever setting out to build a structure, first knows the structure’s purpose. Only then, in light of that purpose and with that purpose in clear focus, does he collect materials needed for the task. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to build a firm load-bearing structure, he chose brittle clay or weak straw. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to lay a stable foundation, he chose sand instead of solid rock. Instead, the wise craftsman always chooses the right material for his purpose. Yet even this human craftsman, as wise and skilled as he may be, is always laboring with materials that are not of his own making.

If even these human craftsmen can be trusted with their skill and the materials that they have, how much more can we trust the Divine craftsman who, not only chooses and calls us according to His purpose, but even creates us and provides for us according to His master plan set from all eternity? Does the Divine craftsman not know His material? Is God unaware of the task to which He sets out? If a calling is from God, it is He, and only He, who possesses the power to work out the calling through us.

The Lord is the only solid foundation upon which we may live our unique callings. Only upon Him can we become, like Jeremiah, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze. The mystery of our vocations as Christians is buried deep in the mystery of God, and we can never possess the strength needed unless we first possess Him. Brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid but let us take courage…for we are the creation of God.

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Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

All in the Family

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Blessed are you, God of our fathers. Blessed is your name in every generation. Let the heavens and all creation praise you. You made Adam, and his wife Eve as a helper and support. From them the human race has sprung. You said, 'It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a partner.' Now, I take this woman as my wife, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that we may find mercy, and grow old together.  --Tobit 8:7 

When I was younger, I used to imagine what my life would be like as a husband and father. I could see myself buying a house, raising a family, and finally retiring and traveling the world. This lasted for a few years, until I began to discern a call to religious life. Soon the thought of marriage and fatherhood faded into the background, and eventually I realized that God was calling me to a life of celibate chastity. Now as a cooperator brother in solemn vows, my mind only turns to marriage when I think about pursuing a degree in marriage and family counseling. Or when I am preparing to give a talk on the sacrament of marriage, as I've been doing for the last few weeks.

I'm not surprised that God has been inspiring me as I've studied and prayed about what I will say. The first reading at Mass a few weeks ago was from the book of Tobit, and told the story of Tobias and Sarah coming together to pray before consummating their relationship as husband and wife. A few days later, two articles online caught my attention. One included numerous photos of husbands and wives praying together on their wedding day. Then on Father's Day, I read about a poll by the Associated Press and We-tv, conducted in May, which revealed, "8 in 10 men said they have always wanted to be fathers, or think they would like to be someday." Even the new Superman film, Man of Steel, gives me hope in the possibility of happy and healthy families. I won't spoil the movie, but there are some wonderful scenes depicting what it means to be a father and to make sacrifices for the sake of your family.

Today's television shows often portray dads as being immature and foolish, a bumbling doofus or an absentee father-figure. So it's nice to be reminded that there are good fathers out there: responsible men who work hard to take care of their families and make ends meet, who love their wives and offer good advice and encouragement to their children. The traditional nuclear family, so common-place in the 1950s, is not just a thing of the past.

Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

Open to God

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A few weeks ago sixteen men visited our community here at St. Albert’s in Oakland. They were on a "Come & See" weekend, spending a few days with us to see if they might have a vocation to our Dominican way of life. I got the chance to speak with them for a few moments about my own journey of discernment. I didn’t speak with an outline, nor was I very prepared. While I probably rambled on for a good while, I know that the central theme was being open to God, because that single theme has greatly formed me in my own journey.

What does it mean to be open to God? Does God actually have an influence in my life, and do I even try to recognize this influence? Maybe I’m quick to look for God when things approach a crisis, but I know that often God isn’t the first thing on my mind when things are going very well. This, I believe, is the first stage of being open to God: a reprioritizing of our lives to become aware of God’s actions. How can we be open to God if we aren’t struggling to listen to him, or seeking after him at all times? 

These concepts, of listening and being open to God, sound pretty vague to my practical ears. What does this all this mean, on a day-to-day level? Even now, being in vows for a few months, just out of the Novitiate, it’s easier for me to articulate what this means by contrasting where I was to where I am now, with all of the experiences inbetween. 

