Monday, March 30, 2009

Catholic America

Having some days in the United States gives an impression of how the church is faring here. The parish that I am at these few days is flourishing. Large attendances at Sunday Mass coupled with energetic enthusiasm from a committed parish population give a healthy impression. I am taken by the amount of young people engaging with and practising their faith. There is little doubt that the energy and drive of the pastor (parish priest) has had a big impact. An efficient pastoral outreach and an army of volunteers complete this parish picture. It would be nice to transport this model of parish home to Ireland!

There are many parishes in America like the one mentioned above. But all is not well, it seems, in Catholic America. Many people that I speak to say that the majority of Catholics in the United States no longer practice the full religion, and pride themselves on their self designation as "Cafeteria Catholics." Catholicism has become more of a cultural identity than a religious practice. Progressive liberalism (modernism) is blamed by many on the state of the church here and there is a strong appeal to orthodoxy to try and stem the tide. This is interesting. Also of interest is a recent Gallup poll which indicates that conservative Catholic youth now outnumber liberal Catholic youth by almost two to one. This will have an influence on vocations and the people shaping the church here into the future. Is something similar about to happen in Ireland? Time will tell.

Family and Friends

I am currently in the United States (preaching a parish mission in a diocese in Florida) and it gives me some opportunity for reflection. Having time to reflect for an extended period is something that I don't often get a chance to do. So, I am more than grateful for this time.

When far away from home, ones thoughts often turn to family and friends and people who are important in my life and the influence that they have on me. It's fair to say that I have been blessed with people who are both encouraging and challenging to me and I thank God for those people. Many are friends who have been part of my own vocational story. Family members have been and are also very important in the continuation of my vocation. It is often the example of good lives of people that we know and love that can spark the seed of a vocation in our hearts. This is certainly the case in my own vocation story. Some that come to mind are, for example, the dedication and guidance of an Irish Christian Brother who taught me in secondary school, the selfless way of life of a neighbour who was always encouraging to me as a precocious teenager, the exemplary and simple spiritual life of my late father and the promptings and encouragement of a friend who died at a very young age. All of them, in their own small way, have had a hand in my own decision to follow my chosen path.

In talking to some of the young people in this parish where the mission that I am engaged with is taking place, I have found some who are actively seeking to discern their call in life and some who are wondering whether God is calling them to service in His church. In talking to them, it beomes evident that an important factor in their wondering has been the influence of family and friends. 'The life and death of each one of us has its influence on others' says Saint Paul. How true! If you are reading this and wondering about your vocation, then trust the opinions of your familes and friends. They are very important in your decision making process. If they, the people that know you the best, can look at you and say 'I can see you becoming a priest, brother or sister' you can take that as part of Christ's body reaching out to another. Listen to that call and take it seriously!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Questions on Postulancy, Pre-Novitiate and Period of Accompaniment

One of the frequently asked questions of me from the many new enquirers to the Irish Dominicans relates to time. How long does the process of discernment take? At what time in the process does a candiadate become a postulant? Is there a pre-novitiate where enquirers can go for a period of time to get accustomed to living Dominican life? I will try to answer them briefly below.

How long does the process of discernment take? The process of discernment, and the length of time that it takes, is dependent on a number of factors. Candidates will have made different journeys of faith and the maturity or otherwise of their faith will determine the length of the process. Many who enquire and enter into discernment will have commitments to work, college and family and this will have an influence on the length of time needed to discern. Since the goal of discernment is to try and understand the will of God for a person, the process, of its very nature, demands a deal of time. Taking these factors, among others, into account will determine how long discernment takes. Ordinarily, it takes a year - but for many it can take longer depending on circumstances.

At what time in the process does a candidate become a postulant? After a period of intial enquiry with a candidate and ascertaining their level of interest in the Order, coupled with a commitment to undertake the process of discernment entitles a person to be properly called a postulant. It should be stressed that there is no commitment on the part of the postulant to the Order and likewise with the Order to the postulant and the process of discernment can be terminated at any time by either party.

