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Interview with Fr. Vluky

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Q1: Would you speak a little about yourself? Is there a relationship between what you’re doing now and what your interest where while growing up?

"My name is Fr. Michael Vluky.  I am a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Portland assigned at St. Mary Catholic Church in Eugene.  I was ordained in 2005 and I just completed my first year in the parish. My training consisted of 8 years of seminary formation of which I did 2 years of studying philosophy at Mt. Angel Seminary, 5 years of studying theology at the North American College in Rome followed by an internship year in one of the parishes. I am of Vietnamese descent.  My family arrived in the United States in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.  I was born a year later and I am the youngest of five in my family.  My family escaped Vietnam in order to be able to practice their Catholic faith.  My uncle, Fr. Vincent, came to the United States first in 1973.  His religious order, the Redemptorists, sent him here to study theology.  While he was studying, he quickly realized that as the Vietnam War was coming to a conclusion, he needed to address the many Catholic refugees that would be arriving.  He contacted Archbishop Cornelius Power and, with the support of the Archbishop, he founded the United States Catholic Relief Services for Refugees.  He ran the Relief Services out of a Catholic School that was given to him by the Archbishop which later became the Southeast Asian Vicariate.  Initially, he welcomed 5,000 Vietnamese refugees and now there are over 50,000 Vietnamese Catholics there.  My uncle was the pastor of the Church and, being able to serve as an altar boy, had a profound affect upon me because I was able to be close to the Eucharistic sacrifice.  Also, having a family member as a priest, I got see a different side of him outside his parish duties.  My uncle’s example of a priest as well as the constant encouragement of my family, especially my mother, helped nurture my priestly vocation."

Q2: Can you explain what a “vocation” is? What does it mean for you to have a vocation? 

"The best explanation I have ever been given to understand the meaning of 'vocation' is from my first vocation director, Fr. Liam Cary.  He once shared with me that in order to understand what “vocation” means, it is important to compare it to the word, “occupation.”  “Occupation” comes from a Latin word meaning to occupy a space.  So if a person has an occupation or job as a plumber, he or she occupies a certain space in which the person utilizes his or her skills in the trade of plumbing.  However, after the job is complete, the plumber can step out of that space and ceases to be a plumber.  Vocation comes from the Latin root to mean to call.  Each person is called to be or become.  Therefore, the Church believes that there are 4 possible callings: priesthood, religious life, married life and single chaste life.  When a person lives out this calling such as the call to married life, the person does not occupy a space of doing motherly things, the person is a mother and always will be a mother.  A mother’s entire being and existence is to be a mother."

Q3: Does everyone have a vocation?

“Each and every person is called by God whether we respond to it or not is up to us. We are all called to holiness.  However, those who are Baptized have a greater responsibility because we have responded to God’s call to receive His faith and it is our responsibility to live a life of holiness and call others to that same life as well.  However, although we share in the same universal calling to holiness, we differ in how we are to live holiness depending upon what particular state in life we are called to live.  For instance, a priest lives out his call to holiness through sanctifying the people in the celebration of the sacraments and teaching the people.  A married couple lives out their holiness through participation in God’s divine act of creation and producing children and raising their children in the faith.”

Q4: Why would a person want to discern a vocation?

“Each person struggles with this internal existential question of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my purpose in life?’  It does not matter if you are Catholic, Buddhist, or an agnostic.  Regardless of our religious beliefs, we have an innate longing to know who we are and why we are on this earth.  We all search for those answers because whether or not we are able to articulate it or not, we are searching for God who creates us out of love, redeems us out of love and desires not more than for us to be united with Him in Heaven.  Once we understand this, that we are all searching to be in union with our Creator, we will begin to understand that there are different paths to achieve this, thus the four different callings in life to live a life of holiness."

Q5: How do you recommend discerning a vocation? Should he/she seek third party advice?

