The fulfillment of God’s dream for us and the hope that comes with it was the message that dozens left with after attending the annual Serra Club Vocations in Progress (VIP) Dinner on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at the Catholic Pastoral Center.
Several members of the Nashville and Williamson County Serra clubs gathered with the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville as well as those religious sisters currently in formation with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, for Mass, food, and fellowship.
Bishop J. Mark Spalding celebrated Mass for the group to begin the evening.
“It is truly a night of ‘VIPs,’” Bishop Spalding said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful gathering of our diocese, our religious in the diocese, our seminarians, and our priests.”
“God says, ‘I’ll give you a dream’ and He comes as a Savior, born of the virgin, and He is named Emmanuel, God is with us,” the bishop said, referring to the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. “We just heard this reading … and it teaches us to dream.”
And always dreaming bigger are the vocation directors of the seminarians and the religious sisters, no matter how many are currently in formation, Bishop Spalding said.
“No matter what our numbers are for vocations, we thank God for them, but we also must keep inviting,” Bishop Spalding said. “When you see a young woman, a young man, and you see that spark in their eyes, don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Have you ever thought about being a sister? Have you ever thought about being a priest?’
“Sometimes it just takes that little seed to start a man or a woman dreaming and fantasizing in their heads in the best of ways about, ‘What could my future be?’” he continued. “Our work together, our standing up for vocations in the Church is something we have to constantly be working.”
“God has a dream for all of us,” Bishop Spalding concluded. “Let us work to make it come true.”
After Mass, attendees gathered in Bishop’s Hall for dinner where the seminarians and the women in religious formation were able to talk with members of the Serra Club who have been supporting them through prayer.
“It’s just amazing to be here in this room with all the Serrans. Thank you for the sponsorship, your ongoing prayers, all the effort that you do to support, foster, encourage, lift up the vocations of priesthood and vowed religious life to the great honor and position that it belongs to for us,” said Greg Schweitz, president of Serra International, who traveled to the event from Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife, Mary Lynn.
“To all these young people that are discerning … when you’re prepared to say, ‘yes’… I just want you to know that throughout that discerning time, our Serrans have been praying for your discernment,” Schweitz continued. “And we’re praying not that you necessarily become what we hope you’ll be, that is a religious sister, a brother, or an ordained priest, but that you follow God’s call, and that you are truly listening and discerning that and asking His will to do that.
“We know that he’s calling a lot of young people to this beautiful vocation. It’s not a career. It’s not a profession. It’s a lifelong dedication that you’re giving him,” he concluded. “When you say that ‘Yes’, I want you to know that, again, those Serrans are going to be so happy for you, and they will continue to be with you, supporting and affirming you in your decision as you go through the ups and downs of life.”
Bishop Spalding also addressed the group, adding to his message in the homily.
“We have such a legacy in this diocese, those before us that have built up a culture of vocations. We have received this from those who have gone before us, and we need to sustain it in our faith and time as well because we want our children, our grandchildren, and even our great-grandchildren to prosper,” Bishop Spalding said. “Those who are ordained priests, deacons and religious, we do present before God’s people over and over who Jesus Christ is to the best of our abilities, in our words and in our deeds and in our very life.
“This season of Advent, we’re down to the last few days, but, in many ways, our life is always down to the last few days. In this moment, we’ve got to prepare for the gift of Christ and get others prepared as well,” he said. “In our significant relationships, we express love. That love we have, we express tonight to one another within our missionary discipleship to Christ. In that love, we invite others to consider their vocation in Christ.”
To end the evening, Father Luke Wilgenbusch, director of vocations for the diocese, and Sister Mara Grace, OP, introduced the seminarians and the religious sisters in formation and thanked the Serrans for their continued support of vocations.
“We talk about a culture of vocations. One way of describing that is a culture of hope where people realize what seems difficult, what seems distant, what seems challenging today can actually be accomplished. That is God working,” Father Wilgenbusch said. “For a young man to say, ‘I don’t see myself as a priest today, but when I look out at those who have gone before me, when I see priests who encourage me, when I see seminarians, when I see other young men discerning, I realize that that can happen in my life as well.’ That’s a message of hope.
“And tonight really is a celebration of hope when we see these young men and women following God’s will in their life. Discerning,” he continued. “Seeking to do his will and believing that it is possible that they, too, might be called to lead the men and women of this diocese and the religious sisters through all the many countries in which these sisters serve. We’re just filled with joy to see this culture of vocations is something that continues.
“It’s the Lord’s work,” Father Wilgenbusch concluded. “I do my best and I get out there and I do all this vocations promotion, but then I’ll get a random call from someone from somewhere I’ve never been saying, ‘I think I want to be a priest,’ and I say, ‘Lord, this is yours.’ He’s doing this in our midst.”
Sister Mara Grace echoed Father Wilgenbusch’s sentiments of hope.
“But it’s also a sign of hope for us as religious, seminarians, priests, to see how supported we are in our call. Each day, I’m faced with, ‘I cannot do this on my own strength,’” Sister Mara Grace said. “Of course, we can’t do anything on our own strength. It’s the Lord that gives us the grace to live for him.
“Nights like this build our awareness that we are not on our own. The Lord is with us, yes, but we have this huge support of prayer. So Serrans, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all you do to promote a culture of vocations so that we can have the space to answer the Lord’s call, to live for him,” she continued.
“When the Lord wants to come into our life, there can be this fear and trembling. What does this mean? My whole plans are going to change. But when we really allow the Lord to be part of our life, when we open ourselves to him, we find that his plans for us are so much better than anything we can come up with ourselves.”