Archive for the ‘Vocations’ Category
Father Gerdenio Sonny Manuel, a Jesuit for four decades and a practicing clinical psychologist and professor, didn’t set out to become a celibacy expert, but the title suits him. Despite the large number of books available on sexual health and wellness, Fr. Manuel recognized that a Catholic priest’s celibacy was a topic that had not been adequately explored, especially in recent years. In the wake of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis, his new book, “Living Celibacy: Healthy Pathways for Priests,” hopes to demystify a vow that is both misunderstood and denigrated.
Targeted at priests and men considering a vocation to the priesthood, the book is also geared for the families of those men and for anyone seeking a richer understanding of celibacy and its potential to help experience God in “vital, dynamic ways,” according to Fr. Manuel, currently a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco.
“I wrote the book because the life of a priest and our celibacy is not widely understood by the public, and what is understood, unfortunately, is the mistaken assumption that emerged after the clergy crisis, that priests are either dysfunctional and that if they aren’t, the life would make them so,” says Fr. Manuel. “People haven’t been talking about this aspect of our life and they haven’t talked about it in a way that is accessible and understandable. If we keep being told that our way of life is odd, we will begin internalizing that.”
In writing the book, Fr. Manuel says he relied very much on his own experiences and on firsthand accounts of priests he encountered through his work as a spiritual director. He says that “celibacy is a gift, but it’s also a choice that God graces. It’s a reciprocal relationship, just like in a marriage. It grows out of all of your own personal history and depth into a new possibility and future; that’s the same dynamic in celibacy, where you are introduced to the whole horizon of God. We have to choose our life – whether you are in a marriage or living celibate.”
Trained at Harvard Medical School and Duke University with a specialty in mental illness and community psychology, Fr. Manuel offers five pathways that promote healthy celibacy. The pathways describe how celibacy is experienced and enacted, some of the opportunities and struggles and how the experience of celibacy can enrich priestly life and ministry.
“I titled the book ‘Living Celibacy’ because it’s a way of life, and rather than seeing celibacy as a void, it’s an opportunity to open oneself up to new relationships,” says Fr. Manuel. “In a marriage you have a child and grow a family, you are cooperating in a new creation. By being celibate, you are invited into people’s lives and you get to witness how the sacred emerges in ordinary human experiences. And you basically name the holy for them – that’s the sacramental moment.”
Fr. Manuel says he hopes people read and react to the book and that it “helps them understand what this life is about and how it is a viable life that can help people find God, find their deepest desires and live in community.”
Jesuit Father Robert Ballecer serves as the National Director for Vocation Promotion for the U.S. Society of Jesus, but in technology circles he’s known as the “Digital Jesuit.” And he likes that name a lot better than the alternative: Friar Tech.
A digital guru with a growing legion of 4,000 Twitter followers, Fr. Ballecer operates his own website, The Tech Stop, which he calls a “site with a soul.” He also hosts “This Week in Enterprise Tech” (TWiET) on the online tech network TWiT.
Fr. Ballecer, who wears a Roman collar and identifies himself as a Jesuit on the show, says it’s been amazing to read the comments in the chat room from different episodes. There’s been a shift from “Why is there a priest on the tech network?” to the same people saying, “Fr. Robert actually knows what he’s talking about.”
So how did this self-proclaimed geek from Fremont, Calif. end up becoming a priest?
“My vocation story was a little less light from the heavens and a little more gradual leading me up to the inescapable conclusion that this is the only life I’d be happy in,” says Fr. Ballecer.
A first generation Philippine American, Fr. Ballecer was focused on making his mark in business and had already started a computer consulting firm by the time he was an undergrad at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. But he quickly realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
A Jesuit priest at Santa Clara helped him recognize his calling. “The Jesuits I saw on campus were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. They were some of the most brilliant people I’d ever met,” says Fr. Ballecer. “They seemed to have what I wanted — a satisfaction in life. That’s what set me on the track to join.”
After two years of doing retreats and spiritual direction while a student at Santa Clara, Fr. Ballecer says there were “angst ridden” days where he fought against his calling to join the Society of Jesus. “I was fighting myself, thinking why would I want to do this? I’ve worked all my life to get out of poverty and now I want to take a vow of poverty?”
Once Fr. Ballecer joined the Jesuits, he said that his experience in the novitiate cemented that this was the life he wanted to live.
A Jesuit and a Techie
Before becoming the National Director for Vocation Promotion three years ago, Fr. Ballecer was assigned to parishes in California and Hawaii, and he’s also served in China, the Philippines and Bolivia. In addition to his ministries, he’s stayed active in the tech world, with projects such as “Gadget,” an online show he’s run as a hobby for the past five years, which has received over 14 million YouTube views.
