The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
- Luke 10:2
I just returned last night from Quo Vadis Days, which is a vocation discernment camp for boys 13-18. ‘Quo Vadis’ means ‘where are you going?’. This phrase comes from the legend of Peter’s escape from Rome during persecution. It is said that he ran into Our Lord walking into the city. Peter said, “Domine, quo vadis?” (Where are you going, Lord?) And Jesus responded, “I go to Rome to be crucified anew.” Peter, ashamed, turned back to what he knew was his duty. There is a small church in Rome at the traditional sight of this encounter on the Appian Way near the San Sebastian Gate.
The great news about Quo Vadis Days is that it has grown to over 130 boys interested in the priesthood. 20 seminarians who have begun their journey assist, along with 25 priests who give talks, hear confessions, and like last night, concelebrate Mass with the Archbishop. I was able to give a talk on prayer and meditation. Leonardo DiFillipi was also there to perform his one-man act of “Cure of Ars”. Overall it was a very encouraging atmosphere.
As the number of vocations in the U.S. continues to recover, following a world-wide downward trend since 1989, the question of age and maturity enters in. On the one hand, the common age of vocational certitude of those ordained is the sixth grade. Many priests claim to have known their vocation at an early age. Holy examples exist, too, such as Padre Pio, who knew quite early (10 yrs old) that he wanted to be a Franciscan friar “with a beard”. The American Church, however, has had a mixed experience of younger priests along with a generally positive experience of ‘late vocations’, men who decided later in life, after another avocation, to become priests.
I think the answer lies in real scrutiny of a man’s maturity in Christ. Thomas Merton once commented half-humorously, “It would be a good idea for a man to become a Christian before he becomes a priest.” So there are different levels of scrutiny: the human, the Christian, and the vocational. A man must pass 9 different psychological exams to enter the seminary program. He must also be of a certain physical health and mental aptitude. Then he should have basic Christian virtue and exhibit the conversion from sin necessary to grow in the grace of God.
The recent sex scandal should awaken the Church to the need for heroic chastity in all walks of life inclusive of the priesthood. Priests are obviously not immune from the temptations of the flesh. Neither are they necessarily more vulnerable because of their celibacy. Recent statistics in Illinois which examined the probable abuse in the two thousand cases reported to the state that year (2003?) found that only one of those was a priest. What were the avocations of the other two thousand abusers? How many were teachers, counselors, engineers or whatever other occupation you want to pick.
The true vulnerability of the priest lies in his spiritual prominence in people’s lives. He can do great good or failing that, great harm. Satan knows that. As our society and culture continues to steep itself in an ever-increasing love for sin, the priest remains a special target of spiritual warfare. As Sirach warns, “My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.” (Sir. 2:1) To assist in the discovery of a vocation, and I would say any vocation, we must promote chastity. To the extent that we promote and model chastity in our relationships we will reap the fruit of committed relationships, either in marriage or a celibate’s commitment to the Church.
So what is chastity? I will try to offer some thoughts on this with the help of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in a future bulletin. Stay tuned in to God’s love. I include here a saying of John of the Cross, which I read last Sunday in relation to the Gospel as well as the death of a good friend and Catholic, Lenny Lombardi. For more information and photos of Quo Vadis Church, see:
Suffering and Love
And I saw a river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was “suffering”.
And then I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was “love.”
-St. John Of The Cross
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