Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quo Vadis Groups

Yesterday I had a welcome email from Conor McDonough, a reader of this Blog who has set up a vocations discernment group at a university in the fens...
Here's a photo of the Cardinal looking at you while visiting the university chaplaincy. I hear he's still asking 'What is a Blog?'
I wholeheartedly agree with the points Conor makes about the importance of chaplaincies being characterised by an atmosphere of 'vocations discernment'.

"I've been reading your vocations blog with interest recently, and thought it worthwhile to share what's being done at Fisher House (the Catholic chaplaincy at Cambridge) concerning vocation. Last year, a friend of mine, Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, and I set up a group called 'Consider Your Call'. The aim of the group was to get students thinking about the state of life to which they are called, as well as to help them, by means of fellowship and common prayer, to say 'yes' to whatever God asks of them. In short, we try to facilitate vocational discernment and spiritual formation.

We organise meetings twice a term, on Saturday evenings. We begin with a half-hour of silent adoration, followed by an hour-long discussion, then compline, and finally the chaplaincy bar is opened! The first meeting usually covers a broad topic like 'The Universal Call to Holiness' or 'The Praying Student', and the other looking at a specific calling, such as the priesthood or marriage, for example. Our discussions are either based on texts from classic spiritual works, or led by visitors (who usually begin by giving a talk on their vocation).

Most of the people in the group know each other from other chaplaincy activities, so the style of the group is quite relaxed and informal. It's pretty amazing how honest
and upfront the students are about their spiritual lives - there is a real sense of mutual formation. We usually get about thirty people coming along to the Saturday evenings, and more to sporadic retreats we organise (Fr John Edwards SJ is coming up to give a pre-Lent day of recollection).

I'm sure you've noticed a new openness in young Catholics to the idea of having a specific calling, and a new courage to accept that calling even if it seems like a cross. JPII's witness no doubt has a lot to do with this. About a dozen of my friends at Fisher House, for example, are seriously considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

We're particularly blessed with a great sacramental life and fantastic intellectual formation (our chaplain, Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv, is a very good apologist and catechist), but it seems to me that even those chaplaincies that are poorer in those areas could yield a rich harvest in vocations of all sorts if they were characterised by an 'atmosphere of discernment'.

Our group is only an example of the type of initiative that could encourage such an atmosphere, but it is a very successful one (after a year: one Polish Capuchin novice, a Poor Clare (Galway) postulant, a married couple, a seminarian-to-be, one lay Benedictine and many, many more who are actively discerning God's will in their lives).
God bless your work!
Pax et bonum,
Conor "

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