Talk on the Church, His Conversion, and Vocations
By Fr. Richard E. Barker
Fr. Barker opened with a discussion of the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI. He said that Cardinal Ratzinger was on his short list of two cardinals who would probably be elected, not because he was smart, but because Cardinal Ratzinger was the prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, and this affected Father Barker's work.
The new pope has already made distinct contributions to the church by praying before Pope John Paul's tomb with the prefect of the Eastern Orthodox Church and his choice of vestments, which reflect an earlier time in the church, underscoring that he is not the successor to Pope John Paul II, but to Peter.
It is expected that the pope's objectives will be turning around agnostic atheistic Europe and renewal of the church and priesthood in the United States.
An increase in vocations is very important in Father Barker's life, whose journey to the priesthood took a winding path. He was baptized in the Presbyterian Church, but left that church at the age of 18, and for 17 years he never set foot in any church. He was an officer in a Houston Bank and he said he lived the life of a “baptized pagan”. He ran with his "rat-pack" friends who didn't care about religion or anyone or any thing. They had money and lived a completely selfish “good life”.
Then one day, while driving in April of 1985, half way between his home and St. Anne's Church, an amazing thing happened. It wasn't a vision, it wasn't a voice, it wasn't an apparition. Everything around him became a blur and he felt the will of God the Father, in these exact words—“You are to go to that church, and enter those doors, kneel down and thank Me for everything that I have done for you.”
He could not disobey. To disobey would be the ultimate betrayal of self. He phoned a friend, Meg, and said “I'd like you to take me to church”. Dead silence. Again he spoke. Meg finally answered, saying that it isn't every day a non-Catholic asks to be taken to a Catholic Church. He went to church the Sunday after Easter, which turned out to be Divine Mercy Sunday.
Father Barkers family “went ballistic” when they heard that he was becoming a Catholic and thinking of becoming a priest. His dad virtually disowned him, saying he had betrayed family tradition. It was a tough time for Father Barker. Then, one day, a man handed him a note, and enclosed in the note was a simple plastic frame with the image of Our Lady of Divine Grace. The note from the man said that he knew the sorrow Father Barker was experiencing because he also experienced the same rejection when he became a Catholic.
This reaching out with help by a stranger helped Father Barker to persevere, and is an example of the support every young person and seminarian needs. Fr. Barker pointed out that if the church, in union with family support, will nurture youngsters with a latent vocation.
The form this support should take can be called a “guild”—ideally formed by groups of six Catholic Families who will work together with the priests to build a Catholic culture of prayer and support within their families, so that their children grow up as Catholics. The children then know that their families care for them, and are the solid rock beneath their feet. What this does is get the church off the campus and into their lives in an ongoing basis. Catholic culture has to go out from the church into the world. This must be the spiritual heart of a parish. Family life must support youngsters.
One hour at church each week amounts to ½ cent in terms of a dollar, and once the youngster goes home from the church, an invisible “Chinese wall” exists which impedes a youngster's spiritual development.
Pastors can also help by establishing clubs, ideally starting with youngsters in grade 6 and above. They can be recreationally oriented for the younger members, fostering fellowship, and growing to like each other. At each step, holiness increases
Vocations must be pastor driven. This is not a quick process. It will take a pastor at least six years to make good progress, and many more years to develop the culture of vocations in his parish. If pastors are transferred from church to church on a regular basis, this vocation building process will not occur.
Just prior to his ordination, Father Barker called home and told his Mom that part of the ordination ceremony was that parents vested their children in their priestly garments. His Mom said that his Dad was watching a Cowboys game, and that she would discuss it with him at half time. However she said, that if three generations of our family will be at your ordination, and I go and leave your father behind, he will be devastated. It will be a sign of his ultimate betrayal by the family. I am his wife, and I will stand by him.
When he talked with his mother a half-hour later, she said that his father would come to his ordination.
After the ceremony, while at Hobby Airport, his Dad put his hands on his shoulders said to him that he knew that this day was the most important and happiest day of his life.
Later, when Father Barker went home for Thanksgiving, his father treated him like a Prince.
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