SCOTTSDALE — If there was one thing the nation’s vocation directors and personnel — with some arriving by passport — expected to receive from a gathering of peers in Arizona, it was a reminder of heat.
They got it in outdoor temperatures, although a few double-digit days crept in during their institute followed by a convention Sept. 14-21 at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. They got it in prayerful energy and fellowship among vocations workers who often fly rather solo.
One of the conference’s key speakers also delivered the heat four-fold. In his keynote address, “On Becoming Fire,” on the first full day of the 55th annual conference Sept. 18 Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto proposed four facets on the theme of fire to, as the priest for the last 45 years put it, “focus our thoughts, move our will and guide us in our actions.”
— Peter Do (@Frpeterdo2002Do) September 18, 2018
There’s the fire of Pentecostal zeal, of sacrificial love and of purification. All work together to create hearts “set on the fiery, dazzling beauty of our true home, the heavenly Jerusalem,” the cardinal said.
There’s also the fire of majesty and mystery where every vocation begins, he said. The cardinal was sure to emphasize that a vocation is not a career, “but a personal call to the service of the Lord God and of His people. It is sublime and it is divine.”
Vocation directors and workers catch that fire alive in others and certainly tend to it among prospective seminarians. They do so as “unworthy servants and messengers of the living God,” he said, cautioning the vocation directors against viewing their role as branch managers with the bishop as CEO.
A vocation ministry “must be founded on a profound awe of the privilege of being called to serve the Lord God as priests,” the cardinal said. In his talk that spellbound a ballroom for a solid 45 minutes and in a brief Q-and-A that followed, Tornoto’s Archbishop of 11 years stressed Eucharistic adoration as the primary way to cultivate a sense of mystery and wonder.
So…because we cant make this up…region wide power outage in Scottsdale. What's the only room not to lose power at the hotel? You guessed it the NCDVD Chapel! #NCDVD18
— Rosemary Sullivan (@RoseSullivan86) September 15, 2018
— Fr Joe Fitzgerald (@_LIPriest) September 19, 2018
“People can’t understand it — just being there,” Cardinal Collins said. He noted how sitting still in silence is countercultural. Yet, it can be fruitful. “All Jesus ever told us about vocations was to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.”
Of course, answer to that prayer is often a very gradual process. Children might feel nudges about their vocation, but don’t get too serious about it until high school or college when they’re more ready to live outside of the domestic church.
Some dioceses have found that spiritual and social activities within that time gap helps foster an openness to hearing God’s call to a religious vocation. Fr. Michael Isenberg, vocation director in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, pointed to “Quo Vadis” events as fruitful for helping young men in his area discern “Where are you going?” They feature regular events and a summer camp at the seminary for high-schoolers centered around faith and sports.
That diocese’s bishop, who was once a referee and an umpire, oversees the games. Fr. Isenberg said it helps remind youth that seminarians are normal men from backgrounds just like theirs.
Rhonda Gruenewald, president and founder of Vocation Ministry, details 67 multi-faceted and multi-tiered vocation activities — broken up in terms of planning time and budget needed, if any — in her book, “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry.”
“It’s everything practical that I wanted to know when I was first starting,” said Gruenewald, who has spoken about Vocation Ministry in 34 dioceses in three years.
Her home parish now offers a regular “Deacon Sunday” and a “Let the Children Come to Me” event. The latter invites children ages four through fourth grade and their families to Eucharistic Adoration that also features simple songs and a small talk. Some 250 people attend.
Leticia Ramirez, a Vocation Ministry presenter, keeps her vocation events simple too. She connects with other ministries to give them an age-appropriate element to focus on vocations. Parishioners might find her sharing vocation-themed prayer cards during the parish’s donut time.
There’s also a Mass kit at the parish complete with a child-sized chalice and vestment. One family at a time can take it home for the child to play with. Children know parts of the Mass as a result.
“It’s creating a culture of awareness about vocation and that it starts in the family,” Ramirez told The Catholic Sun. “We have to do the groundwork in our homes and in our families to hear God’s call.”
Ramirez is from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston which saw 10 new seminarians this year. Six were from her parish, which also has two women discerning religious life including one just about to enter. Those numbers aren’t one-time flukes. It has seen close to 20 religious vocations in the last decade.
Cardinal Collins said in closing remarks, “We are called not just to do the minimum, or to shine by our own light, or to advance within the earthly structures of the Church; we are called to become fire.”
— Diocesan Priest (@diocesanpriest) September 19, 2018