Christmas decorations have been put away for another year. In the life of the Church, the liturgical season of Christmas ends with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. We find ourselves once more in the season known as Ordinary Time. While that might fit well with the liturgical calendar, it doesn’t represent what happens in our lives as Catholic people during this month of January. The Church fills our days with various observances as we work our way through this month.
On Jan. 2, the Feast of the Epiphany, we opened National Migration Week with a special Mass at our Cathedral. People from many lands participated in this Sunday Liturgy and enriched us with their presence. Following Mass, parishioners were invited to participate in the Justice for Immigrants campaign sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and our own local Catholic Charities office. During the week of Jan. 2-9, our concern for and support of immigrants and refugees was always in the forefront of our minds.
During the week of Jan. 9-15, we celebrated National Vocation Awareness Week. Jan. 22-24 four busloads of people from our diocese, as well as many traveling by themselves, will find their way to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. These days fall during another important observance, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25. The month will end with our observance of Catholic Schools Week and the annual Light the Way dinner which supports Catholic education in our diocese.
While each of these events deserves a column, I offer now a few thoughts on National Vocation Awareness Week. The observance of this week began in 1976 when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year as the beginning of National Vocation Awareness Week. In 1997, the celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This moment in the life of Our Lord provided a launching point for His ministry. The feast, therefore, is a fitting beginning to a week which invites us to pray for vocations and foster a culture of vocations in the home and in the parish. What is so significant about this event in the life of Jesus?
After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, a voice came from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This message was so important that it is repeated on the Mount of the Transfiguration. These words of affirmation and support were as important to Jesus as they are to any young person starting out in a new direction. Think of a major life choice you have made — choosing a college, a spouse, a new job, a new house — did you not look for affirmation from people close to you, especially your parents?
If you were blessed enough to receive your parents’ support, you probably found great strength in those words of love and pride. Likewise, the words of support offered to Jesus from the Heavenly Father were enough to carry Him through the highs and the lows of His public ministry. As Jesus followed His vocation, He was, no doubt, sustained by these words.
Young people today are no different. They thirst for the support of their parents and grandparents. It is not enough to say, “Of course, they know I am proud of them.” Yes, your actions speak volumes and the sacrifices you have made for them should send them a message, but it is important also that young people hear the words of love and support, especially when they are discerning the call to priesthood and religious life.
Consider the time you spent driving your children to soccer practice and piano lessons. Remember the times you helped them with school projects and homework. What did you tell them when they opened up the letter of acceptance from their favorite college? Parents do all that they can to get their children headed in the direction of success. In the end, parents want their children to be happy. There is nothing that can bring more joy in this life than doing the will of God. As you pray for your children and grandchildren, be sure to pray that they will be open to God’s plan for their lives, including the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
To celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, take the time to pray not only for religious vocations in the Church today, but to speak words of encouragement to your family. Let them know that you would support their choice to follow a call from God into religious life. If you need an idea of what to say, borrow the words of our Heavenly Father, “You are my beloved son or daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
As we begin this new year, I invite you once more, to send your request for prayer to me at P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.