The annual ‘National Vocations Awareness Week’, 2–9 August 2015, promotes vocations to the priesthood, women and men religious, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. Featured are insights from people at various stages of their religious vocation and life.
Life as a Marist priest today
Fr Neil Vaney
Religious life today is diverse and complex. I have lived it for over 40 years as a priest religious. That is what I know best; this is what I want to share with you.
During my lifetime, priests have shifted light years. Once the most knowledgeable, secure and revered of men, we are now fewer, older, somewhat suspect (the legacy of sex abuse), and (to some at least) irrelevant in a secular society. But, odd as it may seem, this has made it possible for religious priests to be the Christ-figures Pope Francis is imploring us to be.
Once we have come to recognise and accept that God wants us to step away from power, we are free to share work and even much ministry with our lay brothers and sisters.No longer school principals or money-moguls we can work alongside young people as chaplains, friends and formators in camps and youth projects.
Because we live in communities spanning very old to young, our homes can be open to the young and vulnerable. We can be oases when so many families are broken. In a society where instant results and new fads see celebrities come and go we can be pillars of commitment, focusing all we have in serving others – and receiving quiet joy in bringing stability and new hope to discordant lives. Because many of us have been privileged with study opportunities we can talk ethics, psychology and science with those who hunger for a more Christian perspective. These are some of the factors that are beginning to draw young men back into religious priesthood.
It is not the flood of post-war entrants, but those now entering are young men of real quality, care and commitment.
Neil Vaney SM is Vicar Provincial Society of Mary at Kelburn Provincial Community, Wellington.
Bryan Buenger answers calling
Newly ordained at Palmerston North’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Fr Bryan Buenger, who was born, raised and worked in the United States, answered a calling to become a priest later in life. Fr Bryan, now based at St Joseph’s parish, Dannevirke, shares the steps over the years that led him towards deciding to become a priest.
I think it is important to note a vocation is not simply to the ordained or religious life. Vocation – a divine call to service in a Christian manner – also includes a calling to married or to the single life. It takes prayer to discern the call, and to be open to God’s will. He is patient, generous, and loving. I have no regrets in answering the call to the priesthood or to New Zealand. God has been so good to me. I pray that I am worthy to serve Him by serving others.
I, like many other other young and not-so-young seminarians, experienced a sense of the religious call as an altar boy. For me, the ‘sense of the calling was there early on but it was when I was 15 that I could say it became a true calling. While I didn’t ignore it, later in life I came to realise I was not saying ‘no’ or ignoring the calling, but was actually saying ‘not yet’ to the Lord.
I can’t really say I ‘knew’ accepting the call was ‘right’; it was more of a feeling of peace and joy that overcame my heart and soul at saying ‘yes’. It was as if any need I had to seek worldly gain and accomplishment was removed and replaced by a quiet calm. This was all the more important because I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and working in the parish. I knew I wasn’t running away from anything but I was running toward something – serving the Lord and His people.
My advice to anyone contemplating religious life, in discerning the calling, is that spending significant time in prayer and contemplation, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, cannot be underestimated. The grace that pours forth from the intimate encounter with Christ is profound. I found it was more ‘listening’ to God who spoke to me in my heart that provided the necessary clarity to discern the call.
A good spiritual director is important, but it is also good to talk to others who have discerned the call or who are discerning a call. The journey can be shared if so desired. There can be many roadblocks that can derail the calling. That is why spending time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is so important.
I have received a few comments of my ‘missing out’ but these are based on misconceptions of ordained life. In fact, these comments can lead to evangelisation opportunities when discussed in a respectful manner.
There is a relevance to the offerings of religious life to others in today’s world, but it is through the eyes of faith that the relevance can be seen. Pope Francis is doing a wonderful job of opening up the eyes of people inside and outside the Church.
I believe the time has come for all of us to display our faith and not hide it within, practicing our faith sacramentally, within the family, in our workplace, or whenever the opportunity presents itself to show our neighbour and the world that we love Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith.
