It was a joy to talk recently about the High Calling Program with it’s director, Dr. Joseph Hollcraft, and hear him share about the impact this rapidly growing and much-needed program is having on the Church and the hearts of her precious sons. There truly is cause for hope!
Would you briefly describe what the High Calling Program is?
Dr. Hollcraft: The High Calling program is a live, online program where men who are discerning a call to the priesthood have an opportunity to be formed by some of the most reputable professors and formators in the country. It’s a platform of 13 three-week modules where men meet online once a week to engage in some of the quintessential subject matter that encircles discernment and formation.
What are some of their favorite modules?
Dr. Hollcraft: I have found that while some are more popular than others, each discerner has his favorite, which speaks to that unique, unrepeatable truth—that is, each vocation is a unique and unrepeatable instance of God’s glory. Each man has his journey. They all gather and ask similar questions about discernment, but the reality is that the program meets each man where he is at.
Some that I think are most important are the three that deal with Theology of the Body. In these modules, the men learn that being a son of God calls for an understanding of who they are in their masculinity. They learn what it means to give, what it means to look outward, what it means to initiate, and ultimately, what it means to be a man of integrity. The men learn that to understand masculinity is to understand ‘archetype’ rather than stereotype.
I also find that the “Into the Deep” module, taught by Dan Burke and Fr. Boniface Hicks, is crucial in helping them realize that prayer is more than repeating words but is rather a personal encounter with Christ and that the Paschal Mystery is a lived reality. In the module “Praying the Liturgy of the Hours”, the very popular Chris Carstens echoes the importance of encountering Christ in prayer.
I have heard things like, “I thought I knew how to pray, until I didn’t.” “This module on prayer has changed the way I live.” It is edifying to hear God move in the hearts of the men who are in the program. It is a beautiful thing to be a part of.
So they come to realize why they need it. But why do we need a program like High Calling in the Church today?
Dr. Hollcraft: Pope John Paul II, in the early ’90s, spoke to the reality that with the rise in secularization, with the overemphasis on the doing over being, men, in particular, were losing who they were as sons of God. It was all about fulfilling this dream or that dream, but had nothing to do with God’s dream.
John Paul II emphasized that discernment to the priesthood begins with the cry “Abba, Father” – This is the place of courage, prayer, conversion and understanding.
For this reason, the High Calling Program emphasizes the interior life at the center of each module. If men do not have a strong foundation going into the seminary, their discernment will dry up.
In addition, we have found that the bonds the men establish are proving to be fruitful. For many of the men, they have expressed that it is an unexpected grace. The fellowship they experience from one week to the next is forming some powerful friendships—which are very much needed for men on this journey.
In that sense, the High Calling program is not only a response to John Paul II’s vision —which Pope Francis echoed in 2016—but it exists simply because men need it.
What is your role in the program and how did you get involved?
Dr. Hollcraft: My role as director of the High Calling Program is to establish relationships with men who are overseeing vocations: vocation directors, rectors, and bishops, and to work closely with them, fostering relationships. Part of my job is administration and logistics. However, a lot of my time is spent talking with men in the program and journeying with them.
Is that your favorite part?
Dr. Hollcraft: Yes – my favorite part of the job is the relationships I’ve established. There is great hope for the future of the Catholic Church and I’ll tell you why. Many vocation directors are excited about the Catholic faith and they want to journey with men who are 16, 18 years old, and they love to do it. Moreover, they are very good at it! They are on fire for God, they love the Church and what we are doing, so our conversations are very life-giving. Hope arises in my heart when I see the Holy Spirit moving and how some dioceses are exploding.
We hear so much of the negative of the Church today. However, I see a lot of the positive and that there is cause for hope.
If someone is concerned about the priesthood and the Church in the United States, how can they help specifically through the High Calling Program? How can they be involved and informed?
Dr. Hollcraft: Several dioceses are on full scholarship this year as dioceses around the country face tightened budgets and spending freezes. So, to continue to provide formation for the men, we do need financial support and are so grateful to those who have donated to get this program off the ground and make it the success that it is.
Additionally, and most importantly, we have 97 men in the program in 37 dioceses. So 97 men need steadfast, faithful prayer. Please keep these young men in your daily prayers.
If you’d like to support the high calling program please contact Annvirnig@myavila.com
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.