As he spoke with young men and women, he realized that many problems with discernment really were more of a foundational problem with discipleship.
He got to work addressing formation and discipleship, undergirded by prayer, so that a genuine area of discernment could be created.
“Simply put, if God is a stranger to the young person, then his ways are strange. But if God is a friend, then they understand the ways of God,” said Father Kirby. “That understanding is essential to discernment.”
The result led to his book Lord, Teach Us to Pray: A Guide to the Spiritual Life and Christian Discipleship (St. Benedict Press, 2014), which is being picked up by a number of vocation directors.
“This book is born from the trenches of vocations work,” Father Kirby said, dubbing it “New Evangelization From the Trenches.”
The book has received endorsements from, among others, Msgr. James Checchio, rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, who said, “Father Kirby’s book is a wonderful gift for those looking to live an authentically Christian life in the Church.”
Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire, a Catholic media-based ministry, recommended it as “steeped in Scripture, and that truly helps the reader learn who Jesus is, how to do what he asks and how to be in a deeper relationship with him. This book is a very helpful resource for anyone who seeks to improve his or her spiritual life.”
Vianney Vocations, a national company that works closely with vocation offices across the country promoting and building a culture of vocations, quickly made the book available through its website (VianneyVocations.com).
Sam Alzheimer, Vianney Vocations’ founder and president, pointed out that vocation directors in 11 dioceses across the country have purchased bulk copies. Several more are interested.
“We got behind the book because we felt that many vocation directors have the same dilemma,” explained Alzheimer. “They speak about priestly and religious vocations to a room full of teenagers, but the problem is that those young men and women don’t know the basics of the Christian life yet. It’s difficult to talk to them if they don’t know what it means to be a disciple.”
He said Father Kirby’s book is a tool for vocation directors “to re-evangelize young people before they can propose a deeper vocation to the priesthood or religious life. It really lays out the basics of the faith in an easy-to-understand, brief manner, and then leads the readers into how to develop a spiritual plan of life.”
Among those picking up Lord, Teach Us to Pray is Father Tim Birney, director of priestly vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit. He got more than a score of copies because he found the same need Father Kirby did.
“Many of the men I meet with don’t have the basics down,” said Father Birney. “Anyone discerning a vocation, especially a vocation to the priesthood, needs to have a sense of prayer, an understanding of prayer and a desire to learn more of prayer. This book does an excellent job touching upon the basic foundations that are necessary for a man to properly and successfully discern a vocation to the priesthood.”
Noting there are many good books on prayer, Father Birney explained what makes this one different: “This one hit the nail on the head because it’s written by a vocation director working with men discerning [their vocations].”
Now, when a young man meets to talk about the priesthood, Father Birney hands him a copy of the book and says, “Here is your homework. Not only do I want you to spend time in prayer, but here’s a manual for how to go about doing that.”
Seminarian Patrick Judd, in his first year studying for the priesthood for the Charleston Diocese, sent for a bunch of copies to give to friends in the seminary.
He said someone “can read the book and have a good kick-start” in his faith life.
Judd was already familiar with much of the book’s contents, since he was in a discernment group led by Father Kirby, who was applying the concepts in the group prior to writing them in the book.
Judd explained that the book contains many tangible ways a young man can grow in holiness, and “on the flip side, someone a little more familiar with prayer can delve more deeply into prayer with tangible steps in really coming to know Christ in relationship.”
How have those who received the book from him reacted? “From the conversations I had with them,” Judd noted, “they’re impressed with the practicality of it and how we have a very clear explanation of prayer and its importance within our lives.”
It was a major influence in his own discernment: “I truly believe that God’s calling me to attend college seminary came from the same things that are talked about in Lord, Teach Us to Pray. It was a huge factor in allowing me to hear God’s voice louder.”
The book is seeing wide distribution to laity and different groups, from individuals to youth groups, vocations programs and campus ministries, as well as groups for men and women, young adults and adult formation.
“The book was written on how to be a good disciple and to help people get close to the Lord,” said Father Kirby. “In its essence, it helps a person follow the Lord Jesus.”
Father Birney said that the book is perfect for men discerning the priesthood, yet “it can easily and successfully be used with any group of people growing in the spiritual life. It’s not real lengthy, so it will not scare anybody away. Chapters are well planned and thought out.”
At Vianney Vocations, a discussion guide for a group setting has been developed for such a purpose.
“It’s great for the person who goes to Mass for years but needs a refresher on the basics and then wants to launch into a deeper prayer life,” said Alzheimer. “I don’t know of any other book that does that. It’s simple on the front end and profound on the back end.”
At St. Mary, Help of Christians in Aiken, S.C., Priscilla Estrada, the parish’s director of Christian formation, began using the book for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes and plans to bring it to the parish on a wider scale for adult formation in the spring.
“We found, especially with RCIA, it really will help them pray with the mind and the heart of the Church,” she said.
Since most entering RCIA at the parish “come to us very much at home and at peace with having a personal relationship with the Lord,” she said, “this book will give structure to that.”
Estrada looks forward to making use of the book in upcoming adult-education classes focusing on prayer. “We’ll be using Father Kirby’s book to teach them how to enter into that deep dialogue with the Lord,” she said.
Or as one young man in Father Kirby’s discernment group told him: “This is a playbook on how to be a saint. I read the book and realize how easy it is to be holy.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.