Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Material Witness
by Tim Rohr, 08/20/2000

The thought evolved within me the other day while watching young Brother André courageously and confidently profess his permanent vows that the Son will continue to dawn on our beloved Church as long as there is at least one more who will say “yes”.

I have been privileged to know Brother André for about a year as an altar server at the weekly Latin Mass at the Friary which I attend with my family whenever possible. Brother André has also taught two of my sons how to serve the Latin Mass. But more than that, I can tell that something of his spiritual dedication and personal reverence for the sacred has been imparted to my sons. And who knows. Maybe they will follow in his sandaled footsteps.

This brings me to my point! There seems to be much talk and hand wringing these days over the vocations-crisis. There are all kinds of reasons given for it and all kinds of solutions too. Depending on whom you listen to one can get the feeling that some priests and religious are ready to throw in the lavabo cloth. Well, from my view of things, Brother André just picked it up.

You see, what we have here is an example. And if anything, we don’t need more books, opinions, and conferences about the subject; we need more examples, personal witnesses, and living testimonies to the unique call of God to a young heart to the ordained ministry.

Unfortunately, Br. André has already been whisked away to the novitiate, which I understand is in Berkeley, California (pray extra hard for him). But if I had anything to do with it, I’d have this young brown robe speaking in every Catholic classroom and CCD class on the island. Perhaps we can still do that when he returns.

Only God knows how many young men and women had the spark of a vocation fanned into flame by the personal witness and testimony of a new (or old, for that matter) on-fire religious such as Brother André. And only God knows how many sparks are allowed to die for want of fuel that only a living example can provide.

I don’t know about you, but I never tire of telling how I met and fell in love with my wife. I understand that the experience can be likened to what a Religious experiences when he or she first comes to realize the unique call to a love affair with Jesus. I would love it if our pulpits would ring with such stories. Priests, Nuns, Brothers, Monks, all the ordained, should never tire of telling how they met and fell in love with Jesus in their vocation and should look for every opportunity to vigorously do so.

And how about we parents inviting priests and religious over to our homes and ask them to tell their stories to our children and us? And teachers, why not seek out more opportunities to invite Father or Sister into the classroom to tell about their calling? Or how about reading to our children stories about the saints who answered the call to religious life and using those stories to inspire our children to think about a religious vocation for themselves? (Apologies to you who already do all these things.)

And, alas, (this will make me even more unpopular) how about men and women of the cloth actually recognizing and taking seriously perhaps their most powerful tool in the business of vocational recruitment...the collar, the veil, the cloth, the...okay, I’ll say it, the habit. The habit: the silent yet deafening witness and testimony to your perpetual vow. Call it your “material” witness.

Wait, wait! Before you banish me to the lead mines of Sardinia, let me ask you to do the math. Check to see which Religious Orders are increasing in vocations and which ones aren’t. I’ll bet you a cassock that the ones who have adhered to the more traditional, distinctive religious garb are, in the majority of cases, attracting new postulants in much greater numbers.

Don’t argue with me. Argue with them. See for yourself and then ask why? Of course it may also have something to do with the fact that they are also obeying the law and the personal wishes of the Pope. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon Law 669 requires that members of religious institutions wear a distinctive religious habit (notice the word “distinctive”). Our Pope has personally expressed his deep desire that Religious do exactly that.

I don’t think he’ll have a problem with Brother Andre though. I understand he left his clothes at the door. Meanwhile, God and St. Francis guide you, Brother. The little ones await your example.

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