“In the Rite of Priestly Ordination, there is a part in the Rite in which the candidates for Holy Orders are presented to the Bishop.  The Bishop asks, ‘Do you find this man worthy?’ and the response is, ‘After inquiry of his formation directors and the people of God, yes we do find him worthy.’  This response expresses much.  A vocation is discerned from not only a candidate’s own prayer life, but from the formation and support given in spiritual direction, seminary formation, and interaction with parishioners.  God calls a young man and woman.  God also uses those around a young person’s life such as a parent, a teacher, a priest, or religious brother or sister as His instrument to help the person to hear His calling.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, young people, actually old people too, are over-exposed and presented so many distractions that people are not formed properly to be able to pay attention or focus for a certain length of time and cannot pray as well as they ought.  A vocation must be nurtured from within a family in which a parent shows concretely how to be a person of prayer, a person of sacrifice, and a person of self-giving when it comes to their family.  Therefore, a good path for a vocation is personal prayer, good role models, and solid friendships with those who share the same goals in life.”

Q6: It is often said that one must pray in order to discern a vocation. But, how does one pray? What is prayer? 

“Prayer begins in the family.  Jesus Christ says that to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be like children.  Children are dependent upon their parents.  If a child comes up to his or her parent and asks the parent, ‘Teach me how to pray’, I cannot imagine the parent would brush such a sincere request off.  A child must be given the instruction to know how to pray.  Then, a child needs a good role model to imitate.  Once a child has the foundation of how to pray and has put it in practice through imitating another, this will nurture their own personal relationship with God.  Each and every person dialogues and relates to God in their own way.   But the most important thing in any relationship is to be present with a person.  This is the only way we grow in a relationship of knowing the person and building trust.  You must spend time being present.  Every single day we need to pray, we need to be participating in the sacraments, we need to study His Word and learn His teachings.  If we do this, a good trusting relationship with God is established and formed that will sustains us in our most difficult times as well as joyous times.”

Q7: What is a “call”? Do you know when you have received it? 

“As I mentioned before, God calls.  He will use others around you to help you hear and listen to His calling.  For me, my family always said, ‘Think about being a priest.’  When I was in grade school at St. Mary’s of the Valley, the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon would always tell me, ‘Michael, you’d make a good priest.’  Hearing that made me feel special, but little did I know that they were telling all the young boys that.  But even now, knowing this, I do feel special.  But it was not until my junior year in college when I finally shared with my spiritual director that I wanted to be a priest that I felt a ‘peace and calm’ about that decision that I knew.  Throughout my priestly formation, my formation directors, the parishioners that I served as a seminarian as well as many friends would affirm me in my calling by telling me that I had the right qualities and in those times, again, I felt the peace and calm that I was following God’s call for me.”

Q8: Once someone knows his/her vocation is it easy to follow it? Do you want to do it? If God really gives the vocation will there still be obstacles?

“In Scripture, we hear it from Jesus.  Jesus tells us that those who respond to His call to discipleship will experience struggles and obstacles.  Part of following Jesus is to pick up the cross and follow Him. There are going to be moments of doubt as well as times in which people will mock us and reject us.  As long as we are grounded in prayer, surrounded with people who desire what is best for us which is doing God’s will, this will sustain us in those moments of great adversity.  For this reason, prayer is so important.  Without a strong prayer life that is built upon trust in God, it becomes easy to fall especially into despair and hopelessness.”

Q9: Can a person really have peace and joy if they follow God’s will, even when it’s different from what they had planned?

“Whenever you do God’s will, there is peace and joy.  It is a peace and joy that comes from doing what you know is right, as well as a peace and joy that will sustain you in times of obstacles against you."

Q10: What type of priest are you? Would you explain a little about your mission at present?

“I am a diocesan priest which means that my charism is to be a parish priest serving the needs of the parish in Word and Sacrament.”

Q11: For some people the vow of celibacy can seem to be somewhat daunting, what advice can you offer to encourage those that feel this way?

We recognize that innate in all of us there is a longing to be in union with another person. God created us specifically as either a male and female with the natural tendency to desire to be in union with another man or woman.  This desire compels a man to leave his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.  This one flesh union is an expression to participate in God’s creative act and is a visible sign of God’s love. However, when it comes to celibacy, we believe that it is a grace from God. It is a grace from God to help the person who chooses to live a celibate life. The person chooses the life of celibacy for a greater good, and that greater good is that you’re renouncing the natural good to be in union with another person and to bear children. In order that you can serve God’s people more fully and in a state which doesn’t limit your family to husband and wife, but it is a greater and larger family, which includes different ages, races. There is a greater intimacy, but not in a sexual or physical way, it’s in a more spiritual way. Hence, one recognizes the natural good, to being in union. But gives it up or renounces it, knowing that God gives you that grace. And you do it for the greater good.”

