Jan. 13-19, 2005
By Father John Donovan/ SUN contributing writer
My duties in the Office of Vocation Promotion include traveling the diocese and preaching at different parishes and campuses each weekend, addressing religious education programs and speaking in our Catholic schools. I have addressed preschoolers, graduate students and beyond. Being attentive to what is age-appropriate is essential. Also, being able to go with the flow is equally important.
Last winter I was speaking to a group of first graders at Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse. The activity was planned for no more than 30 minutes knowing that 20 minutes might be enough. The snow was falling and attention was on what might be done at recess. As I presented what sisters, brothers, deacons and priests are and some of their activities in the church, one wide-eye innocent informed me about her new roller skates. Quickly the original focus of fun activities resurfaced and I too became more interested in hearing about their toys than in talking about ministry. The shift that occurred was one of the cerebral to the practical; it was less important to inform the children about being a priest than it was to be present at the moment, accept their trust and be a priest.
It will never cease to astound me the invitations received as a priest to enter into peoples’ lives. Not the social invitations, but rather the requests for our presence at times of great joy and great sadness. To be with a family as they celebrate new beginnings, be they at the time of birth or death, is an honor and privilege. During such intimate moments of our lives, the priest enters as a witness of hope, peace and faith. It is not about him as an individual, but rather it is about how he serves in God’s name.
In the process of helping men discern if they have a call to priesthood, telling stories about little girls and their roller skates rarely surfaces. Yet, in her innocence there is great insight to the role of the priest. It was time to be present to her as I met her, not because I had a task at hand. How many people did Jesus simply accompany on their journey by being present to them, in his life and even on Easter? The role of the priest is to imitate such an example. Our responsibilities and tasks appear to be growing as we are fewer in number, but are only secondary to meeting people on their journey and walking with them. “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while He spoke to us on the way.” Luke 24:32. The role of the priest is to keep that blaze, that light, burning, to encourage such passion for our beliefs. Who then are we looking for to be our next diocesan priests? Men who can walk or even roller skate with people and who can laugh at themselves are essential. Understanding that life is not always neat and to be willing to get your hands dirty is important too. Most importantly, however, they must be able to recognize Christ, on the road, or in a classroom or a pew and observe, learn and celebrate where He is found!
The author works in the diocesan Office of Vocation Promotion. He can be reached at (315) 470-1468 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The office’s website is www.vocations-syracuse.org.