Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Six Tips to Survive Your Vocations Director

We Vocations Directors are only human. Here are some tips on how to survive yours...

Tip One:
Don't Be too Cautious...
The Lord tells us to "launch out into deep water"! Prudence does not mean finding everything there is to know about every possible vocation before making a decision. What young man would say to his girlfriend, "I think I should marry you - but I want to check out every other girl in the world first so as not to make a mistake"? As one Vocations Director put it: "God can't drive a parked car. Move!"

Tip Two: 
Stop visiting vocation websites and visit a Vocations Director instead...
Websites are useful in many ways but there comes a point when you've learnt all you're going to learn from them. Besides the information on websites is necessary generic whereas your vocation is specific to you. You need help from an experienced Vocations Director.

Tip Three:
Don't expect Champagne...
Ok, so it's your life and your giving it to God. For you it's a big deal. For your Vocations Director it might just be some spotty nosed kid whose not going to follow through. So what if he doesn't crack open the champagne? Does that mean God's not calling you? Time to get real: you're not doing God a favour - he's doing one for you!

Tip Four:
Get Ready to Press the Reset Button...
Yeah, I know. It happens occasionally. You phoned the Vocations Director and he told you off for calling during the football. Or when you said you've been "discerning your vocation" he told you you haven't because you can only do that with him. Sorry. What more can I say? Do not take it as a sign you don't have a vocation - it's more likely to be a sign your bishop needs to appoint a new Vocations Director! If things got off to a bad start, you may need to press the Reset button and start all over again.

Tip Five:
Learn to Obey...
If the Vocations Director invites you to an event try to be there. If he tells you to "keep in touch" make sure you do. You do want to be a priest, don't you?

Tip Six:
Make sure you don't dig your own grave...
Never a good idea to suffocate the Vocations Director. He'll be more impressed to see you getting on with your peers, serving at table and doing the washing up, than to have you running after him with tales of how you're descended from Lord Ponsonby Ponsonby Smythe of Shuttlecock Mansion, Meeville.

As Chairman of the Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors I would like to point out that all the Vocations Directors of England and Wales are perfect in every way. Especially the one in Southwark.


This past weekend I was in Cardiff for the national retreat for the youth of Wales which was being run by Youth 2000. I was there to give a few workshops on vocations discernment and was very much impressed by the numbers who came and the enthusiasm with which they participated in the discussion.  Cardiff currently has five seminarians, the highest number for a long time, and I also met a number of lads who are hoping to apply to the diocese. On the Saturday we were joined by the Welsh seminarians from Oscott and Allen Hall.

The retreat was very strongly supported by Fr Gareth Jones, the (relatively) new university chaplain in Cardiff and also by Archbishop George Stack who joined us on Sunday morning and celebrated our concluding Mass. It was clear from his sermon that Archbishop Stack understands the importance of bringing young people together so that they can encourage each other. Although the value of such events may seem obvious not everyone understands the insight of Blessed John Paul II when he started big Catholic youth gatherings such as World Youth Day. Young people need the support of their peers. Not to accept that manifests at best an affective immaturity and at worst an emotional cruelty. So I was particularly pleased to hear the Archbishop mention that he is looking into the possibility of appointing someone to develop youth activities in the diocese. It will be hard to find the right person but such a post has the potential to rejuvenate the Church in Wales.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Are you part of our Invisible Monastery?

If you click the icon at the top of the right hand column you will be taken to the sign up page for the Invisible Monastery. From the drop down menus you can select England and Wales and then Southwark. You will immediately be taken to a page where you can sign up to pray regularly for vocations in our diocese. Currently our Invisible Monastery has five members. If you are already a member you will probably have received the first newsletter which I found really informative and encouraging. It would be good to increase the membership of the Invisible Monastery in our diocese. Why not sign up and offer to say a Hail Mary for vocations with you family prayers?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Discovering Priesthood Weekend

At the Vocations Centre from time to time we host what we call a "Discovering Priesthood Weekend". It is not the same as a retreat or weekend of recollection. The purpose of the Discovering Priesthood Weekends is to help young men reflect more deeply on the different aspects of the life and ministry of a diocesan priest. Following a suggestion from the Spiritual Director of the seminary we have taken as our starting point the different things we seen on the sanctuary in our churches. In most church sanctuaries we see the Altar, the Tabernacle, the Ambo and the Chair. Applying these to the priesthood we could consider the priest as the one who celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the priest as a man of prayer, the priest as proclaimer of God's Word, and the priest as the one who presides as father of his community.

This weekend we started with the Ambo and considered what it means to proclaim the Word of God. In particular we looked at the Year of Faith and Evangelisation as the deepest identity of the Church (to quote Paul VI). We also looked at what is meant by the concept of the "New Evangelisation". In such a short space of time we were, of course, only able to introduce the idea without going more deeply into the nature and content of specific areas of parish life such as parish catechesis. Hopefully what we achieved was to help our participants to see that proclaiming the Word is an all-embracing imperative and that they need both to be aware of the need to evangelise at all times and in all circumstances and also to use their imagination, creativity and initiative to be effective evangelisers.

Apart from the five prospective candidates who joined us for the weekend we were also able to welcome to the Vocations Centre two of our seminarians who helped look after meals, co-ordinate the liturgy and give a presentation on the elements of Christian discipleship.

