By Anthony Arreaga ’20
On Friday, September 27, Chaminade hosted a diocesan-wide event, “Called to Holiness”, which invited young people throughout the diocese to participate in a prayer service for increased religious vocations.
As attendees gathered in the Darby Auditorium Lobby prior to the start of the event, the atmosphere was incredibly energetic. Walking into Chaminade that night, crowds flooded the campus as high school students from all over the Diocese of Rockville Centre arrived. While the event drew people of all ages, the bulk of those in attendance were young men, who were gathered in conversation or rushing over to sign up for the dodgeball tournament, scheduled to follow the Holy Hour celebration.
When asked why he came to the event, Matthieu Pattugalan ’20 noted, “I came to the prayer service for two reasons. One reason was to just enjoy an adoration with people close to my age. The second reason was to pray for the answering of vocations, especially those who may be glossing over God’s call. I think it’s very important to pray for vocations because without those committed to the faith, there would be no one to guide the church.”
As the students began moving into the auditorium, their conversation trailed off, the respectful silence establishing a warm and prayerful atmosphere. There was a sense of reverence and quiet expectation for what was about to commence. Along the walls of the auditorium, students lined up for the sacrament of Confession, which was being offered to all in attendance by the various priests on hand for the evening. Their presence was a special reminder of what the “Called to Holiness” night was all about.
In 1970, the total number of priests and religious brothers or sisters in the United States was about 59,192, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. By the turn of the millennium, that number had decreased to 45,699, a decline of more than 20%. By 2018, the number drastically decreased to about 36,580, nearly a 40% decline from the original numbers of 1970. The statistics reveal that the United States is suffering from a shortage of priests and religious men and women, which is why “Called to Holiness” was established.
The main purpose of “Called to Holiness” celebration was to pray for an increase in vocations, whether for oneself, for a friend, or for the Church in general. The Catholic Church needs all young men and women to wholeheartedly answer the calling God may have made to them. The importance of a religious vocation is not to be understated either; they are not only meant to help a person spiritually, but to serve as a call to be selfless and to truly place others before ourselves. As Mr. Declan Hart ’11 stated, “Events like this are important because it is impossible to get to heaven on our own. The saints knew that they must surround themselves with other people looking toward the same goal. An event like this can show people who try to live by the Gospel that they are not walking on this path alone.”
As the “Called to Holiness” event progressed, the lights were dimmed and a procession of priests and members of religious groups moved down the center aisle bearing with them the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop John Barres opened the prayerful vigil addressing those in attendance by saying, “Pope Francis is calling all the young people in the world out tonight and into the reverence for the Holy Spirit working within you.” He continued, “Let us all be inspired tonight. Let us all open our eyes to the unique call we all have. Let us allow the Eucharist to indicate the direction the Holy Spirit is taking us.” Following the address, Kellenberg’s XLT Band and Chaminade’s Vocal Chamber performed worship songs such as “Awesome God” and “Oceans.”
Following the vocal performance, Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M. ’74 introduced his faith talk with a question: “What’s so special about Buffalo, New York?” Although the answer would involve a background story, this question, and the answer to this question, proved to be the crux of Bro. Stephen’s presentation during the holy hour at “Called to Holiness”. Exploring the theme of vocations, he continued: “You meet someone, you encounter a cause greater than yourself, you fall in love, you commit to life.” Bro. Stephen explained that a vocation is not simply attempting to figure out God’s will, but it is an inner movement to know God.
Later in the event, he returned to his earlier question about Buffalo, NY. Bro. Stephen described how he came to hear his own calling to be a Marianist brother while coming back from a speech and debate tournament in Buffalo. He was on the bus ride, and as he sang along with his classmates, he felt true happiness within that camaraderie and there, with great confidence, he decided he would make the choice to dedicate his life to the Society of Mary.
After listening to Bro. Stephen, Bro. Ryszard Decowski, S.M. ’77 commented on his own answer to his vocation, “It wasn’t one thing where my vocation clicked, instead it was over a period of time, seeing the familial interaction among the brothers. Also for me, it was being involved in what was called the Service Club, which today is a blend of CROSS and Emmaus.”
Following the adoration, Sr. Cora Caeli, S.V. processed on stage to tell her personal story. Her energy and brightness extended out to everyone in the auditorium as she recalled her answer to a vocation. She began, “I am here with you tonight to tell you that Jesus, in a very way, in a very personal way, is calling each one of us to follow Him in our own unique way.” Sr. Cora mentioned her upbringing, and how she grew up in New York in a Catholic family that took her to Church every Sunday. She added that growing up, having a religious vocation was a topic that had never entered her mind. Her catalyst towards a religious life was first felt on a retreat in which she spent an hour in front of the Eucharist at adoration from 2am-3am. She recalls going to the chapel and, being by herself, wondering if anyone would even show up so she wouldn’t be alone. Then it hit her: “I was with someone, and not just anyone, I was with the one who knows me, who loves me, who sees me through and through. I did not have to try to prove myself, I didn’t need to try to explain myself, I didn’t even need to wear any masks to hide any infections or illnesses, I just needed to be me.” She realized that God was telling her something, but she didn’t know what to do with that calling until after she had graduated college. She claimed that “religious life has more life than anything the world has to offer.”
Following an extended adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Rev. Sean Magaldi, Vocations Director of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, led into his talk with humor, “When we think about our lives, when we think about all the things we have to do we often think about ‘what do people want from me’ or ‘what does my family want from me,’ ‘what do my teachers want from me,’ ‘what do my coaches want from me,’ what do people want from me,’ even what does God want from me?” However, Fr. Magaldi tells us to take a different approach and ask, “What does God want for me? What God wants is that He wants us to be happy.” Fr. Magaldi asserts that we shouldn’t be afraid to accept God’s call to a vocation. Fr. Magaldi emphasized that religious vocation is not boring, as there is always something that needs to be done.
After the final faith talk, adoration came to an end with Benediction and everyone processed to the cafeteria. After spending an hour with God, it was time for the communal aspect of the event to commence. Dinner, and refreshments were provided for everyone, but the main draw was the dodgeball tournament. As Bro. Stephen had said, it was the environment he was in that made him realize his vocation, and the gymnasium definitely had the environment of community. As the dodgeball tournament began, the atmosphere was playfully riotous as even some of the younger priests and Marianist brothers joined in the fun.