‘All Vocations Make Their First Steps in the Family’
What Do Religious Have to Do With Families?
During coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, NBC news anchors Brian Williams and Chris Matthews lamented the lack of married priests.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, a NBC News contributor, countered:
“As the celibate up here, I guess, Brian, I would say, to use a Scholastic term, nego majorem: I deny your major premise — the major premise of the question — namely, that a celibate is without a family. You see this ring I’m wearing. I just got this when I became a bishop — and it’s a wedding ring. And we’re explicitly told: Never take this ring off, because it’s a sign the bishop is married to the people that he serves. It’s a family relationship. And so, celibacy is not anti-family. It’s a, kind of, different type of spiritual family. And a priest is very much … a family man. Cardinal [Francis] George, a mentor of mine, used to say that a priest is not a bachelor. He’s a married man with children.”
Bishop Barron rightly realizes that religious have a stake in families. They support families. And priests and sisters and, of course, the Pope himself came from families. Pope Francis is very much a product of his large, lively, family — five children, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. According to Robert Moynihan’s biography Pray for Me, the Bishop of Rome, who models Franciscan simplicity, didn’t get that way by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. He was trained in that attitude by his parents, who voluntarily embraced a simple, humble lifestyle. You see their spirit of detachment in everything the Pope represents.
Perhaps the Pope was thinking of his own back story when he said last October, “All vocations make their first steps in the family.”
Priests and religious give families an example of hope, but a very tangible support as well. Consider a quick summary of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: Feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the imprisoned; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; bury the dead; counsel the doubtful; admonish the sinner; instruct the ignorant; comfort the sorrowful; forgive all injuries; bear wrongs patiently; and pray for the living and the dead. Priests and religious do this full time — for families.
Sister Mary Beth Bromer of the Felician Sisters of North America lives in a convent on the south side of Chicago. At the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 23, she said: “It was at midnight, and the doorbell rang, and this young woman in tears came to us. She had been locked out of her house, and she said to us, ‘I’m so sorry, but I didn’t know where else to go; and I knew you were safe, and I knew you would help me.’” What drew her to the sisters were their smiles and their habits. That makes Sister Mary Beth stand out in the crowd.
A few decades ago, such sights were common on the Catholic landscape, and the laity took them for granted. There were sisters to nurse us in hospitals, to educate our children and to pray for our intentions. There were priests, often two or more, in rectories across the nation, ever available to counsel us in times of doubt, to forgive our sins and to feed us with the Body of Christ.
How grateful we need to be for our religious.
Generosity With God
Mother Adela Galindo, of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, was one of four sisters presenting at the World Meeting of Families’ Sept. 23 breakout session “Fostering Vocations in the Home.”
“It is in the family,” she said, that children first cultivate that “authentic love” that is at the root of every vocation. “It is in the family that children can learn that love is also demanding and that this is precisely the duty of love. It’s demanding because it requires the elevation of the human heart to its full capacity of goodness, truth, generosity, sincerity, honesty, humility, charity — even to the point of heroic choices for others.”
When a family goes outside of its own concerns and reaches out to help others, alongside their duties to feed, clothe and house their children, the rewards are abundant. The children grow up with a vibrant faith. It is often those families that are marked by a generous spirit towards the things of God that end up refilling seminaries and convents and giving us the next generation of religious vocations.
It is this spirit of generosity that the Pope is continually trying to instill in us Christians. At vespers with priests and religious on Sept. 24 in New York, he thanked religious and priests, citing St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and saying, “The joy of men and women who love God attracts others to him; priests and religious are called to find and radiate lasting satisfaction in their vocation. Joy springs from a grateful heart.”
Sometimes words are not necessary at all. Just seeing consecrated men and women walk among us is enough.
Susie Lloyd covered the
World Meeting of Families
for the Register. Jeffrey Bruno photo