All things considered (as best they can be) it seems that my vocation is to the Dominican life. This is the place where I can grow in holiness: engaging in the daily struggle to become a more holy individual who seeks after God with my whole heart and loving my neighbors. If I hadn’t been open to follow God where he was calling me, making the plunge to enter this life, I can easily say that my life would be less. Fundamental to this vocational discernment is God calling us to move beyond ourselves. If I wasn’t in religious life now, I would most likely be a bachelor content with working a decent job, spending time with friends, and playing a lot of online games. My heart would be broken, because I would know that for my personal growth in holiness I needed God to be placed as the highest priority in my life, not merely a God that I was conscious of only at Mass once a week; living in that trap of knowing what to do, even yearning to do it, but somehow being unable to make it actually happen.

I can now see how much God has called me to grow beyond myself by looking at where I was, as well as looking at the present moment and recognizing that I am still in the process. You don’t put on the habit and just become holy: it’s a process. While I may live in a religious community now, with a common life and regular observances, those are all helps to urge me on to becoming less self-centered, and more focused and attentive to the people that God has me cross paths with each day.

This then, is the core of being open to God: a willingness to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow him. When we willingly pick up our cross and follow after the Lord, we are truly open to changing and reforming our lives, of growing beyond ourselves and our self-centered desires. Our way of the cross is the path to holiness, and our vocation is that which we can willingly embrace through the grace of God that enables us to become holy as our God is holy. Testing out my emotional states and looking for affective signs from God definitely played a part in my decision to enter into this life. However, those emotions and seeking after affective signs from God have not been the reasons that have kept me here. 

In being open to God, what keeps me here, living this vocation, struggling to deny myself every day and take up my cross, is simply the knowledge that this vocation makes me holy.   

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

The Will of the Father

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Baptism of ChristLast weekend was our vocations weekend at St. Albert's Priory.  15 men joined us to discern, and I gave the evening Vespers reflection/preaching on Saturday night.  In the context of God's Divine Fatherhood, the theme I broach here is vocational discernment, especially certain tendencies today towards making it overly introspective.  (This book written by a Dominican a number of years ago covers the subject in more depth.)  Prayer, self-examination and reflection, spiritual direction, and seeking God's promptings on your heart, are all necessary and good parts of discernment.  At the end of the day, though, God has already given each of us the grace to decide to follow him completely, whether with another in married life, or according to a particular charism in religious life.  Contact Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P., our vocation director, for more information on the Dominican charism and the Western Province.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

First Profession

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Brothers Andrew Opsahl, OP, Cody Jorgensen, OP, Andrew Dominic Yang, OP, and Thomas Aquinas Pickett, OP (left to right)

On September 1, four brothers of the Western Dominican Province finished their novitiate and professed simple vows, thus beginning their years of formation as student brothers at St. Albert's Priory. During the Mass, Fr. Mark Padrez, OP, Prior Provinical of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, focused his remarks on the Parable of the Talents, found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30). His homily is included here...

Brothers Thomas, Cody, Andy and Andrew:

Last year before you received the habit I asked you if you were afraid. Some of you nodded yes. In return I said "good." I want to go back to that theme of fear as you prepare to make profession, because it is good to be fearful, but perhaps not as you or others may think.

We must begin today with the parable of the talents in the Gospel. At the time of Jesus a talent was a very valuable unit of money. Today’s equivalent in value would be somewhere around $100,000. You see now that in today’s Gospel Christ was talking about considerable investments. The third servant, out of fear, was unwilling to invest what his master had put into his charge.

Fear is a significant force in our lives. Many of us make decisions on the basis of fear, most of which turn out to be bad decisions, bringing bad results; but we must realize that there are different kinds of fear. In the Church we speak of “fear of the Lord” and in the Old Testament we find that, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 9:10).

