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Caitie Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Nunsters and No-Funsters

By day, I am a Catholic high school Theology teacher in my small hometown in Indiana. By night, I am a sassy single gal, navigating the oh-so crazy world of dating in my 30’s.

Yes, I have stories from both times of the day that would make you pee your pants laughing.

But by weekend..

By weekend, I am a fake nun.

(No, I don’t wear my costume on dates.)

 

See, my best friend Michaela (Mikey) and I started this little act about 10 years ago. As volunteer leaders for a local youth group, we were encouraged to come up with a skit for the kids. Our first one bombed. We wore bedsheets. We lip synced to the “Sister Act” soundtrack. The kids fake-laughed politely.. It was bad, my friends.

But little by little we came up with something that was kinda… hilarious! Kids told their parents about us. Parents booked us for mom groups and private parties. The elementary schools booked us for teacher retreats. Mikey and I invested in some legit-looking habits from a costume retailer and we were auctioned off at a fundraiser (uh, we went for almost $8,000, by the way… NBD). We even gave surprise wedding toasts to some of the youth group kids we had started the whole thing with!

Before we knew it, we’d given ourselves a name and “Nun & Nunner” took off. Our Instragram account blew up. We were featured in Glamour magazine, on Catholic Teen Posts’ Live Stream, in an issue of FaithConnect. We are the latest episode (#6) on the current season of Leah Darrow’s “Do Something Beautiful” podcast. We will be on CatholicTV’s “The Gist” with Rachel Balducci this fall and are booked at colleges, high schools, parishes and conferences all over the country through May 2018!! ProjectYM just named us one of the “Top 12 Catholics to Follow on Instagram!” We were thrilled!

Nowadays, as Sister Mary Rose and Sister Maria Stella, we might tell our “vocation stories” with a Disney medley or talk about before-convent-boyfriends with a 90’s R&B mashup. We bring Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran together to talk about needing to go to Confession before receiving Communion. We love the Q&A time afterward when we tell the kids about how we’re “not real”, talk about our friendship, reflect on our beautiful faith and praise our Holy Mother Church. And we tailor each show to the group that has booked us — never doing the same show twice! It has become something pretty fun AND faith-filled!

But I’d be lying if I said we’d planned it. Mikey and I never publicized ourselves or even imagined it would take off. It was all God. God has been pushing us forward in the most amazing ways.

 We’re totally enjoying the ride and pray so much about our act- from what shows to take on to what to say in interviews to taking the intentions of our growing followers into our hearts to reflecting on constructive criticism from friends. While writing each show, the cutting room floor becomes littered with jokes that will never see the light of day. We love to find that fine line of reverent comedy and it’s usually through prayer that we figure out if we’re getting close to crossing it. We call upon St. Philip Neri (he had an incredible sense of humor!), St. Ephraim (who used to change the words to popular songs and make them about God!), and St. John Paul II (talk about an evangelizer!) to guide us.

But lately, as we’ve gotten more Insta-followers (who we’ve come to call “Nunsters”), we’ve also collected a tiny handful of people who aren’t so kind. We don’t mind if some people don’t understand or like our comedy… even Jim Gaffigan or Judy MacDonald have those who would pass on their latest shtick! We think there are plenty of cups of tea to go around and we don’t have to be everyone’s.

What gets us… I mean REALLY gets us, are nasty and rude comments that a few crabby people must have ordered gall-in-bulk to be able to leave. Really, it’s only been a couple of messages, but they’re surprisingly aggressive! We decided to call these people the “No-Funsters!” I won’t even take the time to repeat their words, but I’d like to show you the one that put it all in perspective!

A couple weeks ago we posted this picture, a beautiful work of art by Michael Belk from one of my favorite series, “Journeys with the Messiah” (LINK IN: http://journeyswiththemessiah.org/). We talked about how, even in the depths of despair, we are always in God’s hands. People responded beautifully and we got into some great discussions! And then we got this message…

Uhhh…

Say what!?

This seems so silly now, but I’ll be real with you… it took us a while to laugh! At first, we were sick about it. Mikey and I talked on the phone and really reflected on the photo, spending way too much of our precious time dissecting this re-donkulous diatribe to ensure we hadn’t really offended God!