The Numbers Game

Please pray for the three men interviewed by the Archbishop on Wednesday 10th April and also for a fourth interviewed a couple of weeks ago. These four men are all applying for the priesthood in Southwark and are now coming to the end of the application process. Three of them will have their psychological assessment in Manchester which will form the last piece in the jigsaw enabling the Archbishop to make a final decision about whether to accept them and, if accepted, where they should study.

There are always three possible outcomes to the selection process: a candidate might be accepted to begin training immediately, his acceptance could be deferred to some time in the future, or he might not be accepted. In ash case we should recognise the generosity of these men towards God. It takes courage to put oneself forward. A deferral or non-acceptance can be tough. So let's pray for all four men.

By the end of July we will, please God, have had seven priestly ordinations in the diocese. It will be the largest number of ordinations in the diocese for many years and we should thank God for this great blessing. Even if all four applicants are accepted, however, it will not be enough to maintain our numbers at the seminary and so next year we can expect to have fewer seminarians. This highlights the need to pray for more vocations.

On the other hand, we have had a very promising few weeks at the Vocations Centre. Since Easter we have had eight men come to visit me down here in Whitstable. They are all at quite early stages in their discernment process and so need our prayers all the more. I am hopeful that some of them at least may apply for next year.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Visiting Priests

On Tuesday we were able to welcome the members of the Canterbury Deanery to the Vocations Centre for their scheduled meeting. For most of the priests it was their first visit to the Centre and a great opportunity to see our facilities. We met in the Conference Room, prayed in the Chapel, had drinks in the lounge and ate a very enjoyable lunch in the refectory which had been prepared by our residents.
Since the agenda was a bit thin (having been a dean myself I know that feeling), I was invited to give a short presentation on the work of the Centre and on vocations ministry today.

I am very happy to welcome priests and groups of priests to to Centre either for a visit or for a meeting such as this one. By visiting the Centre they understand better the work we do here and I think it somehow becomes all the more real. If we are to have an increase in priestly vocations in our diocese we need more priests to see the importance of promoting vocations in their parishes and supporting the initiatives we offer here.

This week we will welcome our first Ministry to Priests group which we are also looking forward to very much.

Discovering Priesthood Weekend

We are all systems go for our Discovering Priesthood Weekend which will be this coming weekend here at the Vocations Centre. It starts on Friday night and ends with lunch on Sunday. A couple of our diocesan seminarians are going to try to come along on Saturday (their day off) to help us with some input from their perspective.
A Discovering Priesthood Weekend gives you time to reflect on priesthood and ask questions. There is also time to pray, to socialise with others, and to enjoy the fresh coastal air. If anyone is interested in coming please send me an email to book your place.

Thank You

It has been a while since I've acknowledged the generosity of our benefactors in supporting the Amazon wish list on the side bar. I'll have to think of some new things to add to it!

We've recently picked up a couple of new Standing Orders. It helps us enormously to have a steady income and we now have quite a few benefactors who forgo a cup of coffee each week and send us the money saved by way of a Standing Order of £10 each month.

In July we will be taking a group of sixty five young people to Rome for a special pilgrimage to mark the Year of Faith: the Holy Father has invited "seminarians, novices and those on a vocational journey" to join him at the beginning of July. As you can imagine, it is beyond the budget of some students considering priesthood or religious life and so we are trying to subsidise them as much as possible. So if we could pick up another fifteen Standing Orders we might even be able to push that number up to eighty!

Running the Vocations Centre always brings its own challenges. We had a recurring problem with the heating system which seems finally to be fixed. In the end we went for the nuclear option of stripping down the three ancient boilers and giving everything a complete service. They've worked well since then but no sooner had they been fixed than the washing machine developed an ominous squeak which within a few days became a rattle. Declared obsolete, it soon seized up completely. I guess when the Sisters left two years ago it had settled itself down for a life of retirement only to be rudely awakened by our arrival - and constant call upon its services! After much researching on the internet we've had to buy a new one which will arrive, hopefully, next Monday. In the meantime it's trips down to our local launderette which, mercifully, is only at the end of the road!

So, as you can see we really do depend on our benefactors for whom we offer Holy Mass here in the chapel twice each month.

St John's, Gravesend

The beautiful St Mary's Church, Denton

This weekend I had the pleasure of preaching in the parish of St John's, Gravesend. To my surprise, it included a short trip to the Church of St Mary's, Denton, a pre-Reformation Church which fell into disuse at the time of the Reformation and was acquired and restored for Catholic worship at the beginning of the twentieth Century. It is most likely that St John Fisher would have celebrated Mass here.

Three of us from the Vocations Centre went to Gravesend for the parish Masses. I preached the homily and found that the readings were ideally suited to preaching about vocations. At the end of the Mass one of the residents here gave a short testimony about the effects of our work here at the Centre. He spoke simply and eloquently and earned a spontaneous applause for his efforts! After the Masses we stood at the back of the Church to greet the parishioners as they left.

These parish visits are a great way to let people know about our work and to encourage them to pray for us. It also, hopefully, makes people aware of the shortage of vocations in the diocese and the need to foster them pro-actively. I'm grateful to Fr Casmir, the parish priest, for arranging a second collection to support us financially as well.

Fr Casmir and Fr Julius couldn't have been more welcoming. We were even treated to lunch at a nearby restaurant. They are both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, a Congregation founded several decades ago in Nigeria that now sends priests from Africa to work as missionaries in these lands. I was lucky enough to have one of their priests, Fr Augustus Umanah, with me for four years in Balham.