Signs of hope

“He has the servant thing down.”

I was leaving Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Holland, Michigan, in town for an event at Hope College. And the Uber driver, Robert, who happened to pick me up, was telling me about his son. He’s a novice with the Jesuits, the religious community founded by the former soldier, St. Ignatius Loyola, in Spain during the 16th century.

Robert went on to tell me when he and his wife knew their son was going to be a priest. He was in high school and they were running late. “I went to look for him and I saw him on his knees.” When the father asked him what was up, he explained that he had been praying — and “my list is long.” All the people who had asked him to pray for them, he took it seriously. “It wasn’t just a cliché for him like it sometimes is for people. Even in high school.”

Robert confided that he probably held his son back at times, with hesitations like that, wondering if such a thing was “normal.” It sounded to me that their domestic church had nurtured a nascent priestly vocation in a culture — even a Church culture, and maybe increasingly — where it can be challenging to do so.

“He’s always been such a good kid,” Robert explained, “with deep faith. And he’s strong — not only in his faith. He’s a healthy kid, always has been — very athletic.” And the girls always liked him and he liked them, but he knew God was calling him to make a sacrifice for the sake of others, for the sake of families. Robert was beaming with awe as he told me all this.

“And believe me, I’m not bragging. It wasn’t anything we did. God gave this kid gifts!” Robert told me how his son is “what you want in a priest.” He loves God and he loves people. People, in turn, are drawn to him. My driver started telling me stories from throughout the boy’s childhood where he would take difficult issues — including theological ones — and make them accessible.

Later in the day, I met a woman who told me two of her five sons are on the path for the diocesan priesthood for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. When her older boy started formation, it was their parish’s first vocation to the priesthood since the 1960s. Sometimes all it takes is a family with an open heart.

Earlier in the week, I had stopped by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. There was a stagnant spirit in the air, at best, as the meeting opened with the announcement that the Vatican had directed the bishops not to vote on the proposed reforms that lay before them as agenda items. I sat in the media room as one bishop got up and warned against getting “distracted” by the “outrage” media. Others, though, talked about the conversion that needs to happen among the episcopate for the reform and renewal that is necessary.

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On my way to the bishops, the rector of the basilica in town — which happens to house the earthly remains of John Carroll, the first bishop in the U.S. — ended Mass with the St. Michael the Archangel prayer. That was the second Mass in a row (different church, different city) I had gone to that had ended with that prayer. Some do realize what we are up against — and it’s not the media. Keep praying, and God will keep providing. And the enemy will be scattered, at home, in the parish, in the Vatican, among bishops, and all throughout the world. Whenever I’m tempted to doubt, there are signs — such as getting into an Uber and seeing a cross with a St. Benedict medal hanging from the mirror, as I did in Robert’s that morning.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).