We officially started the bicycle trip today. With wheels dipped in the Atlantic Ocean off the North Beach Campground in St. Augustine, Florida, Fern biked to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. I had not heard of the Marian Shrine until planning the trip and it was one of those wonderful personal favors and revelations of Divine Providence.
The site is a consecrated site and the Sacred Acre, as they call it, has a rebuilt altar of the first mass offered on the site in 1565. The town named St. Augustine dates from the first sighting of the land on August 28, 1565 on the Feast of St. Augustine. The Shrine itself was built in 1620 and was named: Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of Milk and Good Birth). This Sacred Acre is today a Catholic pilgrimage site and mothers wishing for children and good delivery can come here to pray for life and family.
For Fern and me, this was also special in a personal, spiritual sense. We are a childless Catholic couple that were unable to have children and so this personal endeavor to bike for vocations has a rich spiritual meaning to us. We were met at the Shrine by the Vocations Director, Fr. Clay and the head of the Vocations Office, Michelle Clark. The assistance they provided throughout was tremendous and a special thanks to the Diocese.
When we shared this irony of not having children with the personal quest for vocation with Fr. Clay he blessed the Lord as we all understood the spiritual significance. Our life has been a devoted Catholic life and we have, in due course, structured our life to reflect more contemplative or modified monastic home-life consecrated to the Lord. We have never really been particularly activist or “cause” oriented but rather Christ oriented in a quiet and internal way. That’s why undertaking this activity is a little different for us. When praying about this trip it occurred to us that offering up the effort for Catholic vocations was a necessary dedication. And we will analyze what that means over the course of the next three months. But now that we have met here under the patronage of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto and have participated in the Divine Mercy Sunday mass, we understand that this is a great place for a “buen parto” and “buena partida”(a good delivery and departure). God is the master of the ironic; at least that is what Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher seemed to think. God speaks clearly in the irony of life and that’s why we have confidence of His blessing. In this case by ironic we mean that juncture where the objective and subjective meet and how we find meaning in that revelation.
Fr. Clay mentioned further how the Shrine is the place where the newly ordained priest in the Diocese will celebrate his first mass here. This Shrine is a grace to the Diocese as unlike others they seem to be blessed with 20 seminarians. This is something to take note as we collect anecdotes and observations to the questions:
Why is there a vocations crisis and what can be done to change the course?
Our prayer cards for vocations were distributed after the mass. It is a simple message. Just an addendum during grace for meals prompting those seated around the table to be attentive to God’s calling: and from our bounty may we offer the vocations to serve your Catholic Church.
A Carmelite priest friend said that families don’t even pray grace anymore as they don’t gather around the dinner table. Perhaps this is the core of the problem and maybe that’s the place to start. If we want a Catholic culture we need to start around our dinner tables.
Cannon law 233 state that it is the duty of the Christian community to foster vocations for the sacred ministries of the Universal Church. It states further that the duty especially binds Christian families. I am not a canon lawyer but it seems the use of the verb “to bind” is a pretty definitive word. It would seem to be a duty that is inherent and necessary.
In the Synodal document released by the bishops for the Continental Stage, there is a great deal of mention on co-responsibility between lay and clergy. Perhaps that ought to be interpreted that we, the laity, have a co-responsibility to produce the men and women that will lead consecrated lives devoted to the Catholic faith and truth and sacramentally serve the faithful. Vocations begin around the dinner table at home. That’s our responsibility; our domain. From here the priests and sisters can provide the example of consecrated life endowed with trust. Priests gather us around the altar of the Lamb and return the sacrifice there; in that space; that’s their responsibility. And the sisters make sure everything runs on time. We may need to focus on those time and space correlates and how they translate in consecrated life. But there are 90 days to reflect as we bike across America.
Special thanks to the Diocese and Bishop Pohlmeier, Fr. Clay and Michelle Clark and all those we met here during our stay. Tomorrow we are off for the first long leg. 70 miles to Starke, Florida stopping at St. Monica’s Church en route for a Holy Hour for vocations.