Finally I said, “Hold up!” I shook my head, “Girl, we are in Crazy Town and we need to head home. We posted this picture with the best of intentions. If some lady finds this ‘too sexy’, that is all on her! We cannot possibly be responsible for the reaction of a woman who goes into a venomous rage at the sight of Jesus’ six-pack, for Pete’s sake! Lots of people commented with beautiful sentiments and we got so many messages with beautiful reflections. Why are we fixated on one lady’s opinion that, prayerfully, we don’t share!?”

We vowed to put this behind us and focus on the good.

But after this week’s controversial Break-Dancing-Priests scandal (did you miss it? Read my favorite recap and reflection here) I realized that it’s not just Nun & Nunner that the devil is dancin’ on.. We can all relate to this!

 

We could get all the praise in the world and be steeped in prayerful discernment, but one loud-mouth tells us that we are on the wrong path, going in the wrong direction, wearing the wrong shade of taupe for this time of year and we lose our you-know-what. ✢ We post something that moves us as witnesses of Christ on Facebook, but decide to delete it when someone responds with a snarky, “Are you really this ignorant?” comment. ✢ We’re leaving the park in a great mood when Perfect-Mom #3 comments on the number of old popsicle sticks in Messy Child #7’s hair and the whole fam-damily knows; it’s gonna be a hostile ride home, baby. ✢ We love a certain song at Mass and hum it all day long, but are afraid to admit that we like to pray that way when we hear someone toil on about it’s lowliness. ✢ We rejoice in our parish’s strengths until a newcomer asks why we don’t do things another way.. “You know, in my old parish..” ✢ We have a great day at work until we get one email asking us to do something differently and suddenly we’re contemplating dramatic resignation.

For Pete’s sake!

When are we doing to let the chatter die out — including our own ranting voices — and zero in on the one that matters?

God’s!

St. Catherine of Siena gets it. But sadly we can no longer be surprised when people — even fellow Christians — try to douse our fires with big, crabby, stone-cold buckets of not-so-holy water. “Ew… You’re on fire. Stop it. You’re distracting people. You’re doing it wrong. You’re not being a true, oh-so serious Catholic. Ew.”

(Eyeroll).

Girl, you gotta be able to take it to prayer, wring out your Talbots and fire-on.

You are a daughter of Christ with a true and needed purpose in this world! You cannot be somebody who backs down from God’s call every time you get criticized. How committed are you to your calling, friend?

The key here is “being who God created you to be,” not just living off of our own whims and fancies. And truly, we figure that out most fully through prayer. In order to feel secure in our actions — even our mistakes — we’ve got to be able to know in our souls that we’re on the right path. It takes contemplation. It takes knowing the Word. It takes a regular visit to the Sacraments. It takes the honest feedback of good friends. It takes time. But it will come. The certain knowledge that we are in the right place is incredibly empowering; not because we’re so strong and we’re so right, but because we’ll know we’re in the hands of the One Who is.

For Mikey and I, those rude messages might have had a place in our story had we gone on some crusade with Nun & Nunner and pushed so hard for it’s success, feeling and ignoring the current of God’s will pushing us backwards.

But it is precisely God and His divine plan that has pushed us up the Mountain of Faith! He has opened doors and busted through windows and torn down walls for Nun & Nunner all the while allowing us to use our gifts to bring Him glory in a way only the two of us can! Anyone that has a problem with it needs to talk to Him and we’re not the first to be misunderstood.

We have got to be able to let go of the idea that to be Christian is to be perfect or be the same. To be Christian, my friends, is to be His and we are His in so many ways. We simply need to look at the saints to see this is so! We have got to stop jumping on people and digging our claws into them when the way their faith overflows from their hearts looks different from our own! And we’ve got to be able to withstand the attack and stand in Christ when someone does it to us.

We are all trying our darndest to make this journey. And we all have a unique role to play in building the Kingdom of God! Mikey likes to say that Nun & Nunner is “the pinky toe” of the Body of Christ and I love that. Hey, somebody’s got to be! Whatever part you are, I pray that you grow to love it and feel proud of the purpose God has for you, no matter what others say!

