Monday, March 12, 2018
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Growing up, Father Elvis Gonzalez used to tell people that he wanted to be a doctor, fearful of his calling to priesthood. But when he moved to Miami at age 14, he always remembered the commitment and love of his parish priest growing up in Nicaragua.
“There was one lady who told me, ‘You know Elvis, the right way to ask about your life and your future is not so much what you want to become but asking the Lord, ‘What do you want me to be?’ So this time it was not about me, it was about the Lord. ‘What do you want for my life?’” the priest told over 500 attentive Catholic school students March 1.
In a way, he is a doctor, added Father Gonzalez, now vocations director for the archdiocese. “Not as a physician but a lot of people come to me with a broken heart. I’m the kind of doctor who helps people spiritually.”
Father Gonzalez spoke to a combined total of over 2,200 sixth graders from Catholic schools across Miami Dade and Broward counties at three Focus 11 vocations rallies. Archbishop Thomas Wenski participated in the Feb. 27 rally hosted by St. Gregory Church, Plantation. The Feb. 28 and March 1 rallies were hosted by St. Agatha Church, Miami. Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary and three archdiocesan seminarians assisted at the rallies.
The annual program is called Focus 11 because psychologists have determined that children start considering career interests at age 11 and grade 11. A program for 11th graders will be held for the first time this October.
Father Gonzalez affirmed that some are called to become mothers or fathers, teachers or policemen, all beautiful vocations. But maybe others want to be like their pastor or religious.
‘DON’T BE AFRAID’
“The whole point today is to ask the Lord that question, ‘What do you want from my life?’ And don’t be afraid to ask the Lord that question,” said Father Gonzalez. “This vocations rally, Focus 11, is to give you the first step, the first tool, for you to find that happiness.”
And the way to hear the answer is by cultivating a friendship with Jesus through prayer, he said, challenging them to thank God each morning as they arise and to kneel at bedtime to listen and talk to him about daily life.
“The only way we can get to know the Lord is by spending at least a few minutes in prayer because God is real,” he said. “When you go to bed at night say, ‘Lord, I ask you to protect my family, guide me’…. How many of you have asked, ‘Lord, help me to get through that test’? But of course, you have to study!”
They also must pay attention and be attentive. Are they good listeners or speakers, or do they always help classmates with homework? Do other people tell them they seem like they’d make a good priest?
“Pay attention to your gifts. Maybe the Lord is already telling you something. As little by little you discover your gift, put it in practice,” he said, and the Holy Spirit will inspire them to always be better. “Use the talents God has given you.”
Sixth grader Adryan Mendoza, of St. Rose of Lima School in Miami Shores, said his goal so far is to become a professional football player. “God will help me to fulfill my dreams,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to come here and learn more about how to pray and listen to God.”
Classmate Jessica Jara liked the focus on asking God for a career path. “He wants me to be something to help people in terms of mentally. I always listen to people and what they have to say,” she said. Prayer “is a very important thing in my life. I was always taught God always listens. If you have a problem you can ask God and he will always provide and help you through hard times.”
Onel Taverne of St. Mary Cathedral School in Miami wants to be a firefighter but is open to priesthood. And he’s ready to pray more these days since he gave up music for Lent. “I’m thinking about where I’m going to go and do in my future so I don’t get sidetracked. God will send me in the right direction where I’m supposed to go and be,” he said. “I just want to show people the right way to God.”
‘EVERYTHING ELSE IS EASY’
In an interview, seminarian Andrew Tomonto recalled telling his mom of his interest in priesthood in middle school. Then at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, a joyful priest showed him that clergy can be happy without a family. At the University of Miami, he took ownership of his faith and after graduating entered seminary. “It’s been five years and I haven’t looked back once, it’s wonderful,” he said. While all vocations have difficulties, “when you know what God made you to be — that’s such a big question — everything else is easy.”
After lunch, girls learned about religious life from the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, an order founded in Miami 27 years ago. Sister Maria Jose Socias explained that all communities have three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but theirs has a fourth of Marian availability. “We are called to be the presence and the image of the heart of Mary,” she said.
She explained that religious dedicate themselves in a covenant of love to live for others as spiritual mothers.
“Married women and married men give the totality of themselves to one another and the love of one another bears an amazing gift which is you, children,” she said. “Those who God called with a specific and beautiful vocation to religious life or to the priesthood, we are chosen among many to give the totality of ourselves to him and he in return gives the totality of himself to us. And we bear witness to the world that God’s love is sufficient. For us, God’s love is enough. It fills us up to the brim.”
Other sisters described how they each felt a tug on their hearts towards consecrated life as they met religious in campus ministry at Illinois State University. They prayed, read Scripture and grew in friendship with Jesus in gradual steps of discernment. One shared how she felt a sense of peace and freedom when she broke up with her boyfriend.
‘RECOGNIZE HIS VOICE’
In a long Q&A with the students, Sister Kelly O’Ryan fielded a question about the Servants’ taupe habit with red sweater and white veil. “Every single person who sees us, the first thing they think of is God. We have the gift of wearing a habit to be a sign of God to the world.”
Another girl asked, “How do you know it’s the Lord calling and not you making it up?”
Sister Grace Heinrich replied by asking how they would know their mom’s voice calling them in a crowded party. She said that to know God’s voice they must look beyond the “noise” and be intentional about prayer, whether with Scripture or before the Blessed Sacrament. “When we take time of silence and prayer to listen to him, when he’s calling us we’ll know because we recognize his voice.”
Sister Maria Jose added a digital directive: “If you go to the chapel to pray, leave the phone outside. God is not going to call you on your phone. He’s going to call you on your heart.”
Father Gonzalez said afterwards that the rallies are intended to present religious life and priesthood as a beautiful option to live a holy life. “It’s lots of joy and also planting seeds for the future, always thinking about the future of the Church.”