By Marty Denzer and Megan Marley
The Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY — Six hundred forty-four fifth graders got to ponder those questions and have their questions about the priesthood and religious life answered at the annual Fifth Grade Vocation Days held February 22-23 at Archbishop O’Hara High School. The kids came from Catholic schools near — St. Regis School next door — far — St. Gregory Barbarigo School, Maryville and Bishop Hogan Memorial, Chillicothe — and almost everywhere in-between to spend the morning in prayer, learning and discussion.
Each Vocations Day started off with Mass at St. John Francis Regis Church, celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr. and concelebrated by Father Adam Johnson, director of the Office of Vocations, Father Sean McCaffrey, pastor of St. John Francis Regis parish, and other priests who were there to speak with students.
In his homily February 22, the bishop tied together the day’s readings and the day’s feast, The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, and how it shows the development of St. Peter’s vocation.
“In the Gospel, Jesus himself reveals to St. Peter what his vocation will be: the first pope, called to strengthen the Church, and protect, preserve and hand on the faith. Jesus asks, ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter answers, ‘You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.’ And Jesus tells him, ‘Blessed are you … because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Heavenly Father. …you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.’ In the first reading, Peter talks to other priests, urging them to tend the flock of God, willingly and eagerly.”
He explained that Peter did “three things that got him to the point where his vocation could be revealed, three things that start with the letter F: He followed Jesus, he became friends with Jesus, and he responded with faith.” The bishop also stated that when he was thinking about his vocation and the priesthood, he also followed Jesus, became friends with Jesus and responded with faith.
Following Mass, the kids dispersed to classrooms to learn more about the priesthood (Men in Black) and religious sisters (Sister-Sister).
In one of the Men in Black sessions, Father Stephen Hansen, pastor of Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview, asked the boys questions to make his point about vocational discernment.
“So let me ask you a question: if you want to know God’s will, where do you think would be a good place to start?”
“Be at church,” one replied.
“And what do we normally do at church?” queried Father Hansen. “Pray.” “Right, pray!”
“Now, how many of you have ever gotten sick at somewhere other than at home and had to call home? And what happens when you call home, what do you say?”
“I’m sick!” one boy piped up.
“How do they know you are sick? Maybe someone else is sick. Do they recognize your voice?” The group nodded.
“There you go. So when we pray, the more we pray, the more we open our hearts up to God, the more we recognize his voice speaking to us. And that’s how we get to know his will. That’s number one: we need to pray, boys.”
“Number two: how many of you have had to be asked a second time to do something by your parents? What would be an example?” The boys chimed in with a number of chores.
“They say to you, Nathan, go clean your room. And then what happens? A little while later your mom goes, ‘Nathan, would you clean your room?!’ So sometimes she has to ask a second time, right? Well let me tell you something: there are some kids even at your age, they begin to do what their parents ask them the first time.”
“So here’s my advice for today: number one, if you want to know what God wants, you got to constantly pray. Number two, train yourself by doing what your parents and grandparents tell you to do, really trying to do it the first time they ask you. Because then, two things are going to happen: you’re going to recognize the voice of God, and number two, you’ll be more likely to do what he asks of you because you obey your parents. ‘Cause who gave you your parents? God!”
In one of the Sister-Sister presentations, Sister Servants of Mary, Sister Therese and Sister Isabelle, talked about the gift or charism of their order: to care for the sick and dying in both hospitals and in their homes.
“We have the charism of being with the dying. Nobody wants to die alone. We hold their hands, pray with them and bring them closer to God, even at death. We have no husband or children of our own but we are like spiritual mothers,” Sister Therese said.
Sister Isabelle told the girls that they live in community with 24 other Sisters. “We range in age from 21 to 95,” Sister Therese added.
Sister Therese also explained that a vocation is a special mission: “When we listen to God’s call in our hearts and we answer ‘yes,’, we help bring a lot of people to heaven.”
In Q & A, the sisters answered a number of questions related to religious habits.
How do you keep your veils on? “Pins.”
Why do you wear a habit? “The habit lets people know a sister is close to God, and the veil covers our heads as a sign of modesty and consecration to God.”
They also explained that vows of poverty and chastity help them focus on serving Jesus and allows them to love everyone as brothers and sisters, and obedience, “which is doing what God wants us to do.”
Bishop Johnston also held question and answer sessions with the kids. Some of the questions he answered were:
How can you tell you are being called by God? “Your talents may be a hint. Prayer can help you hear the call to what he wants for you. The Holy Spirit puts things in our hearts. Remember: Ask and you shall receive; Seek and you shall find; Knock and the door shall be opened.”
Did you ever want to get married? “Oh yes. Just because you’re thinking about becoming a priest, it doesn’t mean that all other good things become unattractive. God wants us to choose between two good things to give our lives to what would make us happiest. Every time I thought about being a priest, I felt great joy.”
How many parishes did you serve in before you became a bishop? “Five in Tennessee, and then 17 years after I was ordained a priest, Pope Benedict XVI decided he wanted me to be a bishop in southern Missouri.”
What is your favorite thing about being a bishop? “Getting to meet so many good people!”
What is the role of a bishop? “To guard the flock. I will spend my whole life helping people get home safely to heaven.”
Have you ever had any regrets? “I have not regretted being a priest. I am now amazed even more about it, even though it is challenging at times. I feel blessed to be called to serve in this way.”
How did your duties change when you became a bishop? “My responsibilities became much greater when I became a bishop. I am no longer only responsible for a parish, but for all of our parishes. I also have to make more decisions that affect more people. That is why the bishop is mentioned by name in prayer, along with the pope, at every Mass.”
He also answered questions about seminaries, what he enjoys during his free times and more.
After lunch and Adoration in the gym, the fifth graders boarded school buses to return to their schools both near and far, with lots to think and pray about.