If you have a “No-Funster” in your life, pray for them but consider breaking away from their claws so that you can cling to God and become more of who HE wants you to be. And whenever you find yourself being a “No-Funster” (because we all do at times), stop and pray to see the world, not with your own eyes, but with the loving, patient, generous eyes of Christ.

 

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Consecrated Life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Interviews Kerri Series Vocations Year of Consecrated Life

Interview with Sr. Joseph Marie, OP: Year of Consecrated Life

Interview graphic

Welcome once again to another post in our series for the Year of Consecrated Life. I have really enjoyed putting these posts together and getting the opportunity to communicate with a wide variety of women living in consecrated life. For the first time, with this post, we have an interview with a nun living in a cloistered convent. I think Sr. Joseph Marie is also our first Dominican. I enjoyed reading through her story and I hope you do too. Please keep reading to learn more about Sr. Joseph and the Dominican nuns of Menlo Park, CA.

Sister Joseph MarieWhat is your name?

Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus, O.P.

What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?

We are a community of cloistered nuns of the Order of Preachers. The nuns of the Order of Preachers came into being 800 years ago when our Holy Father Dominic gathered women converts to the Catholic faith in the monastery of Blessed Mary of Prouille (France). These women, free for God alone, he associated with his “holy preaching” by their prayer and penance. St. Dominic entrusted the nuns, as part of the same Order, to the fraternal concern of his sons, and we remain so to this day.

Our community at Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, California was founded on May 29, 1921, when eight nuns from our founding monastery in Bronx, New York, left to begin a new foundation on the West Coast. Rev. A.L. McMahon, O.P., Provincial of the Western Dominican Province, desired to bring to the San Francisco area a contemplative monastery whose purpose would be to honor and promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  

The friars, sisters and laity of the Dominican Order are “to preach the name of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world;” the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent.

We live out this charism by remaining faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and observing Papal enclosure. The celebration of the Eucharist and Divine Office is central to our daily life, as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition to liturgical and private prayer, community and study round out the pillars of our life.  

How did you know God was calling you to this life?

I had reached a point in my life when I realized I’d achieved so much and was truly living the American dream: a strong faith life, loving family, relationship and friends, education and a promising career, yet I still felt unfulfilled and yearned for something beyond my comprehension. I started looking at religious life and contacted a national vocations office that helped connect people to religious communities. They gave me the names of several communities in California and I was drawn to Corpus Christi Monastery by their horarium, the common life, the silence, study, government and adoration that is part of the daily life.

Over the next two years, I would visit and experience an indescribable peace, but then return to my life in the world and my discernment would be pushed to the back burner. But Jesus kept calling me back and finally I couldn’t resist Him any longer. Discerning a religious vocation is a lot like dating is to marriage – you may not have all the answers and you may have some nervousness and questions but you finally reached a point when you and the community know enough and you both just have to take that step of faith and follow your heart.

Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.

Our life is ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God for His greater glory and the salvation of souls. A cloistered nun’s spouse is none other than Christ himself; her children are the downtrodden and the afflicted throughout the world she carries in her heart and prayers throughout the day. Our day begins before sunrise. In Dominican tradition, we have already spent some time in personal vigil prayer, each sister choosing to either pray after Compline the night before or to rise and pray before the Office. By 5:30 a.m., the entire community has gathered in the choir to pray Matins and Lauds.

Dominican sisters Menlo classAs Dominicans, we also set aside a portion of our day for study. We study not to simply acquire knowledge, but to know better the One we love; Dominican study is a form of prayer. The celebration of the liturgy – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the seven hours of the Divine Office – is the heart of our whole life and the primary source of our unity. The summit of our day is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is followed by a time of thanksgiving and Terce (Midmorning prayer).  

The remainder of the day is filled with the ebb and flow of the Divine Office, personal prayer and various work assignments and classes for the novitiate. Work tasks around the monastery vary greatly and it’s beautiful to see how each sister is able to put their talents, knowledge, and strengths at the service of the community, sometimes in unique and unexpected ways! Each sister also keeps at least one hour of adoration during the day.  