So what is the difference between the fear found in the third servant, and “the fear of the Lord” found in the Book of Proverbs? The difference, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is that fear of the Lord is reverential. The phrase “fear of the Lord” speaks of the awe and reverence that we should have when we think of ourselves in relationship to God the Father. Awe and reverence lead us to make decisions that are courageous, filled with goodness, and that are life enhancing. Awe and reverence of God encourages us to be risk takers, to make risk investments by sharing what we have with others.

God gives us talents and has invested Himself in us, in order that we, along with Him, can build up and enhance the lives of those around us. This is a major theme that runs throughout the Old Testament, which over and over again calls on God’s people to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed, the poor, and to tell the good news of God's holy presence among and with His people.

Christ repeatedly brings that call from God to us, putting His very own life on the line, calling on us to be likewise: self-sacrificing, self-giving, and to employ our gifts and talents to benefit others; even to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. God our Father, He reminds us, has given us what we have, not just for our own sakes but also for the sake of other.

The phrase “fear of the Lord” brings us to the realization that God has expectations of us, and to acknowledge and respect those expectations. That is healthy fear, and this fear is essential as you begin your professed life with us.

Doesn’t it strike you that the parables of Jesus, which center on farming, fishing and business activities, all involve risk–taking? Remember the man who found the pearl of great price and then risked all of his net worth to acquire it? Remember the fishing episodes when Jesus asked Peter to throw out his nets yet again, even though he had gone through the whole night without catching a single fish?

The problem we face is that our hearts and souls are too often filled with an emotional fear, a negative fear that causes us not to act, that leads us into a selfish gathering of things that we keep only for ourselves. It is a paralyzing fear that leads us to be like turtles hiding inside a thick outer shell that prevents us from loving others, that keeps others at a distance, and that isolates in a self-imposed hell of loneliness. 

Do we want to find love in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by preaching. Do we want to find happiness in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by teaching. Do we want to find meaning in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in community.

The profession you make today is to be made with “fear of the Lord." Through your profession you are placing yourselves in the hands of the Lord, and He will use your talents to make known not only His love for you, but also His love for others through your preaching and teaching. Thus you are taking a risk today, but not a risk in which you measure the probability of gain, something that becomes an end in itself. No, by your profession you are taking a risk in allowing the Lord to lead and guide you to a place you do not know, where you will use your gifts to bring His love, His Mercy, His wisdom, and His compassion to those most in need.

Through Jesus Christ, God our Father has given you enormous treasures and talents.

Brother Thomas, the good Lord has blessed you with an intellectual curiosity. Take the risk and bring the truth of God’s love to those who desire to learn of His love, but do not know where to begin.

Brother Cody, you have the gift in which you easily engage others. Use that gift and welcome into the Church those who may feel unwelcomed. Show them God’s mercy.

Brother Andy, you have been blessed with an artistic eye. Take a risk by sharing the presence and beauty of the Father’s love reflected in the visual arts, music, and yes, even in the dramatic arts.

Brother Andrew, you have the gift of practical wisdom. Take the risk to lead in building up the Kingdom of God, with those who despair and wonder if God is present in our world.

All four of you have powerful currency, the powers that God has given you. We need to understand that Christ is interested in your productivity, in doing God’s will and risking what He has given you, to love as He loves. He isn’t looking for passive, dependent persons to follow Him as His stewards here on earth. He wants, rather, risk-takers who are willing to be His followers, people of courage and daring -- who will enliven His Church.

Christianity without courage is Christianity without blood and spirit. God encourages us to jump into life and to run the risk of growing, by relating to and caring for others. It doesn't take courage to hide out in fear, but it does take courage to risk something new, and today you embark on taking that risk.

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

The Foolish Necessity of the Gospel

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Preached at Vespers, Feb 2nd, 2012, St. Albert's Priory

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting.  For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.  For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

With less than three months to go until I make solemn profession in the Order of Preachers, I have a confession to make.  I have no idea what I am doing.  I do not know and cannot explain the paths my life took which led me to enter the novitiate of the Western Province in 2006.  I do not know and cannot explain why I, among pretty much all my friends and companions in the world, was given a particular experience of Our Lord that led me to abandon otherwise normal pursuits, and desire to renounce marriage, property, and that self-determining path which the vow of obedience undercuts.  I do not know and cannot explain why I, after joining the Western Province, have been given the grace to pesevere until now.  And yet, here I am.  And it is worth it.

