On June 3, I will ordain eight fine men to be new priests for the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Celebrating priestly ordinations is one of the great joys of my ministry. And I have been thinking a lot these days about the mystery of our Christian vocations — how God calls some of us to the priesthood or consecrated life, while calling others to serve him as laypeople, in their families and in all the many occupations in society.
These things are on my mind also because it is confirmation season and graduation season in our Catholic schools and colleges.
This year, I have been blessed so far to celebrate confirmations at about 30 parishes throughout the archdiocese. I am meeting so many fine young men and women who are eager to be “sealed” with the Holy Spirit in this sacrament and to deepen their commitment to live for Jesus.
At this time of year, many of our young people are thinking about their futures, what they are going to do with their lives.
God created every one of us to do great things for him, to follow Jesus, each in our own ways. And he made his personal plan for our lives from all eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” he says to each of us.
Recently, a friend gave me a copy of a letter that St. Théophane Vénard wrote to his brother, encouraging him as he was trying to discern his vocation.
St. Théophane was born in Poitiers, France, and at a young age felt called to be a missionary priest. In the mid-1850s, he was sent to Tonkin, in what is now Vietnam.
It was a time of persecution, the practice of the Catholic faith was outlawed, and believers lived under threat of death. For seven years, Théophane slept in caves, only coming out at night to minister in secret. He celebrated Mass in the homes of “underground” Catholics.
He was betrayed, arrested, and sentenced to death. His last three months were spent in a small bamboo cage, writing letters to his family. In one famous letter, he described his death to his father:
“We are all flowers planted on this earth. God picks these flowers, some a little earlier, others later. … Let us all try to please the sovereign Lord and Master according to the perfume or radiance with God has given us.”
Théophane’s letters had a powerful influence when they were published in France after his death. The Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, wrote poems about the “little martyr” and was inspired by his courage and cheerfulness in the face of his suffering.
Writing from his cage to his brother Eusebius, the saint said that the right question about our vocation is not, what do we want to do with our lives, but what does God want us to do.
“Well, you are wondering about your future,” Théophane wrote. “Pray simply, humbly, and fervently to know God’s will, and your path will be made clear. Then you must follow the inspiration divine Mercy puts into your heart.”
In addition to prayer, he urged his brother to meditate every day on one or two verses from Jesus’ farewell sermon in St. John’s Gospel, chapters 14–17.
Above all, he said, remember that we are loved by God and that our lives belong to him.
To live our lives well, to find happiness, means responding to the graces that God gives us and using our talents “for his greater glory, honor, and love.”
“O Eusebius,” he wrote, “you are at an age of strong passions, of hard struggles, of mighty victories. Our Lord ‘looks’ upon a young man and ‘loves’ him. That young man is yourself.”
“Courage, be worthy of your Master!” he concluded. “May his holy will, not ours, be done! Leave your future in his hands, in the heart of Jesus made man. Remember that he too was once a young man … the God of all ages.”
This is good advice for young people still today.
Pray for me and I will pray for you.
And in this season of confirmations, graduations, and ordinations, let us pray for our young people, as they seek to discern God’s beautiful plan for their lives.
May our Blessed Mother watch over them and keep them close to her Son, that they might always know his love and walk in his way for their lives.