A couple of days ago, I had the great pleasure to break bread with my Vocation Director whom the Lord used to help me follow Him. He was an instrumental part of God’s plan in my life; in my own vocation story. He picked up the phone and called me when he arrived to the Office of Vocations, when I had put discernment of the priesthood on the back-burner and helped me to see past my own limited way of thinking when I was ready to pack it all in (as I struggled with philosophy in the early years).
We have remained friends, and so it’s good to get together as brother priests, with someone who knows me as well as a Vocation Director gets to know men he works with, and now as Vocation Directors sharing ideas.
It was his joy that was an important witness for me in the early days of discernment. Even though I didn’t grow up with any thoughts one way or another about the priesthood; I tended to worry about my own suitability as a man to give my life to something I could sense was as important and noble as the priesthood. Fr. Liborio was a very real guy, and he shared with myself and many of the men discerning at the time some of his own challenges and struggles – but nothing came in the way of his articulated and evident joy. I often reflect back now on what I was experiencing as I discerned, and while the evident joy in the men who set examples for me might not have been as profound a reason then, I believe that it truly what compelled me to follow Jesus and give my life to the Church as a priest. Little by little we are presented with the challenges that a religious vocation has (and there are challenges of course, as there are in every life). We face our own fears and insecurities and hopefully with good spiritual direction we see past our own noses. But a man living a good and healthy life, a self-giving life, a life filled with the giving and receiving love-life a priest does in a chaste and celibate but no less intimate way – this is the key to what will beget more priestly vocations. I am certain more religious vocations in general.
My visit with him the other day was another joyful encounter. As I have succeeded him as Director of Vocations, and he is once again in parish ministry; it was great to hear of an ever-deepening joy that he experiences as a pastor shepherding (and loving) his people. It enriches my own ministry to hear the joys of his. Our conversation helped me to appreciate my present role and ministry all the more, but to also be reminded of the joys of parish ministry too.
Joyful witnesses all around us; as Christians this is what will attract others to want to be Christian. Living for God and for things greater than ourselves; living lives that are free from many worries, anxieties, fears but in a way that we have to seek to understand rather than merely see in obvious ways: these free us also to live joyful lives…or they should. When we accept our own shortcomings, weaknesses, sins as opportunities to encounter and grow with the Lord as absolutely and unconditionally loved people; when we accept every good thing about ourselves as gifts given by God and to be shared with others…when we make the grace-filled decision to share our lives generously with others – we will look at many things, and hopefully and eventually everything with the lens of Christian joy. This is the Joy of the Gospel. This is the joy which Pope Francis and so many others have encouraged us to seek, to pray for, to never give up on aspiring to in our lives.
Friends, this joy will lead us all to grow today and every day as Christians and if we are open to it; this will lead us to our particular and unique Christian vocation. My Vocation Director and others helped me find mine. Who is or will be helping you?