We are all by now familiar with the famous Via Negativa of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he appropriates from Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Mystery of God’s Character is so far-reaching and beyond anything we could come up with in our finite little heads, that even our accurate and true ideas of Him fall infinitely short of the full reality.  As with God, similarly with God’s wise Providence, which has overseen and guided and fashioned the course of history, and each of our very lives, up until this day.  We can, as it were, observe the effects of Providence, but its inner-workings remain a sublime mystery. 

Each of us in our own vocations may have encountered great difficulties: difficulties in our prayer life, difficulties in our life of study, difficulties in learning the art of preaching or in doggedly sticking to some ministry while it stretches us so thin we begin to run on fumes; difficulties too in common life, where our personal temperaments and habits mix together in the cauldron of every other man called to this life, sometimes with various boiling and steaming effects.  Yet for all this, here we are.  Why?

To ordinary human eyes – I confess, to myself, apart from faith – this way of life contains a good deal of absurdity: we give up marriage, property, and ordinary human pursuits to dress in white robes, sing together several times a day, study abstract philosophy and theology from centuries past, and have as our mission telling the world about a Divine Human Being who walked on earth a long time ago but wants to be in relationship with us today.  He is invisible but we claim to be able to speak to him, even on a daily basis; he is still around today but he looks like bread, which we all eat in a daily ritual service.  This picture, to eyes without faith, is absurd;  it is also what St. Paul calls the foolishness of the Cross; and each of our vocations shares to some extent in this foolishness; the vital thread is that underneath the appearance of this foolishness lies the very power and mystery of God; for which it is worth sacrificing everything.

The mystery of Christian vocation, and perhaps in a special way a vocation to the Order of Preachers, indeed finds its archetype in the the Great Apostle Paul’s vocation.  We may have come into the Order for any number of various reasons, some more or less exciting, some more or less noble: yet each of us somehow has felt in the depths of his conscience and life with God the urgency and necessity of preaching: “Necessity is laid upon me,” says St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”  The first and greatest missionary of the Church felt himself to be simultaneously a slave to Christ Jesus and slave to all men: the one giving him his commission to preach after encountering him on the road to Damascus and rooting him in the Christian community, the others, those to whom Paul is sent, Paul feels an obligation of debt so strong he is willing to throw off and renounce anything and everything that gets in the way of bringing the truth and power of the Gospel to them.  “To the Jews I became as  a Jew, in order to win Jews...To those outside the law (i.e. Gentiles) I became as one outside the law to win them. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul’s language in our reading today is charged with his characteristic emotional intensity.  The grammar of the passage actually breaks up at points in the Greek, revealing his hard-to-control enthusiasm for spreading the gospel.  “Necessity” is laid upon him.  He is a “slave”; he works “free of charge”; he “renounces his ordinary rights” to comfort and pay.  And what is his reward?  Simply, he tells us, that he is able to preach, since he knows God the Lord saves souls through him.

My Domican brothers, whatever precise path the Lord has paved to see each of us here at this moment, we too share in the foolishness and the glory of the Cross of Christ which St. Paul knew so well.  I personally have no ultimate explanation for why I am here other than the mystery of the grace of God in my life; I could point to any number of books I read, people I met, experiences I had, but somehow they would all be insufficient.  In the end, the only sufficient answer is the grace, the sheer grace, of our God.  And maybe it’s a good thing that that is the only explanation I, or we, can ultimately give.  In any case, like St. Paul, we friars preachers are also “charged with a commission”: the reward of this commission is not that we live comfortable and easy lives, not that we are accepted and praised by the world and by people, not even – dare I say to the student brothers, including myself – that we get a class and formation schedule exactly to our liking; our only ultimate reward for the commission, the only ultimate consolation we’ve been given is, of course, that we have served and labored well for the Father, who desires to save souls through us.  For that, it is worth sacrificing everything.

