iPhones. Instant messages. YouTube uploads. It seems that there is no end to the technological marvels constantly being developed. And yet, God calls every man to holiness, through his mind and heart in a way that is far beyond the grasp of any man-made technology. The priest, today as in ages past, brings the God of the universe to man in order to redeem him from sin and death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. (No. 2293)
The Mercedarian priest is aware of this awesome responsibility. He starts with the building blocks of what it requires. The Constitutions of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy state,
Because of the special participation in the priesthood of Christ that the presbyterate confers for the building up of the Mystical Body, the religious who are about to be ordained priests must possess a great love for Christ, whom they are to represent, and an ardent desire to serve and evangelize the people to whom they are sent.
The Mercedarian man, following the charism molded by the Order’s founder, St. Peter Nolasco, is trained and prepared to redeem others from various forms of captivity.
Is God calling you to become a Mercedarian friar, either as a priest or a brother?
All Christians, in all walks of life, are called to holiness. But priests are called in a special way to this life. Pope John Paul II, quoting the Second Vatican Council, has said that all of the baptized are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. He added that this applies,
in a special way to priests. They are called not only because they have been baptized, but also and specifically because they are priests, that is, under a new title and in new and different ways deriving from the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Thoughts like these course through the minds of our friars as they approach the altar to receive the laying on of hands of the bishop in the Rite of Ordination. Indeed, the calling to the priesthood is sublime – not just another feather to be tucked into one’s cap in the journey of life.
Special Identification with Christ
As stated in our Constitutions, the Mercedarian priest has a special identification with Christ (N. 178). Our priests redeem those held in chains by modern forms of captivity. The Constitutions state that in their priestly training,
Theoretical formation must be united with pastoral practice so that, by knowing men well and loving Christ, they may be able to nourish the flock of the Lord with preference for those who faith is in danger and the most needy.
Is God calling you to become a Mercedarian friar, either as a priest or a brother?
Deacon Scott Brentwood, O. de M. is an American Mercedarian Friar studying Canon Law in Rome. Over the past 3 years, he has been giving our readers updates on his experiences as a religious preparing to become a Canon Lawyer. Here’s his latest ponderings from his second semester at the Gregorian:
Just a quick update to let everyone know how things are going here in the Eternal City.
I trust all is well back in the United States; here things are rather quiet.
We began our second semester at the Gregorian in mid February, and I must admit that this semester is rather challenging – Temporal Goods of the Church, Processes (inner workings of the various tribunals, but specifically tribunals for nullity cases), the Relationship between Religious Professions and the State, Penal Law, a Praxis in Penal Law, a Praxis in Rotal Matrimonial Jurisprudence, and Canonical Latin. I also have a seminar on the Apostolate of Institutes of Consecrated Life in the Local Church that requires a 20 min presentation based on a text I have to write. Most of these are interesting, but it is a rather heavy load,especially given that everything is done in Latin (primarily) and Italian. Fiat voluntas tua.
Aside from school, there is very little going on – I have 4-6 hours of class every day, and with 1.5 hrs total spent on the METRO (subway) going to and from class, there is little time to do much else. I still find myself in various places throughout the city…churches mostly… or an obscure museum… but the majority of my time (lately) is spent with books, or with translating etc. in preparation for the Chapter.
I have been spending more time with our friars in the Generalate, and last week I was invited by the General for lunch. After a nice meal we spent the next few hours chatting about various things, and as he too had studied Canon Law, we discussed briefly what was going on with the revisions for the New Constitutions. From a juridical point of view, this really is an exciting time for the community… as we prepare for the eighth version of the Constitutions of the Order.
Aside from that, as I said before, all is quiet. I hope everyone is well, and I will be in touch soon.
The Religious Life is a life of prayer. The liturgy of the hours is an essential practice that gives life to our consecration. Here one Mercedarian Friar reflects on prayer and the nourishment that it gives to his religious life.
1) What attracted you to Religious Life?
Looking back I would have to say that what attracted me to Religious Life was three things: 1) To be more closely united to Jesus through the Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience, 2) To live a stable and structured life revolving around prayer and service, and 3) To live common life with other brothers united in the Lord. It is still these three things that keep me enthusiastic about Religious Life.
2) Describe a typical day as a religious?
A typical day always begins with the praises of the Lord in Morning Prayer and Holy Mass. After Morning Prayer there is the various responsibilities and service of the Community and the Apostolate that need to be attended to. The community comes together at various times of the day for meals, recreation, Meditation, Rosary, and the other Hours of the Divine Office.
