Friday, July 22, 2011

Why consider a vocation in the midst of a crisis?

It is not the policy of this blog to comment on the current difficulties being experienced by the Catholic church in Ireland - it is best left to other commentators. But, it would also be foolish for this blog not to comment on the crisis as it relates particularly to vocations. Put simply, the ongoing crisis of such proportion that it impacts very negatively on anyone considering a vocation to religious life or priesthood today. But, in the midst of it all, we need desperatley to consider the importance of ongoing call of God - who calls in good times and bad.

The church that we know and love has somehow survived these past two thousand years despite the actions of the sinners, like you and me, who have been part of it. The church will continue to survive hopefully a lot wiser and humbler - as a result of the transgressions of its leaders and followers.

The church and its people are not just survivors who grit their teeth in the face of either internal turmoil or external opposition. The church doesn't just survive - it lives. It lives because Jesus Christ lives in and through the church. In the midst of this present crisis we must humbly admit that we are the recipients of the graciousness and unconditional love of Jesus Christ who promised never to abandon his disciples: "And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:10) The church has existed and lived these 2000 years because of God's grace manifested through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

During these dark days I am often reminded of the words of Blessed John Paul II in Toronto during a World Youth Day event when he addressed the young people saying: "At difficult moments in the church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Spirit......We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son." 

While many might argue that this is the worst time ever to consider a religious vocation, I see it as the most desirable time to discern life as a sister, brother, nun, priest and indeed Dominican. Here's a few reasons:

Firstly, God continues to call and invite people to a life of service and community, especially when the church faces and unprecedented crisis like the one we presently face. Our history proves this. In the middle of the great injustices of the Spanish Inquisition God called St Teresa of Avila to a life of mysticism and ultimately of reform of her Carmelite order; Saint Francis had a dream of rebuilding God's house and in response chose to live a life of radical simplicity through simplicity, prayer and penance - in stark contrast to the wealth and corruption of the twelfth century church. A couple of hundred years later when there was unrest in the church and a divided papacy Saint Catherine of Siena responded to God's call to live the Dominican life and later became a mediator for peace and the reunification of the papacy.

The church still benefits from the virtue of these heroic men and women and the many more like them who heard God's call and invitation to live a radical Gospel life in the midst of a church in turmoil. I am confident that with the help of God's grace that we will be telling similar stories in the future of today's heroic men and women who responded to the challenges of religious life.

Another reason to consider a religious vocation is that our church needs the creativity, idealism, faith and spirituality of a new generation. In the midst of our crisis the poor in our world continue to suffer from a lack of education, healthcare, social services. In a culture that suffers from inequalities, violence and disregard for human life, people need to hear the prophetic message of justice, peace and dignity. And in the middle of the crisis that the church now faces, people more than any other time in history need to hear the Gospel preached.

One further reason: the church needs more than just service. In a society that glamourises wealth, sex, power and money the church needs the continued witness of young people (and not so young) who are willing to give their all for holiness by living a life of chastity, obedience and poverty. Because we are a sacramental church we need priests to preach the Word with integrity and minister in times of joy and pain with sensitivity. When the world is plagued by polarization and division we need the hope for the Christian community that is inspired by people who come together to live and share their faith, values and mission.

By considering a religious vocation, there is nothing to lose. Why? Because all vocations are oriented towards holiness and a deepening of a relationship with God. I would continue to encourage people to consider religious life for the sheer joy that it can bring. Of course there are challenges and sacrifices but there is a deep consolation in knowing that you are following God's will or plan for you and that you are making a significant contribution to the life of the church and those that you live with and serve.

These are definitely trying times for the church especially in Ireland. But they are not the first, nor will they be the last. Keep on considering your vocation - and do not be afraid.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Redemptoristine nuns in Dublin continue to attract vocations.

 Sr Maria pictured with Gerard Dunne OP after the profession ceremony.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the fact that I have highlighted the Redemptoristine community in Drumcondra in Dublin for their highly successful approach to attracting vocations. The community have adopted a 'high visibility' strategy for vocation promotion and have used wisely all the modern means of communication available to them. But as one wise Dominican friar once said to me, you can have all the visibility you like, but if you are not living the life, then nobody is going to be attracted or entice to join religious life. How true, and how appropriate are these words in relation to the Redemptoristine nuns in Dublin. They live a monastic life, centred on prayer, and give an authentic witness to God by their very lives. This is the primary reason why women are attracted to their community.

Their continuing success story in relation to vocations continued today as one of their sisters, Sister Maria Sidorova, made first profession. Sister Maria is a native of Slovakia. She was joined by family members, Irish Redemptorists, friends and associates of the community today where she professed her vows during the celebration of the eucharist.

