Archive for the ‘Passionist Vocations’ Category

After much waiting, we are finally launching our province vocations website at www.passionistvocations.org. There are still a number of things to be added, ironed out, etc., but it’s good to have it available for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Meanwhile, I’ll be celebrating tomorrow’s Vocations Sunday with the (contemplative) Passionist Nuns at Whitesville, Kentucky, where today we are looking at the Spiritual Diary of Saint Paul of the Cross together.

The theme of Pope Benedict’s message for Vocations Sunday is “The Vocation to the Service of the Church as Communion”; he says: At the Last Supper, while entrusting them with the duty of perpetuating the memorial of his death and resurrection until his glorious return at the end of time, he offered for them to his Father this heart-broken prayer: “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17: 26). The mission of the Church, therefore, is founded on an intimate and faithful communion with God. To read the full text of Pope Benedict’s message, click here.


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The next weekend retreat for young men who are interested in religious life in the Passionist Congregation will be held at Saint Patrick’s Retreat, Crossgar, County Down, N. Ireland, from Friday evening, 16 February, to Sunday midday, 18 February 2007. The theme of the weekend is taken from a phrase written by Saint Paul of the Cross in his Preface to the Rule: “The Good God converted me to a Life of Penance”.
If you would like to know more about the retreat or are interested in taking part, you can contact me by sending a comment below. Please remember a prayer for those who will take part, including Fathers Charles, Victor and myself who will be guiding the retreat.

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When I was in Dublin before Christmas, Father Charles c.p. (Charles Cross – not Blessed Charles) reminded me that I still haven’t posted anything on the Passionist Religious Life Weekend we held in Crossgar from 24 to 26 November. My excuse is that, with my father still in hospital, I’m blogging less frequently. The weekend was conducted by Father Charles, Father Victor and myself; seven young men who wanted to learn more about the Passionist Vocation took part; three of them were from Scotland and four from Ireland.

Here is the ferry at Stranraer; as you can see, the weather was not very promising but, in fact, the crossing was quite smooth and we arrived fit for a good dose of prayer, penance and solitude.

Saint Patrick’s Retreat is just beside the village of Crossgar, which you can glimpse here through the trees. The original name of the house is Tobar Mhuire (Our Lady’s Well); the old holy well is still there in the woods, just off the main avenue. The house was bought by the Passionists in 1952 as a juniorate or minor seminary; later it was the novitiate house.

Behind this wall, at the rear of the property, there is a large enclosed garden which is now the headquarters of the Ulster Wildlife Trust.

The stable block, adjoining the main building, has been converted into a small retreat house. There are about fifteen rooms for retreatants, three conference rooms, two oratories and a public chapel.

This glass-covered yard connects the stable block to the main building. Father Dermot’s talent for plants and flowers keeps it looking bright and welcoming.

The theme of the weekend was “The Priesthood in the Passionist Congregation”. All the young men taking part had some familiarity with the life and work of diocesan priests but were interested in knowing more about what it is like being a priest in a religious community. Of the three priests who took part in the weekend, I am the only one engaged in parish work. Father Victor’s ministry at the Crossgar monastery is mostly hearing confessions, blessing those who come there for spiritual or other healing, and working with prayer groups. Father Charles peaches Parish Missions and gives retreats to priests, religious and laity throughout Ireland and England. He is also coming to Saint Roch’s, Glasgow, later this year to give a Mission to mark the centenary of the parish.

Perhaps today, with so many parish priests living alone, the most obvious difference between diocesan and religious priests is the fact that religious priests usually live in community (although some of them are living alone nowadays too). More important, however, are the particular charism and spirituality of the order or congregation which shape how the community lives and the way in which its apostolate is conducted. As Passionists, we live according to the spirituality of Saint Paul of the Cross, taking a vow to promote in the hearts of God’s people the Memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the Passionist Sign which we wear on our habit (modelled here by Father Charles).

During the weekend, we had Mass each day, we prayed parts of the Divine Office, and we had a half hour of Eucharistic Adoration each evening. The priests also gave some talks (-there were two each day) and we had time for questions, group discussion and personal reflection. Here is Father Charles speaking about what we learn about Faith in Saint John’s Gospel.

Behind Father Charles, you can see a relief of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a Passionist student who died in 1862. The picture below gives a closer look. On one of the days I gave a talk on the Passionist Saints and Beati and their importance for our community.

We usually try to visit some place of local interest when we have a Vocation weekend at Crossgar; this part of Ireland has many associations with Saint Patrick. This time we went to Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh, which is only about five miles from Crossgar. From the top of the hill we had a good view of Strangford Lough, where Saint Patrick landed when he returned to Ireland as a missionary.

The weather was far from perfect, but this didn’t discourage us from enjoying the (very) fresh air.

Here you can see the Sun trying to shine over Saul, where Saint Patrick died in 461 a.d. His grave is at Downpatrick, just a few miles away.

The weekend was very prayerful and I was most impressed by the good mixture of seriousness and fun the young men brought to it. Please pray for them as they discern what God is asking of them. Becoming a priest or religious is a challenge for young people today, but that doesn’t mean that God has stopped inviting people to follow Christ in this way; he hasn’t.

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The next weekend retreat for young men who are interested in religious life in the Passionist Congregation will be held at Saint Patrick’s Retreat, Crossgar, County Down, N. Ireland, from Friday evening, 24 November, to Sunday midday, 26 November. Please remember a prayer for those who will take part, including Fathers Charles, Victor and myself who will be guiding the retreat.