The bell for Vespers (Evening prayer) rings at 5:00 p.m., followed by lectio divina, supper and recreation. The day draws to a close with Compline, the favorite hour for many Dominicans; there are many miracles and graces associated with it in our history and the processions while chanting the Salve Regina (in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of our Order) and the O Lumen (in honor of Our Holy Father Dominic) are very special to us.  

What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?

First, it’s not as complicated as you might think. All vocations start with an invitation by God, rooted in our baptism, to grow in holiness in a particular way of life and to live the mission of the Church – that is, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to others. So whether you ultimately discern God is calling you to married life, religious life, or some other life of service, such as dedicated single life, your first steps should be the same and aimed at growing to be the person God created you to be in Him.

Pray daily to Jesus and our Blessed Mother. Receive the Sacraments frequently. Avoid sin and grow in virtue. Consult a good, well-informed spiritual director. Consider and pray to God about the reasons you feel drawn to one particular vocation or another. Do not wait for heaven to dispatch an angel to reveal to you God’s will! He is answering your prayers by the movements of your heart. As Bl. Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier, O.P., advised a postulant: Tell yourself very seriously: What would I wish I had done at the hour of my death, on the day of my judgment? Right now, do what you need to do so that later you will have accomplished it. It is a question of a happy or an unhappy eternity…

About Contemplative Vocations: Just as God calls whom He wills, there is no particular type of person He calls to the contemplative life. The cloisters of monasteries are filled with introverts and extroverts, artists and accountants, those who never went to college and those who hold Ph.D.’s. If you find yourself wanting to spend more and more time with God in silence, have increasing feeling of something missing from your life despite success and relationships you have, or wanting to “do more” in love for others, you may have a calling to monastic life.

Dominican Sisters MenloWhat does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?

It’s already been such a grace-filled year! Building a culture of vocations really is the work of the entire Church. Sadly, many young men and women are not asked, or even actively discouraged from discerning a vocation to consecrated life. And those who are in consecrated life are often not supported in their vocations, or there’s simply a lack of awareness of how important these vocations are for the Church. We need each other and so to have this time to learn more about and support consecrated life in the Body of Christ is tremendous.

What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?

Depending on the day, I might be found reading, walking, gardening, playing sports, playing the piano or guitar, or in our art studio working on a project.

 

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Current Events Ink Slingers Mary P.

CDF and LCWR: Reform, Not Inquisition

This past week, the Vatican stated that Pope Francis fully supports reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a group of leaders of various congregations of female religious in the United States. They represent the vast majority of the 57,000 religious sisters in the United States. This reform began last year under Pope Benedict XVI, after the Vatican determined that LCWR is out of sync with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Due to its interest in any story that could possibly portray the Church (specifically the Magisterium) in a bad light, you may have seen this story in the secular press; but as you probably know, we cannot trust them to get it right. Here are 6 things you need to know about this situation, from the perspective of a faithful Catholic.

1) This reform is a result of several years of observing and documenting concerns about the LCWR. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)–the office of the Curia that promotes and and protects true Catholic doctrine–determined in 2008 that a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR was needed because of these many years’ worth of concerns. The assessment began in 2009 and included dialogue with members of the LCWR. When the findings were presented in 2011, the CDF and Pope Benedict XVI decided that a reform would need to be undertaken.

2) According to the CDF report, the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR revealed major problems. The talks given at LCWR events, and their own statements over the years, are said to have contained “significant doctrinal and moral content and implications” that are in opposition to the teachings of the Church, including advocacy for women’s ordination, a skewed vision of religious life, denial of the special teaching role of the Magisterium, and intentional dissent from Church teaching (couched in terms of being a “prophetic” voice for the times). The LCWR is also said to have failed to provide adequate training materials for their member congregations, and the formation of religious sisters in these congregations was found, in many cases, to be lacking in basic Catholic teaching. In other words, their duty as religious sisters to spread and uphold the entirety of Christ’s teachings—even within the walls of their own communities—is not being adequately fulfilled.

3) This reform is not meant to be a “punishment” and the investigation was not a witch hunt. Its purpose is to ensure that the authentic faith is being transmitted through the work of the LCWR and its member organizations, to enrich their own religious life and their witness to the world.  Given that LCWR members are the leaders of most of the religious sisters in the United States, it is safe to say that their words and works are very important to the mission of the Catholic Church in America. The sisters represented by the LCWR are the face of Catholicism for many people in this country. The Vatican has good reason to be interested in what they are doing and saying in the name of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. There is also a canonical right to investigate and initiate reform.