3) Why is prayer important to you? Was prayer always an important part of your life?
Prayer is an important part of my life because prayer is the way that God relates to me and I relate to God. Prayer keeps me in union with God and gives me the strength and light to do His will. Prayer was always an important part of my life in grade school and High School. Even though it was important to me in college I did not devote as much time to it as I should have. Because of this I was slow to hear the “Call” of God.
4) What role does the Liturgy of the Hours play in your prayer Life? Why is it so important to you?
I love the Liturgy of the Hours. It is not only a responsibility given to us by the Church to sing the praises of God throughout the day and to pray for the needs of the Church but it is a joy and an honor! The Liturgy of the Hours keeps me united to God throughout the day.
5) How does the Liturgy of the Hours nourish or sustain you?
At times in our spiritual lives we simply don’t have the words to express to God what we want about what is going on in our lives. The Liturgy of the Hours always seem to be able to express at any given time what I want to share with God.
6) What challenges do you face in praying the Liturgy of the Hours? How do you meet those challenges?
The biggest challenge would be to be faithful to those Hours that are not prayed in Community. I need to make sure that a busy schedule does not keep me from those Hours. To do that you always need to pencil in space for God in a busy schedule.
7) In what other ways do you pray?
My favorite forms of prayer are silent Adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, reading Sacred Scripture, reciting the Rosary on my own, and walking in the beauty of nature.
8)Is there anything else about religious life or prayer that you would like to share with us?
Religious Life is a wonderful life, very fulfilling. Prayer is the very soul of that life.
Br Michael reflects on the detachment of the novitiate. No more computer, just paper and pen.
On July 8, I was invested with the white habit of Our Lady Mercy. It was a great day, my heart was leaping with joy as I began my novitiate.
Unfortunately, my family could not attend; it was a private ceremony with the friars, as is custom with the church and the order. However, when I make my first profession, they will all be able to come and celebrate that great day.
The novitiate is a year spent away from the world. It is meant to draw us closer to Christ and help us discern our vocation in a deeper and more profound atmosphere.
This year I will not have access to the Internet or a computer in order to grow closer to Christ with fewer distractions. (Hasta luego, my 13,389 Twitter followers! Goodbye, Xbox 360!)
I also had to cancel my cell phone. Once I take my simple vows I can no longer own a cell phone.
You might be thinking, “I could never be without my cell phone.” At first I thought the same thing, however, when I began to delve into Christ I realized there was nothing in this world more important to me than Him. I am more than willing to lose my earthly material attachments in order to wholly love God and harbor the quiet to hear His voice.
While in the novitiate my family can come to visit twice during the year and I can receive weekly phone calls.
My goals during novitiate are to grow in holiness as a Mercedarian Friar, unite myself more closely to Jesus through the practice of interior prayer, and ransom the souls from purgatory – most especially those of the deceased priests and religious.
If you feel a call to follow Our Lord, do not be afraid! This is the best decision I ever made and I am happy I took that first step.
If you do not heed the call you feel in your heart, you will always ask yourself, “What if?”
I urge you take that leap of faith and let God lead the rest of the way.
As a postulant, Michael Bowes composed his vocation story. He is now a novice in LeRoy, NY. Here is the second installment of his journey to the Mercedarians:
During my discernment with the Mercedarians I found a holy spiritual director who helped guide me on my journey. Father Jack Fullen. He passed away shortly before I made my second visit with the Mercedarians.
In the weeks leading up to my first visit I asked Father Jack how I could see God working in my life and what kind of signs He would give me if this was the right place.
Father Jack explained to me the slight difference between the natural and the supernatural worlds and how they work together. He told me that sometimes God lifts the veil between these two dimensions and we are given a quick glimpse of God putting the puzzle pieces together to lead us to Him. I didn’t really understand Father Jack at the time, but I would soon experience a first-hand glimpse of God’s hand in my life.
I made my first visit to the Mercedarians in March 2010 and had a wonderful time.
On my last day I spent an hour in the chapel praying and asking God for direction. I felt He was inviting me to apply and I decided to ask for an application.
As I was getting up to leave, I felt rather bold and asked God for three signs that this was indeed the place He wanted me enter.
I know we shouldn’t ask for signs, but after so many disappointments with previous communities and vocational discernments I wanted to be sure this was the place.
