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Commitment to making a gift of self Print
Guest column
Thursday, Mar. 19, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Fr. Gregory Ihm

In the privileged work of being a Vocations Director, I have the privilege to see and work with a lot of young people who are getting more involved in the Church thus opening their lives to the truth of the Gospel.

I have seen young people making significant changes in their life to follow Christ; if that's from a life of sin to a life of virtue or from a sporadic Mass attending Catholic to one that is willing to consecrate their life completely to God.

I am also deeply encouraged by the quality formation that our seminarians are receiving and the goodness that I see in them as I travel to visit them in the seminaries.

A life project

A challenge that I have encountered with those actively involved in the Church is an inability to think about and commit to, what Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV) terms, "a life project". PDV is a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the formation of priests written by Pope John Paul II in 1992 which has significantly shaped seminary formation.

A life project, I'm taking to mean a person's vocation while it is used in a much broader context in the document. The document points to several negative cultural aspects that result in this negative result, and the most influential ones are: subjectivism which leads to individualism.

"We should take note also of a desperate defense of personal subjectivity which tends to close it off in individualism, rendering it incapable of true human relationships. As a result, many -- especially children and young people -- seek to compensate for this loneliness with substitutes of various kinds, in more or less acute forms of hedonism or flight from responsibility.

"Prisoners of the fleeting moment, they seek to 'consume' the strongest and most gratifying individual experiences at the level of immediate emotions and sensations, inevitably finding themselves indifferent and 'paralyzed' as it were when they come face to face with the summons to embark upon a life project which includes a spiritual and religious dimension and a commitment to solidarity.

" . . . With the growth of individualism, is the phenomenon of subjectivism in matters of faith. An increasing number of Christians seem to have a reduced sensitivity to the universality and objectivity of the doctrine of the faith because they are subjectively attached to what pleases them; to what corresponds to their own experience; and to what does not impinge on their own habits . . .

"This situation also gives rise to the phenomenon of belonging to the Church in ways which are ever more partial and conditional, with a resulting negative influence on the birth of new vocations to the priesthood, on the priest's own self-awareness, and on his ministry within the community." (PDV #7)

How to respond

The best response against this is to commit to give one's self to the life of the Church fully, especially in preparing to celebrate and receive her sacraments because this is where Jesus comes to meet us.

Secondly, like Mary giving your life as a blank check on which the Lord has the freedom to write the amount by praying her prayer to the Lord, "Let it be done to me according to your Word." Do not let short term commitments like volunteering or ministry take the place of a deeper lifelong vocational commitment.

Lastly, get involved and persevere in an apostolate until it is clear that the Lord is asking you to give yourself to the Church in another way. This giving of self requires leaving the shores of security and launching into the life of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, the Church, and neighbor.

Allowing the other person to make demands on us: our time, attention, plans, etc. The early apostles did this, and they experienced amazing miracles in their lives and in other people's. They also were challenged, and they sometimes got it wrong: get behind me satan, their hearts were blinded, you do not understand what you are asking, will you leave me too, etc.

In giving ourselves away in a radical way, by pouring ourselves out (often times obedience is called for here), we begin to make room for the other in our life. In making room, we become known and we come to know others, and this knowledge demands loving responsibility for the other's welfare.

This welfare requires that we invest in creating a culture that nurtures properly the one we have come to know and love. In this way, we submit ourselves willfully out of love to a "life project" that takes perseverance, obedience, and responsibility but it also sets us free from vocational paralysis.


Fr. Gregory Ihm is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison.