It’s National Vocation Awareness Week and we want to talk about commitment. We are all called to the universal vocation of holiness, although we live out this common vocation in different ways. Whatever our vocation, discernment is only the first, though often very exciting, step. Living out that vocation for the rest of our lives requires courage, commitment and perseverance.
As Pope Francis noted at the beginning of this year, faithfully living out one’s vocation to consecrated life can be difficult in our “provisional” culture, which “induces the need to always have ‘side doors’ open to other possibilities.” Given these challenges, it is all the more important to celebrate those who have persevered in this “school of faithfulness” and who continue to witness with their lives the “beauty of following Christ.” In this two-part series, we highlight the courage and commitment of Br. Warren Perrotto, MSC (Part I) and Fr. David Foxen, MSC (Part II), two of our members who celebrated 50th anniversaries this year. Below, Fr. David offers some reflections on the significance of celebrating 50 years.
Celebrating a fiftieth anniversary
Fifty years is a fair amount of time. It’s half a century, and that seems to be some kind of accomplishment. Someone who is celebrating a fiftieth anniversary has reached a significant milestone. They might also observe that they will not do it again :).
I think the significance first really struck me one day when I was celebrating a Mass for a couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. I had known them for several years, not the whole fifty, but enough to have seen their children grow up and to experience them passing from active young adults to a quieter more limited style of life.
I am sure that on the day of their wedding they had a pretty good idea of the meaning of the sacrament of matrimony. They pledged to be true to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to honor and love each other, all the days of their life. My thought was that as they now celebrated fifty years of that commitment to each other and to God, they now had an understanding so much deeper than on that day fifty years before. Their understanding now was the understanding of having experienced the good times and the bad, the sorrows and the joys, recalling moments of sorrow and regret, forgiveness and healing. It is this kind of experience and understanding that gives a fiftieth anniversary its wonderful meaning. On their wedding day, their future was a vast unknown road stretching out before them. Now they celebrate a span of years filled with the faces of children and family and friends. They could relive events that had given their life meaning and purpose. They now walked, not alone, but in company of a tremendous numbers of people who had journeyed and continued to journey with them. Within this context they are celebrating the sacrament which had made them who they are. And together with all their family and loved ones, they were giving thanks to God.
You may think this is an unusual start to a reflection for a priest celebrating fifty years of ordination. But I think it helps us to focus on the meaning of this celebration. On the day when I was ordained in Rome fifty years ago, I think I had a fair idea of what it meant to be ordained to priestly ministry. As I look back now, I can only identify with the couple celebrating fifty years of marriage in how we have both come to appreciate the meaning and experience of the sacraments we received which defined our lives. I think of all the people I have known and encountered, sometimes only for a few brief moments, others for years, who have given meaning to what it means to reach out in the name of Christ and his love. I see faces and recall voices. Some were looking to meet Christ in the celebration of the liturgy or in one of the sacraments. Others were looking for guidance or some direction. All were looking for some expression or experience of God’s love. Many of the memories are happy; some are not. Occasionally I would find out later that the seed of Christ’s Word had been planted and had needed time to grow. Other times it was not to be. Especially working in the prison I often felt inadequate to the needs of so many. It helped to remember that Jesus did not actually talk with that many people and only those in one country. And his ministry ended in apparent disaster. But his love brought God’s love and healing to all. The power of the sacrament of ordination is exactly that you sow the seed that Christ has given. It is going to have an impact, and it doesn’t really depend on you!
I don’t think either a couple celebrating fifty years of matrimony or a priest celebrating fifty years of ordination really know how successfully they have lived their sacramental calling. Perhaps the people whose faces and voices fill the pages of the last fifty years have a better insight. And which might be why fiftieth anniversaries are important.
Fr. David Foxen, MSC
If you think the Lord might be calling you to the consecrated life as a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, please contact our Vocation Director, Fr. Joseph Kanimea, M.S.C. at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
As we celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, we ask for your prayers both for those discerning whether God is calling them to be a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, and for each brother and priest of our Congregation, that they may feel supported in their vocation to the consecrated life.