Pope Honorius III’s letter to St. Dominic in 1221 at the founding of the order rings as true down the centuries for us here now as it did in the 13th century to St. Dominic and his band of early preachers.  We may envision afresh our fundamental identity in the picture Honorius paints, a picture St. Paul would have been quite pleased with:

“He who never ceases to make his church fruitful through new offspring wishes to make these modern times the equal of former days and to spread the Catholic faith. So he inspired you with a holy desire to embrace poverty, profess the regular life and commit yourselves to the proclamation of the word of God, preaching everywhere the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In God’s ineffable and wonderful Providence we too have been called to do just this; I, none of us, at a certain point, can fully grasp why God has chosen us for this task; yet he has, and here we are: “Necessity is,” as it were, “laid upon us,” in our hearts and in our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit: “Woe to us if we do not preach the Gospel!” Countless blessings in God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ as together we do.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life

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Shortly after I began my discernment with the Dominicans, I found a prayer for vocations that I started using everyday. It begins,

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, in whom the fullness of divinity dwells: You call all the baptized to put out into the deep, taking that path that leads to holiness. Awaken in the hearts of young people the desire to be witnesses in the world, to the power of your love…

In the last eight years I’ve shared this prayer with many people: those discerning their own vocation, and those praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This past weekend, while celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life (February 5), I began to reflect on how this prayer has affected me.

You call all the baptized to put out into the deep, taking the path that leads to holiness.

In the Gospel of Luke, we first hear this phrase “put out into the deep,” when Jesus meets Simon Peter, who has been fishing all night without catching a thing. Jesus gets into his boat and, after teaching the people, tells him, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Surprisingly, after a night without sleep and nothing to show for it, Simon Peter doesn’t respond in anger as one might expect -- upset that a preacher was telling him how to do his job as a fisherman. Instead he says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your words I will let down the nets.” His answer is a reminder that what Christ calls us to do is not always easy or enjoyable. Very often the path God leads us down will be filled with stumbling blocks, not to punish us, but to help us grow in holiness. Such is the case in my life as a religious. Sometimes it’s difficult to live in community, to put other people before yourself. Although challenging, the experience of finding a middle ground and truly considering a brother’s will before my own has helped me to grow in charity.  

Awaken in the hearts of young people the desire to be witnesses in the world, to the power of your love.

Many people today do not understand what consecrated life is all about. They see our profession of vows and our living out of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience as strange and antiquated. This is not surprising in a world that has become increasingly secularized and puts more and more value on money, sex, and power. This misconception, often held by those who are not Catholic, doesn’t bother me as much as the belief that one becomes a priest or religious simply for the sake of the Church’s apostolic work. While the Church’s mission is important, a young man or woman’s consecration as a religious is not about utility, but about being in love with God and being a witness to the power of that love. The Church teaches that “the contemplation of divine things, and an assiduous union with God is the first and principal duty of all religious” (Canon 663). It is my hope that one day people will realize that I am not a brother because of what I get to do, but because it is who I am called to be.

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Things That Remain

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"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  Luke 21:33.

Rev. Br. Gian Matteo Serra, OPClose to the village where I was born, in northern Sardinia, in the open countryside, there is a small and ancient Romanesque church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. Each year about a thousand people gather to celebrate the holy woman, and, of course after Mass, lunch is offered to all present. It’s a big feast. I remember that every year I used to blow off school for St. Catherine’s feast. My parents belong to the group of people who have organized that feast for many years. <--break->

When I was eighteen I moved to Rome to study economics. It was a big surprise for me to discover there the body of St. Catherine in a church in the city center. My family was very happy, and we planned to organize a pilgrimage. <--break->

I often went to pray in this church. It was a familiar place where I could find a piece of my home.  The day I discovered that the body in that church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, was that of St. Catherine of Siena, and not that of the martyr of Alexandria, I became really sad. However, I continued to pray there, thinking that the two saints in heaven would come to an agreement in sharing my prayers.

