Prayer and formation lead young men to deeper relationship with Christ; some to vocations
November 4, 2022
Catholics are frequently reminded to pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life. And as the Church celebrates Vocations Awareness Week, Nov. 6-12, that’s something all Catholics are reminded again to continue doing.
Prayers for vocations, when accompanied by concrete actions, are helping cultivate those vocations at schools such as V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, described in the story below. Recent stories about vocations to religious life and the diaconate can also be found at https://catholicvoiceomaha.com/sister-sarah-elizabeth-part-of-a-potentially-promising-trend/ and https://catholicvoiceomaha.com/men-in-diaconal-formation-discover-their-calling-in-serving-the-marginalized/.
Although the decline in numbers of priests is projected to continue, Father Scott Schilmoeller still has reason to be hopeful.
The recently appointed director of vocations for the archdiocese is encouraged by what he sees in the families, parishes and Catholic schools that are helping their young people know Jesus in a personal way and live the authentic Catholic faith.
One place where an upswing in young men contemplating the priesthood is taking place is V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.
There, young men are experiencing Jesus in the company of their peers through a spiritual formation group called the Guardians.
“It sets them up to practice their faith in the culture of high school with those their own age and then tries to assist them to continue it into college,” Father Schilmoeller said.
And it has played a role in leading seven members to begin discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood in seminaries and a religious community.
Formed by theology teacher Deacon Bart Zavaletta in 2012, the group meets for 45 minutes in the school’s chapel every Thursday before classes begin.
Its goal is to form young men in the ways of the Gospel and to help them become “living witnesses and guardians of its life-giving message” among their peers, he said.
During alternating weeks, the students pray the Liturgy of the Hours before the Blessed Sacrament or listen to spiritual formation talks by Deacon Zavaletta or other speakers.
Each week, about 15-20 out of the 40 young men currently signed up for the Guardians attend the sessions, and he estimates that about 250 have participated since the group’s inception.
GIFT OF FORMATION
Deacon Zavaletta’s inspiration to form the group came from memories of his own time of discernment in the seminary.
“The gift of that spiritual formation, that human formation, that intellectual formation that I received during seminary was what I wanted to emulate at the high school level,” he said.
And key to that formation is the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, considered to be the public prayer of the whole Church. Meant to be prayed at certain times of the day, it consists primarily of Psalms, plus other readings, hymns and intercessions.
“I know it connects them to Christ,” Deacon Zavaletta said. “The Psalms are, after all, about Christ, about our relationship with Jesus Christ, and they have a very powerful way of connecting a person’s soul to God.”
“And, we pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “I’ve just brought them to Christ, and now he’s doing the heavy lifting. He’s speaking to their hearts. I have simply brought them to the Master.”
And four of the seven Skutt alumni currently exploring the priesthood credit the Liturgy of the Hours with awakening in their hearts an awareness of God’s call.
During a recent formation talk to the group, Father Schilmoeller shared his own vocation story, and four participants stayed behind to learn more. Three of those students are now giving serious consideration to entering the seminary, Deacon Zavaletta said.
Another powerful aspect of the Guardians, he said, is that participation comes primarily through personal invitations.
At first, Deacon Zavaletta extended invitations himself, but as time went by, students themselves began spreading the word.
“When another student personally invites you to come and experience what they’ve experienced … they understand there’s something real,” he said.
“Young men particularly want to be banded together as brothers,” Deacon Zavaletta said. “They want support, they want camaraderie, they want fraternity … especially when that fraternity is oriented toward achieving something they could not achieve on their own.”
Father Schilmoeller also emphasized the importance of community – such as that offered by the Guardians – in reinforcing the spiritual development of young people and cultivating vocations.
“I’m reminded that even God himself is not just a solitary being – he’s three in one. So the very heart of God is relationships.
“So, the places where the faith is lived authentically … where there’s authentically holy relationships centered around God calling each other to higher things, the places where that’s happening and young people are meeting Jesus, not just knowing about him but meeting him, and there’s a supportive community around them, are the places where there’s a freedom to hear his voice and then explore where he might be calling.”