Is there a pre-novitiate where enquirers can go for a period of time to get accustomed to living Dominican life? The short answer here is no. The Irish Dominican province did have a place of pre-novitiate about 20 years ago. The place of pre-novitiate has been replaced by what we now call a period of accompaniment. The pre-novitiate is now a period of time (animated by the director of vocations) rather than a place to live. Part of the period of accompaniment will include periods of time where postulants can go to live and experience the life and work of some of our communities. Indeed, many enquirers ask for this possibility as a means to understand Dominican life better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Good News on Vocations In Ireland

This blog is always looking for good news stories about vocations in Ireland, not just about the Dominicans. So, it was very heartening to see many news agencies in Ireland carry the story of the solemn profession of three Redemptorists recently. In fact, photographs of the profession appeared on the front page of the Irish Times on Monday, March 16th last along with an article in the body of the paper which you can read here. The article was replicated on other websites including the Catholic Ireland website.

Warm congratulations are extended to Tony Rice, Sean Duggan and Brian Nolan - the three Redemptorists who made their final vows last Sunday. Their act of profession is an inspiration to anyone considering a vocation in Ireland at this time. Your Irish Dominican brothers rejoice in this very happy event.

Words of Thanks

On Saturday last (March 14th) we had a very successful Dominican vocation event as part of the Year of Vocation. There were fourteen participants - men and women who are discerning their call to the Dominican way of life. It was both heartening and reassuring to see so many attend such a day. Coupled with that is the fact that we could have accepted more people but we were restricted by space. It is something that the vocations promoters of the Dominican family in Ireland will be hosting again in the not too distant future.

There are many people to thank for making the day so successful - particularly the Dominican speakers who told of their own discernment and the impact that it had on their decision to join the various branches of the Dominicans. A special word of thanks to Dr Andrew O' Connell who gave a very insightful and hope-filled presentation on discernment in the Ireland of today. His contribution was very much appreciated by all. The final thanks goes to the Dominican community at Saint Saviours, Dublin for their kind and generous hospitality in hosting this event.

A further reflection by the Dominican nuns who attended the event can be found on their blog here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pope Benedict's Message for Vocations Sunday 2009

Pope Benedict has issued his annual message for the 46th world day of prayer for vocations. This year Vocations Sunday is May 3rd. The full text of the message can be downloaded here. The theme of the message this year is Faith in the Divine Initiative - the Human Response. As always, the Pope's message is theologically and scripturally profound.

I was particularly taken by the section of the message on 'who is worthy' to be either a priest or religious. We all recognise that in fact none of us really are worthy but yet as part of the divine plan, the Lord calls us to co-operate with Him. Here, Pope Benedict states that 'once again it is useful to reiterate that the respose of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfillment, is never patterned after the timid self interest of the worthless servant who, out of fear, hid the talent entrusted to him in the ground (cf Matt 25:14-30), but rather expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord's invitation, as in the case of Peter who, trusting in the Lord's word did not hesitate to let down the net once more after having toiled all night and catching nothing (cf Luke 5:5). Without in any sense renouncing personal responsibility, the free human response to God thus becomes 'co-responsibility', responsibility with and in Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit; it becomes communion with the One who makes it possible for us to bear much fruit (cf John 15:5)'.

(The text of Pope Benedict's message for Vocations Sunday is taken from the website of the association of diocesan vocation directors in Ireland and they can be visited at

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dominican Year of Vocation Event - March 14th 2009

There are a few limited spaces available for the next Dominican Year of Vocation event which will be held in Saint Saviour's Priory, Upper Dorset Street, Dublin 1 on Saturday, March 14th next from 10 am to 4 pm.

The day is designed to give men and women discerning a vocation to the Dominican way of life an opportunity to learn more about discernment and to hear more about the vocation of the various branches of the Dominicans - nuns, friars, sisters and lay Dominicans.

The day begins with morning prayer of the church, followed by an input on discernment by Dr Andrew O' Connell. After this a Dominican sister, friar, nun and a lay Dominican will give some contributions on the nature of discernment in their form of life along with a presentation on their life and work. There will be opportunities for discussion and reflection. Lunch will be provided by the community. The day will conclude with the celebration of the Eucharist.

If you are interested in attending, please email me at or Sr. Breda OP at before March 6th. To look at the Saint Saviour's community website, please click here.