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Feb. 15, 2012
Older priestly vocation gives witness to discerning and answering God’s call
By Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., Apostolic Administrator
Last week I traveled to Massachusetts to formally accept a seminarian as a candidate for ordination to the diaconate and priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver. The seminarian, Ron Cattany, is an extraordinary man and has become a good friend.
The experience was unusual for me because seminarians are usually younger than their bishop—Ron is eight months older than I am. His pastor, Msgr. Bernie Schmitz of Mother of God Parish, maintains that Ron knows what Christian service is—“Ron isn’t terribly concerned about great success,” he says, “but about great faithfulness.”
Ron’s vocation story is extraordinary. He is a graduate of Regis (now Regis Jesuit) High School, the Colorado School of Mines, an engineer, and a retired state official who served as mineral, energy and natural resources advisor to four Colorado governors. Ron has been active in the Church and in ministry of social service for years. But it wasn’t until he was 55 that Ron entered seminary formation. God, he says, had been gradually calling him to priestly ministry through the people and opportunities in his life. Ron never married and as a devoted son he took care of both of his parents until they died. I had the privilege of burying his dear mother shortly after I arrived in Denver.
Ron’s story is also an example of the way in which Christ calls each of us to a vocation—to a life of service and ministry for which God made us from the very beginning.
There is a line from the Mass for the Rite of Candidacy, which has been on my mind for the past few days: “The call from the Lord should be recognized and understood from the daily signs which reveal God’s will to discerning people.”
Vocations are, indeed, a call from God. They are an invitation to become who God made us to be. Each of us, at some point in our lives, has felt the need to discover our vocation. Each of us has asked the universal question: What am I to do with my life? Discovering our vocation is a key to living our lives happily.
We cannot discover our vocations, however, unless we are listening; unless we are trying to become “discerning people.” The very first step in discerning a vocation is to become a person of prayer.
If we wish to know what God wants for us, we need to know how to hear his voice. We need to know how he speaks. To be sure, God speaks clearly to us in Scripture—and we should become devoted to the practice of praying with the Scripture. The Lord speaks to us through spiritual direction with a good spiritual director. The Lord speaks to us through the sacraments—especially through Mass and frequent confession. And the Lord speaks to us in the silence of eucharistic adoration.
If we are people of prayer, discerning our vocation becomes a matter of seeing the signs of God’s call in our lives. For Ron, invitations to participate in the works of the Church helped him to hear a call to priesthood. For married people, the signs may be a love for children and the desire to help them become saints. Men and women called to religious life may see themselves drawn to community activities—to a life lived in community, in prayer and in service.
Discovering our true vocation should be an experience of freedom. But each of us experiences a fear that the Lord’s call might be too difficult—too taxing, too lonely, too radical. The Lord does not call us through fear. John Paul II said that fears and doubts come when we are on the path to God’s call in our lives. “It is then that we need to hear the Lord’s assurance: ‘I am with you,’” the pontiff said. “Every vocation is a deep personal experience of the truth of these words: ‘I am with you.’”
Each of us is called to an extraordinary life in Jesus Christ. Each of us is called to be a saint. Like Ron Cattany, I pray that each of us might discover the invitation of God to become the saint he has made us to be.
Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.
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