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Archives YCV: A vocational vacation

Aug. 22, 2012

By Thomas Pietropaoli
Contributing Writer
Among the many summer pastimes that we engage in, perhaps none is so cherished as the vacation, in which we take time off to leave for a little while our normal routines and locales, in order to refresh ourselves with new experiences and places. However, not all vacations are occasioned by simply having time off; sometimes we take time off and travel not because we need to 'get away from it all', but because something greater calls to us, something that takes clear precedence over the daily rhythm of our lives. In this sense a vacation can be likened to a vocation, since both involve leaving something behind, moving beyond an old way of being in order to go in a new direction.

As it happens, it was both vocation and vacation that drew me to Rome at the end of June, when I traveled with my father to attend the diaconate ordination of my older brother, John.  The trip officially began on the evening of June 27, as my father and I found ourselves on a plane taxiing off a runway in Montreal, bound for Italy and the Eternal City. This being our first transatlantic crossing, we were excited about the prospect of being in Rome and exploring the hallowed spaces of the Vatican, with its storied art collection and special place in the life of the Church.

When our plane touched down in Rome eight hours later, all such sentiments had been superseded by the hope of finding some place to lie down and sleep. After the lingering negative effects of a late-night traverse of multiple time zones had worn off, we began to deliberate about how to use our days in Rome, trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Faced with the litany of 'must sees' on a standard tourist map, one can easily succumb to a frantic urge, feeling some vague imperative to visit as many of the suggested sites as possible and thus produce that elusive perfect experience.

In a city as old and sprawling as Rome, such an approach could easily prove disastrous, leading quickly to both fatigue and frustration. Indeed, the city itself seems to warn against trying to actualize some preconceived notion of perfection; for Rome is in many ways a grave, holding the bones of vanished visions of greatness that collapsed beneath the burden of human brokenness. Mindful of these things, my father and I opted to focus on the area of greatest interest to us - the Vatican -and take our time, allowing our experience of the place to unfold gradually, uncolored by any need to rush.

In this respect, having a good vacation is somewhat similar to discerning and living out a vocation. For discerning and living out one's vocation is not about completing a checklist or producing a perfect set of circumstances within which to hear and follow God. Rather, it is about relinquishing more and more our old routines, habits, and ways of being, so that our wills enter into an ever-deeper collaboration with the Divine will.

Now, this collaboration, this loving and intimate accord between creature and creator, does not come about through the application of some special methodology or the acquisition of some arcane spiritual secret: it is achieved only in relating to a person, a person in whom the human and the divine coexist in a perfect and endless harmony.  Thus, discernment and friendship with Christ are in actuality not disparate things: to discern is to follow Christ, and to follow Christ is to enter into friendship with him. For my brother John, this friendship has led him into religious life and the diaconate, and set him on a path toward the priesthood.

Although we saw some of the most famous treasures of the Vatican, such as the beautiful Sistine Chapel and the magnificent Baldacchino over the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, the high point of the trip came in the modest chapel of a Seminary College on the outskirts of the city. There we witnessed, in the words of my father, “a testament to the mighty and gentle hand of God at work in our lives”, as John entered more deeply into union with Christ and his Church. And in the end, this union is the one true source of the rest and peace that is sought both on vacation and in vocation.

John Ordination

photo supplied
Malone native John Pietropaoli was ordained a deacon June 30, 2012, at the chapel of Regina Apostolurum in Rome, Italy. His brother, Thomas, left, and father, Angelo, traveled to Rome for the ordination.

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