Fifth graders urged to listen to ‘God’s whispering’
Sister Sandy Nguyen says two events in her adolescent life planted the seeds of her vocation as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Rosary.
When she was 14, Sister Sandy’s father was held up at gunpoint during his nighttime shift as a delivery man, an experience that inspired the Nguyens to begin attending eucharistic adoration as a family at their home church in Springfield, Virginia.
While checking out books in the adoration chapel’s library, the teenaged Sister Sandy came across “Story of a Soul,” the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Had she been one generation younger, these quiet pursuits – eucharistic adoration and reading the stories of the saints – might have gotten lost in the din of 21st-century social media, contends Sister Sandy, now 34.
“At that time I didn’t have a phone, so I didn’t have an Instagram account; I didn’t have a Facebook account; I didn’t have a Snapchat account. So what could I do with my time?” said Sister Sandy, speaking to 1,250 fifth graders gathered at Mount Carmel Academy May 4 for the annual “Calling All Fifth Graders” vocation day.
Use your time wisely
“What you read is very important,” noted Sister Sandy, the vocation director of her local community of 30 sisters and the DRE at St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church in Marrero. “So next time you start reading, ask yourself: Will this reading inspire me to the best of my potential or is this time wasted?”
Throughout the day, the fifth graders heard the vocational discernment stories of priests, sisters and brothers through panel discussions and interactive games, learning that the men and women before them were just ordinary people who had answered an extraordinary calling.
During her talk, Sister Sandy invited the sisters, brothers and priests in attendance to join her on stage to dance to “Walking in the Light of God.”
“That is what we’re here to invite you to consider: God can be calling you to walk with him, to pray to him, to love him, to serve him and to trust him in religious life as a brother or a sister or a priest,” said Sister Sandy, leaving her 11-year-old listeners with a vocational checklist based on the song “Bingo Was His Name-O”:
• “B” reminds us to count our “blessings.”
• “I” is for “I am a beloved child of God,” precious and unique.
• “N” reminds us to “never say never” when God is calling us to something that might seem difficult.
• G” is for “giving” of your gifts and talents.
• “O” reminds us to serve “others.”
Simple directive propels her
Daughter of Charity Sister Salvatrice Murphy, whose religious community’s ministries include operating health clinics in Louisiana and three other states, told the children about her ministry as a Catholic Charities social worker for vulnerable families. She said the mission of the Daughters – and co-founders Sts. Vincent DePaul and Louise de Marillac – boils down to “helping others know that God loves them.”
“That is the thing that made me want to be a Daughter of Charity, because I’ve met some people who were all alone and didn’t have anybody help them to know that God loved them,” Sister Salvatrice said. “God asked me to help in that work.”
Edmund Rice Christian Brother Sean Whitty and Father Ian Bozant observed that although they had been raised in loving, devout and prayerful Catholic families, their parents initially opposed their choice of vocation.
Prayerful men in black
Brother Sean, who was taught by Presentation Sisters in grammar school, recalls being intimidated by the cassock-wearing Christian Brothers who taught at his high school in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“I was terrified of all these people in black,” said Brother Sean, who was quickly won over by the brothers’ excellent teaching and penchant for telling a joke at the beginning of each class. He would notice the brothers, 20 strong, praying the rosary in a school corridor at lunchtime.
“I never forgot that,” said Brother Sean, who entered the Brothers’ New York seminary at age 18 after a year-long, wait-and-see period enforced by his mother.
“Here I am, 50 years later,” said Brother Sean, a 38-year veteran of teaching and leading high schools in his native Canada and the United States.
Astronaut to priest
Father Bozant, ordained in 2014 and parochial vicar of Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville, described his priestly calling as “a tiny whispering sound” in his heart devoid of the drama of Moses’ burning bush or Saul’s blinding light.
“Oftentimes, God doesn’t use extraordinary things to tell us what he wants in our lives; he often uses the ordinary, daily events of our life to tell us who he wants us to be,” said Father Bozant, telling the youngsters that his studies through college were mostly tied to his desire to become an astronaut. Thoughts about becoming a priest began surfacing during his junior year at Holy Cross High. Father Bozant discovered a passion for serving others at a weeklong retreat in which he and his classmates experienced what it was like to be materially poor. During eucharistic exposition, he heard a voice saying, “Consider the priesthood.”
“I knew in that moment that that was something outside of me, asking me to look at this,” Father Bozant recalled. “I felt like God was giving me an invitation. He wasn’t demanding it. He didn’t say, ‘You have to become a priest,’ just consider it,” he said, noting that he chose diocesan priesthood because he enjoyed being with people at sacramental moments such as baptisms and weddings.
“The parish priest has a unique ability to do that,” Father Bozant said.
The reluctant prophet
At the day’s culminating Mass, Archbishop Gregory Aymond invited his young congregants to remember the lesson of Jeremiah, someone who feared he was too young to be God’s prophet when his own call came.
“What does God say to Jeremiah?” Archbishop Aymond asked. “(He tells him), ‘You’re never too young, and I will be with you. I will give you the words to speak. I will place those words in your heart.’”
The archbishop also pointed to the Gospel scene in which Jesus feels sorry for the throngs because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.”
“Jesus goes on to say that the field out there is really big, but there are not enough workers in the vineyard,” Archbishop Aymond said. “In 2016, God is still calling people and saying to them: ‘Speak my word; be my hands; be my ears, because I want you to be disciples to lead other disciples.
“I know that you’re in fifth grade, but it’s not too early to think about it. God, what are you calling me to do? What is my vocation? Is it married life? Is it the single life? Is it to be a leader in the church?” the archbishop added.
“If the thought of priesthood or religious life comes to you, it could be God’s invitation. There are several of you within this gym right now whom God is calling.”
Calling All Fifth Graders is coordinated annually by the archdiocesan offices of Vocation, Religious, Catholic Schools and the vocation directors of local religious communities.