Both Pope Francis and our Superior General have written letters in advance of Good Shepherd or Vocation Sunday. What they have to say is very valuable and on target in a number of ways. I will highlight what struck a very personal note for me. You will see just how personal in a personal reflection that I wrote a few years ago during the height of publicity about clerical abuse.
In this year’s letter for the 2020 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis reflects on four words: gratitude, encouragement, fatigue, and praise.
“The risk involved is real: the night falls, the headwinds howl, the boat is tossed by the waves, and fear of failure, of not being up to the call, can threaten to overwhelm them.”
Our Superior General speaks of the importance of developing a culture of Vocations.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing, gratitude for our personal call flows into praise and gives birth to new initiatives, decisions, and paths that will cultivate the culture of vocations.”
I resonated with both insights! I immediately recalled a highly personal reflection I wrote that touched on both themes – “a boat tossed by the waves” and the importance in my life of a “culture of vocations” as I experienced it over half a century ago.
Why Am I a Vincentian Priest?
The Question – Why Am I a Vincentian Priest?
I see… and read… many posts asking “Why I Am (Not) a Catholic.” I also hear of former Vocation Directors saying that this time must be a tough time for Vocation Directors. From those discerning, “How can I think about becoming Catholic after the latest sex abuse reports?” And of course, there is Cardinal Dolan quoting a phone call from his mother in her nursing home. “I’m ashamed to go to the dining room,” he said she told him. “I’m so embarrassed to be a Catholic. I don’t know what to say to anybody.” It is not surprising that some priests are also asking “Why am I a priest”? It is a serious question that I also ask “Why Am I a Vincentian Priest? For me, the answer lies in a culture I love. No, definitely not the popularized clerical culture rightly being called into question. I speak of a very different, simple, lived culture I have experienced as a Vincentian priest trying to follow Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor.
Vincentian Culture Over the Years
I first experienced that Vincentian culture in my high school days over six decades ago. And it a culture that I still experience today now that I am in my 80’s…Back then I was impressed by the joy I saw in the faces and lives of my teachers at St. John’s Prep. We students were mostly the first in our families to have the benefit of quality education. I experienced our teachers’ patient commitment to help us not only to learn what we needed to know about our world. They also shared with us their own deep faith and awakened us to the living faith of their bothers who had suffered at the hands of the Communists in China or other missions. They lived an ideal that attracted me. In the years since then, I have seen this culture up close and personal, warts, ulcers, and all.
I remember well the confusion of the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. It seemed almost weekly there would be announcements of men leaving the community… often the brightest and most dedicated among my closest friends. I started asking “Why am I staying?” So for me, the question is not a new question.
We are by no means perfect. Yes, I cringe at some of the things I have seen and experienced in community. I cringe at some of the things I myself have said and done over those sixty years. In retrospect, I would like to have many “do-overs”. I also know, that, despite our very rigorous formation there have been some grievous failures.
Among us, there may be polar opposite political and theological views but there are values we all agree on. These 5 values infuse Vincentian concern and care for the marginalized and one another. Then, as now, I come back to the vision I experience embodied in the earthen vessels with my brothers. Vincent’s words and actions challenging us. “Let us love God but let it be with the strength of our arms and sweat of our brows.” “Sometimes one must leave God for God.” “Let love light up my mortal frame til others catch the living flame” (Cardinal Newman)”
A former Provincial captured our overall Vincentian culture well. “At funerals,” he said he “learned so much we did not know about confreres when people shared the impact on their lives of a particular Vincentian (with all the quirks and flaws we knew all too well about each other).”
Hallmarks of this culture
Whatever the language, there is the vision and culture that calls me and supports me in my life as a Vincentian priest. These five values bind us together as followers of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor and a band of brothers. These five values infuse our efforts of Vincentian concern and care for the marginalized and one another. And that is why I am a Vincentian priest! In a prior reflection on the website of the Eastern Province you will see how the culture was lived out in the lives of ordinary people.
Questions about the cultures that shaped us:
- Can you identify the various cultures that shaped you?
- Which culture had the most impact on you?
- Was the impact of that culture good or bad for you?