Father’s Day… one of those last minute, almost forgotten about holidays for teachers. Honestly, what teacher is able to think of some cutesy, genuinely thoughtful gift for their students’ fathers while they are busy preparing report cards, field trips, and year-end slideshows? Well, I thought I had a gift that at least adequately fit those descriptors. We were going to make cookies and decorate cookie jars just for dad! It was going to be fun and my students were going to love it!
The first thing I hear as I pull out the jars… “Those jars are ugly!”… “Do we seriously have to paint these jars? Can’t we just draw with Sharpies?”… “Those jars are so small! How are we even going to fit cookies in there??”
Yep… there go my dreams of a positive and fun assignment. Fly away little dreams, fly away!
This past year has been a rather trying one in terms of keeping things positive. Not too far into the year I had to start up a “positivity jar” where students would earn marbles for every (genuinely) positive comment I heard. Let’s just say that the jar stopped, as it was the slowest earning jar we had ever seen. After every negative comment I heard, I would attempt to model an opposing positive comment or try to get the student to come up with their own positive comment (which would almost always end in an eye roll).
Now, I’m trying not to complain here, and I’m really trying to stay positive, but where have all the positive children gone?? I have to ask myself how these 10 year old's have managed to become so cynical and pessimistic. The only answer I have come up with is, well, it’s us adults. On to story number two… (which happened later that day).
On my long drive home I came up to a rather busy intersection during one of Lethbridge’s few rush hours, and traffic was stalled a bit. As it slowly got moving, I was on my way to the next set of lights, when they turn yellow. I had enough time to stop and wasn’t exactly up for running a red light, so I stopped. I look behind me in my rear-view mirror and see this lovely elderly gentlemen cussing me out and waving his hands frantically at me just begging me to keep going. This goes on for another 20 seconds. I merely smile back at him.
Now, this gentleman looked like he was on his own, but how many times has something like this happened when there were small children around? How many times has a child witnessed mom, dad, aunt, or uncle, come home and do nothing but complain about their day? How often do children get to witness an adult criticizing the waitress or meal at a restaurant? I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s time as adults we need to step up and actually think about what we say around those sponge-like minds around us. We need to start thinking about how we can transform the negative circumstances into positive ones. How can we show that we are grateful for those opportunities that challenge us to greater growth? Isn't it in the bible that it says "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We need to teach our children to give thanks in all circumstances instead of complaining and whining. God doesn't promise us an easy, trouble-free life, He promises a "future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11), and to care for us through our anxieties (see 1 Peter 5:7).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who go around whistling a happy tune with a 100-watt grin on all day… I can definitely get into a complaint mode. I need to vent. We all need to vent. Otherwise we’d all explode! But maybe, just maybe, we need to keep those times for when we can share it with another adult who can handle it, instead of sharing it around those who are still forming their personalities?
Just a thought.
Before I get into this... let me give you some context.
The Church is awakening. Thank God for that! More and more people are joining ministry teams, going to bible school, and discerning vocations in seminaries and convents. Thank God! I want to make it clear that I think these are all amazing and necessary. I have huge respect for everyone who pursues these very formative and beneficial endeavors.
Naturally, the Church and her faithful celebrate these people - as they should.
But what about the rest of us? This post is for the rest of us.
I have had many conversations with youth and young adults about this very topic. I think something needs to be said to empower those who are not in the ministry spotlight or discerning a religious vocation. Here are my reactions to some of the most common things I have heard from these people.
"I am just working at a regular job. Do I matter?"
Obviously, I can only speak from my personal experience. I have worked in both full-time ministry and 'out in the world'. Personally, I think it's tough to live out your faith in a secular job. I struggle with it every day. I have huge respect for those who are working the 9 to 5 grind, day in and day out, and still manage to stay strong in their faith without compromise. In my opinion, these people have a great opportunity to be a part of the "muscle of the Church". Just because these areas of work are not celebrated as much as ministry, does not mean it is not as important to the Church. The Church needs people out in the world. If you fall into this category, take heart! The Church needs you just as much as she needs youth ministers and deacons! We need you to do your thing and be a witness to Christ's presence in your life. Your role is just as important. Remember, the man who was chosen to be the father of our Lord was 'just a carpenter'.
"Sometimes I feel like I don't fit in with other Catholics because I haven't served with a ministry or attended bible school".
Firstly, people naturally link up with others who have had the same experiences as them. It can seem cliquey, but I am sure this is not their intention.
