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God Usually Calls Through the Ordinary

    How Do I Know If I Have a Vocation?

    How can a person distinguish between the universal call to Christian discipleship and the mission of the Church versus a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life? Is there some kind of test you can give yourself? If you do not follow your true calling, can you be happy in another?

    You recognize that all Christians are called to discipleship and to share in the mission of the Church. So I’m not going to talk about the lay vocation here. Just let me note that it would be worth reading everything the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about vocations in the section entitled “Christ’s Faithful—Hierarchy, Laity, Consecrated Life” (#871-945).

    Your question seems concerned with recognizing a call to priesthood or religious life. Joseph Gallen, S.J., in Canon Law for Religious (Alba House) states the fundamental element in a vocation to the clerical or religious life is the special call, election or choice by God. Pope Pius XII, in Sedes Sapientiae, said that the two essential elements to a divine vocation are a call from God to enter religious life or the priesthood and the call or admittance by the Church.

    But how does a person recognize the call of God before seeking admittance and acceptance by the Church? Says Gallen, the choice, election or call of God is communicated to a person through grace, and the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily there is a series of acts which culminate in the decisive and supernatural intention to become a religious or priest. The supernatural or graced aspect of the intention is deduced and ascertained primarily from the rectitude of motives.

    In other words, as good Sister Mercedes said to the Wise Man when he was in the third grade, “Don’t wait for an angel to come down and tap you on the shoulder.” That isn’t usually the way.

    You discern a call to ministry or religious life in the same way people judge whether they should become a plumber, bookkeeper or radio announcer, or whether they should marry John Doe or Mary Jones. The one who wonders if he or she has a call has to feel some kind of attraction to a life in the priesthood or a religious order. That person looks at his or her talents and abilities in the light of the life he or she is considering.

    Those who think they might be called ask if they have the necessary physical, mental and emotional health to live the sacerdotal or consecrated life. They ask if their motives are good—to do the work and will of God and not because they think it’s a way to escape parental control, get financial help toward a better education or escape a life on welfare.

    If you believe you might be called, you pray and reflect, asking the guidance of God. You ask the advice and opinion of people you trust and seek the counsel of a confessor or spiritual director. If you find you desire to live the religious or sacerdotal life not just at peak emotional moments but with constancy, you apply to the proper authority for acceptance and the opportunity to test what you believe is your calling.

    Can you be saved or happy if you reject what may be a vocation to the religious or sacerdotal life? Father Gallen says, as do other theologians, that since religious life is a counsel, it is not in itself a sin to refuse to follow the grace of a vocation. An obligation could exist from a vow or from the certainty that God has commanded the individual person to enter such a life. But such a command would be most rarely verified! I believe you would almost need a private revelation to recognize such a command.

    Father Gallen also writes that it is not true that refusal to accept a vocation is sinful because it necessarily exposes the person to eternal damnation by remaining in secular life. While the person will not be given the graces he or she would have received to live a holy religious life, he or she will receive sufficient and, if he or she prays, efficacious graces for a secular life whose purpose is also a life of sanctity.

    I’m sure the vocation office of any diocese or religious order will be glad to send you literature about the priesthood or a particular order upon request.

    And, if you send 50¢ and a self-addressed envelope or $1 and ask for Catholic Update C0994, “Why Become a Priest, Sister or Brother Today?”, or C0986 “Are You Called to Be a Lay Minister?”, I’ll see to it that you get a copy.

    What Is The Cloud of Unknowing?

    In the February issue, in an article on Lenten observance, mention is made of The Cloud of Unknowing. Please, would you write me with information about it? It has been mentioned before and I’d like to know if it is a book and whether or not it’s available.

    An anonymous English mystic and contemplative wrote The Cloud of Unknowing in the second half of the 14th century.

    In the work the mystic explains that we cannot know God in his absolute reality through the human intellect: “The movement of the contemplative must be a movement of the whole man, he must precipitate himself, free and unfettered into the bosom of Reality.”

    God, says the mystic, in his absolute reality is unknowable—is dark—to the human intellect: “When I say darkness I mean thereby a lack of knowing...and for this reason it is not called a cloud of air, but a cloud of unknowing, that is between thee and thy God.”

    We pass through darkness and the cloud of unknowing and reach God through the heart and love, says the mystic.

