Pope John Paull II teaches that love is “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” In the sufferings and joys of family life, Father Michael J. McGivney first learned the key to pursuing one’s vocation: love. Father McGivney was the oldest of thirteen children. His parents, Patrick and Mary McGivney, were great examples of Christian love. This love shone brilliantly in the day-in, day-out faithfulness demanded by family life. By the designs of God’s Providence, two of Father McGivney’s brothers, Patrick and John, would also answer the call to priesthood.
What does the life of Father McGivney offer to someone discerning a vocation? How is his life an example and inspiration for us?
1Father McGivney was a man “fully alive.” Young people—somewhat to his surprise—were drawn to him. His confidence in the work of the Lord and his compassionate spirit were no doubt at the center of this attraction. The Lord and the Lord’s work were first in his life. One parishioner describes Father McGivney saying, “He was a man of the people. He was zealous of the people’s welfare, and all the kindliness of his priestly soul asserted itself more strongly in his unceasing efforts for the betterment of their condition.” He knew that people needed a robust experience of parish life. In addition to his charitable efforts, he formed baseball leagues, staged parish plays, and hosted outings and festivals.
It can happen that as young people consider their vocation, they create a false self. A common temptation can creep in to wrongly oppose flourishing humanity and a flourishing spiritual life. A person may feign interest in this or that cause while suppressing other things they are passionate about. This can cause discerners much agony. But the Lord does not work this way. The Lord takes the gifts he has given us and purifies them by his grace. By accepting the Lord’s invitation to the priesthood, Father McGivney became more completely himself. He was totally at ease among his flock, able to love them freely. Father McGivney saw no contest between his humanity and the plans of God.
2 Father McGivney was a man of courage. By founding the Knights of Columbus, he showed he was ready and willing to think outside the box. Had he not carried himself well, his zeal could easily have alienated senior clergy. He was not afraid to take on tough issues. He confronted Catholic men who joined non-Catholic societies. He promoted an abstinence society to fight alcoholism. He defended the Downes family in probate court, rather than let the family be separated.
Young men and women need courage like Father McGivney’s to respond to their vocation today. They need to be encouraged by their families, as well as by other priests and religious, to respond with generosity to the Lord’s call. The revolution of the life of celibacy or virginity has and will always be radical. But as the life of Father McGivney shows, the Lord is willing to pour forth an abundance of fortitude into open hearts.
3Father McGivney was a man for others. If I may be so bold, one of the greatest virtues of millennials is our constant interest in serving others. Three out of four millennials have donated to charitable organizations providing relief during the Coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent poll. Father McGivney was a living, breathing Good Samaritan. He embodied the exhortation of Jesus who taught us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
To embrace a Christian vocation means accepting the invitation to be shaped by this cruciform pattern. To imitate Jesus by the continued “laying down” of one’s own life. This “laying down,” this self-offering is not a desperate self-emptying. To live in service to others is the way to find love, meaning, even the greatest happiness to be had on this side of eternity. The Church puts it this way, “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). In pouring out ourselves in love and service to others, we find love. As the Gospel declares, giving away one’s life is the way to find it (Matt. 10:39).
For those who are beginning to seriously discern priesthood and religious life, there are many great resources to be had. You may benefit from perusing the following:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life & Vocations
The Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations is pleased to offer resources to assist in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and to assist those currently discerning a call to serve as a priest or consecrated person. Our goal is to provide you with the information, support and encouragement you need to take that next step in responding to the call of Christ. Visit online, here.
DiocesanPriest.com serves ordinary men who are responding to their call to holiness and offers guidance for the question: “Is Jesus Christ calling me to be a Catholic priest?” Visit the website, here.
The Dominican Province of Saint Joseph
The Order of Preachers (The Dominicans) was established in 1216 by St. Dominic de Guzman “for preaching and the salvation of souls.” Following the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, Dominican friars devote their lives to study, contemplation, and preaching, united by their common profession of obedience and the living of the Evangelical Counsels, in order to be effective instruments in Christ’s saving plan. Learn more about the Dominican friars, here.