Hundreds of priests, religious, educators, and those considering the priesthood or religious life gathered in St. Mary’s College seminary, Oscott, from 4-6 July to take part in a weekend discernment festival.
Hosted by Invocation, a UK-based initiative aimed at helping to foster discernment, the event offered a forum whereby men and women could explore more deeply God’s will in their life.
The event included various talks and workshops, times in which to meet with priests and members of religious communities, and opportunities to pray in community with other men and women in various stages of discernment. This prayerful fraternity is key in events such as this, according to Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham.
In an interview with ZENIT, the archbishop said that “at the heart” of gatherings, like this festival, “is the sense that each vocation is a calling from Christ Himself.” He added that “the deepening of friendship with our Lord in prayer and sacramental life, as well as through friendships, such as those formed at gatherings such as this one, that men and women are enabled to “understand and discern their own sense and calling within the Church.”
Reiterating the importance of friendships, Archbishop Longley said that they not only “awaken an awareness in people, that [their] calling is coming to many people of their generation,” but they provide a support system with those who are pursing similar vocational paths. The friendships formed at events such as these, he said, are “going to be important in the future.”
Over the course of the weekend, participants heard from a variety of speakers, including Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS ministries. He told ZENIT that the focus of his talk, delivered on the Friday, was to compare and contrast “realities of both ‘ignorance,’ a lack of understanding of the faith and ‘apathy,’ lack of interest in the faith, and how an effective evangelization needs to address both of these issues.”
Through his work with FOCUS ministries, an initiative in which young people are invited to work as missionaries on college and university campuses, Martin said he is inspired by those who “choose to live radically for Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus did not leave Heaven, come to earth, suffer, die, and rise from the dead so that Catholics could merely go to Mass for an hour on Sunday,” he said. “The truth claims of Jesus Christ are radical, and they invite a radical response, to live completely and totally for Christ, this is what it means to receive a vocation.”
“The particular vocation of a young person is an issue between themselves and God. That He has called them to follow Himself is the primary vocation. How they follow him as a husband, wife, religious brother or sister or as a priest, flows from the primary vocation to go wherever he calls us.”
In addition to providing support for those who are still in the process of discernment, it also offered interventions for priests, as well as those who work in the field of education.
Executive director of Invocation, Christopher Smith told ZENIT that the program for priests was geared toward their need “to be inspired and encouraged to be more joyous in the witness of their priestly ministry.”
Through a series of workshops, resources, and follow-up programs, Smith said the program was designed to serve as a catalyst “to inspire them to share their priestly ministry with the people around them, and therefore be more joyous,” which in turn would serve as a “witness to young people.
“When young people see a joyous priest, and a happy priest, they’re more likely to be inspired in their own faith, and they’re more likely to be encouraged to want to be more like them.”
This ongoing formation for priests, he said, comes in “direct response to the call of Pope Francis about how he wants,” which is “that each diocese should have the re-sanctification of their priests.”
Another aspect of the festival was a day dedicated to the formation of those working in Catholic education. The aim of this part of the program, Smith said, was to explore how best to “support our leaders in Catholic education to be more confident in delivering what Catholic education is about,” whiling making the Catholic school experience a “more discerning community” where Christ is at the center. In addition to providing an education, he said, teachers need support in helping students understand how the material relates to the “fundamental questions that they ask themselves” about what God has created them to be.
The primary aim of Invocation, as demonstrated by events such as this one, said Smith, is to meet young men and women where they are at in their discernment, and address their needs which. This meant giving them the opportunity “to come together in fellowship… and experience those elements which help and support them in their discernment.”
The goal, he said, is to give them the support they need “to take that final leap of faith, give them that confidence to step forward” towards following God’s plan for their lives.