    The Cloud of Unknowing has recently been reprinted by Image Books/Doubleday. You can order it for $8 through St. Francis Bookshop (1-800-241-6392, or 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati OH 45210). Add $3 for postage and handling.

    How Should We Prepare for Communion in the Home?

    What preparations should be made when a family member is homebound and holy Communion is brought to the home? What should be done about the room and surroundings?

    Start with the most important thing: creating an atmosphere conducive to prayer and reverence. Sometime before you expect the priest or eucharistic minister to come, turn off the TV and radio. Give the sick person time to pray and prepare for reception of Communion.

    Those who care for the sick may want to pray with them. The caregivers are allowed to receive Communion with the sick under the usual norms for Communion.

    When Communion is to be brought to the home, the ritual Pastoral Care of the Sick directs that those with the sick prepare a table covered with a linen cloth as the place where the minister will put the Eucharist until the time of Communion itself. There should be lighted candles on the table and, where customary, a vessel of holy water. I would add that it is wise also to put a spoon and glass of drinking water on the table, in case the sick person has difficulty swallowing the host.

    If the sick person is well enough to assist, he or she is encouraged to join with the caregivers in choosing some of the prayers and readings for the Liturgy of the Word.

    It is appropriate for one of the caregivers to meet the minister at the door of the home and lead the minister to the sickroom. Should the sick person want to go to Confession, the caregivers should withdraw until the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been completed. Then the caregivers and family members present should join in the Liturgy of the Word, making the proper responses to the prayers and readings. And it would be good afterward to give the sick person a bit of time to make a thanksgiving.

    Liturgy Training Publications (1800 North Hermitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622-1101) offers a $1 pamphlet called Lord, I Am Not Worthy with the text for the Rite of Communion to the Sick and guidelines to help ministers of Communion and family members. The minimum shipping charge is $3, in addition to the cost of the pamphlets.

    How Can I Catch Up on Things?

    Since returning to Church after many years away, I am embarrassed to ask about the changes.

    Are there publications that explain how to apply these changes regarding sacraments, parish structures and, most important, how to participate at Mass? I stumble around the missal pretty well on Sundays, but don’t have a clue as to what to do weekdays. How can I get updated?

    Welcome back!

    A number of things suggest themselves for a person trying to get updated on the Church.

    There is a small (105-page) book from Twenty-Third Publications titled While You Were Gone: A Handbook for Returning Catholics and Those Thinking About It, by William J. Bausch, $5.95.

    There is a small book written for the newly baptized by John J. Kenny: Now That You Are a Catholic (Paulist Press, $3.95).

    For individual topics, I’d suggest you look over the backlist of Catholic Updates available from our own St. Anthony Messenger Press. These four-page newsletters cover a broad range of topics. You can obtain a list by writing St. Anthony Messenger Press and requesting it, or by calling 1-800-488-0488 in the continental United States. The Catholic Update Sourcebook is a complete set of the 100-plus Catholic Updates in print in a three-ring binder.

    A question-and-answer book that may be helpful is John Dietzen’s The New Question Box: Catholic Life in a New Century (Guildhall, $15.95).

    You might also think about going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program in your parish. You would learn a lot there. Or you might get one of the modern adult catechisms available from different publishers.

    Should I Address Mary as “You” or “Thee”?

    I like to say “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women,” etc. My neighbor at church says that I show disrespect to our Blessed Mother when I address her as you instead of thee. I like to say you in place of thee as it seems to bring Mary closer to me. She says to address her as a Queen, but I only think of her as my Mother. What do you think?

    The argument over addressing Mary as “you” or “thee” in the Hail Mary seems to me something of a tempest in a teapot.

    There really is no theological point involved. I could not find what I would call an official translation anywhere. There is no text in the Enchiridion of Indulgences. Some prayer books use you and your while others use thee, thy and thou. It seems to me a matter of personal preference and generational differences, what sounds best to a person’s ear and what he or she memorized as a child.

    When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, I notice the Sacramentary uses thy in the first part of the prayer. Our bishops thought that was the way people learned the prayer and they would be most familiar and comfortable with it. Yet in the priest’s part and in the doxology following the prayer, the Sacramentary uses you and your to address the Father.

    The biggest reason for using one over the other (thee or you) is for unity in public and common prayer.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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