4) The Church did not say that the LCWR was “too focused” on serving the poor or advocating for social justice. The LCWR and the secular press (and publications that call themselves Catholic but pride themselves on dissenting from the Church) are mis-framing this issue as a conflict between focusing on social justice and pleasing the Church’s leadership. The CDF lauds the LCWR’s efforts in the social justice arena but recognizes that social justice does not constitute the entirety of the Gospel.

The problem is not that the LCWR and its associated religious sisters are serving the poor “too much” but that that they are failing to situate this emphasis on social justice in its proper context. To illustrate, their website has an entire section devoted to social justice but does not appear to address abortion. It is not considered to be an aspect of social justice. But how can there be any true social justice when we are denying the right to life to the very least among us? How can there be true social justice when we are not addressing the grave harm that abortion causes to women and families (not to mention the children that it kills)? When the Kermit Gosnells of the world are allowed to operate shoddy and unjust clinics in the light of day, preying on poor and minority women and murdering newborns, with no oversight whatsoever, is that social justice?

The broader issue is that, if you are not teaching the doctrines of the Church (as revealed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) even to your own religious community members, then you cannot adequately represent Christ and His Church in your service to the poor. Jesus did not become incarnate principally to build a “just society” here on Earth. In fact, he said the poor would always be with us. He came to save us from our sins—our spiritual poverty—so as to free us to spend eternity with him in Heaven. Of course Matthew 25:31-46  and other Scripture passages indicate the necessity of meeting the material needs of our neighbors; but the revelation of Jesus goes beyond those passages. How can the corporal works of mercy be carried out without reference to or concern for the spiritual works of mercy, and the other teachings of Christ? When people water down the rest of the Gospel and focus exclusively on Jesus’ call to tend to others’ material needs, the witness of the Church is weakened and souls are endangered.

Pope Francis’ agreement with this reform only serves to bolster the above points. If there is one thing that Pope Francis has communicated about himself since he ascended the papal throne, it is that he cares deeply about the marginalized. Social justice is very important to him. He cannot be considered someone who cares “only” about dogma and not about action. And yet, he also believes that this reform is necessary. I hope that this fact will give the sisters some food for thought.

5) The LCWR denies the accuracy of the CDF’s assessment, and questions the fairness of the proposed reform. One need only take a look for themselves at past speakers at LCWR events, and read the very words of sisters under the LCWR umbrella  to find evidence that something is amiss. The distrust of the Vatican and the concern that it will interfere with the mission of the LCWR are still further support for the need for this reform. This is precisely the assertion with which the sisters disagree, however. It seems as though they are not so much denying the fact that they are at odds with the Church as they are denying that it is problematic.

6) The orders of religious sisters represented by the LCWR are, overall, shrinking and dying out. The average age of their religious sisters is above that of the sisters under the umbrella of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which was formed in the 1980’s to accommodate the religious orders that disagreed with the religious and political attitudes of the LCWR. (The fact that CMSWR was formed in the first place speaks to the need for reform of LCWR. A comparison of the websites of the groups is also telling). Young women today are more enticed by the orders that are under the CMSWR, suggesting they are not impressed by the “Gospel of social justice” when it is divorced from the dogma and rich tradition of the Catholic faith. It seems that if they are to commit their lives to a religious order with the name Catholic, they want to be authentically Catholic.  The sisters under LCWR recognize that they are dying out, but do not seem to understand the implications of that fact.

 

The most important point to take away from all of this is that the sisters associated with the LCWR desperately need the prayers of faithful Catholics, as do those in the Church tasked with implementing this reform. There is hope that the sisters can come to an understanding of the fact that love separated from the Truth is not love at all.

 

(For another look at this from a faithful Catholic source, I recommend this article).

Categories
Feast Days Holy Orders Ink Slingers Lynne Priesthood Sisterhood

Vietnam, Lepers and Vocations

On the eve of the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs, a story of Vietnam seemed appropriate.

