The Lord is calling: National Vocations Awareness week is Nov. 5-11

Denver Catholic Staff

What is the Lord calling you to? If you’ve felt a tug on your heart towards either the priesthood, diaconate or religious life, Vocations Awareness Week presents the perfect opportunity to pray about it.

Celebrated Nov. 5-11, this national, annual event is a special time for parishes in the United States to actively foster and pray for a culture of vocations, according to a press release by the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops.

When St. John Paul II visited Denver in 1993, he predicted that the Mile High City would a hub for the New Evangelization. Since then and well before, the Archdiocese of Denver has been blessed to have a multitude of passionate priests, deacons and religious serving in our midst, and it seems there’s no shortage. Even so, praying for vocations is one of the most important tasks of any Catholic.

In honor of Vocations Awareness Week, we asked two priests and two nuns about the favorite parts of their vocations, as well as advice for those who may be discerning.

Sister Faustina, Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, Sts. Peter and Paul

“The first step is to have a growing prayer life. You really have to know the Lord. It is he who reveals who we are. He’s planted in our hearts at baptism our vocation, and it’s really about discovering what’s already in our hearts and how we’re made. We can only find that through God’s revelation, and that comes mostly through prayer.”

Saint who’s inspired her vocation: St. Faustina (obviously)

Father Sam Morehead, pastor of All Souls Parish

“To be a priest brings two realities together: the life of God and the life of human beings. I love on the one hand the relationship you can have with almighty God in deep prayer and the service of the sacraments, but then how you bring that alive in real people’s lives as you share their lives over family meals, as you’re playing with the kids, as you’re just engaging people in the reality of their lives. God and man come together in the priest right at the crossroads of that.”

Saint who’s inspired his vocation: St. John Fisher

Father Humberto Marquez, pastor of St. John the Baptist

“The most important things in my priesthood are the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the Eucharist I fell in love with priesthood, and that is what finally led me to say ‘yes’ to the Lord. The sacrament of Reconciliation, [it’s important] because, to see a person who arrived full of sins leaving the confessional with a clean soul, it is priceless.”

Saint who’s inspired his vocation: The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph

Mother Martha, Carmelite Sister, John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization

“God does not cease to surprise us at every moment of our life. He certainly calls us and invites us, and along with that, He allows us to perform different missions in different parts of the world, something that in another state of our life would not have been possible. To travel to different countries, to meet new people, different cultures, this is something that does not cease to amaze me. God has allowed me and has lead me to different parts of the world. I have lived in Argentina, Chile and now here in Denver.”

Saint who’s inspired her vocation: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

 

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.