Friday, June 24, 2011

From My Mother's Womb

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Today's solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist got me thinking quite intensely about the notion or nature of vocations, which we firmly believe do come from God and not from personal whim. That is to say, God calls a man to priesthood, just like God called St. John to prepare the way of the Lord and from the first moment of his existence, from his mother Elizabeth's womb. I've come to the conclusion that this "spiel" about so-called mature vocations to priesthood and religious life as being somehow better is not only folly but perhaps should be attributed to the evil one. God required no previous life experience of St. John before singling him out as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He doesn't require a series of adventures from a man as a prerequisite for admission to seminary.

Have you ever heard a witness from someone who came late to the priesthood who did not confess resisting or denying God's call, unless of course hardship at home stood in the way? By sending away younger people who present themselves as called by God, I feel we are stifling the Spirit. Let there be no mistake about it: over the last 20 years and more, bishops, pastors and seminary rectors have been sending young men away. How often over these same years have parents succeeded in dampening the hopes and aspirations of a son as well?

As odd-ball as those two first paragraphs of this reflection may sound and not wanting to be less than thankful to all those men who finally gave in or rebelled and accepted the grace bestowed upon them by God and became His priests, I want to insist that we need to do more to take younger people seriously and provide them with the opportunity of responding, proportionate to their age and maturity, to a call we must show that we too believe indeed comes from God.

St. Luke's Gospel for today's solemnity recounting the events on the day of John's circumcision seems to me to be incontrovertible evidence in this regard of how the world should react to God's subtle signs:

"All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel."

John's parents knew the difference between the finger of God and childish caprice; so should we. At this traditional time of year for priestly ordinations and anniversaries of ordination (35 for me this year!) the generally small or no numbers in many places cause pain but, with all due respect, not enough for hardened hearts to soften and creative minds to seek ways appropriate to our day and time to allow once again boys, yet boys, to speak an ADSUM at age 18 certainly, but perhaps even better at age 14! Maybe the Latin schools of the great monasteries and cathedral chapters should be reopened?

Forgive me for not having a pat answer to the vocation crisis! Our world has grown terribly chaotic and too many distractions compete for young hearts and minds. We grown-ups, however, cannot just stand idly by as if we were victims. We witness both cautious and bold "No's!" on the part of fellow Christians to other invasions into our rightful space as God's chosen ones. Shouldn't we also give respect to our children as they do the equivalent of what John did as he leapt for joy at the presence of his Lord, both of them still under their mothers' hearts? Elizabeth was voice for her son and for her doubting husband Zechariah. Let us help with a serious "Here am I Lord! I come to do Your Will!" for those the Lord has chosen from the womb today to feed and shepherd His flock.

The Birthday of St. John the Baptist has me worried about us who seem to be stifling the Spirit and depriving our people of the Bread of Heaven and the life-giving Word of God!

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