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Photo: Dan Valenti
Sister Gabriele Maldanado, SCMC, of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church, and Br. Joseph Aytona, CPM, Congregation of the Fathers of Mercy, both presented talks to young people as part of the Diocese of Springfield's family vocations conference held Saturday, Nov. 1, at The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
By Dan Valenti (Nov 3, 2008)
Imitation, as the cliché goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. For Christians, imitation is the surest path to sainthood.
Ah, but isn't it daunting to have the saints as role models? We can think so if we focus on our tendency to sin instead of God's love. We think, then, that sainthood is beyond our reach. However, when we embrace God's mercy, our outlook changes. It can even be dramatic enough to result in a religious vocation.
The Diocese of Springfield, Mass., certainly believes so, as it conducted a lively and uplifting family event for vocations at Eden Hill, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge and American Provincial Headquarters of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. The Nov. 1 gathering was given free of charge and included lunch, entertainment, and gifts.
Vocations in Focus
"Imitating the Saints: A Family Enrichment Conference," a diocesan outreach of its Family Vocation Ministries Office, catechizes the faithful about religious vocations and helps families to answer the call to holiness. The conference brought priests, nuns, and other religious together with about 100 pilgrims and families.
The conference featured an array of presenters offering a variety of reflections and teaching on the subject of vocations. These included Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy; Fr. Gary Daley, Diocese of Springfield vocation director; Fr. Brian Mullady, OP, Order of Preachers, Western Province; Br. Jewel Aytona, CPM, Br. Joseph Aytona, CPM, and Br. Joshua Caswell, CPM, all from the Congregation of the Friars of Mercy in Auburn, N.Y.; Br. Nathan Caswell, SIC, Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, Chicago, Ill.; Sr. Mary Jacinta, SCMA, and Sr. Gabriela Maldanado, SCMS, both of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church, Baltic, Conn.; Sr. Mary Joseph, DM, Sr. Sharon, and Sr. Ann, all of the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, New Britain, Conn., and Sr. Maria Teresa, OC, Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, Germantown, N.Y.
The family vocations day provided a unique opportunity for the laity of all ages and walks of life to meet and greet persons who have answered God's call by pursuing a religious vocation.
Becoming 'the face of Christ'
At the noon Mass, Fr. Gary said in his homily, "The religious life means sacrifice. Religious give up so much so that they may be the face of Christ to a world that so desperately needs to hear his voice." Father Daley then told parents, "It is your example as a good mother or father that provides your children with the knowledge of and yearning for God." To the young people, Fr. Gary advised them to "open your hearts to Christ. He will lead you, if you ask and if you stay open to His call." Mass was celebrated by Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony.
"Everyone has a vocation," said Br. Joseph Aytona, CPM. "But not everyone has a religious vocation. One of the primary goals in promoting vocations to families is to re-energize families in their faith and in doing so, help them discover what God is asking of them. The most powerful way to evangelize is to give witness, as we are doing today." Asked what advice he gives to young people concerning vocations, Br. Joseph said, "I tell them they need to discern the will of God for their lives. They should ask God for His direction and listen to what He says. Pray the Rosary, seek spiritual help, and surrender your life to God. That's how we can hear what God is telling us."
God is Persistent
Brother Zachary Galiyas is a 24-year-old seminarian with the Fathers of Mercy in Bowling Green, Ky. He says that for him, God was persistent. "My decision to become a priest was definitely a calling. God will tell you what He wants from you, but we have to listen. Sometimes that's hard today, with the materialism, the emphasis on money, and all the noise and distractions tempting young people. The more you try to hear the voice of God, the louder He speaks. I like to tell young people to 'listen' to God."
Sister Mary Gabriele of the Little Sisters of the Poor told the gathering in Memorial Hall that her life as a sister "is a simple life. We take care of the poor, the sick, the aged, and the infirm. We give them love and keep them with us in care and love until the day they die." She said the congregation has no financial backers. Rather, they are a mendicant order, relying completely on God's charity through others. "We just beg right and left. The miracle is: We always get what we need. God takes care of us in a very practical way."
Breakouts for Parents, Youth, and Children
The day began with group prayer, Mass, lunch, a talent show, and then participants were divided into three groups: parents, young adults, and children. Each group then received tailored presentations from various priests and religious. These included reflections, meditations, and questions-and-answers. Following the presentations, pilgrims had the chance to socialize with the priests and religious.
Breakout topics included spiritual joy as experienced through a vocation, the difference between the diocesan priesthood and the religious priesthood, and evangelical counsels such as poverty, chastity, and obedience. Later, an house was set aside for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, meditative silence, confessions, recitation of the Rosary, a Litany to St. Joseph, and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
"I thought [the day] was pretty neat," said Linda Little, 15, who came with her mom and dad. "I enjoyed hearing from the sisters. Some of them seemed almost as young as me!" Asked if she was contemplating a religious vocation, Little laughed, saying, "I don't know. Not now, I guess, but I want to help people."
Following the Holy Hour, the diocese as well as the various religious congregations present kept their booths open for discussion, to answer questions, and to hand out information.
Vocations Begin in the Family
Many popes, saints, and Church documents have expressed the importance of families in promoting vocations. The Second Vatican Council, in its document Lumen Gentium, called the family "the domestic church," noting that as a vital element of society and culture, the family is ideally suited to instill in young men and women the desire to serve Christ in their lives. The family, Lumen Gentium states, is the "seedbed of vocations."
Pope Benedict XVI, calling marriage a vocation to holiness, has said "that the example of holy parents is the first condition favorable for flowering of priestly and religious vocations." Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, wrote, "The family must educate children for life in such a way that each one may fully perform his or her role according to the vocation received from God."
"I would like to speak into the ear of so many men and women: giving up one's children to the service of God is not a sacrifice," said St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.
No. It is not a sacrifice. It is an imitation — of Christ.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for thedivinemercy.org.