In three weeks time, another of the sisters will make final profession. The community are also preparing to receive a new postulant in September. Please remember the sisters in your prayers and if you would like to know more about them visit their website

Friday, July 15, 2011

Incorporating new vocations into the Dominican Order - a reflection.

Almost a year ago, the Dominican friars held its General chapter in Rome. That chapter elected the new Master of the Order, fr Bruno Cadore OP. Also at that chapter meeting, the outgoing Master, fr Carlos Aspiroz Costa OP gave, as is required, a 'relatio' or an account of his administration over the previous number of years. During these less hectic days of summer, I am reading the section written by fr Carlos on incorporating new vocations into the Dominican order. It is insightful because it highlights the intergenerational differences that can exist within the Order, and at the same time, if these differences are properly understood and resepected, they can be a vital sign of growth. Here is what fr Carlos said:

Today, we are faced with an obvious fact: there is a majot generational change in the Order. The incorporation of new vocations, the foundation of new provinces, the presence of the Order in new countries, our preaching in new cultures raises for us new questions, demanding new responses, new methods and new expressions.

The generation that was contemporary with the Second Vatican Council and who wanted to put it into practice immediately is now faced with having to accept and hear the questions of those who were born or grew up after the Council. The experience of the immediate post-coucil period is totally foreign to them; many of their parents have not even transmitted the faith to them. They cannot count on a vital "oral tradition" concerning the appropriateness of the renewal. These friars, our brothers, are questioning today those who preceded them on the road to Dominican life, just as the previous generation questioned their older brothers. Each generational change offers its own lights and shadows, joys and sorrows, hopes and anxieties. The Order requires the sense of freedom, the missionary zeal, creativity and commitment to mature in the field of justice and peace characteristic of a generation which has given so much to the Church. At the same time, many of our younger friars are expressing the necessity today of a certain visibility, faithfulness to the history and tradition of the Order, and the need for a sense of belonging experienced through a fraternal life in community which celebrates its faith in the liturgy etc. 

If we really believe that every brother who makes profession (in the Order) inserts his life and history into the life and history of the Order, this means that "the brother", in a sense, will never be the same and analogously neither will "the Order" be the same for having taken him under her wing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Substantial increase in interest in Dominicans in Ireland

Readers of this blog will be aware of the recent solemn profession of Sr Mary Teresa Dunphy OP at Siena Monastery in Drogheda, County Louth. The newly released video above of the liturgy during which solemn profession is made gives another glimpse into the solemnity of the occasion - and the nature of the seriousness of making a commitment to the contemplative aspect of the Dominican way of life.

Sr Teresa's solemn profession as a Dominican nun comes at the mid point of 2011 which will see a surge in activity of new membership in the Dominican family in Ireland. It is appropriate to state that there has been a renewed interest in the Dominican charism and spirituality in recent years.

This is evidenced by (1) a dramatic increase in the number of enquirers to the Cabra Dominican sisters. Later this month they will hold interviews to accept new candidates to their form of life. (2) The Lay Dominicans in Ireland have experienced unprecedented growth in the past couple of years - culminating with the beginnings of a new group (chapter) of young Lay Dominicans about to be established in Queens University in Belfast. New young members have also been added to chapters in Kilkenny, Dublin and Belfast. (3) The solemn profession of Sr Teresa Dunphy at Siena monastery in Drogheda is the second such profession for the Domincan nuns in the past year. There is also a novice in the monastery at the moment. (4) The friars of the Irish Dominican province will this year have three of our brothers ordained to the priesthood, three brothers will make solemn profession and hopefully by September of this year three will have made simple profession. The friars will also be receiving new novices in autumn of this year.

For further information on the various branches of the Dominican family in Ireland, please visit the websites of the Lay Dominicans, the Cabra Dominican sisters, the Dominican nuns at Siena monastery in Drogheda, and the friars of the Irish Dominican province.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (Lay Dominican) - July 4th feastday.

In this trying time that our country is going through we Catholics and especially we students, have a serious duty to fulfill: our self-formation.......We, who by the grace of God are Catholics... must steel ourselves for the battle we shall certainly have to fight to fulfill our program and give our country, in the not too distant future, happier days and a morally healthy society, but to achieve this we need constant prayer to obtain from God that grace without which all our efforts are useless; organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right time; and finally, the sacrifice of our passion and of ourselves, because without that we cannot achieve our aim.” Pier Giorgio Frassati (1922)

That quote above could be as easily spoken in 2011 - an indication of how little changes despite appearances! July 4th marks the feast of the Italian lay Dominican Pier Giorgio Frassati. An extraordinary young man. He is a model for young people of our modern world who are looking for a role model. In knowing more about Blessed Frassati, they will find someone to identify with in this vibrant young athlete and student who combined a deep love for Christ, a desire to serve the needy, and a mission to imbue society and politics with Christian ideals.

Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy on Holy Saturday, April 6, 1901. His father, an agnostic, was the founder and director of the liberal newspaper, La Stampa, and was influential in Italian politics, serving a term as senator, and later was Italy's ambassador to Germany. He spent the flower of his youth between two world wars when Italy was in social ferment and Fascism was on the rise.

Pier Giorgio developed a deep spiritual life which he never hesitated to share with his friends. In 1918 he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy. He decided to become a mining engineer so he could "serve Christ better among the miners," as he told a friend. His studies, however, did not keep him from social activism.

Although the Frassati family was well-to-do, the father was frugal and never gave his two children much spending money. What little he did have, however, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his train fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals in a house where punctuality and frugality were the law. When asked by friends why he often rode third class on the trains he would reply with a smile, "Because there is not a fourth class."

When he was a child a poor mother with a boy in tow came begging to the Frassati home. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and seeing the boy's shoeless feet gave him his own shoes. At graduation, given the choice by his father of money or a car he chose the money and gave it to the poor. He obtained a room for a poor old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for a consumptive invalid, supported three children of a sick and grieving widow. He kept a small ledger book containing detailed accounts of his transactions, and while he lay on his death bed, he gave instructions to his sister, asking her to see to the needs of families who depended on his charity. He even took the time, with a near-paralyzed hand, to write a note to a friend in the St. Vincent de Paul Society with instructions regarding their weekly Friday visits. Only God knew of these charities; he never mentioned them to others.

He felt a strong, mysterious urge to be near the Blessed Sacrament. During nocturnal adoration, he would spend all night on his knees in profound prayer. He influenced other students to make the annual university retreat given by the Jesuits. He loved the rosary, a family practice, and prayed it three times daily after becoming a lay Dominican.

It was in 1922 that he joined the Dominican Third Order choosing the name Girolamo after his personal hero, the Dominican preacher and reformer of Florence's Renaissance. Despite the many organizations to which Pier Giorgio belonged, he was not a passive "joiner"; records show that he was active and involved in each, fulfilling all the duties of membership. Pier Giorgio was strongly anti-fascist and did nothing to hide his political views.

He died at a very young age (24) from polio.

His family expected Turin's elite and political figures to come to offer their condolonces and attend the funeral; they naturally expected to find many of his friends there as well. They were surprised , however, to find the streets of the city lined with thousands of mourners as the cortege passed by. Those who mourned his death most were the poor and needy whom he served so unselfishly for seven years; many of these, in turn, were surprised to learn that the saintly young man they only knew as 'Fra Girolamo' came from such an influential family. It was these poor people who petitioned the Archbishop of Turin to begin the cause for canonisation. The process was opened in 1932 and he was beatified by Blessed John Paul II on May 20th, 1990.

 For a more full account of the life of Pier Giorgio, please visit

Friday, July 1, 2011

Invocation 2012 for Ireland?

Following on from the very succesful second annual 'Invocation' 2011 conference at Saint Mary's College, Oscott in Birmingham, I wonder if there is an appetite in Ireland for a similar type event?

'Invocation' 2011 is an initiative of the National Office for Vocation in England and also is supported by the Episcopal Conference. It is primarily a vocations discernment conference - allowing participants to meet religious, foster fellowship, engage in catechesis, avail of the opportunity for confession, spend time in adoration, have regular prayer events and the celebration of the eucharist. The three day event is unashamadely focused on discernment if vocations to religious life and priesthood. This year close to 700 young people attended this conference.

In a climate that is generally hostile to the promotion of religious vocations, the number of people who attended this event is positively surprising. It clearly demonstrates that, with proper planning and promotion, such an event is possible - and that there is a real appetite for authentic discernment.

I was unable to attend the conference event though I was invited as an observer, but it did set me thinking about the possibilities that could exist for an event like 'Invocation' in Ireland. Here is a real opportunity for collaboration between the National Vocations Office in Ireland, Vocations Ireland, the Irish Episcopal Conference and other interested bodies such as CORI and Saint Joseph's Young Priests Society to come together in a unified manner to promote vocations to religious life and priesthood.

Should such an event happen? The answer is clearly yes. Could such an event happen? The answer is clearly yes - as long as there is goodwill and cooperation between the various parties. Will such an event happen? I don't know and wouldn't be too optimistic.

For my part, the campaign begins here. Over the next weeks during the summer, I will be communicating with all the various parties mentioned above to seek their views and support in hosting Ireland's 'Invocation'. Who knows, maybe we will be talking about Invocation Ireland 2012 soon!