By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 2, 2019
ATLANTA — On a sunny Wednesday, members of a bible study group at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta and other volunteers gathered at the St. Charles Borromeo house for priestly formation to spruce up the garden and conference area. The group raised $4,000 for new furniture and accessories.
Along with seminarians and volunteers, Father Tri John-Bosco Nguyen, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta since July 2018, helped during the workday. It will be a nice welcome for seminarians who return to the house for the summer months.
Sunday, May 12, will mark the 56th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a day to pray for ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate) and religious life in all forms.
In his message for this year’s World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis asks Catholics to reflect “on how the Lord’s call makes us bearers of a promise and, at the same time, asks of us the courage to take a risk, with him and for him.”
Vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” The church defines vocation as a call from God to serve in religious life, marriage, single life or the priesthood. On the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the church asks us to pray for those who serve in ordained ministries and religious life, and to help those God calls to those vocations to answer, “Yes.”
Saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call
Father Nguyen knew in high school that he was called to religious life.
“I kept receiving affirming signals and messages,” he said, about attending retreats and learning more about the priesthood. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in June 2012.
Some people believe religious life is another occupation, but it is more than that, explains Father Nguyen.
“The call to the religious life is like a call to be a parent,” he said.
Deacon Thomas “Tom” Nemchik has been ordained since February of this year, but first felt his call in second grade. After his children became adults, he decided to live “in service to God’s people.” He serves at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro.
Mother Teresa Maria Kulangara, a cloistered nun from Kerala, India, professed her vows at age 43. Before that, she worked as a pharmacist and was in an arranged marriage. After a divorce, she moved to Atlanta and later started to discern her vocation. After a few years and with the help of Father John Fallon, she professed her vows in 2011. She now serves as the superior at the Monastery of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Snellville.
“Somehow the Holy Spirit works in our lives,” she said.
A picture of religious life
“Religious life is changing,” said Sister Crystal Payment, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas. “It’s not like it used to be.”
Sister Crystal felt the call to religious life at age 12, but after some discouragement, moved on with her life, including getting married and having children. After a divorce and years of searching, she found the Sisters of St. Joseph and professed her vows in June 2014. She was 54. Her grandchildren even participated in the ceremony.
Her order wears street clothing to blend in with the community and allows the sisters to work in any field, as long as it is in line with their charism. More importantly, the order embraces her family.
“You don’t give up your family, you bring them with you.” she said. Currently, Sister Crystal works as an advocate in the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Mother Teresa Maria is a cloistered nun. She prays with her community five times per day and is called to live a “humble life.” Her order does wears habits. “Every hour is dedicated to God,” she explained.
Deacons are “living icons of Christ on earth and are here to serve the church and all human beings,” said Deacon Jose Espinosa, co-director of diaconate formation with Penny Simmons for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They have been working with deacons for almost six years.
“What you experience in your whole lifetime, a priest in a parish can experience in one weekend,” said Father Nguyen. A weekend could include speaking at a youth retreat, giving the last rites to a patient in a hospital, celebrating weddings and baptisms, multiple Sunday Masses and meeting with ministries in the parish, he explains.
While it is a busy schedule, Father Nguyen finds great joy in his calling.
“This is what I’m called for— being Christ for the people in their lives in the world today,” he said.
Challenges in all callings
People turn away from religious life for a number of reasons, including a lack of understanding of religious life and the church, the sex abuse scandal and Western culture, said Father Nguyen.
For the younger generations, “religious life is a counter cultural lifestyle, especially for Americans,” said the priest. The culture sometimes focuses more on pleasures and wealth.
“A lot of us get caught in our comfort zone and we don’t want to be stretched,” said Deacon Nemchik.
While some may see religious life as a hardship, those called to serve find great joy. “Through sufferings, we become the person God wants us to be,” explains Mother Teresa Maria.
Every calling and occupation has its challenges, but people continue to stay involved because they see the beauty in it, said Father Nguyen.
How to discern
“If you think you’re called, be faithful to the sacraments,” said Mother Teresa Maria. She also encourages “great devotion to our lady and the Holy Spirit.”
Sister Crystal encourages taking time to discern religious life.
“It has to be right in your heart,” she said. She also encourages attending “Come and See” weekends, which are hosted by many religious orders. Participants usually attend Mass, meet people in the community and ask questions.
Becoming a deacon is not possible without the support of your wife, said Deacon Espinosa.
If you attend a retreat or reach out to a vocation office and find it is not your calling, it is simply part of the process.
“We are helping [people find] where God wants them to be,” said Mother Teresa Maria.
For those considering the priesthood, there are upcoming events to consider this year, including the Quo Vadis Retreat for high school students (July 21-23), a Come and See Visit at St. Joseph Seminary (Nov. 1-3) and the Discernment Retreat (Dec. 30-31).
“If God calls you, no matter how many years go by, he does not let go,” said Sister Crystal. “You can’t run from it. You have to embrace it.”
“On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations,” said Pope Francis, “let us join in prayer and ask the Lord to help us discover his plan of love for our lives, and to grant us the courage to walk in the path that, from the beginning, he has chosen for each of us.”
For more information on vocations, visit www.calledbychrist.com.