At St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora, the seminary which I attended in preparation for my ordination to the priesthood, there was a large, bright, multicolored mosaic depicting our Lord casting a net and calling Peter, Andrew and John to be fishers of men. This larger-than-life mosaic was strategically located on the façade of the administration building so that anyone who entered the grounds of the seminary would see it and be reminded of the purpose of that blessed institution. I thought of that image and the six happy years I spent on that campus as I was asked to write on vocations for this issue of The Catholic Sun.
At the same time, I thought of the 13 young men of the Diocese of Syracuse currently studying at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Boston, St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and Theological College of The Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C. I hold them close to my heart in prayer each day as they prepare for, what will hopefully result in, their ordination to the holy priesthood and a lifetime of service to the people of the Diocese of Syracuse.
Recently on visits to Le Moyne College, Seton Catholic Central School in Binghamton, St. Patrick’s School in Oneida and during the celebration of Mass with our Catholic school teachers, I had an opportunity to speak about the importance of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. I reminded our students of the joy that comes from living their lives according to God’s plan. I encouraged them to take time each day to find quiet time to tell God about their plans and to ask Him for help in discerning His will. I suggested that they listen quietly for the whisper of God’s voice so that they would be able to know clearly His plan for them — a plan for their happiness and fulfillment.
Most of the students will choose the vocation of Christian marriage. In that vocation, if they live according to God’s plan, they will do all they can to see that their children are baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. But I am convinced that within each of those groups who heard my voice God had planted the seed of a vocation in some that might lead to the priesthood, the diaconate or consecrated life.
I reminded our students that if a community wishes to flourish and reach its goal it must be aware of its needs and pursue the means to obtain them. As Catholics we are called to live the Christian life by imitating Jesus and by sharing in His Death and Resurrection through the Sacraments which He has left to His church. Our Lord gives us a simple and basic vocation program in the ninth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel where He reminds us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers for His harvest.
Over the summer months and frequently during the past weeks as I have met with various groups of people, I have suggested that they do just that. I also suggested that their prayers be joined to the age-old custom of fasting. Fridays are the traditional day of fasting in the Church and while we usually think of fasting as a diminishment of our food intake, there are many other ways in which we can fast. Today, how important it would be for many people to take time away from the computer screen, from the television set, from the cell phone. How important it is for all of us to spend time in quiet prayer! For that reason, I have suggested that our parishes offer a holy hour or a special Mass on the First Friday of each month for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Only through prayer and fasting will our efforts meet with success. We need to double and triple the number of seminarians we have! We need to encourage our sons and daughters to embrace consecrated life and through that holy vocation to work out their own salvation and draw people closer to Christ.
Many of you reading this article can remember with fondness a particular priest or sister who had a tremendous influence on your life. I have such memories. Most of these priests and sisters led quite fulfilling lives, quietly and without fanfare, and yet they had a tremendous impact for good on us and countless others.
Our young people today are extremely generous and they want to do what God asks of them. They want to serve their brothers and sisters and, although they may not consciously voice it, they want to be welcomed by God after a long life into the joy of eternity. Do not let these young people be afraid of God’s call. Invite them, encourage them. Let them know that you think they might have a religious vocation. Pray for them. And pray, too, for this local Church which needs your prayers and counts on the generosity of our youth.
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
Sept. 17, 2009