One of the signs I asked for was that I would receive confirmation from an outside source not associated with the community. What little faith I had! And what a surprise God had in store for me.
All three signs were mere days from being answered.
When I arrived home, I told my Mom over dinner about the monastery and how excited I was with everything I saw and experienced.
Mom asked me where the novitiate was and I told her Le Roy, N.Y. Mom inquired further if the Mercedarians there were called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.”
I told her no, that she must be mistaken and confusing the name with another religious order.
Mom insisted that there was a group in Le Roy called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.” I was sure she was confused.
To settle our argument she told me to hang on for a few moments while she went upstairs to get something. She returned carrying a card and handed it to me. I flipped over the card to discover the signature of the Mercedarian Vicar Provincial, Father Richard Rasch.
I turned over the card and looked at it: It was a mass card. I slowly turned and looked at Mom and asked her where she got the card from.
“I have been having Masses said for you through this group since you were born,” she told me.
My knees wobbled and I felt like my legs had just turned to jelly. Here was my big sign!
For 29 years, Mom had been having Masses said for me through the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and neither of us had realized this was the same order I was now in application with.
A few months later, as I waited for the council to vote on my application, I had another confirmation from God regarding this order.
I was helping my Mom move books she had brought home from my late grandmother’s house. One of the piles I was attempting to move toppled over and the books cascaded across the floor.
One book spun out of the middle and slid into my mom’s foot. It was faded tan and ragged with age.
Mom bent down and picked up the book. Her eyes lit up and she let out a slight gasp. She opened the first page and then asked me to come over and look at what she found. The name of the book was “The Magnificat” and it was published by the Mercedarians.
This book was more than 30 years old. Inside, we found notes written in pencil with dates. One of the notes was written on Dec. 25, 1980 – when I was just 3 months in the womb. Mom had said this novena to St. Raymond Nonnatus, who is the patron saint of the unborn and is one of our great Mercedarian saints. She dedicated me to him before I was born.
Apparently this book ended up on my grandmother’s shelf, where it sat untouched for 29 years until that perfect moment that God chose to reveal it to us. has everything planned out for us and He reveals these things in His own time.
On June 2, 2010, I was accepted into the Mercedarians and on Aug. 20, 2010, I entered the postulancy.
In the months leading up to my entrance I was tormented with second thoughts and questions if this was really what I was supposed to do.
You would think with all the confirmations I had, there would be little doubt in my heart.
It was not so.
I did doubt and I wondered if I was going to be missing out on a family by entering religious life. My fears and doubts were quickly quelled as I felt God tell me about the family that I was going to be a part of. I was soon going to have more brothers, sisters, and fathers than I could ever have imagined. This message was a welcome sign. It helped me surmount a persistent stumbling block.
I find that God gives me sufficient grace to live a holy and celibate life for him. I unite myself with Jesus and I ask the Blessed Mother to keep me pure in mind, heart, and body. In doing so, I do not find the struggle with the celibate life to be difficult.
Michael Bowes is preparing to receive the Habit of Mary this July 8th. Here is part 1 of his story:
I am just a few days away from entering the novitiate for the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, also known as the Mercedarians.
Before saying yes to the longing in my heart and entering religious life, I led a comfortable life. I worked for a Catholic charity as a web designer and was an avid Xbox 360 gamer.
Upon sharing my excitement with my fellow gamers about finding the Mercedarians, I was bombarded with many questions, mostly out of curiosity, but the consensus boiled down to “Why in the world would you choose to live that life?”
I had to explain that I wasn’t actively choosing anything and that I was merely saying yes to the call I heard from God. You see, a lot of people look at a vocation as a life decision and they begin to balance it out in comparison to their current life and situation, weighing the benefits, imagining the difficulties and asking themselves if they can really give up all their possessions.
We don’t choose a vocation to Christ as a career choice; it is not our choice to make. It is a call from Christ and only he can give it.
So how does one discern a call to serve Christ?
Imagine logging into your email account one morning and finding an email from God telling you that you have a vocation and you discover the exact place that he wants you to enter.
Wouldn’t that be simple?
Why? Because that would take away our freedom to choose when, where, and how we follow Christ. Part of our journey to religious life and pursuing a vocation is the path that we choose to take.
I heard recently someone say that God must not be calling people today to be priests and religious since there are so few vocations. The lack of vocations is not from God calling less frequently; it is from more people refusing to answer his call.
