‘The plan is God’s’

First slide

Vocational discernment can be a little like riding a school bus: Sometimes it's bumpy, and there are multiple conversations (often loud ones) competing for your attention - but there's a safe, steady driver behind the wheel.

So it was fitting that across the diocese, around 1,200 students piled into yellow buses Feb. 11 to make the trek to Holy Spirit Church in Annandale for the annual eighth-grade Vocations Mass.

En route from St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, students played hand-clapping games, chatted and sang a few rounds of the ubiquitous "Let it Go" from the movie "Frozen." Yet in typical middle school fashion, they moved from the playful to the serious in seconds, reflecting on the Mass and their future.

"I'm not 100 percent sure what I want to do with my life," said Anamaria Mingo during the bus ride. "But I hope God has something planned for us … something to help the world."

Helping students internalize that God has a plan for each of them is the primary goal of the Mass and a message dear to Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's heart, said Father Joel D. Jaffe, Arlington diocesan vocations director. Father Jaffe and Father John M. O'Donohue, Holy Spirit pastor, were among the concelebrants at the Mass.

"The effort of bringing the students together and taking time off school tells how important they are to the bishop and to the diocese," said Father Jaffe. "It gives them dignity and tells them this is as important as a day in school, as everything we do."

Although the annual Mass, which was canceled last year due to snow, was attended by students from nearly 90 percent of diocesan elementary schools, Father Jaffe said the bishop keeps all eighth-graders in the Arlington Diocese, including home-schoolers and public school students, in his prayers.

During the Mass, celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Bishop Loverde highlighted the life of St. Bernadette in his homily.

"She was about your age when something amazing happened to her," the bishop told the students. The 14-year-old from Lourdes, France, saw apparitions of the Blessed Mother and continued to visit and pray with her - even when she was pressured not to.

Bishop Loverde said that we can learn two important lessons from St. Bernadette. The first is to have an active prayer life, especially making time to pray the rosary. The second lesson is to "be persistent at trying to be faithful to the Lord," he said.

As young people, you are still discerning what God has planned for you, said the bishop.

"Each one of you is a person created by God out of love, chosen by Him to be holy and given different gifts and talents that He would like you to use in building up His kingdom."

For some, he said, God's plan will include the sacrament of marriage; for others it will be the priesthood or the consecrated life as a religious brother or sister.

"But whatever your specific vocation is, know that when we follow St. Bernadette's model of eagerness in prayer and persistence in being faithful, we will more readily follow whatever path God has chosen for us.

"Because when you do what God has asked, you will really be fulfilled," he said.

Before the closing prayer, Bishop Loverde looked out across the sea of uniforms and told the students that each one of them is important to him. "This (Mass) is something I look forward to every year," he said, adding that he remembers being their age. "Hard to believe," said the bishop, laughing.

He also said they are in the midst of a special year for vocations. Pope Francis declared a Year of Consecrated Life be celebrated around the world from Nov. 30, 2014, through Feb. 2, 2016.

After Mass, a number of eighth-graders said they loved how down-to-earth and understanding the bishop was.

"I think he made the homily relevant to our lives; I think he knows what it's like to be us," said St. Thomas More eighth-grader Sylvain Chassagneux.

The Mass also helped the eighth-graders see their lives from a different perspective.

"It made me think there were more possibilities for the future," said Sophia Epperly from Holy Spirit.

When Stephen Vaccaro attended the Mass as an eighth-grader from St. Michael School in Annandale more than a decade ago, he didn't anticipate his future would contain a vocation to the priesthood.

"One never knows the seeds that are being planted by raising awareness about vocations to the priesthood and religious life," said Vaccaro, who is now a second-year seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. "By showing these young people that such vocations are possible, necessary and desirable, they may begin to ask God about His plan."

Two of Vaccaro's brothers also are in the religious life. Father Christopher Vaccaro is chaplain at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, and Brian Vaccaro is studying to be a Redemptorist priest at the Redemptorist Formation House in the Bronx, N.Y.

Back on the bus headed to afternoon classes at St. Thomas More, Mingo said the Mass left her feeling peaceful.

"You really don't have to worry about choosing what to do," she said. "The plan is God's."

Scott can be reached at kscott@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @KScottACH.

The Office of Vocations is supported by funds from the Bishop's Lenten Appeal.

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Annemarie Cake, a St. Thomas More eighth-grader, heads from the bus to Holy Spirit Church for the annual Vocations Mass.

Photo 2: Margaret Paterson from St. Mary School in Alexandria clasps a rosary during the Mass. In his homily, the bishop encouraged students to pray the rosary regularly as a means to discern God's plan for their lives.

Photo 3: Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde greets students Feb. 11 following the eighth-grade Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale.

Photo 4: St. Thomas More eighth-graders file into a bus headed to the Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale Feb. 11. Around 1,200 students attended the annual Mass.

Photos 5/6: Eighth-graders from St. Thomas More chat and play games during the ride to the Vocations Mass. The lively bus ride also included quiet reflections on the Mass and what their future holds.

Photo 7: Students from Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg listen to the bishop's homily during the Vocations Mass.

Photo 8: Bishop Loverde celebrates the annual Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Church. Fr. Joel D. Jaffe, Arlington diocesan vocations director, and Fr. John M. O'Donohue, Holy Spirit pastor, were concelebrants.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015