After many years of the same format, the annual Bishop’s Vocation Picnic held Aug. 7 had a slightly new twist. As has been the custom for over a decade, on the first Wednesday in August youth of the diocese gathered with the bishop, diocesan seminarians and religious sisters from near and far. This year, however, the program of presentation and prayer, held on the parish grounds of the Church of the Nativity at St. Joseph’s in LaFayette, raised the bar quite a bit.
Deacon Jason Hage, who is entering his final year of seminary in preparation for priestly ordination next June, offered the crowd of 50 a presentation on discernment.
“During college, I was paralyzed by discernment,” explained Deacon Hage, “until I came upon an article that framed decision-making differently. For a long time, I saw God at one end of a path and me at a crossroads at the other end. It felt like I had to make the right choice at that point or I would never make it to God.” Reading and praying more about it, Deacon Hage began to consider decision-making in a new light. No longer was God at the end of the right path; rather, God was with him in each and every decision and walking alongside him each step of the way. God would reveal himself in many ways: peace, joy, coincidences, other people’s words and, of course, prayer.
It was that belief that led the seminarians to plan substantial time for prayer at this year’s picnic. The games and question-and-answer periods were helpful in past years, but the quiet of Eucharistic Adoration would be an opportunity for the young people to truly encounter Jesus Christ and hear his gentle voice calling and guiding their decision-making.
Sister Brigid O’Mahoney, MHJ, campus minister at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, invited the students to get to know Jesus as a friend in the prayerful silence.
“We can say we know lots of people, but the people we call friends are on a shorter list. What separates the two?” she asked. Sister Brigid also asked the students to consider how they are getting to know Jesus as a friend, not just someone they know about.
Father Chris Ballard, parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, felt the new approach to the picnic worked well.
“I was very impressed with the picnic this year, especially the talks by Deacon Jason and Sister Brigid,” he said. “Deacon Jason summed up discernment so well in his presentation. If I were someone who was on the fence or scared about discernment, after that talk, I’m in.”
Danny O’Connor, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception, agrees. “I really enjoyed it and it opened my eyes to what it means to be called to religious life. I loved the people I met there — the priests, nuns and the people that were just considering it.” He found out that we are all on the path to finding out what God’s will is for us, he said.
Bishop Cunningham was also impressed. Following dinner, he invited the students to spend time in silent prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. “You could have heard a pin drop in the chapel,” Bishop Cunningham said. “There was such a good spirit at the picnic. The common thread in the lives of these young people is the search for holiness and to be of service to God’s people in some way.”
Along with the bishop, the people of the diocese can continue to support these young people with their own prayers. If you or someone you know is interested in discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life, contact Father Joe O’Connor in the Diocesan Office of Vocation Promotion at (315) 470-1468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.