Thank you to each of you who have been called to the beautiful and challenging vocation of being a mother. For many years, when we were choosing a gift for my mom for Mother’s Day, she asked for flowers to plant around our house. It made for easy shopping! But in later years, I realized more what those flowers symbolized: she wanted something not only for herself, but a gift of beauty and life that could be enjoyed by all of us and by whomever passed by. This is a powerful tribute to the meaning of motherhood: accepting a gift of life that can be nurtured and cared for, but that is ultimately given away to others. May Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God, intercede for you today and every day. So highly does God value mothers that His only Son was born just as we are: the Gift of God given through a mother’s love. That selfgiving love takes other forms as well, of course, in building a family for God.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about Sister Charlene Kabarle, OSB; on the recent World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I thought of her witness, and that of so many others (like Sister Clare Witzman, her peer and friend who recently died), for they continue to inspire us.
Perhaps you too learned German from Sister Charlene at Cathedral High School. She taught there for over thirty years, and that came after 14 years in elementary schools, where she was also one of my mother’s teachers in Sauk Rapids. Hearing God’s call, she entered the monastery at 23 and lived until her death at age 98 according to the Rule of Benedict and the motto of the order: Ora et labora – to pray and to work. In my experience, she did both with
unwavering dedication, settled purpose, and serene conviction.
In a Christmas card she sent after I had graduated, she asked: “With the gifts God has given you, have you ever considered priesthood?” That was it – no pressure, no flattery, no challenge, just the question. I had not considered it. But after that card, I certainly did.
My parents created a home where faith and religious practice was simply what we did. The Rosary in May and October, small statues of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a crucifix and Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting. We went to Sunday morning Mass and to Catholic school. It was not done to be countercultural or react to anything; it was simply a Catholic home, built around God Who was loved and honored.
But for me – as often for many – it was the question from someone else, someone I respected as a person of faith and influence, that was the tipping point. I realized that the faith we enjoyed was sustained by the labor and sacrifices of many people.
The rotation of celebrants in our One In Christ ACC brings home not only the great generosity and experience of our retired priests, but also the need for more priests to serve our diocese and the Church. We have been talking about the declining number of priests for over 30 years; we are now well into the reality of familiar routines of sacraments and schedules that are increasingly stressed for every parish, and we are not at the bottom of that curve yet.
Yet the decline in priestly numbers has been accompanied by a growth in the permanent diaconate and even more by the involvement of laypersons, out of the understanding that each person in the Church is called, and has a role to play in its work. The dedication and sacrifices of lay people are essential – not as a “substitute” of some sort because priests and religious are less common, but as a proper response to their own vocation as baptized members of the Body of Christ. Especially after COVID, we see a decline in these numbers as well, and that too adds stresses to celebrating our Catholic life with vigor and joy.
Hearing a call from God to a particular path in life is not the same as choosing a career, although often God speaks through human voices and events. Each vocation story is unique, an inspiring witness that in the midst of all the distractions of a busy world, all the changes of time and place since Jesus walked among us, all the twists and turns of history, God still speaks to and inspires our hearts to go beyond ourselves and our own interests to be drawn into His own mystery and strive for ideals that are beyond merely human power. Like Sister Charlene, ask the question of those you see whom the Spirit may be calling. Perhaps like me, it was not on that person’s mind; but it will be once you ask.
Thanks, Sister Charlene, for raising the question. May we listen in prayer and reflection for Christ’s call, and respond daily with generous hearts.