I admit it; I take a lot of things for granted. However, my health isn’t one of them. I’ve suffered from some chronic health issues for almost two decades and in an ironic way, my health issues have made me realize what I do take for granted.
The clergy… of all things, I take the Catholic clergy for granted.
Let me explain.
As you may know or imagine, chronic health problems tend to bring you to your knees before God. And it is always a veritable roller coaster of emotions. There are times — the “good” spiritual days — where that means offering up the condition, joining it to the Cross… getting the whole redemptive suffering aspect of being a believer and running with it.
Other days — maybe what could be called the not-so-good spiritual days — that means begging and pleading for good health. On those days, “I don’t want this Cross” is pretty much my mantra.
There was also a time in my life when negotiations took up some days. Age has taught me that I might not always be able to hold up my end of the bargain in a “God-and-me” negotiation, so those stopped.
Even during the worst times, I do my best to attend Eucharistic Adoration, but often fail. During the best times, I am able to attend daily Mass on a fairly regular basis. And during all this my clergy has been present leading Exposition and Benediction or celebrating Mass. My clergy has been there with homilies that seem as if they’ve been written exactly for me; saying things that give me hope and help me persevere.
My clergy has been Christ’s light.
Last year, I attended an Ignatian retreat offered by our deacon’s wife and was amazed that after a long day of work, our deacon would always attend as well. He would offer prayers and guidance and think only of us—the retreatants. I remember once thinking to myself: “How does he do this? After a full day of work I could never minister to others with such patience and love!”
All this to say… recent years have made me realize how very much I take the clergy for granted. You see, it never really occurred to me how very there they are for me — and for you. It never really occurred to me how much they give of themselves so that my faith walk and yours continues to lead to Christ.
In the midst of this “light bulb” moment, Elizabeth Ficocelli approached me with a proposal for a series of children’s books on vocation awareness. She had been rejected by big New York agents and miscellaneous publishing houses who didn’t want to touch a book about priests with a ten-foot pole. Where Do Priests Come From? is the first in the series.
But my own insight into the ways in which the clergy has been critical to me over the past couple of decades made me realize that these books could possibly be my “thank you” to those people who respond to God’s call. God was giving me an opportunity to return the favor, so to speak.
And so began the journey in which Elizabeth’s dream of explaining these three precious vocations through the power of a beautifully illustrated series of books became a reality. Where Do Priests Come From?; Where Do Sisters Come From?; Where Do Deacons Come From? comprise the series. With the manuscripts written, I sought an illustrator with the talent to bring the words to life in a way that could reach across the ages for which the books are intended. Shannon Wirrenga would be the illustrator able to deliver the sort of art necessary for the goals of the series: To become the perfect resource for Catholic homes, classrooms, and religious education programs.
We were on our way.
The outcome is truly excellent and I am grateful to God for allowing me to be part of this series. Each book really does answer the title question: Where do priests come from? Where do sisters come from? Where do deacons come from?
Even if our children are not called to these vocations, my own experience as a teacher leads me to believe that we must show them (and remind ourselves) that those who do respond to God’s call to become a priest or sister or deacon are deserving of respect and gratitude — and should never be taken for granted.
Along the way I was able to get a glimpse of God’s humor — and an affirmation of the project, as well.
One day I walked into the chapel for a Tuesday morning Mass and sitting quietly in a row were three nuns in white habits including full head covering. It was quite a sight. They had never been to our Church before. And I really can’t recall ever seeing a full white habit other than in pictures.
Nonetheless, I was so taken aback as I was in the midst of publishing Where Do Sisters Come From?, that I wondered if the nuns were real, as they sat their silently with their hands folded in their laps. I sat next to a friend who was also feeling the sense of awe at the sight. Seeing my friend’s face, I said, “So you see them, too?” and she replied, “Yes.”
Even though they weren’t angels, I knew this particular moment was a “God-moment” for the books and now the last one is available.
Like the other books in the series, the last book, Where Do Deacons Come From? is 20 pages in length and can be read to younger children or can be read by older children. Wirrenga has done a magnificent job in making sure that each book in the series is illustrated in a way that truly shows the universality of our Catholic Church.
Each book includes approximately a dozen vocabulary words (found at the end) that are guaranteed to increase everyone’s vocation-awareness vocabulary — including mom, dad and teacher!—and makes the books relevant for all ages.
Father Calloway, author of No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, says of Where Do Priests Come From?, “I pray this book finds its way into the hands of many young boys so that they can be inspired to ponder the question: IS God calling me to be a priest?” Where Do Priests Come From? is also endorsed by Rev. McKnight the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Likewise, Where Do Sisters Come From? has received many heartfelt endorsements that include one from Sr. Mary Joanna Ruhland, Associate Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops USCCB Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations along with Sr. Mary David Klocek Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and EWTN’s Truth in the Heart and Sister Ann Shields the radio host of Food for the Journey.
A journey that began with hope that no one should ever take our clergy for granted, now joyfully announces the publication of the third and final vocation-awareness children’s book Where Do Deacons Come From? Deacon Keith Fournier says of the book:
“Having lived this wonderful vocation for fifteen years, I was absolutely thrilled with Elizabeth Ficocelli’s beautiful children’s book entitled Where do Deacons Come From? I give it my highest and most heartfelt recommendation. Elizabeth’s beautifully written and superbly illustrated little book will now open the wonderful world of countless numbers of children to the beauty of the vocation to follow Jesus Christ and serve His Holy Church as a deacon. I recommend that every mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt—and anyone who hopes to plant the seed of a vocation in a young boy or to help any child, girl or boy, to understand the calling and vocation of deacons, buy this book and give it as a gift.”
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