In regard to not having the same experiences as them, don't let this get you down. God can use you too! There are so many ways to serve the Church and learn about your faith without putting your career or education on hold for a few years. Your parish has many opportunities for service. Whether it is with the local youth ministry, greeting at mass, reading, or being a Eucharistic minister, there are many ways you can get involved.
There are also many programs available for learning about the faith. Many parishes have bible studies and faith studies. A great option is all of the online / distance learning theology programs out there that will help you learn more about your faith. For a more casual approach, you can even get DVD programs as well as thousands of Catholic books. You can learn as much as you want, any way you want, at any pace you want! There are even YouTube channels and podcasts!
"I really feel called to marriage, but I only ever hear people promoting the priesthood and religious life. Am I wrong about what I feel called to?"
If there is anything in the Catholic world that really rustles my jimmies, it is the way we seem promote vocations, and how it effects our young adults discerning God's will. I use the word seem, because it seems like the Church spends a lot of time promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and marriage seems to take a back seat. This kind of unequal promotion (for lack of a better word) can make vocational discernment really difficult for young adults.
*Side Note* - I have been to many parishes and diocese where every vocation is prayed for, encouraged, and even fostered! I am so very encouraged by this. Just to be clear, I am not speaking for the entire Catholic Church when I talk about vocation promotion. I am merely sharing my experience and the experiences of others who have come to me with the same concerns.
Fear not! Ever wonder what Church teaching says?
"Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will.117 Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom118 and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other:
Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good.119"
Catechism of the Catholic Church - 1620
About consecrated life, the Church says :
"The state of the consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come" (CCC. Paragraph 916).
You have to admit... That is awesome! It makes sense that consecrated life allows the person to experience a more intimate consecration to Christ. I mean, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom? If that isn't hardcore, I don't know what is! BUT, it doesn't mean marriage should be looked down upon by the Church. Don't let what seems to be the case get you down!
Here's what the Church has to say to all the lay faithful (last quote, I promise):
"The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church:
Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the common Head, and of the bishops in communion with him. They are the Church.
Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it." (CCC, 899, 900)
So let me encourage those of you who really feel a strong calling to marriage. Marriage, if lived properly, can be just as holy as the priesthood or religious life. Marriage and Priesthood are both Sacraments.... BOTH!
This was a really big hurdle that I had to get over while discerning my Vocation. Because of the big apparent focus on the priesthood and religious life, I almost felt guilty to even consider being anything other than a Priest or Religious. There were times where the guilt was so strong that I thought God (and everyone else) would be mad at me if I didn't become a Priest. I had to change my image of God.... but that's another post.
After some long and exhaustive discernment, I knew I was called to marriage. I was excited to strive to live a good and holy marriage. But, every retreat I went to, and all of the prayers of the faithful I heard, only encouraged vocations to the priesthood and religious life. No one ever mentioned anything about what marriage could be. I didn't feel supported at all. There were priests and sisters giving their testimonies at every turn, but there was never a holy married couple up there sharing. I felt left out. I felt that I was failing the Church somehow. This caused me to second guess myself. I was full of anxiety.
Don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that we shouldn't be promoting these vocations. They are very important. I am just saying that we should not forget to encourage holy marriages. If every man became a Priest, there would be no families. An extreme example, I know, but you get my point. In many cases, Priests come from holy families who teach their children to be open to God's will. They go hand in hand.
To all of you who are wondering, this is where I ended up:
To all of you who feel a calling to the Priesthood, Religious Life, or Marriage... go after it with all of your heart! The most important thing is that you are pursuing God's will for your life. It is important to test the desires of your heart against the will of God. See if they match. Sometimes we can create a desire to avoid a call. You have to make sure you are in God's will. This is the only way you will be truly happy.
Please remember these things that I have learned the hard way:
In closing, if you feel like just a regular person, going through life, and not feeling too great about it... let me just say this. You are extraordinary because God made you! There is no one out there like you. God created you with a purpose! God has a plan for your life. I know we've all heard this before, but maybe we need to hear it again. As insignificant as your life may seem right now, you are out in the field. You are working the soil. The harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few. You are needed. You are valued. You are amazing. You have purpose. God is placing people in your path every single day. Be Christ to them. Grocery stores, mechanic shops, pubs, and doctor's offices are not places we normally think of where evangelization takes place, but this is where the people are. These are the places I like to think Jesus would frequent.. Now how insignificant does your role seem?