By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “Why would a young man want to become a priest at this particular time in the church? Why would a young woman want to become a religious sister? Why would someone want to become a permanent deacon?” Bishop Thomas Zinkula posed these questions during his homily for the St. Serra Club of Davenport’s Annual Vocations Gala Mass on Nov. 16 at The Outing Club.
The bishop provided the answer, interweaving insights inspired by the day’s Scriptures, Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel, the diocesan Vision 20/20 initiative and St. Margaret of Scotland, who demonstrated a special love for the poor. Her feast day was celebrated that day.
“The surface of the church isn’t always pretty. It is messy sometimes, but there is goodness, beauty and truth,” the bishop said. “The problem is that it has gotten covered up by the terrible ugliness and evil mess of clergy sexual abuse and its cover up by bishops.
“How do we uncover the goodness, beauty and truth of the church once again? By doing the fasting that God chooses, which we heard about in the passage from Isaiah. What exactly is the fasting that God has in mind? How are we to do it?”
It’s a different type of fasting than Catholics might expect, the bishop said. It’s fasting from a self-referential life, where everything revolves around us. It’s setting people free from the oppression of substance, sexual and financial abuses and addictions. It’s sharing bread with the hungry and bringing the afflicted and the homeless into our homes. It’s reaching out to persons afflicted by an inordinate desire for pleasure, honor, power and possessions.
It’s sharing the joy of the Gospel with people who are hungering for the sacred, hungering for Christ, whether they know it or not. “It’s one poor beggar telling another poor beggar where to find food,” the bishop said, referring to a favorite saying.
Turning the corner on the current crisis requires bishops and laity working together. “But meanwhile, the most important thing that all of us can do is to remain in Jesus’ love,” the bishop said. “To love one another as Christ loves us; to lay down our lives for the oppressed, the hungry, the afflicted, the naked and the homeless.”
These are the ways to experience Jesus’ joy, to proclaim and live the Gospel and to take it to the peripheries — geographical and existential — the bishop said. This is what Vision 20/20 is all about. Prayer is essential to sharing this joy. “When we call on the Lord in prayer, when we cry for help with this, the Lord will answer, ‘Here I am!’
“Loving one another as Jesus loves us and doing the type of fasting that God asks us to do will attract many people to our Catholic faith, including many young people. They will see and experience the beauty, goodness and truth of the Catholic faith. And when God calls them to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, many of them will answer, ‘Here I am.’”
Seminarians for the diocese
Thirteen seminarians have responded “Here I am,” as they discern a call to the priesthood for the Diocese of Davenport. “We need to consider reframing the approach to the vocation to the priesthood, to keep in mind that all the vocations work together and complement each other,” said Diocesan Vocation Director Father Joseph Sia. “When we have good marriages, we have good priests, deacons and religious sisters and brothers and vice versa.”
Fr. Sia put in a plug for a Dec. 1 workshop for persons interested in promoting vocations at the parish level. The “Hundredfold” workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City and will be offered in English and Spanish. To register, go to: https://www.davenportdiocese.org/registration-hundredfold.
Bill Barrett, president of the St. Serra Club of Davenport, shared information about initiatives and projects the organization is working on to promote a culture of vocations in parishes. The 31Club, which refers to calendar days, provides an opportunity for individuals and families to take one day of the month to pray one hour for vocations. Posters for the project will be available in parishes after the workshop.
Another initiative involves students and families of Assumption High School in Davenport working to translate St. Serra Club materials into Spanish and Vietnamese. Barrett pointed out that 38 percent of Catholics come from Spanish-speaking countries, and it’s important to get them involved in fostering a culture of vocations.
A third initiative is a traveling prayer backpack that children will take home with them for a week to encourage prayer in the family. The backpack will start out in religious education programs and then, hopefully in Catholic schools, Barrett said.
A historical perspective on parishes
The vocations gala concluded with a talk by Father George McDaniel, a historian who explored the past, present and future of parish life in the Diocese of Davenport. He shared his insights within the context of the Vision 20/20 initiative, which seeks to “read the signs of the times in our diocese” and to “explore practical strategies for the future.”
Fr. McDaniel observed that “the parish is where people come to worship and be enriched and then to go out from them and witness.… Parishes are the seed bed of our reach to the peripheries.”
Much has changed in parishes over the past 70 years, and Fr. McDaniel, history professor emeritus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, provided statistics to place that change in perspective. “Here are the important numbers for our purpose tonight: 1946: 213 priests; 126 parishes, 64,410 Catholics … in 2017, 93 priests, 77 parishes, 94,225 Catholics.”
He shared other striking statistics: 722 women religious from 14 religious orders served in the Diocese of Davenport in 1946. Today, 105 women religious serve in the diocese. The number of schools and hospitals has fallen dramatically: 25 high schools operated in 1946, compared with five today; 28 elementary schools existed in 1946, compared with 13 today.
Some of the changes were facilitated by an extensive road-building program in Iowa. Close-knit communities became part of a larger community of overlapping circles. “If the parishes of 1946 were part of a unified community that involved all, or most, of the needs and activities of its parishioners, now a parish and its church are part of a community with overlapping circuits for schools, shopping, health care and social activities.”
If we, as the church, “are going to evangelize the heterogeneous world that surrounds us, we may need to begin our evangelization efforts at home, in our increasingly heterogeneous parishes,” Fr. McDaniel said.