After a couple of years I met the Dominicans. The friar who helped me with my discernment suggested that I choose St. Catherine of Siena as my patron saint.  He did not know that I already had  a friendship with her, or more precisely, with her namesake.

When, after some time, I found out that Catherine of Alexandria was a patron of the Dominican Order, I no longer had any doubt that the two saints had been planning a meeting about my vocation. 

I don’t think I’m making a mistake if I consider this "planned meeting", a beautiful expression of the communion of saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, referring to the communion of saints, outlines two aspects that make it up: "communion in holy things" (sancta) and "among holy persons" (sancti).  The two are closely knit. The first aspect refers in particular to our walking as a church on earth sharing the same faith in Christ, and whose expression are the sacraments and especially the Eucharist.  The second aspect, the communion among holy persons, refers to the relationship between us and the saints. They, who already contemplate the face of God, intercede for us and help us on our life’s pilgrimage.

The two aspects of the communion of saints are ordered to the same purpose, which is the vision of The Face of the Creator Father for eternity. To enter into the communion of saints who see, praise, and worship God face to face is our true calling.  The “today”, the present moment, should be lived as the waiting of this fullness of praise and contemplation to which we are called. With our life we should prepare ourselves every day, through the practice of charity. In during so, we begin, here and now, to contemplate God in faith, with the hope of seeing Him on the last day. 

The Saints, sometimes with a sense of humor, come into our lives.  They are not just an example to follow, but they are a presence that touches our hearts to increase in us the desire to be part of the family of those who praise God for eternity.

I think that today’s Gospel can help us understand how each of us is responding to our given vocation. The contrast between the things that pass and the things that remain can be the criterion of discerning to which direction we orient our lives.

Are we growing in our communion of holiness? Everything we do: our work, our apostolate, our study, our liturgy, our daily life - as important and indispensable as they are - belongs to the things that pass. All these things are a way and an instrument that must bring us to what truly remains: his Word, his presence. At every moment, we have to judge whether what we are doing in response to our vocation, is really bringing us close to God.

But we should be mindful that the call to the communion of saints is universal. That’s why we are sent to evangelize.  We must be witnesses of the beauty of this loving plan of God, so as to increase in the people we meet, their desire to find the source of our joy .... provided that we are joyful!

Of course, as a Dominican I can tirelessly preach.

But sometimes I ask myself: Does my life on earth preach that I choose to belong, first of all, to the communion of love and holiness in heaven?

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Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Enter into My Joy

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The following is a transcript of Br. Peter's Vespers preaching on Nov. 12, 2011:

When I was finishing graduate school at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2003, my whole life was ahead of me.  I was getting ready to become Catholic; I had a network of good friends who, like me, were planning on beefing up on languages after graduation to apply to Ph.D. programs – I wanted to do classics; I was very comfortably tucked away in the charming little colonial port town of Annapolis, Maryland.  It was true, I had a fair amount of academic debt – but whatever, I was a graduate student and supposed to be poor and I’d worry about that later. 

It came as a surpise, then, when I received a call that Spring from the high school I had attended in Monterey, that the Latin teacher there – and my former teacher and mentor in my high school days – had died, and had told the school to hire me to replace him.  The school said if I wanted the job, they wouldn’t ask anybody else, and I could start in the Fall.  Now it was a great honor for my mentor to recommend me to replace him; and the job would help me pay off academic debt; and it also would help me beef up on my Latin as I prepared for a Ph.D. program  But I really didn’t want to go back to California.  I was so comfortable where I was!  I liked the East Coast.  Couldn’t I just stay here and live a nice little Catholic academic life for the rest of my years?  In other words: I liked being accountable to no one but myself.(!)

As I prayed about it, though, it became increasingly clear that the opportunity was too good to turn down; and even seemed to have a touch of providence in it.  So I reluctantly went back to California.  I labored exceedingly that year as a first-year teacher with four different levels of Latin to teach; I made money to go toward paying off my debt; my parents were happy I was home;...but the most important thing, of course, was that after becoming Catholic that summer, I visited the Western Dominicans in February and, well, here I am.       