Thoughts from a young seminarian
After a semester of Ecclesiastical Latin – among other papers prescribed for a first-year Marist seminarian – I know the word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin ‘vocare’, meaning, ‘to call’. The etymology of the word makes me think,‘ Have I been called and, if so, to what exactly?’
As yet, I haven’t heard anything audible in this regard, but I assume that’s a good thing. One of the Marist founders talked of hearing ‘not with bodily ears, but with those of the heart, interiorly but very distinctly’.
This poetic language is enchanting, even faith inspiring, but it is not language I identify with on a personal or a practical level. How then can I know I am called to something like priesthood or religious life? Perhaps I can’t, and perhaps that’s alright. If faith is necessary, then I would think uncertainty is also necessary for faith to flourish.
That said, I did feel drawn to join the Marists. I feel this is where I’m meant to be right now and I can only describe my decision to enter the Marist seminary as a response. What am I responding to? Encounters and experiences that have given me a glimpse of something sacred in myself and others and the world around me. I am responding to the invitation to live, to love and be loved, to discover myself, to communicate that life and love with others on the journey, and – together with others – to reveal the sacred presence in the process of doing so. I believe this invitation is a call from God.
But even a call from God can only be answered in human terms and the realities of the human institution of the Church are, at times, disillusioning. The typical institutional politics, and some of the more hierarchical or patriarchal structures of the Church, seem to me to compromise the powerful message of love and realisation of dignity for all. Mind you, the discussions and dynamics around these issues even within a small community such as ours (at the Marist seminary) help me realise these things are never black-and-white, but are multi-layered. And they can only be navigated and negotiated by way of loving and life-giving relationships.
All of us can participate, and the more of us that do so, in whatever way, the more we will experience that love which is, I think, the love of God. This is my experience, and is what is most exciting and inspiring for me. This is also what continues to call me to Marist life.
Marist seminary formation includes two and a half years at the Marist Seminary in Auckland while studying at Good Shepherd College (towards a Bachelor of Theology with a major in philosophy). A year-long novitiate in the Philippines is also included, which takes place at the end of either the first or second year in Auckland. After returning from the Philippines, and completing the time in Auckland, the seminarian then continues theology studies in Rome for three years, before a year of pastoral experience back in New Zealand. This makes up about seven and a half years of formation, with commitments made in the form of perpetual vows and deaconate in the final year, and then ordination as a priest. See www.maristseminary.org.nz for more information.
Daniel Kleinsman LLB is a first-year seminarian with the Society of Mary.
Living always and everywhere
Summarised from You Must Be Joking
by Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm.
Catholic sisters, brothers and priests have chosen a different career option from most New Zealanders. They offer an alternative approach to life from that driven by ‘outward’ pursuits and gains.
They use their talents, skills and time to assist people most in need and to help bring about a more just and tolerant society.
Through the three vows or promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, religious women and men profess publicly, visibly and forever that God exists, is personal, can be counted on absolutely, and can fulfil the longings of the human heart.
Celibacy frees Religious to live, love and serve many people rather than focus for the most part on those for whom they have primary responsibility.
Through poverty, they live collaboratively rather than competitively. They pool and share resources and use only what is necessary.
This simplicity illustrates personal dignity is not determined by earning capability. It does this in the midst of a society ravaged by greed and consumerism – where power and status are proportionate to accumulated wealth.
Obedience is in complete contrast to a way of life in which conflict, competition and coercion are accepted as normal.
It means always being prepared to listen to the voice of God in their hearts, in other people and in everything around them.
Religious attach a high value to living in community where they can experience prayer, ritual, celebration, a sense of belonging and mutual support.
Questions of God are always high on their agenda and determine choices made. They are inexplicably captivated by Jesus’ dream for the world of justice and peace, love and freedom, holiness and fullness of life for everyone and for the integrity of creation.
They look to the Gospels to see how Jesus understood and lived out this dream as his whole life’s mission and guiding passion and try to do what he did, that is, to spread God’s goodness so they can be bearers of hope and meaning to people in situations devoid of either.
Have you or someone you know got what it takes?
Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm is a lecturer and distance learning education co-ordinator for The Catholic Institute of Aoteraroa New Zealand.