Sunday, January 31, 2010

Family, friends contribute to discernment, explains Anchorage vocations director

The call to the priesthood does not occur in a vacuum. Family, friends, clergy and religious play crucial roles — their input is part of the calling process. This was one theme that emerged from the Anchorage Archdiocese’s recent vocations dinner, in which 11 men came to explore the priesthood.

From the community

“I think everyone should answer the question of whether God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life,” Father Tom Lilly, vocations director for the archdiocese, told the Anchor. But in order to hear the call, most will need parents, teachers, pastors and friends to encourage them, he added.

Last month's gathering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage included college students, soldiers and business professionals who came to consider whether they might be called to be priests.

Despite varying backgrounds and ages, the men shared one thing in common — someone had actively encouraged them to at least consider the priesthood.

If the Catholic Church is going to reverse the disturbing trend of dwindling numbers of priests, the whole community must participate, Father Lilly explained.

That includes official vocations dinners but also many informal moments that might consist of a passing comment or observation.

“There are vocation events in families, schools and parishes,” he said.

Catholic schools play an important role in this, Father Lilly noted.

“Any good teacher encourages students to rise to their full potential, whether it be as writers, scientists or other things,” he said. “Along with that, teachers may see the potential for a student to be a priest or woman religious or a deacon or a brother. A good teacher encourages students to think about that possibility.”

Dominican Brother Dominic David, who is in formation to become a priest and currently serving at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, agreed that community is key in discerning one’s call.

“Your call comes from the community,” he told attendees. “It is something you hear from those who care about you — it should come from within but also from without.”

Seminarians share

The archdiocese’s two seminarians also attended the vocations dinner last month, where they dispelled a few myths and shared how they discerned their vocation.

For 42-year-old seminarian Arthur Roraff, his exploration of the priesthood picked up speed after a friend urged him to sell his business and begin searching in earnest.

This fall, he entered St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota.

When first considering seminary, Roraff said it was difficult to imagine a life without the potential for a marital relationship and children.

“Those are good things that you give up,” he told those gathered at the vocations dinner. But he added, that within celibacy God does not call men to be priests by giving up their manhood.

“Realize that God will not stop you from being men if he calls you to be a priest,” he said. “In fact, in this culture, we need real men to be priests.”

And for seminarians who ultimately discover that the priesthood is not their calling, the seminary is still helpful, Roraff said.

“If you are called to be a husband and a father, this is still good ground for you,” he said. “If you have this question and you don’t get it answered, there is potential that this will linger in your mind. If you don’t at least discern and check it off, then you may regret it later.”

But the discernment process is not just about seeking personal happiness, Roraff said.

“If you are searching for your own happiness, you will not find it, because it is a by-product of having Christ in the center of your life,” he said.

The archdiocese’s other seminarian Patrick Brosamer also shared some of his experiences of seminary.

A fourth-year seminary student, the 35-year-old Brosamer has three years of formation left and is attending Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon.

He reiterated Roraff’s point that it is a mistake to think of seminary as a waste of time if one ultimately discerns no call to the priesthood.

“Even if you drop out, that’s okay,” he said. “Some guys leave seminary but they don’t regret it, because it makes you a better man.”

For Brosamer, seminary confirmed many of the lingering thoughts that he has carried for a long time.

“I’ve known since I was a little boy that God wanted me to be a priest, it just took me a long time to answer his call,” he explained. “It took a quarter century.”

God still calls

Speaking to the vocations dinner attendees, Father Ben Torreto, the archdiocese’s assistant vocations director, said that after 25 years as a priest, he still has great joy in celebrating the sacraments, especially when he sees lives transformed and renewed.

A native Filipino and only child, Father Torreto said, growing up, he was keenly aware of not having any siblings.

“But in becoming a priest, I have gained many brothers,” he said of his enduring friendships with fellow clergy. “The fraternity is very significant for me. Maybe some of you will join us in the priesthood.”

Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz [formerly Bishop of Duluth] closed the gathering by reminding the men that Christ called imperfect human beings to be his Twelve Apostles and is still calling priests to carry on his work.

“God wants to use us and to show his power in our weakness.” Catholic News Agency

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