About half-way up the Eastern coast of Vietnam, just north of Da Nang, lies the mountain pass of Hai Van—featuring spectacular views of Da Nang Bay and the South China Sea. At the base of the pass sits the resort town of Lang-co, touted by Vietnamese officials as a “lost paradise” and home to a developing eco-tourism industry. But forty years ago, Lang-co was little more than a fishing village. It was here that Peter Quang Ngyen found himself boarding a boat on a mission from his bishop. Destination: unknown.

The only boy in a family of nine daughters, Quang was the family’s honored son. His childhood was spent much like any little boy, playing with friends, going to school, and attending daily Mass with his family. When Quang was in fifth grade, it was decided that he had a vocation. The next year, through great sacrifice, his parents sent him away to minor seminary. It was 1966.

Though intelligent and capable, Quang had no real interest in the priesthood. He was a leader among his peers and excelled in his class work, but he preferred to spend his energy devising pranks. Once—fed up with bathroom politics—he connected a live wire to the metal urinal trough, giving the bullies who pushed to the front of the line a 220-volt zap. As a penance, he was assigned to kitchen duty and given the task of hand-mixing powdered milk for the five hundred seminarians. When everyone except him developed diarrhea, Quang confessed to having added a box of soap flakes to the milk. But though he was incorrigible and often threatened with expulsion, Quang’s bishop made sure that he stayed.

In 1968 came the Tet offensive. Quang witnessed first-hand the carnage and suffering of war. Fortunately, the seminary remained intact, and the seminarians put themselves at the service of the people. Over the next five years, Quang spent his time doing everything from giving haircuts and immunizations to re-building homes and teaching. And though he found much joy in his work, he still had little thought of the priesthood.

Finally, with his studies near an end, Quang made the decision to leave the seminary. The bishop, however, still firmly believed in Quang’s vocation and suggested that he take a year for prayer and discernment while working in some new area of ministry—something he’d never done before. Always adventurous, Quang was intrigued by the bishop’s suggestion and agreed to his plan. Little did he know what the bishop had in mind. And so it was that Quang found himself boarding a boat in the village of Lang-co, with no idea where he was going or what he was to do.

The boat traveled an hour and a half across the open ocean until it reached a small island. As they neared the beach, people on the shore ran to greet them, waving excitedly and shouting with joy. Quang gasped and recoiled in horror as the people came clearly into view; he finally understood the Bishop’s mission for him: serving the people of the Hai Van leper colony.

Leper colony, Hai Van, Vietnam March 2012

 

Some people were missing arms; others had no legs. One person was missing a nose. Quang was at a loss for how to speak or act toward them. He was terrified and felt sick, but despite this gradually found himself responding to their warmth and genuine happiness. The island itself was incredibly beautiful and Quang found it a respite from the war on the mainland.

One evening not long after his arrival, Quang was strolling along the beach when he began to hear beautiful classical piano music. Following the music, he found himself at a little chapel used by the Daughters of St. Paul who staffed the leper colony. He quietly seated himself in the back of the chapel, not wishing to disturb the beautiful nun, playing expertly, her face framed in a spot of light. How strange and unexpected, in the middle of a leper colony, to find this lovely sight! When she finished, the nun introduced herself to Quang as Sister Teresa. They were immediate friends.

During the course of the year, Quang often worked with Sr. Teresa, usually serving the children of the island (These were children born to the lepers, who lived in a separate section.) Through all their different work, Quang always observed Sr. Teresa carefully. She was about twenty-six, though she looked much younger. She was also trained as a medical doctor. She had an angelic smile, and was always gentle and loving. Quang could not help wondering why such a beautiful, smart and talented young woman would become a nun—so he asked her. Sr. Teresa only smiled and went on with her work, but over the months Quang kept repeating the question. Finally, she agreed to explain.

That afternoon during a break from work, Sr. Teresa led Quang to a part of the island he had not yet visited. Eventually they came to a group of grave-stones—the island cemetery. Teresa pointed to two of the grave markers and said quietly, “There lay my parents.” Quang was stunned. This beautiful woman, this sincere and faith-filled nun, this medical doctor, this great pianist, this lover of the poor was a child of a leprous couple.*

Teresa had been born in the Hai-Van leper colony and had grown up with the nuns of the island caring for her. In sixth grade she had gone to live and study with the Daughters of St. Paul in preparation for entering their religious order. But she knew the leper colony was her home, a special oasis of faith and love where she wanted to spend her life giving to those most in need—because she was one of them.

