Monday, March 15, 2010

Your Role in Promoting Jesuit Vocations

This weekend, I met with the Vocations Team of the Chicago/Detroit Provinces. Four of us met to pray, share, and reflect on the various ways in which we might help to invite young men in our areas to consider living out their Christian discipleship as Companions of Jesus. It was a very productive meaning and I returned to Detroit energized to continue the promotion effort.

Over the next few days, I would like to share several ways in which you can help to promote vocations, not only to the Jesuits, but to religious life in general. Every one of us crosses paths with many people each and every day. Sometimes we meet a person and think, "Geez, that guy would make a great priest." Or, "Wow, she'd make a great sister." Often, I think, we're reluctant to give voice to this observation and we let it go unsaid.

As I've written before, my vocation-promoting instinct finds its origin in the time I spent on the New York Transit: if you see something, say something. There's no harm in encouraging a young person to consider religious life: at worst, you've paid him or her a compliment. At best, you've either opened a new window for discernment -or- confirmed the stirrings of that person's heart.

So allow me to begin with the first of Ten Principles to Encourage Jesuit Vocations. I'm taking the principles from a pamphlet I was given this weekend (original author is anonymous) and I'll do my best to expand upon some of the insights. I'm not going to write them all at once...just as promoting vocations takes time, so too will my posting of the principles!

1. Know That You Are Significant

If a young man confides to you that he feels in his heart the stirring of a vocation, he has placed a tremendous gift in your hands. He has also paid you a great compliment: in you he has seen someone with whom he can risk being vulnerable. In you, he sees perhaps a person of faith who has responded generously and lovingly to God's call and he trusts that you will share your wisdom with him.

I remember telling one of my best friends that I wanted to be a Jesuit. I remember when I told her: seated in her car, driving in Denver. I love my friend and trust her wholeheartedly but I was still very nervous in sharing this with her: I was terrified that she would try to dissuade me, or laugh at me, or tell me I was crazy. She did none of these things. She looked at me, told me she thought I would make a great priest, and told me that she would love me no matter what decision I made. Her stated confidence gave me the courage to continue my discernment and the support I needed when I faced times of doubt and anxiety.

Please know that such a sharing is a moment of privilege, a delicate moment where you hold a person's heart in your hands. Be gentle. Assure the person of your love and concern. Be honest, of course, but before you speak say a little prayer, "Lord, be on my lips and let me say what he needs to hear." This latter prayer I utter each day before I begin teaching, I might add.

Just one final anecdote. Two months before I entered, I happened to be at an Irish dancing competition (feis) in Chicago. One of the judges, a women I have known for many years, invited me to take a walk with her after the competition. After a little while she stopped me, held my arms, and told me how proud she and all the other judges were of me for entering the Jesuits. "Ryan," she said, looking into my eyes, "we love you. If you aren't happy and you decide this isn't for you, we will still love you. We just want you to be happy." I cherish those words to this day. Indeed, they are part of the reason I continue to be involved in the Irish dancing world. Even though I knew I would miss my friends - and I do! - I knew that they were supportive of me and that they would love me, no matter where God called me.

So to conclude, never underestimate how significant you are. Each of us exercises a tremendous amount of influence on the lives of others and the fact that a person seeks us out to ask for advice or counsel only testifies to this.

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