This School of Love
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“…take my soul into your most sacred wound, so that in this school of love, I may learn to make a return of love to God, who has given me such wondrous proofs of his love.”
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October 31, 2014
How intensely Jesus desired vocations! He had gone about through every town and village preaching in all the synagogues and healing the sick. He had seen the multitudes, without education, without direction. He had compassion for them. “They are like sheep without a shepherd,” he said. These crowds were indeed debased by moral and physical misery. And Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” [Matthew 9:36-38].
Jesus loves children; he blesses them, and his blessing sows the seed of vocations. He gathers the children around him; he shows them that he is their friend. “Let the little children come to me,” he says to his apostles [Matthew 19:14]. A well-disposed young man comes to him. Jesus would have liked to make an apostle of him. “Go,” he tells him, “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The youth is wealthy, he resists grace, and Jesus is sad [cf. Mark 10:17-22].
One day our Lord called a little child to him and talked to him. He admired his guilelessness, his simplicity, and said to his disciples, “There is your model; be as simple as children.” Adding, “those who receive children in my name, receive me” [cf. Matthew 18:1-5]. What an encouragement for us to take care of children, to devote ourselves to their welfare, to seek and to foster vocations in pure and guileless hearts!
Before our Lord called twelve apostles, he wished to spend a long time in prayer. He withdrew to a mountain—one prays better in solitude—and passed the entire night in prayer [Luke 6:12-13]. What an example! How we must pray to obtain vocations and to make them fruitful! It was after this prayerful vigil that he chose his disciples and apostles.
It was after his long fast in the desert, after the trial of his temptations, that he called the elect among his apostles: Peter and Andrew, James and John. He sets before them at once the ideal of the apostolate. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” [cf. Matthew 4:18-22]. He does not say, “You shall be rich, honored, listened to.” He tells them, “You will bring people to God.” It is a vocation free from all entanglement—a pure vocation—that we must aim at inspiring in children and the young souls under our care.
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Priestly Heart of Jesus, Fifteenth Meditation
It was eight years ago that my older brother entered the Society of Jesus of the Oregon Province as a novice. I remembered it clearly because that was the day I declared the bedroom that we shared solely mine. I didn’t know much about religious life at the time, but I appreciated that it got rid of my brother. Two years later in 2008, he professed his first vows. I was the lector for the Mass and remember reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
That year was a big year for me because it was also the year I was confirmed and was spiritually transformed in a little town in Arembepe, Brazil. It was in this small town, in a little chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, that I saw a woman kiss the tabernacle. It may not sound like an extraordinary act, but I felt overwhelmed by the great mystery and was unable to take it all in. It was sort of a liberating moment that helped me grasp how God can be infinitely above me and yet undeniably beside me. For the majority of my life, our family has always lived within a few blocks of our parish. Although I was close in proximity to the house of God, I never really felt spiritually home until I traveled thousands of miles away from where I live.
The image still stays with me vividly even today. I realized that God is not some great, unreachable deity that sits on top of a cloud, but one who is close and intimate with me. I brought God “down” and finally was able to have a relationship with God. For the longest time in my life, God was a God who is “out there” only for the perfect and holy, which was not me. I always pictured myself as the one behind the pews unworthy even to look at the tabernacle. The thought of kissing it would never have reached my mind. That experience changed the way I perceived God, altered my spirituality, and eventually led to my decision of entering religious life.
The reason why that experience was so profound for me was because I went through some “dark days” of my spiritual life, questioning God’s existence. The earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 not only laid destruction to everything upon its path, but it also swept away my faith. For the first time in my life, I was angry at God because I couldn’t understand why a good God would allow so much suffering to happen in the world. On top of that, the sex abuse scandal took away my trust and hope in the Catholic Church. The spiritual tsunami sent crashing waves to the coastlines of my faith. And there I was, facing the onslaught of water, holding on for dear life.
I stopped praying and went to Mass only for the sake of making my parents happy. Not many people know about my spiritual struggles because I was afraid to tell anyone since it would be culturally shameful to the family, especially with my older brother being a Jesuit. It wasn’t until that experience of the tabernacle kiss, that my faith was once again renewed. Nothing was able to separate me from the love of God. Not even a spiritual tsunami.The problem of evil and suffering is one that can never be answered in a satisfying way. However, I found a quote by an anonymous person to be helpful: “Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
When I was little, I would frequent a food bank run by the Sisters of St. Francis to get free sandwiches. Because of that, I always wanted to be a missionary like St. Francis; to be an instrument of God’s peace. When I entered the Priests of the Sacred Heart, that meant to be dedicated to the love of God and be living witnesses to the love Jesus had. Our founder, Fr. Dehon, found comfort in the knowledge that God loved him tremendously. The response to that love for me means to go to the poor and the marginalized of society. Sometimes those places are dangerous and risky. “Aren’t you afraid?” people would ask me. No, I’m not afraid; I’m rather TERRIFIED. But I would be much more terrified of remaining comfortable.
James Nguyen, SCJ
To whatever role of service God has called you, how do you honor and nurture your own vocation?
Considering the great spiritual needs of people, how much time are you willing to commit to asking “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest?
In relating to youth and adults, how can you sow the seed of vocations?
November 2-9 of this year is National Vocation Awareness Week. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all those who are discerning a vocation to be at the service of God and God’s people. You may find the following prayer, composed by SCJs from the French-Canadian Region, to be helpful.
you call me by name
to tell me how much
I am worth in your eyes.
May this whisper of your love
also reach all my brothers and sisters.
Select from our midst
priests, who will guide your people;
religious, who will be faithful witnesses of your love;
and lay ministers to lead the Church.
Open the hearts of all young adults
to the challenge of living their love
in the faithfulness of their lives.
Grant unity to all these disciples of your love.