It was in Sr. Teresa that Quang finally saw and understood the meaning of the Incarnation. Christ could have chosen a different way, one of power and might. But he became one of us, because of love. In the same way, Sr. Teresa could have easily used her gifts for earthly wealth or success, but she instead followed in Jesus’ footsteps, loving and serving the poor and using her talents for God’s glory. In quietly and humbly living out her vocation, she helped Quang find his own.

On Good Friday in 1975, after the services with the people of colony, Quang knew that he would return to the seminary and complete his studies for the priesthood. Sr. Teresa told him, “If you want to live in the truth of happiness, then be a lover of Christ, and do not be a winner as the world expects.” He knew he was called to become a “lover of the poor” and to become Christ for others. When he told his bishop of his decision, and of his experiences at the leper colony, the bishop answered, “This is just the beginning, Quang.”

The Hai Van leper colony was closed by the Vietnamese government in 1997 and turned into a resort area. The lepers were dispersed, with many living on the streets. Later, with help from Father Quang, the Sisters of the Visitation established a new camp in An Hoa. Sr. Teresa is buried there.

Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen was ordained on June 30, 1990, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. He is currently pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. The story of his life, including his harrowing escape from communist Vietnam, is chronicled in his book All Honor to You (*quoted above).

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Ink Slingers Michelle Priesthood Vocations

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

 A few weeks ago we did something we’ve never done before…  we invited our priest over for lunch.  He was going to bless our house and then eat our noonday meal with us.  I was nervous.  My house isn’t big and with 12 people living here there’s not much space for entertaining.   We have shelves of homeschooling materials, walls that need paint, couches that need repairs, not enough seating in our living room for the 12 of us let alone another person.  I was worried about the kids and what kinds of things would come out of their mouths.  I suppose any mother would be since, after all, I was having someone holy come over!  Additionally, I fretted over what to serve for lunch.  I didn’t think our normal fare of corndogs and tater tots would fit the bill for this day.  We were having our house blessed and that’s a big deal!  I settled on chicken cordon bleu, rice, green beans and rolls.  I prayed that it wouldn’t burn while it was in the oven.  I also prayed that it would be edible.  I’m normally a great cook but I worried a lot about this one meal.  I wanted the day to go just right. I wanted Father to feel both physically and spiritually fed by coming to our home.

Father arrived.  We did the house blessing and I led him to each room, saying a little prayer that they were still clean.  Living with 10 kids and having limited space, well, there’s only so much you can do to keep things straightened up.   I cringed when I opened the garage door, since that’s our catch-all and storage, but he didn’t seem fazed by the mess and we finished with the blessing.  When we were done we all sat in the living room chatting and waiting for the chicken to be ready to eat.  We talked about many things, most very light in nature, and all the kids were gathered around waiting to see what Father had to say.   One of our little girls insisted on calling him God even after we corrected her.  It amused me to know that she was happy to have “God” in our home.  If only she could understand the real truth in her words!   While our priest is in no way God, he is a representative of Him and it was such a blessing to have him there with us that day.

Isabella and Father Rafael

Why was this one day so important to me?  Isn’t Father Rafael just a man just like everyone else?  Well, the short answer is yes… and no.  You see, our priests, while mere humans, also put on the clothing of Christ.   Pope Benedict XVI says and the Catholic Church teaches, “Just as in Baptism an “exchange of clothing” is given, an exchanged destination, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest now acts and speaks “in persona Christi’. In the sacred mysteries, he does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the Other, for Christ.”  So yes, while our priest is just like us struggling with human problems, temptations, and sin, he’s different too.

It was a pleasure to have our priest over for lunch.  When he left I wondered to myself why we hadn’t done it sooner.  I know those worries I stated above were the main reasons but I know it was also because I was intimidated by having a priest, someone I consider much more holy that I am, over to see exactly how I really live my life.  My worries were unfounded though and it gave our family an opportunity to see Father in a different light… a regular guy who yearns for interaction from those he surrounds himself with each day.  While he represents Christ and takes on the clothing of Christ, he is also just a man.  It was good to see him outside of our church setting.  He’s often so busy with serving our community that there aren’t many opportunities to socialize with him on a personal level.  I was so happy our family was able to do this.  It was good for my husband, it was good for me, and most importantly it was good for our children.

