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Vocation means doing God’s will, Bishop Burbidge tells students

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Pre-teens on the precipice of their high school years may find themselves full of anxieties and insecurities — about grades, appearance, friends, the future. 

“The future sometimes can look a little confusing and intimidating,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge acknowledged to about 1,400 students at the annual diocesan eighth-grade Mass for Vocations at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas March 9. 

But sometimes we “only see what’s wrong with the world instead of the beauty of what surrounds us, the gift of life, and the special people God has placed in our lives to help us,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We only see what’s wrong with ourselves instead of seeing the many gifts and talents God has given to us.” 

He urged students to remember that “God knows you, and has a plan for you, and promises his Holy Spirit will help you understand what it is.”

The annual “Go Forth: Called and Chosen” event is co-sponsored by the diocesan Office of Vocations and the Office of Catholic Schools. Bishop Burbidge celebrated Mass and 16 priests, including Father Lee Roos, pastor of All Saints, concelebrated. Music was led by Cooper Ray, a musician and worship leader from Flower Mound, Texas, who also presented a lively pre-Mass program that had students laughing, clapping and moving around in the pews. 

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge urged students to remember three key words: prayer, people and possibilities.

To understand God’s plan for our lives, “We have to let God talk to us, and that only happens in prayer,” Bishop Burbidge said. He pointed to the story in the Hebrew scriptures of the prophet Samuel, who as a young boy started to hear God’s voice, but didn’t realize it was God speaking to him until he was taught to pray, with the words, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  

“Sometimes the way God communicates his will to you is through people,” said the Bishop, who shared that when he was a young student, a priest called him by name and stopped to tell him, “I think you’d be a good priest.” Bishop Burbidge said he was surprised, because he had been thinking about the priesthood but hadn’t told anyone and didn’t even realize this priest knew who he was. The priest’s words meant a lot to him and affirmed his early sense of vocation.

“If you really want to know God’s plan, you have to be open to the possibilities,” Bishop Burbidge said.

“For some of you it will be a call to the church — to be a priest or a sister, which can be a profound joy. But for some, it will be something else,” perhaps marriage and a family. “We all have in common our joy, our peace and our holiness. Our getting to heaven is found through doing God’s will.” 

He asked students to “repeat these words once a day: ‘Here I am, God, I come to do your will.’ ”

The bishop counseled students to appreciate the time they have left in the eighth grade and recognize it as a gift. “Be sure to thank Jesus and his Father for the many gifts and blessings he gives you … Pray for the courage, the trust and the faith to say, today and always, ‘Here I am, I come to do your will.’ ” 

At the end of Mass, the Bishop blessed vocational religious medals to be given to each student, showing the two patron saints of the diocese, St. Thomas More and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of Catholic schools. “They are a gift to remember the Bishop’s message,” said Father Michael Isenberg, director of the Office of Vocations. He reiterated the idea that whatever our vocation, “we’re all called to holiness — God will lead us to where he needs us, to fulfill our vocation.” 

After the blessing, the assembly prayed the Diocesan Prayer for Vocations and said grace before a lunch of Chick-Fil-A and Scoops2U ice cream treats. Students spread out with their lunches, some in the gym, some in the parish activity center and many outside in the courtyard on the warm sunny day. Bishop Burbidge circulated among the various school groups, greeting and chatting with them, and posing for photos. 

Cole Wade, Trevor Donnelly and Liam Baird of St. Mark School in Vienna said after the Mass that they were excited to attend the event and found the music and message about everyone having a vocation more interesting than they had expected. “This Mass started to make me think about what I’m going to do,” said Sean Wilcox, also of St. Mark. Erin Philippart, a St. Mark parent and school nurse, reminded them that many careers, such as teaching, can also be thought of as vocations. 

Sitting on a bench outside, enjoying a popsicle, Ava Beckett of St. Louis School in Alexandria said she found the program and Mass “really fun. I wasn’t expecting to sing loud in the church.” She said she was familiar with the idea of vocations, but the Bishop “explained it more.”

She knew about the former women’s basketball star (Shelly Pennefather) who in 1991 became a cloistered nun at the Monastery of the Poor Clares in Alexandria, down the road from her school. She thinks her vocation will involve having a family. “I have seven siblings, and I like kids,” she said. But she said she will remain “open to the possibilities.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020