Fr. Ballecer’s tech expertise is a perfect fit for vocation promotion with the Millennial Generation (age 28 and younger).
At last count his office has created over 600 hours of You Tube content — from interviews with Jesuits to videos from World Youth Day to his tech content. “The strategy has been to say anything that shows priests and Jesuits doing things that others might be interested in — that’s vocation promotion and that’s what we want to show,” explains Fr. Ballecer.
One of his projects was a video series called “Path to Priesthood,” which followed Jesuit Radmar Jao from his deaconate ordination to his priestly ordination. The popular series was picked up by CatholicTV.
Pursue Your Passion and Your Vocation
Fr. Ballecer says that the Society wants to encourage more Jesuits to show their competence in venues that will reach out to the Millennial Generation. “We want to reach out to people who are looking for something to believe in,” he says.
“I’ve been using the weekly online show as a forum to say ‘Look I’m a priest and I’m a man of faith, but at the same time I have a sense of humor and I’m very competent about my subject material. I’m willing to listen to all different ideas.’ ”
One of Fr. Ballecer’s first vocation promotion projects was “Jesuits Revealed,” a video series of interviews with Jesuits from around the country with different areas of expertise.
“We have these three-minute vignettes into the life of Jesuits and if you watched enough of them you could find someone who believed like you, who grew up like you, who had the same interests as you. It’s reinforcing that a life of faith and a life of the priesthood is not what you think it is,” Fr. Ballecer says.
One of the things Fr. Ballecer tells vocation promoters to look for is the aha moment.
“The aha moment is anything that you do, anything that you say, anything that makes someone say, ‘I didn’t know that about faith or I didn’t know that about religious life.’ It’s where old, preconceived notions are emptied out and you get an understanding that you didn’t have before. I think all vocation promotion is built on that aha moment.”
For anyone considering a Jesuit vocation who may not think they fit the right mold, Fr. Ballecer says, “We’re not calling for what you think a priest is. We’re asking who you are, and we’re saying we can use that in the priesthood.”
It’s not uncommon for Jesuits to discover their vocation to the Society of Jesus while attending Jesuit-run high schools or universities. But Jesuit scholastic Jason Brauninger’s vocation story is different — he found the Society of Jesus on the Internet.
Brauninger was always curious about a religious vocation, but the diocesan and monastic life didn’t seem to fit him. The more he researched the Society of Jesus, the more he felt called to it, despite having never met a Jesuit. What he learned online made an impact. He was struck by the Jesuit commitment to working in the world and the emphasis on using one’s gifts and talents to serve others.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Brauninger had started training as a junior firefighter at the age of 14 and received a bachelor’s degree in fire science before entering the Society. However, while praying during a 30-day retreat as a Jesuit novice, he felt drawn toward the nursing profession. “It wasn’t quite what I expected to hear,” Brauninger says of the discovery. “But everything has fallen into place and it all happened because of the grace of God.”
Brauninger completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Saint Louis University and became a cardiac care nurse. Now Brauninger is at Regis University in Denver, where he lives with the Regis Jesuit Community, works as a trauma nurse at a local hospital and teaches in the school of nursing.
“It is a great privilege to be at Regis. I’m able to continue my formation as a Jesuit, work as a clinician and learn how to be a professor,” Brauninger says. “I love being with the students.”
By John Levko, SJ
Editor’s Note: In 1964, John Levko, a 22-year-old newly minted college graduate considering a vocation to the Jesuits, first met Father Walter Ciszek. Profoundly influenced by his time with the legendary priest, Levko entered the Society of Jesus, and the two began a friendship that would endure until Fr. Ciszek’s death in 1984. As the first postulator for the cause for Fr. Ciszek’s canonization, Fr. Levko was charged with preparing the supporting documentation for the cause for sainthood. In the following article excerpted for National Jesuit News, Fr. Levko writes about Fr. Ciszek’s many years in Russian prisons and the profound impact it had on his spiritual journey.
In October 1963 a small, stocky Polish Jesuit, Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, returned to the United States after 23 years in Russian confinement. He was amazed at the wastefulness he found. One of the first things he remarked about was the propensity toward blatant materialism, with spiritual life focused on personal needs rather than gratitude. It had taken him 59 years, five of those in solitary confinement in Moscow’s dreaded Lubianka prison, to realize that progress in the spiritual life was correlated with one’s willingness to let go, with inner freedom, for where there was no risk, no challenge, there was no spiritual growth. It was Walter’s prayer life that held his spiritual journey together, and Lubianka prison was in many respects the school of that prayer.
