This weekend, I attended a discernment retreat for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. It was held at the St. John Neumann Center located near Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Tallahassee, Florida. While my main purpose was to take an important step in my discernment process, the one thing I took away from the retreat was this: holiness. We are all called to holiness, rather or not we are single, married, in the priesthood, or in religious life.What became clear to me is that my discernment must not take priority over the call to holiness. As Pope John Paul II said (quoted in the book The Meaning of Vocation: In the Words of John Paul II), "Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling to not give in and always getting up after every fall." Any vocation is connected with the call to holiness, rather the vocation be to the priesthood, to the religious life, to the married life, or as a single lay person. We are all called to holiness; we are all called to live a life that is pleasing to God.
The first event of the retreat was Evening Prayer and Mass. For those who do not know, Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer are based on the Liturgy of the Hours. All clergy are obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Evening and Morning Prayer include the reading of two selections of Psalms, singing a hymn, and a reading from another book of the Bible. Fr. William Ganci was the celebrant for the Mass and the title of his homily was "God calls weak, sinful men to proclaim the Gospel." The best example (and the one example used in Old Testament readings at Mass) was David. Samuel the prophet expected to anoint Jesse's oldest son as the new king of Israel. Instead, God chose David, the youngest of Jesse's sons. Later we see with David, that even though he was chosen by God to be king, he was still sinful (as we are all). And keep in mind that Jesus's first apostles were not the educated or upper elite of Israeli society, but fishermen and tax collectors. Only Paul was considered the upper elite, and he wasn't called until Jesus'd death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven.
Next in the retreat was a talk given by Msgr. Crawford, the Director of Seminarians. He talked about the present challenges seminarians and clergy face in today's age, and also addressed the importance of hearing the call. The next morning we had Morning Prayer & Mass, with Bishop Ricard as the celebrant. He also gave a talk with the title "Vocation as Total Commitment to Christ." This talk was followed up by Fr. Nicholas Schumm's talk about "The Process and Reply to a Vocation." He included his own discernment in his talk.
We then had a time for recreation, rest, and more prayer. Since I forgot to pack clothes appropriate for recreation, I watched the others played basketball, and got a chance to talk with a few of the seminarians. In the late afternoon, the next talk was presented by a seminarian about "God calling in Earliest Youth." We followed that up with Evening Prayer, and an event called Lord's Day. I don't know a lot about it (still don't for that matter), but from what I gleaned, it was based on an earlier Jewish custom where we broke bread, had some cheese, and a sip of wine. Two seminarians also talked about the importance of fraternity and friendship in Christ. Then we had dinner and chatted for the rest of the evening until it was time for bed.
This morning was the final day of the retreat. We began the day with Morning Prayer, breakfast, and another talk. This talk was given by Fr. Chris Winkeljohn and he emphasized three things: 1. The joy of being generous, 2. Perserverance and fidelity, and 3. The example of Mary. Regarding the first point, he emphasized the need to make known our discernment and not keep it bottled up. Second, he emphasized the importance of keeping up with the discernment and not putting it on the back burner. Finally, he spoke of Mary's willingness to say yes to being the Mother of Our Lord in a time and culture where pregnancy outside of wedlock could've gotten her in serious trouble with the rest of society. I took from this last example how important it is to continue our discernment no matter what trials and tribulations we may face on the way.
We concluded the retreat this morning with Mass celebrated by Msgr. Tugwell, the Director of Vocations. His homily focused on the need to not be afraid with respect to our discernment. Whether or not I end up in the priesthood, I have learned important lessons from this retreat that will serve me well later on in life. Pray for me as I continue my discernment, and pray for the seminarians as they continue their discernment, and pray for the three deacons I met who will be ordained to the priesthood later this year. But most importantly, pray that we all answer the call to holiness, which is a call for everyone.