Q12: As a religious consecrated person, you take specific vows.  Can you explain what a vow is?

“A vow is a promise to God. In our worship to God we always have to give what is due to Him. When a person makes a vow they are giving or promising that they will dedicate themselves to God in a particular way. A vow for a Diocesan priest is dedicating oneself to God and giving Him what is due to Him; that is, my obedience, celibacy-which is having only inclusive relationships, and thirdly, simplicity of life, so I’m not going to have worldly distractions pulling me away from serving His people.”

Q13: How does one know which order to join?

“Firstly, it’s a discernment of where your gifts lie. Then, the Charism, which is understood as: a need in the Church is going to be supplied by a gift. If there is a need for missionary work in the church, then those who have the charism for missionary work step-up and provide for that need. You have to look at the talents you’ve been given, then you have to look at what you want. Some people are not meant for missionary work, let’s be honest. Some are not meant to teach. But if you have those gifts then it is your responsibility to step-up and provide for that need. There are many needs within the Church and we see the call to different religious orders, because they say, ‘We see a need and we want to provide, we have the people who have these gifts and are willing to make that sacrifice.’ It really depends upon the talents and gifts of the person. And what you’re passionate about.”

Q14: Can you explain the concept that as a priest the church is your bride?

“The way I understand this concept is simply: I’m a committed man. I’m married to the Church and the church is my spouse. Like any other married man I have the responsibility to protect, to care, and to provide for my bride. The way I do this particularly in my priesthood is to sanctify and teach. I sanctify people through sacraments, administering them. I teach them by preaching, by example, and in catechism class. Similarly, if I were a family man, a husband, and I had a wife and kids, I still am committed to care, protect and provide for them. But, the way I do it as a father of a family is different from the way I do it as a priest. My role as a father still is to teach my children, to make sure they’re behaved, to pass on the faith to them. So, in each person’s state in life, how one lives it out, that commitment to care, protect and provide is going to be different. Nevertheless, it is that same type of role.”

Q15: What, for you, has been the most rewarding aspect of being totally dedicated to God?

It is rewarding to be able to be invited into the most precious moments in people’s lives that I wouldn’t be able to if I wasn’t a priest. The joys of a family when they have a new one…having someone share that news. Being able to baptize; marrying their son or daughter. At the same time being able to enter into their times of sorrow; when a person loses a loved one, being able to stand by the bedside and comfort them, and offer them even greater comfort in the funeral mass. If I wasn’t a priest I don’t think I would have been invited into those intimate moments. I’m treated as if I’m a family member. It is a privilege and an honor. Because it’s a privilege and honor I can’t abuse it. To be able to be part of peoples tender moments…”        

“I’ll share this one experience. It was about two years ago in Medford, Oregon. I was called in for last rites to the hospital in Medford. I went in where four children were with their dad who was dying of terminal cancer. After I gave the last rights I was about to leave and allow each son or daughter to have that last moment or parting word with their father. As I tried to leave, the father, who was grasping my hand, wouldn’t let go. So I stood there for half an hour, as each child privately said their parting words to their father. I, myself, was brought to tears. I was invited to be a part of that, even though I hardly knew the man, I hardly knew the family, I just walked in. But because there is such a great trust in the priest and him being a representative of God, then I was able to be a part of that.” 

Q16: As a parish priest do you ever get to see your family?

“The fact that I don’t live in a community and don’t have a scheduled horiam, like a Benedictine monk would have, the reason being that I’m supposed to have more time in order to be present in people’s lives. But I have to be honest, I do take my days ‘off’, I take advantage of being close to home to see family. Not to say I’m not close to my own parish family, but it’s nice to see family and reconnect. I think it would be a lot different in a religious order, because I think many are a lot more stringent on how often the members can see their own family. One reason being that the religious community is supposed to be a family, more so even than a parish.”

Q17: What would you tell someone who is discerning their vocation?

My best advice would be to pray. To seek people, who you see are living out their vocation, whatever their vocation may be. Have friends around your own age that support the same type of values that you want to live. It’s important. Many times we can easily get distracted or pulled astray, when we don’t have a really good support system, especially when it comes to the group of people you hang out with.”

For the Faith 
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