As with any spiritual journey concerned with growth in prayer, there is always a purification process. As described in his memoir, “He Leadeth Me,” Walter Ciszek experienced the “sinking feeling of helplessness and powerlessness” after his arrest in Russia in 1941. He felt “completely cut off from everything and everyone who might conceivably help him. Considered a Vatican spy, he was transferred to Lubianka prison where men were reportedly broken “in body and spirit.” As he had done in every crisis in the past when there was no one to turn to, Walter “turned to God in prayer.”
While an interior voice helped him focus his faith, it was faith in prayer that sustained Walter, the same faith that made him conscious of his readiness and natural competency to handle whatever came along. Naturally stubborn and strong-willed, Walter spent a great part of his life “developing willpower and training the will.” Because he realized early that self-control was not enough in struggling against depression, fear, and insecurity, spiritual growth was contingent on the depth of his personal relationship with God.
Walter’s asceticism in Lubianka became a life of prayer and humble faith in God. It was in prayer that self-conversion started and never ended. The absolute silence of God during solitary confinement suggested that he give in to his interrogators. Instead, he turned to prayer and persevered in it until the suggestion vanished. Persevering in prayer countered loneliness, confusion and worthlessness and led to continuous prayer; suffering patiently the internal dilemma of persevering in prayer was the prerequisite for finding that loneliness was the grace of faith given at that moment. He sensed deeply the frustrating pains of loneliness, confusion, and worthlessness while at the same time accepted all these in the spirit of faith and continued to serve God without change or compromise.
For some in Lubianka the time passed quickly, while for others the seconds passed like minutes and even hours. There was only one constant in Lubianka – the total and all-pervading silence. In this inner darkness Walter experienced despair, lost hope and sight of God, and even for a moment lost the last shreds of his faith in God. Nevertheless, instinctively he turned to prayer and almost immediately was consoled by our Lord’s agony in the garden. He had gone from “total blackness” to “an experience of blinding light” in what he could only call “a conversion experience” that changed his life. From that moment he knew exactly what he must do and completely abandoned himself into God’s hands with a readiness to let Christ fully transform him.
Discernment: A Seeing Soul
Walter’s Lubianka conversion allowed him now to have a single vision of Christ in all things and the desire to discern His will in every situation. After his release from Lubianka, he experienced no anger or bitterness but peace and a deep sense of internal freedom. The forced Lubianka silence was gone and with it the easy prayerful recollection. The need to listen for the interior voice of conscience and discern God’s will in every situation became critical if he was to enter into a relationship with the living Lord. The concentration and attention required in prayer were not acts that deprived him of true freedom, but simply steps leading him to a gradual fuller freedom in God.
The Catholic Church is now taking an exhaustive look at the details of Walter’s spiritual journey in connection with a cause for his canonization. By abandoning himself to God’s will, Walter’s journey in prayer echoed other spiritual journeys of many saints in the past. It was in the silence of his heart that he came to realize that the peak of human freedom is unselfish love. And yet there was a uniqueness in Walter’s journey and certainly in his cross that made him a model for many Christians today, especially in these troubled times. The conversion experience in a silent cell left him with an unconditional readiness to change his life and place everything in God’s hands. Lubianka provided the nails for his cross and the necessary purification for a saintly life of priestly service grounded in discernment and prayer.
For additional reading, Fr. Levko explores the religious traditions of Eastern Christianity in his book “Cassian’s Prayer for the 21st Century,” available from amazon.com.
Jesuit Father Joseph Mueller, a professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, recently professed his final vows to the Society of Jesus, the same vows St. Ignatius took when he founded the religious order in 1534.
Fr. Mueller joined the Jesuits soon after graduating from Marquette, and his recent final vows come after years of preparation and reflection.
“I realized in college I actually thought the way the Jesuits thought and looked at the world the way they do,” Fr. Mueller said.
Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that Fr. Mueller took after two years as a Jesuit novice, the final vows include a vow of special obedience to the pope.
“When I make these final vows, they’re again a perpetual commitment on my part,” Fr. Mueller said. “It’s a lifelong commitment. But this time, the condition that was on them before is no longer there. The Jesuits are saying we think you worked out. You’re in.”
According to Jesuit Father James Martin in an America magazine article on final vows, “It’s somewhat like making tenure (you’re already a professor, but now you’re a ‘full’ one). It’s somewhat like making partner in a law firm (you’re already a member of a law firm, but now you’re a ‘full one).”
“I decided to become a Jesuit when I was a student here. I did it because I thought that’s what God wants me to do. I think Marquette students could benefit from listening for that kind of call from God,” Fr. Mueller said.
Read more about Fr. Mueller’s final vows at the Marquette Tribune.