The Visitation as the Model for Our Vocational Response
A reflection for the seminarians of Cardinal Glennon College
I dare say I entered the seminary under very different pretenses than most of you. You see I entered the seminary planning never to be ordained a priest. While I had great respect for priests I wanted nothing to do with the priesthood. Yet the more I tried to run away from the priesthood, the louder the call became. Unable to hide from the call any longer, I entered the seminary making a deal with God that I would give Him two years in the seminary and then He would bless me with a great job, a beautiful wife, and children and I would live happily ever after. After I entered the seminary and bought into the formation program I quickly began to realize how selfish I was. As my relationship with Jesus grew I realized that He, being God, loves me unconditionally and so only wants what is best for me and since He knows me better than I know myself and created me for a purpose, I will ultimately only truly be fulfilled if I totally embrace His call for me. In surrendering to the formation program at the seminary I began to realize I was only going to be truly fulfilled if I stopped selfishly running from my vocation and started running towards it.
Brothers, God calls us in all kinds of different ways, yet our response must always be the same. I believe that the Blessed Virgin is the model for how we are to respond to our vocations. This morning, as we looked at the Annunciation, we saw how our Lady responded to God’s will for her in her life with complete faith and trust. If we read on we see how she exactly how she responded to that call.
READ LUKE 1: 39 – 45
Notice that in St. Luke’s account of the visitation he tells us that Mary set out in haste to visit Elizabeth. She wastes no time in responding to her vocation by making manifest the love of God in the world around her. The love that Mary carries in her body and the love that wells up in her soul doesn’t allow her to stand still. No, her response to God’s will for her life is one of charity, one of allowing God to work through her. Is this not the vocation of the priesthood? Is it not the vocation of the priesthood to allow God to work through us?
One of the hardest parts of the seminary for me came as I began to hear clearly God’s call to the priesthood. As I responded to that invitation I started to feel trapped in the seminary. I wanted to be freed from the walls of the seminary to go out and minister. If you find yourself in a similar situation, good. I think this desire to bring Christ to others, to be an alter Christus, another Christ, is a positive sign of one’s vocation to the priesthood, but at the same time, it is important to stay patient. Trust me there is no need to rush. If you are ordained a priest, there will be plenty of work waiting for you. Bishop Rice who was my vocation director used to often remind us that we don’t have a shortage of priests we have a shortage of priests who want to work.
The witness of the visitation is clear. A call to the priesthood demands action. If I was going to give one piece of advice to a newly ordained priest it would be to simply jump out into the deep end. The people of God are starving for the presence of a priest and in my two years as a priest, I have never had a situation where I have jumped in and been asked to leave. In fact, it seems that just the opposite happens, every time I jump in God has uses my presence to draw people closer to Him.
Friends, Mary’s visitation is a reminder that God’s call to the priesthood is a call to bring Him to others. In responding to a vocation to the priesthood we, like Mary, must move in haste to make the love of Christ real in the world around us. Through her visitation to Elizabeth, the Blessed Mother literally brought Jesus to another. Is that not what the priesthood is all about? As a priest, I daily walk into the darkest moments in people’s lives, into situations that I simply cannot fix, but I can do something far greater, I can bring the light of Christ into that darkness. Just last week I had a very difficult day. After Mass in the morning and a weekly parish staff meeting, I met with a wife whose 50 something-year-old husbands had just passed away unexpectedly in another city. I left that meeting to go to the hospice house to visit with someone who was actively passing away. After spending time with him I raced over to the hospital to meet with another parishioner who is slowly dying and most probably will leave behind a young wife and two elementary aged children in the next year. I had to cut that visit short to return to the parish to meet with a young woman who had just called off her engagement because she discovered her 3-year relationship with her fiancé was a fraud. Sadly, I couldn’t fix any of these situations and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t weigh heavily on me, but I could bring Christ’s love into those very dark places and I trust that is for the best and it gives me the strength to wake up the next day and give myself totally to my ministry.
The story of the visitation teaches us an important lesson. If we are truly living out the priestly vocation we will be lead to people, places, and situations we never dreamed of where we will offer words of consolation and hope that our not our own. The visitation shows that ministry is not about doing things for others, but it is about laying aside our own wishes and doing whatever it takes to allow Christ to shine through us.
In looking at the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, as a part of her response to her vocational calling, we see that like Mary, we are called put aside our own thoughts, feelings and desires to truly enter into the communal life of the seminary. Mary certainly had a very good reason to be preoccupied with her pregnancy and her new life. She had every excuse to turn inwards on herself and reject the world around her, but rather than try to begin her vocational journey on her own, she turned to her cousin Elizabeth, who in conceiving St. John the Baptist was likewise beginning her new vocation as a mother. As Mary reached out to Elizabeth, she sought to help her cousin and in return not only helped her but was also helped by her as they both sought to make radical adjustments to their lives. Brothers, we too must find our strength and discern our vocation within the context of the seminary community. We must imitate the humility of the Blessed Mother and seek to open ourselves up to the community, trusting not in our own vision for our vocation, but in God’s will for our lives. This demands that like the Blessed Virgin we be willing to step up and serve the community, but also it demands that we allow ourselves to be served. For in serving and being served we are molded into the priest God desires us to be.
I don’t think it was by accident that St. Luke mentions that Mary went in haste to greet Elizabeth. He tells us that she undertook the long and perilous journey from Nazareth through the hill country to Judea, not when she felt like it, but in haste for that was the only proper response. Our Blessed Mother clearly knew what she wanted and did not allow anyone or anything to stop her. Likewise, we must move in haste as we hear God’s call for our life. Yes, we must submit ourselves to the formation of the seminary community, but as the call becomes clear we must work hastily to ensure that we don’t place ourselves in a situation where our vocation can be taken from us. I’ll be honest with you, I knew guys who were in the seminary with me, who I think would have made great priests, but they did stupid things while they were in the seminary, they took their eye off of their purpose for being in the seminary and they either left without proper discernment or were rightly asked to leave the seminary. Brothers if you believe God is calling you to the priesthood proceed with haste. In those days where you don’t feel like waking up early: get up earlier than usual. In those days where you don’t feel like praying: pray more. In those days where you don’t feel like studying: study more. For God has called you to something great and we owe it to Him and to ourselves to proceed with haste. Never take your eyes off the goal. Give yourself completely to serving and being served and hold yourself to the high ideals of the priesthood. For I firmly believe if you live within the community at the seminary and keep your eyes focused on the priesthood, if God is calling you to the priesthood, the Holy Spirit will guide your path.
Just as the Blessed Mother set out on a long journey to visit Elizabeth, so to you have embarked on a long journey towards the priesthood. Like Mary, we too are on a journey, to places we may not understand and destinations we may not be able to see. This journey is a necessary step in discerning a priestly vocation because it challenges us to place our complete faith and trust in Christ, in whose ministerial priesthood we wish to share. While the journey may be long, never give up. Rather, ask our Blessed Mother to help guide you along the way. Pray that you will have the trust in God that you need to travel wherever the road may take you. Beg her to lead you down the path that leads to meet her face to face at the place the God has prepared for us, in the place where she waits for us, with a mother’s love, and a mother’s hope, to bring us to her Son in the heavenly dwelling.
Brothers, our Blessed Mother is the very model of the life that we should live. In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, she shows us how to hear God’s call for our lives and how to respond with a generous heart. The Annunciation and Visitation show us that she was not simply receptive to God’s call for her life. No, she welcomed Jesus into her very existence and then shared what she had received. Those of us called to the priesthood are called to do just that, to receive Jesus and then bring Him to the world. As you begin your summer break stay close to our Lord in the Eucharist and to our Blessed Mother in the daily recitation of the rosary and allow her to guide you, God willing towards the Holy Priesthood.