In an effort to close the gap between religious and secular life, the youth group at St. Michael Parish, Milwaukee hosted “God is Calling! Exploring Vocations,” an opportunity for young adults to understand and discern their own life’s calling.
Sponsored in part by the Arch-?diocese of Milwaukee’s Intercultural Ministries, the presentation was given by Sr. Theresa Rozga, a Sister of Charity of St. Joan Antida.
“There are so many voices around us,” she explained. “I don’t know about you, but I hear lots of voices. The television, the radio, the Internet, MP3 players, the city. (There are) noises, and how do we hear God’s voice for us? And what does God desire for us? What God desires for us is fullness of life.”
Discovering what that fullness of life is, she said, is half the battle.
“How can you know what God wants you to do, if you’re not in relationship with God?” Sr. Theresa asked. “…Unless we’re in a relationship with God – which is prayer – how are we going to know what God wants us to do?” According to Sr. Theresa, there is an informal process of discerning one’s vocation in life, and it starts with a desire to learn what it is.
“You really want to make a good choice in keeping with God’s call for you,” she explained. “That has to be there, because what I’m talking about is always choosing between two goods. It’s obvious if you’ve got a bad path to go and a good path to go; God’s will will always tell you to go to the good path.”
When a bad path is chosen, she said, that is where God’s forgiveness comes in.
“When we start going down a bad path and we’re aware of it, we say, ‘Lord, I’m really sorry.’ And God says, ‘You know, that’s OK. Let’s go back.’ So, the choice is always between two goods, and if it’s obvious that a path is not good, then that’s not God’s call for you,” she said.
In addition to remaining open to hearing God’s call, and knowing what your own needs and desires are, remembering that making the right choice will always “respect” you is another factor in the process, according to Sr. Theresa.
“If you make a good choice in keeping with God’s call for you, it will respect you,” she explained. “It will respect where you’re at, it will bring you that fullness of life. I’ve seen, unfortunately, young women who have made poor choices, and they’ve said, ‘Oh, but Sr. Theresa, this guy really loves me,’ and I’m thinking, ‘This guy treats you like dirt,’ excuse the expression.
“It seems that if the choice you make is not respecting you, if it’s not giving you fullness of life, chances are it’s probably not a call from God, not a choice that God wants you to make. Because God loves us, God respects us, and choices that God wants us to make will also respect us,” Sr. Theresa said.
While the number of young men and women who attended the presentation didn’t feel that God was calling them to be a priest or nun, being a “good Catholic” is a request that God asks of everyone, according to the nun.
“That’s where God calls you,” she said. “You’ve got to have that foundation to go beyond, because if you’re a good Catholic young woman or young man, you will become a good parent, or a good priest, or a good religious or a good single person.
“Remember, God uses our human condition, so it’s not as if you’re at point A, and then all of a sudden you clearly see what point Z is. That’s not how normally God will reveal himself to us. It’s usually a step-by-step process.
“I wanted you to know that there are always steps in coming to know God’s call to you,” she added. “It’s not always totally clear … be patient with the process and take it step by step.”
The presentation first began as an idea by Sr. Alice Thepouthay, also a Sister of Charity of St. Joan Antida, who has served at St. Michael for the past 25 years.
“My community wanted me to do something with the young people (at St. Michael’s),” she explained.
For Sr. Alice, helping youth discover their vocations seemed like a great choice.
“I think we need that in our age, because of our lack of priests. We need to promote our young people. The young people didn’t know about all this. They asked me, “Sister, (do) you have family? Do you have a husband?” She laughed. “I was surprised myself; (young people) are not exposed to the religious life, and the priesthood,” as much as they should.
“Even though they are not going to be sisters and priests, they can be a good lay leader. I think that our (archdiocese) needs to focus on our young adult youth. We really need to do something in our (archdiocese) to promote something like this,” Sr. Alice said.
Akarath Soukhaphon, 27, is part of the St. Michael’s youth planning team, and had a hand in the day’s format and what would be discussed.
“I hadn’t really had a talk like this with anyone,” he explained about why he wanted to present this to the youth. “So, it’s good to just think about it and some of the possibilities that are within the church for them.
“We try to do things and just try to engage the youth as much as possible. We find that things like this, where there’s music and food, it easily draws big groups, so we’re happy when they do come out,” he added.
Shanedra Johnson, youth coordinator for St. Michael and St. Rose Parishes, looks for way to engage youth within the church. While they normally discuss vocations during their confirmation programs, having a group open to all ages was the goal. Based on how successful the day was, they will do it again.
“We meet every Wednesday night with the group, so we do things just like this,” Johnson explained about the multi-parish group.
Jimmy Thao, 18, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a member of St. Michael, said meeting people his own age in this type of setting helped him in his faith journey.
“I feel that I like to talk to people, and when everybody’s together like this, it gets me in the mood and I think it does help a lot of people to come together like this,” he said. “Because I do know in our church – at least in my faith – my faith has been struggling a little, but whenever we come together like this, it helps a lot.”
Geeseng Thao, 19, also a UW-Milwaukee student, enjoyed Sr. Theresa’s presentation.
“I like the point she made about how we’re free,” he said. “We’re free; God gives us freedom.”
Jimmy Saenphonphakdee, 14, attends St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, and followed his brother to the day’s presentation.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said, although he admitted that most of what he heard was an echo of what he learns at school.