Discerning Vocations

“Together let us thank God for the Religious Orders and Institutes devoted to contemplation or the works of the apostolate, for Societies of Apostolic Life, for Secular Institutes and for other groups of consecrated persons, as well as for all those individuals who, in their inmost hearts, dedicate themselves to God by a special consecration.” – St. Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata

There are many ways to dedicate one’s life to God. We each must obey Our Father’s voice as He calls us to the life where we can serve Him fully.

And the Lord calls us to many different ways of life – to the priesthood, marriage and family, religious orders or consecration, or the single life. Discerning His call, however, can be tricky.

That’s where the Diocese of Orange’s revitalized Office of Vocations and Consecrated Life can assist. Fr. Brandon Dang, director of Vocations, and Joan Patten AO, delegate for Consecrated Life and Religious, work side by side to encourage, support, and assist those discerning their call to service in the Church.

Fr. Dang grew up in Orange County and became Catholic at the age of 9 after his mother’s conversion. He was an altar server and active in faith formation and the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Group at St. Nicholas in Laguna Woods. In his second year at Irvine Valley College he attended a vocations retreat, which led to his discernment and decision to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Orange. He was ordained in 2016.

Patten is a consecrated lay woman with the Secular Institute of the Apostolic Oblates. Consecrated to Redemptive Love, the Apostolic Oblates’ charism is to promote the universal call to holiness in daily life and assist people in cultivating their interior life. This is done primarily through the apostolate of the Pro Sanctity Movement, an international movement in the Catholic Church. The apostolic activities include retreats, camps, college and young adult ministry, formation groups, spiritual direction, and family formation.

In addressing each person’s unique call and distinctive characteristics, both Fr. Dang and Patten point to the Scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 12, which says “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”

“As Scripture says, there are many parts but the same body, though all are in Christ,” Patten notes. “The Holy Spirit has a great imagination, and while all are called to holiness, there are many viable options for living fully in Our Lord.”

In line with St. John Paul II’s definitions of the priesthood, religious orders, and secular institutes as a vital part of the Catholic Church, Fr. Dang and  Patten were recruited to begin their work this summer. Fr. Dang says Bishop Vann encouraged him to harness his youth, energy, and enthusiasm in attracting men to vocations and to providing spiritual and practical support to the diocese’s 29 men currently studying toward ordination in West Coast seminaries.

“The Holy Spirit has blessed us,” Fr. Dang says. “It is a huge gift for us to celebrate vocations and I’m blessed to be in the position to help men determine where the Spirit is working in their lives, where God is calling them to serve the Church.”

A primary goal of the revitalized vocations office is to align its work in evangelization with Bishop Vann’s Strategic Plan, Fr. Dang notes. “Being a witness and using all the tools in our arsenal – including social media, work in the parishes, and outreach – informs us as we determine how to best create missionary disciples who will become the leaders in our evangelization work.”

Studies show the age of men and women determining their call to the priesthood or religious communities is getting younger, a trend that could be part of this generation’s commitment to seeking truth.

“The median age for our men studying for the priesthood is in the early 30s and older men are the exceptions,” Fr. Dang explains. Patten adds that the handful of women who recently decided to enter religious life are in their late 20s to early 30s.

“This generation is seeking, discerning and responding at earlier ages,” Patten says. “These individuals are interested in commitment; they consider as a viable option that God is calling them to learn how to respond to people. They find deep happiness in their relationship with Our Lord.”

That said, Fr. Dang and Patten agree that it takes special people to thrive in the priesthood and in religious life. “Their call is a radical invitation to live poverty, chastity, and obedience,”  Patten notes. “It’s a radical way of following Jesus and doing the work of evangelization in service to the Church.”

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