This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 edition fo the Companions of the Cross newsletter. Fr. Rob Arsenault is the Director of Vocations and Admission for the community.
“Dear Young People of the 17th World Youth Day ... no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young.” (July 28, 2002 – Homily of the Holy Father John Paul II, World Youth Day Toronto)
As I am writing this, we at the farm are just finishing the February thaw of 2017, where daytime temperatures rose into the double digits and we even managed a winter thunderstorm. Although still a long way from true spring, it was warm enough to melt through the four inches of ice in our driveway and to encourage us to begin tapping a few sugar maple trees; a sure sign of hope and of warmer days to come.
As of the time of our thaw we have hosted no less than six potential new applicants for next fall who have come to visit us at the farm and partake in the formation life that we live here at Assumption Farm in Combermere. We call these “Come and See” events where visitors spend a few days at the farm praying, going to classes, and basically living the life with our current group so as to get a feel for what we do in the ordinary run of a week. What is more good news is the fact that there are still six more coming between now and Easter. All of this is a hopeful sign of the vitality of both the Companions and the future Church.
My experience of hosting the next potential group of vocations is probably the greatest take away from the first four months in my new position as Companions Admissions Director. I have come to the realization that despite the problems facing our Church and the limited cultural support we receive as Catholics, there are still young men willing to step forward and explore the possibilities of a calling to the priesthood.
And I must say these are some very fine guys!
“My predecessor, Fr Allan warned me the whole process was something of a mystery. How do they find us in the first place? The varied backgrounds and back stories that lead to their decision; the amazing network of single Catholic men who are considering this step, (they all seem to know each other) but not all are willing to have that made public just yet.”
But somehow they all find their way here and for the most part just fit right in with our current applicants. (This is a key element of our mutual discernment, can they blend in with the men already in the system.) That is always my first filter, are they able to live the life?
The second filter comes when I get the chance to sit down and actually talk with them and hear all that is going on in their lives. It does my heart good to hear of the dedication and hard work that families continue to pour into their children. It is true that there are no perfect families, but there are still a great many solid ones, who are the foundation for any vocation.
It is also a joy to see the fruit of some of our sister movements. Catholic Christian Outreach, National Evangelization Teams, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, and St Thérèse School of Evangelization, and others, you are all doing amazing work and have all had a hand in forming the young men who come to us from your training and ministries.
We seem to draw primarily from these excellent Catholic organizations that have already grounded our applicants in the art and charism of evangelization. What is more, these guys seem to understand leadership, communication and the need for community.
I would love to have our own formation program take the credit for all that but at this point of their application, first visits to the farm, we are still enjoying the work of our feeder ministries.
No worries, there is still a Companions of the Cross vision and legacy to integrate and a lot more development and formation to come, but it is edifying to have had such a solid second level of training to work with in this next generation of Catholic leaders.
A final filter is the work of the good Lord himself. This type of work, attracting and managing vocations to the Church has a way of forcing you to live a supernatural life. Any one of these potential vocations may eventually turn out to be my boss one day as a priest, a bishop or even a saint. It can be a little challenging to see all that in a first contact, but I try to operate on the assumption that the gift of vocation is already there and I just look for the signs of generosity and faith that are the DNA of any faith life.
When I think of the priests who were in influential in my own vocation I am a little humbled at the thought that I now have a similar role in the lives of others considering the same call. From the first pastor that I ever talked to about my desire to become a priest, through the patient instruction of my formators and spiritual directors, to the support of my house mates and colleagues, there has been a lot of generous wisdom and more than a little polishing to help my own transition into the priesthood.
“I pray I will do as well for this next generation.”
I know we are still a very long way from the true renewal needed to bring back the faith into the wider culture, but seeing these young people and hearing their stories is something like a winter thaw that encourages the moment and promises better days to come.
Lent is traditionally a time for preparation and reflection as we await the full resurrection of Christ and the coming of true spring. Let us always see the hope in our youth, for they will always come to the faith fresh and anew. Please pray for the continued growth of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
If we want priests for our church then we all have to take the responsibility to grow and develop each vocation, one soul at a time!