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I was at a meeting of religious a couple of months ago at which the question of vocations in (northern) Europe was being discussed. One participant, a sixty-year old religious priest, asked the question: “Can anyone tell me: is there anywhere that religious life is actually working?” This is a question which someone living in Ireland or Scotland (the parts of Europe covered by the Passionist Province to which I belong, and where most orders and congregations seem to be in decline) might be forgiven for asking. In this part of the world, women’s communities seem to have less vocations than men’s, and communities of brothers seem to struggle more than communities of priests; while the priesthood draws some vocations, the religious life as such (i.e. when seen not simply as a form of priesthood) seems not to be attracting young people.

Part of the problem here is that in Ireland and Scotland we have virtually no experience of the new religious congregations and people who live only within that confined context are unaware of the large number of religious communities (-by this I mean vowed forms of consecrated life, not movements or associations) which have been founded in the last thirty or so years. We see ourselves as living in a desert, because we have never turned around and discovered the green shoots right behind us. It seems that every time I visit France or Italy, I learn about another new religious congregation that is flourishing there. On a recent visit to Rome, for example, I met some members of the Franciscan Fraternity of Bethany. They are a flourishing group of young religious, women and men, who began in 1978 and took their present form in 1983. From the photograph below, it would appear that they are good singers too!


A community I have known for longer is the Community of Saint John, founded in 1975 by five or six university students under the guidance of a Dominican priest, Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe. They are now a Congregation of diocesan right, approved by the Church, with over five hundred members, about two hundred of whom are priests; they also have contemplative sisters and sisters of apostolic life who share the same charism and spirituality. When I met Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe some years ago, he said to me: “We have the same spirituality”; the spiritual focus of this community is to be like John the beloved disciple, standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross. They are engaged in preaching, catechesis (including adult education in theology), retreat houses, chaplaincies, some parish work and overseas missions. They celebrate Mass and the Divine Office in common, have meditation togethre morning and evening (including Eucharistic adoration), and they even rise for the night office of readings (matins) at 1.30 a.m. on Sundays and feasts. In spite of (or in fact because of) a very challenging lifestyle, this community is growing not only in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but particularly in tired old Europe.


Already in France, some of the old orders and congregations are experiencing renewal and life, perhaps through contact with or some sort of breathing the same air as these new communities. This new life is not universal and is confined to certain abbeys and not to others or to certain provinces and not others. A grace is being offered but not all are able to see it and grasp it. It is, of course, frightening for the older orders, especially those who have worked hard to adjust to death and dying. All the dreams of the nineteen-sixties hold little attraction for young people of the twenty-first century. When older religious do look at these new groups, they are genuinely frightened by what they see and think this is an attempt to turn the clock back, rather than a chance to repair a clock which has long since stopped ticking.

The Discalced Carmelites in France are an interesting example of one of the older orders which has come back from the point of death and is now expanding. The key to all this is the rediscovery of community and spirituality, which is at the heart of any genuine religious vocation. A simple life lived together in an atmosphere of prayer is energising for those who have been called to the religious life; for those whose vocation lies elsewhere, it will be exhausting. For me, the biggest obstacle to religious vocations today is not the secularisation of society, or the breakdown of family life, or lack of faith formation in Catholic schools, or materialism, though all these have a part to play. I believe that the biggest problem for a young person thinking about a religious vocation is: “Where can I go? Where can I find a way of life that will really challenge me and at the same time deepen my relationship with Christ? Where will I find a community that will accept my hunger for a fuller understanding of the teaching of the Church, rather than point out to me all that it thinks is wrong with what the Church is saying?” We who are already religious (of many years standing) are often too slow to admit that we are part of the problem.

In the history of the religious life, the old orders have always learned from the new: in the late Middle Ages, the friars reminded the monks about simplicity of life; after the reformation, the Jesuits and other clerical institutes helped the observant reforms of the friars; in the nineteenth century, the older orders were enriched by the missionary, educational and caring zeal of the new congregations. Is it too much to expect that the new communities being founded today will be more significant “signs of the times” for the renewal and adaptation of religious life than the front page of yesterday’s newspaper?

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Almighty and eternal God, in your wonderful providence you choose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Look favourably on this little flock of your servants gathered under the standard of the holy Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we, who have been called together in your name, grow in every virtue and so, by your mercy, be one with you, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Stir up your power, Lord, glorify your hand, and with kindness stretch out your right arm over us, so that we will be capable of defending your holy Church even with our blood, wiping out the vices of your people, defeating the enemies of the Cross of Christ, and imprinting on the hearts of the faithful the devotion to the Passion of the Lord. Show us, we pray, all that we should do and suffer for your Name, so that the world will come to know you, God Holy, Strong, Immortal, and the one whom you have sent, your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Saint Paul of the Cross (approved by Pope Benedict XIV, 16 September 1746)

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Mary’s Well

Tomorrow morning I’ll travel to our Monastery at Crossgar, County Down for a “Passionist Religious Life Weekend”, spending a few days with a group of young men who want to look more closely at the Passionist vocation. This is the third in a series of retreats at Tobar Mhuire (which means “Mary’s Well”, called after the ancient holy well in the grounds). This time we will be reading some early texts of Saint Paul of the Cross, particularly the “Preface to the First Rule”, written by Paul when he was 26 years old. I’m hoping for mild weather, but there are some good photographs of the Monastery and grounds in the snow at the Crossgar Women’s Institute site here.

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