Vocations retreat encourages youth to open heart to God

Keeping one’s heart open to the “Call of the Lord” was the message delivered to youth who participated in a Vocations Retreat on May 11, 2024, at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral.

Priesthood, religious life, sacramental marriage, and consecrated single life are the four vocational options for young people today. Supported by the Diocese of Venice Vocations Office, the retreat included talks by priests, religious men and women, Diocesan seminarians, and a married couple, with the goal of encouraging the young men and women to start thinking about a vocation, regardless of which one, but in all cases, in service to the Lord.

Each guest speaker shared their personal faith journey and how they are living their response to the call of the Lord in their lives. There was a stress on the universal call to holiness that the Lord wants from His children. As one speaker said, we are all brought into this world to become saints and get to heaven.

Diocesan Vocations Director Father Alex Pince opened the retreat by speaking about the need to attend Mass regularly and to receive the Blessed Sacrament at Communion, using this time to be close to the Lord, in His Church. They must also go to confession regularly to receive the Lord’s loving mercy, and to be in a state of grace, the vessel that can clearly hear the Lord’s voice. Finally, the youth must trust God — this comes from His unwavering love, which, when accepted, will lead them to ultimate happiness.

“If we want to know Jesus, we have to live in Christ,” Father Pince said. “If we do that, our desires will be united with God’s desires. It is when we are in prayer and feel a tug on our heart that brings us peace and joy that the Lord reveals the endless possibility of His love and mercy.”

The response from the teens was overwhelmingly positive, and throughout the day the youth asked insightful questions. Several wondered how they will know they are hearing a call from the Lord, or something else.

Sister Maria de Talpa Vargas, Servant Sister of the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), who is serving at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, said that when she accepted her vocation to become a religious sister, “This joy, an exploding of my heart, came over me. I was so happy. I felt that I could fly… It was the missing part of my heart. I felt a click; I didn’t need anything else.”

Carmelite Father Anthony Trung Nguyen, who is from Vietnam and serves as the Carmelite Order Vocations Director, said that growing up in a country that was dominated by Communism made being Catholic difficult. In fact, the priest only visited and celebrated Mass twice a year.

“This didn’t bother me, because I grew up knowing God called to me to live in His honor,” Father Nguyen said. “I wanted that relationship with God, I wanted to get other people to know the joy I found. God knows who I am, and he knows who you all are. He made you and He works in you to do His work in the world. Hear the Lord in your life, in your heart, in your soul. Listen and respond.”

Diocesan Seminarian and Transitional Deacon Jacob Gwynn shared his vocation story by explaining how he heard the call at an early age, admiring the priests in his Parish, but it wasn’t until he actively prayed in silence in front of the Most Holy Eucharist about becoming a priest that he really heard the Lord.

“God calls you, no matter where you are in your life,” Deacon Gwynn said. “Ask yourself what the Lord is calling you to do. Pause to listen for an answer. Wait for a response and be comforted that whatever you are called to do, God will be accompanying you on that journey.”

Throughout the day, priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the entire group took part in the Saturday Vigil Mass, for Ascension Sunday. They also took part in a Holy Hour for Vocations which included Eucharistic Adoration.

Additional speakers included Diocesan Seminarian Lamb Vo; Sister Regina Zambrano, SSVM, of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula; Jacob Lyons and Stephanie Lovetere who are getting married in July; Father Ricky Varner, Pastor at Katharine Drexel, and George de Los Reyes, who provided his own reflection and musical accompaniment during the Holy Hour and Adoration.

Sister Talpa allayed some of the concerns the youth expressed when she explained that when choosing a vocation to religious life, she initially feared losing her identity and her relationship with her family. “When you find your vocation, no matter whether it is as a priest, religious or married, you are not losing yourself. You are gaining yourself, you are actually fulfilling a call and you are filled with joy. Keep your hearts open to priesthood or religious life, because the Church needs you to help others grow closer to God, and to make Jesus known to everyone.”

If you are interested in a vocation to the priesthood, or religious life (men or women), please contact Father Alex Pince, Diocesan Director of Vocations, at 941-484-9543 or pince@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit www.venicevocation.org.