For many years I ran from the longing in my heart to follow Christ. I was so involved in my own life; I selfishly put God to the side while I pursued material things that I expected to bring happiness.
When I least expected it, I would again feel God calling me. It would come as a spiritual aspiration or I would have a desire to visit church and spend time in adoration. It’s like a persistent tapping on your shoulder: You may get distracted and forget about it, but the tug to pursue this feeling never goes away.
After running from my vocation for many years, I found the Mercedarian Friars online in 2008 and contacted the vocation director. After a few emails and a phone call, I was invited up for a visit.
Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away unexpectedly a few days before my vocation visit. I emailed the vocation director and told him about my loss and that I would contact him when I was ready.
I can’t explain what happened, but I forgot all about the Mercedarians and two years passed by.
In January of 2010 my mom went to the March for Life. Amid hundreds of thousands of people, she ran right into the Mercedarians. I hadn’t told her about contacting the Mercedarian Friars two years prior; she had never heard of the order.
She was so excited about seeing a group of young men all in their habits, and somehow she felt this was a group that I would be interested in.
Upon getting back on the church bus and heading home, a woman from our parish grabbed my mom’s arm and told her that she believed I was going to enter the Order of the Mercedarians.
Mom called me and told me about the group she had just seen. I remember thinking to myself how familiar their name was. I checked my gmail account and was shocked to find my last email to them in 2008 – and how I had forgotten to contact them back.
God works in mysterious ways and His plan was already in motion, long before I realized it.
Br. James Chia, O. de M. came to America searching for the American Dream, but he found that he had a vocation to one of the most ancient Orders in the Church. Here is his story:
Praise to Jesus Christ – now & forever! I come from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA, & from a family of 17 children. My father & mother had a total of 11 children – eight boys & three girls. My father had 6 children – three boys & three girls from his first marriage. Growing up as a young boy, God has been gracious to my family. I grew up in a family that has its ups & downs – like any other family. However, we always look out for the others – always putting others ahead of our own individual needs. My late aunt (†1996) who was my mother’s younger sister was Sr. Mary Catherine in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) in Kota Kinabalu. Another of my aunt who is my mother’s oldest sister is Sr. Mary Therese of the Child Jesus in the Discalced Carmelite Order in Kota Kinabalu. Praised be to Jesus, this May also marks my aunt’s Diamond Jubilee as a Discalced Carmelite Nun! Then, there is one of my older brothers who is a Brother of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians (FMMA) in Singapore. Being the youngest is not easy since nothing you can do that the brothers & sisters do not know! They have been there & done that, so to speak! In addition to providing me with many holy Religious as role models, God has provided me with many holy Priests while in Kota Kinabalu especially the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) that left their home for an unknown place called Sabah where they heard of rumors that people in this place lived on trees & that there were headhunters everywhere! Yet, these MHMs said “Yes Lord, send me!” Then, there is my former Pastor, Fr. Peter Ma, at Stella Maris Parish in Kota Kinabalu who was a patient & caring Priest. Fr. Peter Ma is now retired staying at St. Mary’s Church in New York City. He was the former Pastor of Transfiguration Church located at Mott Street in New York Chinatown. So, Religious & Priestly Life is not new to me when I heard God calling me to serve Him as a Religious & Priest. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said: “I heard God calling me & I am here to check it out!” I continue to hear God calling me & God continues to call me.
In December 1989, I came to Philadelphia to further my study in Electrical Engineering Technology at Temple University. My family chose Philadelphia because I have two elder sisters in Philadelphia & they did not want me to be too far from the watchful eyes. When I finished my studies in 1994 I returned to Kota Kinabalu & worked there until 2001. In 2000, my application for US Immigrant Visa was approved & I “immigrated” to US in 2001 in search of my American Dream! All I wanted was to marry a beautiful girl & have many children since I come from a large family. I stayed with my elder sister & her family in Yardley, PA, as I did while studying at Temple University. I got involved with my “new” Parish named St. Ignatius of Antioch & was quite active. God surrounded me with a group of good Catholic friends – men & women. They encouraged me to look into vocation together with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Louis Kolenkiewicz. Fr. Kolenkiewicz asked me once: “James, if God is to call you, what will you say & do?” I replied that I would say “Yes” & check it out (i.e., make the first step forward). I looked into the Congregation of Mission (i.e., the Vincentians) & the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (i.e., The Mercedarians). Some time later, I still hear God calling me & I am here to check it out! At this point, I can truly say that I am discovering the American Dream that God has in store for me! May the Most Holy Trinity be served with greater fidelity & be praised always in His Church!
