Category Archives: Vocations

The Monastic Taster Weekend

Are you ready for this? Try out the religious (monastic) life just for a weekend. If you like the experience, come back and stay. The best the English religious orders have to offer! I suppose when you have problems getting people to enter the religious life you have to create “fun” things to attract newbies. The BBC article reports: “In 1982, there were 217 novices in the Catholic Church in England and Wales but by 2007 that figure had dropped to 29.”

Spiritual maternity for priests

Do you ever think of the connection between holiness and priests? I am NOT suggesting a vague academic consideration of the topic but I am wondering about it in the concrete. Every now and again the notion –perhaps I can even say vocation– of spiritual paternity and maternity arises in me and I am not exactly sure where the idea comes from or where it is going. The matter of the holiness of priests –indeed, of all people, concerns me, but right now I am thinking specifically of the ordained’s holiness because it is a real need in our ecclesial life together today.

Friends, laity and clergy alike who work as spiritual fathers and mothers, live a beautiful vocation in walking spiritually with those who are ordained. They become familiar with the personal narratives of sin and grace, they hear about the presence of the Lord in daily living, and they know the struggles of faith, hope and charity. In a word, spiritual fathers and mothers see the reality of Divine intimacy at work.

So, let me say a very brief word about the idea of spiritual maternity for priests. Actually, let me point you in the direction of the spiritual maternity of Catherine Doherty, a well known mystic of the 20th century who had a special love for the priesthood and the enduring need of priests to be holy. Doherty said once, “I wish I could tell every priest that I share his pain and joy, whatever it may be, because I love the priesthood passionately.” But there are others as Cardinal Hummes indicates in a recent letter (see below), who have been called to this vocation.

What I am interested is real holiness, not fake spiritual sentimentality, not some vague “connection” with the divinity. Rather, holiness is a way of life centered on reality as it is given and lived in the light and tension of the Gospel, the sacraments and the Church.

Having CHummes.jpgconcern for priests, Claudio Cardinal Hummes wrote in 2007 to the world’s bishops asking for help in establishing in their dioceses places of eucharistic adoration and the development of a spiritual work that looks to women to assist in flourishing of holiness in the priesthood. That letter bears greater attention and so I have linked it here.

Cardinal Hummes says many memorable things in his letter on spiritual maternity but important item that needs to rememmbered is the following:

According to the constant content of Sacred Tradition, the mystery and reality of the Church cannot be reduced to the hierarchical structure, the liturgy, the sacraments, and juridical ordinances. In fact, the intimate nature of the Church and the origin of its sanctifying efficacy must be found first in a mystical union with Christ.

 For more information read my friend Father Mark’s recent essay on the subject.

“Garry & Harry” the story of twin brothers and priests: a story of hope in the face of Alzheimer’s

Fathers Garry and Harry Giroux are twin brothers, both Roman Catholic priests in a small town in upstate New York. In 2004, Father Harry was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and his brother Father Garry has been his caregiver ever since. “Garry and Harry” explores this fascinating story and the relationship of these brothers as they deal with their faith, family, and hope in the face of tragedy.

This film is the work of Steven Madeja, a freelance filmmaker and film festival director in Potsdam, NY. Madeja received a Bachelor’s with honors degree in Film from Vassar College in 2008.

Watch “Garry and Harry

Thanks to my friend Rachel for sharing this video.

U.S. women religious to have Vatican visitation

The Vatican announced today that it is initiating the first-ever visitation of women’s religious communities in the United States. The visitations are being undertaken to help strengthen religious communities in the U.S., which are suffering from a sharp drop in vocations and gentrification of their ranks.

FRode.jpgOn the heels of issuing a report on the health of U.S. seminaries–which were found to be in relatively good condition–the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, headed by Cardinal Franc Rodé, is embarking on a comprehensive study of the more than 400 congregations present in the United States. The visitations will only assess those religious who engage in apostolic or active work, and will not involve contemplative communities.

The visitation process is being spearheaded by Connecticut native Mother Mary Clare Millea, A.S.C.J., who was appointed by Cardinal Rodé. Mother Clare is the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a group of sisters that is based in Rome but has 135 sisters in the U.S.

According to a December 22, 2008 Vatican decree authorizing the visitations, the study is being undertaken “to look into the quality of the life” of the members of U.S. religious institutes.

CMillea.jpgMother Clare estimates that the project will take about two years to finish, and says that upon completion she will submit a confidential report to Cardinal Rodé. There are no plans to publish the findings.

Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, explained how the several-stage process will work at a press conference in Washington D.C. on Friday.

“First, Mother Clare will solicit voluntary input from the superiors general through inviting them to make personal contacts with her in Rome or in the United States. During the second stage, the major superiors in the United States will be asked for information such as statistics, activities and community practices.”

She continued, “selected on-site visits will be made during the third stage. During this time, the sisters will have an opportunity to share with the visitation teams their joys and hopes, challenges and concerns about their lives as women religious in the Church today. The final stage will be the compilation and delivery of a comprehensive and confidential review by Mother Clare to Cardinal Rodé.

Sr. Ackerman also added that the “visitations are beginning as we speak.”

In a press release announcing the initiative, Mother Millea indicated that while she is not obliged to visit every community of women religious, she looks forward to learning and better understanding the “multi-faceted dimensions of the sisters’ religious lives, as well as their abundant contributions to the Church and society.”

“I am truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed,” Mother Millea said of her assignment. “While I have visited each of the communities and missions in my own congregation, the thought of gathering facts and findings about nearly 400 institutes across the United States can be daunting in scope.”

“I am praying for all the sisters who will be a part of this Visitation, and hoping for their prayers “both for the good of the process as well as for me in this role,” she added. “I ask the prayers of the American Catholic clergy and faithful too.”

More information about the visits can be found at

The changing face of the monastic life

OSB monk.jpgA Spiegel Online article of January 25, 2007 looks into the monastic life from the German perspective: fewer monks and nuns professing vows and more lay people for a way to make sesne of their lives. The experience of the monks and nuns in Europe, in this case Germany, is not unlike the experience one can have in monasteries in the USA when it comes to diminishing numbers, lack of vision and hope for the future, and with plentiful  examples of liturgical & theological dissent. One can’t forget that so many of the ’68ers are still in charge.

But not all is bunk as there are a number of indicators pointing out that people are considering the monastic life anew. In fact, there are bright, generous and fun men and women entering the monasteries: they are on fire with the reality of serving and loving the Lord and His Church; they are ready to spend themselves for the eternal good of others and they are willing to preach Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior for humanity. That doesn’t mean that thousands of men and women are running to cloister but those are very willing to take up the sacrifice of the cloister seriously. In accepting Christ one is never disappointed or easily thrown under the bus.

BUT there are equally bright, generous and loving people whose vocation is not to enter the monastery but it is to follow Christ  more deeply in following a rule of life –like the Rule of Saint Benedict– while living in the world. The oblate life (also referred to as a third order or even in a secular institute) is beautiful and flourishing today.

I’ve had this article in my file for a while but some interesting points are worth considering even now. Monastic life in the 3rd millennium.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory