Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Seed of vocation planted in home
Family creates environment that nurtures vocations through prayer, church attendance
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WCR News Editor
Jakob Koziel knelt before the Black Madonna and as he prayed, emotions flooded through him and he felt "as if I had a new heart and new soul and I've never felt the same since."
The 15-year-old Edmonton youth's pilgrimage to Czestochowa, Poland at Christmas is just one more step on this young man's quietly confident journey to his vocation as a priest.
Raised in a devout Catholic home, Jakob said his conversion really began when he was 11 and one day accidentally tripped another youngster.
"I thought I had killed him," says Jakob. "I got so scared and said, 'God, please help. Please help.'"
His friend was not seriously hurt, but the incident opened the 11-year-old's heart to sincere belief and he scrolled the Internet for information on faith. As he clicked away, he happened upon the story of Padre Pio.
His father Janusz bought his son books about the sainted healer.
"When I read about the stigmata and how he suffered for love, I knew I wanted to be a priest. I told my parents and they were very excited."
And this underlines exactly what Father Patrick Baska maintains.
"The family is the seed bed for vocation," said the Edmonton Archdiocese associate director of vocations. "We, as priests, only see young people one to two hours a week, and maybe an hour or so at school once in awhile."
But the family, says Baska, creates the vocations environment through prayer, church attendance and their attitude towards priests and religious.
"If they dissuade their children from thinking of becoming a priest, then that is troubling to the whole effort."
"We cannot be what we do not see and know."
- Fr. Raymond Lafontaine
But given the headlines in recent years of priests' sexual abuse, residential school traumas, and gay subcults within seminaries, one can understand an uninformed parent's concern.
Father Raymond Lafontaine, director of pastoral formation at the Grande Seminaire du Montreal, readily responds to these worries.
"With children, you are forever sowing seeds. And we fear what we don't know. But if we make judgments (on a son's becoming a priest) based on one or two bad experiences, or from what we read in the media, it's not terrifically positive."
The answer, says this contented priest, is to search out priests, seminarians and let the young person meet them, speak with them, be with them.
"We cannot be what we do not see and know," says Lafontaine.
The responsibility then lies with these men and what they model to these discerning youth.
Lafontaine quotes author Father Ron Rolheiser who challenges his fellow priests, saying, "We must live our lives in such a way that with credibility and conviction we can turn to a young person and say 'God wants your whole life. Give it.'"
Tackling the abuse cases, Father Paul Moret readily agrees the sexual exploitation "gave the Church a tremendous black eye.
"But it just involved a small percentage of priests (who entered the priesthood at a time) when we did not even understand these things."
The vocations director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Moret assures the Church is now vigilant in its examination of priesthood candidates and ever "watchful for any warning signs."
Those concerns aside, today's main battle facing young people from following a priest's path is the "religion" of secular humanism. Self-fulfillment. All the trappings a successful career can give them. Applause from society. Freedom 55.
So how can a young person ever hear God's voice over this pervasive, raucous din?
"We have an obligation to create the culture of vocation where young people have the encouragement, the support, the tools that are necessary for them to follow the path that God has in store for them," says Moret.
North America's Catholic faith community is so committed to creating this environment, that it crafted a book, Conversion Discernment Mission, Fostering a Vocation Culture in North America. The work spawned from meetings at The Third Continental Congress on Vocations to the Ordained Ministry and Consecrated Life in North America held in Montreal in April 2002.
The pastoral plan was written by Lafontaine, with input from others. Pragmatic, prayerful and laced with the purity of faith, this handbook lays out plans of action for everyone from priest, to school chaplain, to lay people, even to the individual youth, to create this vocation culture.
The five essential components of the plan include prayer, evangelization and catechesis, experiences of worship, community, service and witness, mentoring, discernment and invitation.
Moret says he takes this message to the parishes and into the schools. "This lets them have someone to contact."
But how does he handle the usual lure of the society-blessed money-making career?
"I don't fight it. I just let them know that this world is not all there is . . . and that the path to fulfillment is doing what God wants you to do," says the committed vocations director."
"When I saw the Mass, I knew I would be there someday."
- Jakob Koziel
Challenge to prayer
If the teens say they indeed do believe in God, Moret challenges them, saying "This is what I want you to do in your prayer life. Make a very specific commitment to God to pray . . . when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night."
It need not be anything lofty, just an Our Father when you get up and read a chapter of the Bible before going to bed."
And for those struggling with their belief in God, he tells them for one year, each and every day, to sincerely ask, "God, if you are there, let me know."
The priest smiles as he says, "In one year of saying that little prayer, you will know."
Moret acknowledges the hardest part of the pastoral plan is providing the mentoring.
This is where someone such as Louis St. Laurent High School chaplain Sandra Talarico steps in. She has taken Jakob under her wing, passing on any articles he might be interested in, taking him to Littlemore, a high school program at Newman Theological College, given him a chance to talk to the seminarians "so he can hear from their own perspective what it is like."
Talarico journeys with her students and if she sees something that indicates they might have a vocation, "I ask them. I always do."
And then there are the miracles.
Moret will meet a young man who wants to follow his vocation.
"And I wonder, 'How did this person ever hear God's voice when they were really given nothing by which to be able to do that?' But the fact that God's grace can work does not absolve us from creating that environment."
Moret, like Talarico, stands by Jakob, meeting with him and giving him audiotapes to play.
Jakob's plan is to become a Franciscan. He and his family travelled to a Franciscan monastery in San Francisco.
"When I saw the Mass, I knew I would be there someday," says Jakob.
But then he turned and noticed his mother weeping.
He asked his father why she was crying.
Janusz told his son, "When a son or daughter marries, a parents cries from joy. She is crying from joy because she knows you are marrying the Church."