Mercedarian’s throughout the world celebrated today, May 6th, as the Solemnity of our father and founder, St. Peter Nolasco.
St Peter is recognized as the founder of the Order on August 10, 1218. It was St Peter who was first inspired to begin collecting alms to ransom Christian captives in Muslim occupied areas of Spain. On January 17th 1235, the Holy See recognized the action of the Holy Spirit in the founding of the Order. The charism of redemption that came through St Peter Nolasco is the specific gift of grace given to the Church. This is what the Church approved. It is what unites the Order and brings us together with one purpose to serve the Church.
In modern times, the some communities have left the original charism or spirit of their founder. The result is that they lose their identity and purpose. To leave the founders charism is to separate the institute from what was approved by the Church. The Holy See has asked communities repeatedly to return to the spirit of their founder. They are to adapt this spirit to the present circumstances of the world. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this issue saying that today many “communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present.”
It is for this reason that the Mercedarian have a very special veneration for St. Peter Nolasco. We strive daily to imitate his redemptive love for Christians in danger of losing their faith. We have statues and images of St Peter in our chapels and throughout our friaries. We pray to him in common each day. On Saturdays, we sing an ancient hymn in St Peter’s honor; praying for his intercession and to imitate his profound love for the captives. The Order’s Constitution also asks each Mercedarian Friar to “study diligently his life and mission in the Church”.
On May the 6th, the Order celebrates solemnly the feast of our founder. Here in the United States this means that we place a special emphasis on praying the Office and celebrating Mass with great solemnity. The Office is often times chanted and the Blessed Sacrament may be exposed. Mass is offered at our parishes with the Gloria being sung and the Creed recited. The main celebrant will preach setting forth the virtues and example of our beloved founder. The celebration continues throughout the day as Mercedarian friars, sisters, and the third order get together for a meal and to socialize.
It is in this way the we keep the memory of our founder strong in our minds. We know that his is still present with all the Mercedarian Saints praying and interceding for the work of the Order. For our part, we strive to continue the charism of St Peter Nolasco on into the third millennium of Christianity.
St Peter Nolasco, pray for us that we may always be faithful to your spirit of redeeming love for Christians in danger of losing their faith!
Fr Ken Breen, Mercedarian priest, spent 13 years as a missionary in India. Here is his story.
It all began in the fall of 1996. I attended our 3 week once in a lifetime permanent formation encounter taking place at our community in San Felice, Circeo, Italy and it was during this time, seeing photos of the children adopted by our parishoners in Italy and hearing our Provincial‘s concern: a longing for someone to go to help out at our emerging formation program. Strangely enough, we were joking about sending people to India and for some reason I just said, “okay, I’ll go!”
I don’t know really why I said it. And all I can recall at that very moment was the certain closeness of St. Teresa of Lisieux, the little flower giving me a certain comfort that this was the right thing to do. As I look back on it, it is no surprise that this has come about in my life since I heard my father’s mother was interested in India and my Mom has been part of a Little Flower mission circle all her life.
The biggest challenge was the visa. I never could get a residential visa without the risk of rejection so I had to go all those years as a tourist, consoled by the words of Jesus: “The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have lairs but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
So off I went and began a journey where I was so amazed at the depth of culture in this wonderful country, a culture of faith that allows us to cultivate more easily the fruit of vocations to our own Order, the Order of the BVM of Mercy and my principal work there throughout the years has always been the teaching in English medium (no need to learn the local languages). My classes were in either the subjects mainly about our Mercedarian Charism and Religious life as the Novice Master or assistant, and/or teaching phonics and insight into the dynamics of the English language. My hobby there was dealing with all the computer and audio visual needs, but all in all, it was a great adventure in the amazing ways of our wonderful Lord’s call to a new and more abundant life lived now in the joy of giving and loving (Bl. Mother Teresa) and following our Redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ.
PARMA, OH – From June 29th to July 2nd the Mercedarian Friars of the United States Vicariate gathered at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio for their annual Continuing (Permanent) Formation Conference. The conference included talks and workshops conducted by Fr. Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R (The John Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology at Saint Charles Seminary, Philadelphia) and Fr. Gerard J. McGlone, S.J.