As Catholics we are encouraged to pray for more priests.  We are asked to pray for the priesthood for our own sons. Living in a rural area where we only have one Catholic Church to serve two full counties I know that our priest is stretched thin.  He gives so much of himself to others.  He has little time for himself. He faces criticism on every level, both from within and from the outside world.  It’s a scary thought to pray for the priesthood for my sons.  Can I honetly say want this life for them? The answer is yes.

The priesthood is such an honorable calling that I would be thrilled if one, or all, of my sons decided to become priests.  In fact, at our nightly family prayer I pray for this exact thing… that if it is God’s will that He call one or all of my children to His service.   It’s a hard prayer to pray knowing the life that a priest or religious person leads, the criticism they face, and the loneliness that can come with the calling.  Still, if it is God’s desire to call my children I pray they answer that call. I know that within that life there is also great joy and love as well.   Of course, I want them to heed God’s call in whatever way that may be, but I pray that we are lucky enough for God to choose one or more of our children to be His servant in the priesthood, a brother, a nun, or any religious life.

Our church needs more priests, nuns, and religious men and women.  While some areas are flourishing with men and women answering the call to serve God and others, many areas are suffering from a lack of religious people.  What can we do to encourage our children to listen and discern that call from God?

  • Pray for vocations, especially with your children.  There are specific prayers for vocations but at our home I pray, “Dear Lord, if it is your will, I pray that you call my children to Your service.  I pray that they listen and heed that call.”  I pray this with my kids so that they know I am praying for them to discern what God is calling them to do, even if it’s not to become a priest or a nun.
  • Talk about vocations.  Vocations are not just a calling to be a religious but what God is calling you to do with your life in general. My vocation is to be a wife and mother.  We often encourage our kids when they say, “I want to be a police officer” but do we encourage them when they say, “I want to be a nun”?  Do they know there is an option to be a priest, a nun, a monk, or some other religious calling? When we talk about these religious vocations our kids naturally begin to think about them in the context of, “is it right for me?”
  • Invite your priest(or other religious people) over for dinner.  Get to know him on a personal basis.  Let your children see that a priest is a regular guy.  He has interests all his own.  We used to have a priest at our parish who was interested in astronomy and racing cars.  My kids loved knowing those things about him!   After having our priest over for lunch a few weeks ago my children had a new excitement over seeing Father Rafael at Mass and at the church.  They are already wondering when we can have him over again.
  • If you are as unfortunate as we are to live in an area where there are no nuns, only one priest, and no other religious men and women (unless we choose to make a long drive) use the internet to expose your children to these men and women.  There are so many websites and pictures online that talk about what priests, monks, brothers and sisters do, what they look like, and where they live.   Use technology to bring their world into yours.
  • If you happen to run into a religious, stop and talk to them for a few minutes.  Recently at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta I stopped by and talked to the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.  When speaking to them I could see the joy and the love that they had for their chosen vocation.  Their eyes just sparkled with happiness.  I want this for my girls!  I told the Sisters that one of my girls in particular has often said she is thinking of becoming a nun.  I asked if I could take their picture to share with her when I got home.  They agreed and said they would pray for my daughter.  She was thrilled when I came home and told her!

    The beautiful Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration

Our Church needs more religious people.  We need more priests and nuns.  We need those who are willing to offer their lives up to Christ and others.  We need those who are willing to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.  It is a hard life to lead and a heavy cross to carry.  It is an honorable life though, living for Christ and others instead of ourselves.  We, as parents, need to encourage our sons and daughters to listen to God and discern if He is calling them to become priests or nuns.  If they decide that God is calling them it is our job to support them as they undertake these vocations.  It is not easy to give up the world and take up Christ’s cross.

There is a quote that says, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called”.  As parents we can help in equipping our children to hear and answer God’s beckoning to serve Him through the priesthood or other religious life.  The question is, will we?