Our vocations, brothers, are supreme mysteries; “God’s ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts”; they involve in a very great way risk, which is precisely what the third servant in the parable of the talents was not willing to take.  Why not?

The third servant’s attitude seems to be linked to a very mysterious aspect of revelation, namely God’s justice.  The servant knows – or thinks he knows – that his master is a “hard man, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he does not scatter.”  We are tempted to say when we hear the servant’s excuse, “No, he’s not the hard man you thought he was...you’re misunderstanding him; you should have used your talent wisely like the others.”  But the master himself does not exactly act – at least to our way of thinking – with greatest generosity to the servant.

The master first of all had not distributed the talents in a very even, or politely democratic way – each servant simply gets an amount matching his ability; then, in response to the third servant’s rather pathetic and cowardly response to “be afraid” and “hide” his talent safely underground, the master strips him of the talent, gives it to the one who has made the most of the three, and casts the poor wretch into a howling, teeth-gnashing region of darkness.

When we think on it, hardly any of the parables our Lord speaks fit nicely into our human ways of thinking – that is their precise point.  God is represented in them as, on the one hand, someone willing to cast into darkness someone who doesn’t show up to a banquet with the right garment on, consign to the same fate virgins who can’t get extra oil because the others who do have it will not share, and here, reward the most financially successful servant and cut down the most inept.  On the other hand, we know that other parables portray God as almost foolishly generous: paying a full-days wage to laborers who have only worked an hour, or being zealous to forgive and lavish gifts on a son who has totally renounced him and wasted his inheritance.

God’s justice and mercy, the parables seem to say, are realities that utterly transcend our own finite minds.  And how do we get an idea of his justice and mercy, but by the ways he has acted in history, and even acts towards us – the providential guidance he gives our lives, the tasks and trials and rewards he calls us to?

The ill-fated servant who hides the talent tries to wrap his mind around – or rather presumes he has – the “hardness” of his master’s ways, his “reaping where he has not sown”; and the effort paralyzes him into fear and selfishness.  He wants to keep his talent – he wants to keep his vocation, if you will – to himself.  He has received less than the others, which, gosh, seems kind of unfair; and he is perhaps unsure of what will happen if he goes out and uses the talent.  What will the people say to whom he goes?  What if they criticize or attack him? What if he’s led into situations where he has to work with people he doesn’t get along with?  What if he’s asked to do things he doesn’t have complete control over and which don’t fall out in a predictable, orderly manner?  And besides, we may hear him murmuring to himself, “Why doesn’t the master himself come back and help me with this! He should have been clearer as to what he wanted me to do – it’s not my fault he didn’t show me the steps to take on this.”

Each of our vocations, brethren, has an inestimable value before God – and with that inestimable value comes a tremendous and grave responsibility to use it all, to spend ourselves and wear ourselves out in prayer, study, and preaching for the salvation of souls.  And this takes a willingness to risk and to step out boldly in faith.  I can’t think of one biblical figure who was blessed by God and not asked simultaneously to do things audacious, risky, and even foolish in the world’s eyes: Abraham left his fatherland; Moses challenged the Pharoah; Elijah engaged in prophetic contest alone against an host of self-mutilating pagan priests; and we need hardly mention the trials and sufferings of the apostles.  Our vocations are, after all, not our own; and we are called to give total and perfect sacrifice even in the ordinary, day-to-day affairs of our lives.

Now, leaving Annapolis, Maryland to teach Latin in Monterey, in contrast to the figures of scripture and the saints, appears scarcely a hardship.  But I hope that in each of our lives – especially as we meditate on the glory our Lord calls us to as we near the end of the liturgical year in the next two weeks – I hope that each of us remains vigilantly aware of the unspeakable blessings we have received in our own vocations, and fearlessly willing to spend our talents for the salvation of souls, in full faith and courage, so that when our time comes, we may hear Our Blessed Lord say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”