Vocations are given, not manufactured

Archbishop Aquila

There are many uncertainties in life, but as the Church observed World Vocation Day on May 12, I want to remind everyone — especially young people — that you can be certain that God has a unique and loving plan for your life that only you can fulfill. Your task is to seek the Lord with all your heart, and if you do so, you can be sure he will reveal your vocation.

This is not a popular thing to believe, but it is true. Most young people today are taught that they are a blank slate that can be drawn upon however they wish. The tides of relativism have eroded belief in objective truth to the point that increasing numbers of people think that one’s gender, the nature of marriage, and ultimately what is right or wrong can be changed at will. When there is no reference to God, one makes oneself God.

This development could lead to people thinking that vocations are just like a career choice, but in fact, a vocation is a calling that God the Father places on one’s heart. As Pope Francis reminds us, it is a summons “to follow Jesus on the path he has marked out for us, for our own happiness and for the good of those around us” (Pope Francis’ 2019 World Day of Vocation Message). Jesus is the one who “marks out our path for our happiness.”

The Gospel message stands at the very heart of every vocation: God loves you. He died for you. And he has a plan for your happiness. Experiencing this in your life will bring you lasting joy and freedom.

But that’s not to say that following God’s plan for you won’t be challenging. Pope Francis draws on the story of Jesus calling the apostles away from their fishing to become “fishers of men” to describe how being called contains both promise and risk. “The Lord’s call,” he says, “is not an intrusion of God on our freedom … On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.  He opens before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”

Whether one is called to the priesthood, religious life, consecrated life, or marriage, the great joy over souls brought to the Lord for healing and salvation is certainly abundant. Ask any priest and you will hear stories about the richness, the challenges and the joys of his ministry.

The Holy Father offers us a reflection on the risk and promise of our vocation by looking at Mary’s life. “Her mission was not easy, yet she did not allow fear to prevail. It was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise.  I ask each one of you: Do you see yourselves as bearers of a promise?  What promise do I bear within my heart to take forward?  Mary’s would undoubtedly be a difficult mission, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say ‘no.’”

May the Blessed Mother’s example inspire everyone to discern how the Father is calling you and may she intercede for you to receive the gifts of wisdom and courage so that you can follow her son, Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He will bring you great happiness, even in the trials of life.

COMING UP: AM[D]G           

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Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.