Tag Archives: vocations

Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

by Howard Hain

 

Saint Francis Coloring Book Page.jpg

“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

.(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)

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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain   http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain

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Priests and a Priestly People

Are priests a class apart, separate from the rest of humanity? The Letter to the Hebrews, our weekday reading at Mass, offers an extended reflection on the priesthood of Jesus in the light of Jewish tradition of priesthood as it was found in the temple of Jerusalem. It throws light on the meaning of priesthood today.

Jesus is our new high priest, but he did not separate himself from the rest of humanity. He became fully human to bring humanity to God in sacrifice and praise. Here’s how St.Fulgensius of Ruspe explains it:

“When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation? Through this mystery, the Son of God, though himself ever remaining God, became a priest. To him along with the Father, we offer our sacrifice. Yet, through him the sacrifice we now offer is holy, living and pleasing to God. Indeed, if Christ had not sacrificed himself for us, we could not offer any sacrifice. For it is in him that our human nature becomes a redemptive offering.

When we offer our prayers through him, our priest, we confess that Christ truly possesses the flesh of our race. Clearly the Apostle refers to this when he says: Every high priest is taken from among us. He is appointed to act on our behalf in our relationship to God; he is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God.”

A priest embraces the mystery of the Incarnation, the saint says. Like Jesus, priests should embrace humanity in its weakness. Following him, they must embrace their own times and place and not isolate themselves from the world they live in.  Otherwise, how can they bring it to God?

All who are baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. Every Sunday, we gather as a priestly people. The priestly call belongs to us all. “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” we say at Mass. We’re all called to a priestly role.

There’s a Harvest Nearby

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” We think immediately about praying for priests and religious when we hear these words, and we certainly need priests and religious in today’s church.

But what about laborers for places where priests and religious will never be? They’re certainly not the only laborers for God’s great harvest. And what about the harvest itself, where does that happen?

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day across from a table of people and couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. “What do you think of the pope?” “Do you think there’s life after death?” “Do you think Jesus is really God?” Their questions ended mostly in doubts or went unanswered, as far as I could tell. They sounded like sheep without a shepherd.

I wished there were one of those laborers Jesus asked for at that table, a sower to throw some seeds of truth into that field, someone with a shepherd’s voice. But it seemed there wasn’t.  Yet, a harvest was there waiting to happen.

Jesus spoke about the laborers for the harvest as he moved from town to town in Galilee and saw  “troubled and abandoned” crowds, Matthew’s gospel says. Maybe we need to ask for laborers to walk among crowds like that today. Maybe we need to recognize there’s a harvest not far from where we are, “troubled and abandoned,” at a table nearby.

We’re Called

We may think our relationship to God is a personal affair that doesn’t depend on anybody but ourselves, but that’s not so. Others help us on our way to God. Our gospel reading for this Sunday, for example, tells us that John the Baptist told some of his disciples to follow Jesus and Andrew brought his brother Simon to him. More than we know, others lead us to God.

Instead of a lonely journey, we go to God together. Another way of saying it is that we belong to one body, a church.  Much of our knowledge and faith in God comes from others. We’re not lonely believers.

Our first reading is about the young boy Samuel whom God has chosen for a special mission among the Israelites. His mother senses this and sends him to spend some time in the temple; she hopes the priests there will help him understand what his calling is.

The young boy hears God calling in the night but it’s a very indistinct call; he’s a young boy and he doesn’t know what to make of it. The old priest Eli doesn’t help much at first. He tells the young man there’ s no one calling, go back to sleep.

Finally, the old man recognizes that God is calling the young man. This isn’t the first time someone from an older generation doesn’t understand someone younger.  An early example of the “generation gap?” The story, we learn, is not just about a young boy finding what God wants him to do, but it’s also about someone from an older generation helping him find out.

 

After awhile, the old priest gives Samuel the right advice: “Go to sleep, and if you are called say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

That’s wise advice. The old priest is telling him, first of all, believe God speaks to you. Then, listen humbly as a servant, without letting your own ideas intrude. Become a listener and hear what God wishes to say. Pray.

An elderly man from California calls us every few months to ask for copies of a little prayer we publish called “Be With Me Today, O Lord,” which he distributes to schools and churches in his area. It’s a simple prayer you can find over at Bread on the Waters, where a lot of prayers like this can be found.

The prayer says that God has something for us to do today and everyday; we have a mission in life and it asks God to point that mission out so that we can do it.

“I have a mission…

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

God has not created me for naught… Therefore I will trust him.

Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.

God does nothing in vain.

He knows what he is about.” (J.H. Newman)

We’ re links on a chain, a good image of how we fit into life’s larger picture. God hasn’t created us for nothing. We all have a mission in life, but we need people to help us know it.

Our Sunday readings might suggest one particular calling we need to think about and pray about and promote today–vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need good priests and religious for our church and our world. God calls young men and young women. But they need others, like Eli, to support them in their call.

Next Saturday in our monastery in Jamaica, New York,  the Passionists are having a “Called by Name” weekend for young men who may be called to our community. I’m part of it. Know anyone who might have a call? Pray, and like Eli could you also encourage them to listen to God’s call?

 

 

Called by Name

Last weekend I was over at our monastery in Jamaica, Long Island, to participate in a program: Called by Name. It’s for young men who might be interested in joining our community.  No one came. Maybe the weather had something to do with it, but I don’t think it had that much.

Afterward,  three of us who were there to offer some input sat around and talked about vocations to the priesthood and religious life; our conversation gradually went beyond those callings to the whole question of vocation itself.

The word “vocation” comes from the latin word, “vocatio,”  meaning a call, an invitation. The first vocation we have is God’s call, God’s invitation to life in this world. We have been invited to life on earth by God, and he calls us to do certain things in our time here. We have been called by name, individually. The human family has a collective destiny here on earth, but each of us has something to do.

Then, God invites us to another world, we’re called to another life when our years here are done.

It’s important to remember this, because we tend to believe that we choose life and everything involved in it, and God has nothing at all to do with it. That’s not so; God has invited us to live, and our happiness depends on how we accept the call we have received.

One of the priests I was with last week told us the story of his own vocation. He’s a young priest, who was raised in a Catholic family that gave him the best of everything.  “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life,” he said, so his parents persuaded him to study to be an engineer.  It’s a good job, good pay. So he studied and got an engineering degree and landed a good job. But he said he wasn’t really happy with his life; he felt it wasn’t what he was meant to do. Finally, after praying about it and discerning about it, he became a priest. This is where he belongs, he told us.

Our call by God is not just a one-time call. God calls us over a lifetime It’s important to remember this. A vocation unfolds over the years.  I decided to become a priest 52 years ago. But I have to answer God’s call today. God’s call is ongoing, so I must ask continually: “What do you want of me now, Lord? Let me hear your call.”

The tragedy that’s just occurred in Tuscon may remind us of the on-going nature of a vocation.  A congresswoman goes out for an ordinary meeting with her constituents, her assistant goes along in her company, a federal judge in her community stops by to say hello, a husband and wife join the group, a little girl interested in politics also joins them. You never know the consequences of your life.

That day they had to live their lives in exceptional circumstances.

I suppose that 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green was one we noticed particularly in the tragedy. It wasn’t just because she was so young, but because she was so alive with so much promise, so much spirit. There was so much of a calling in her. She seemed to be someone our world needs.

She makes us aware that vocation is a mystery. It’s important to remember that too. So much of it is in God’s hands. That’s why we must pray about it. In the Our Father we say  “Your will be done,” We must try to know God’s will, to hear what God is calling us to do now, and to accept it.  “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.”

That the theme of today’s scripture reading at Mass. Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah says that that we called from the beginnings of our lives, from the womb, to serve God. That call from God goes on to the end of our lives. It’s not something small or negligible that we’re called to do. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” We have a role to play in the mysterious plan of God.

Every few months, a man from California calls and asks for 1,000 or 2,000 little leaflets that we distribute from our place in Union City. It’s a leaflet entitled “Be With Me Today, O Lord.” He gives them out to kids in school and puts them in the back of churches. It’s a simple little reminder that God calls us. We have a vocation.

“Today is new unlike any other day, for God makes each day different.

Today, God’s everyday grace falls on my soul like abundant seed though I may hardly see it.

Today is one of those days Jesus promised to be with me, a companion on my journey, and my life  today has consequences unseen, my life has a purpose.

“I have a mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught…Therefore will I trust him. Whatever, wherever I am I can never be thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.”

May all I do today, begin with you, O Lord. Plant dreams and hopes within my soul, revive my tired spirit: be with me today.

May all I do today continue with your help, O Lord. Be at my side and walk with me; Be my support today.

May all I do today reach far and wide, O Lord. My thoughts, my work, my life–make them blessings for your kingdom; let them go beyond today, O God.

Maybe someone will hear that message someday and say, “I think God is calling me to be a priest.” I hope so.