During the past few days, I have had several opportunities to think about vocations. On Sunday I attended a special celebration in Rochester honoring Bishop Clark on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of his ordination, his 33rd anniversary as Bishop of Rochester and his 75th birthday. The celebration prompted me to think about all the people Bishop Clark influenced in his life as a priest in Albany, in Rome, Italy and, during the past 33 years, in Rochester. Thousands of people have known his pastoral care. How blest they have been!
As you read this column, I am with the priests and deacons of our diocese for our annual convocation held in Alexandria Bay. This gathering is a wonderful opportunity for us to be together. The time away, in a different setting, reinvigorates and strengthens all of us in our vocation as we reflect on the great joy of our lives — the call to preach the good news and to serve you.
On these occasions, I thought about the priests who have gone before me, the priests with whom I am privileged to work and those who will follow me. The common thread that holds us together and extends back to Old Testament times is our need both to hear and to preach the word of God. I thought, too, about the important part all of you play in assuring the future — a future of hope and promise but with roots thousands of years old.
What did God say to the Old Testament prophets when he called them? The common denominator was: “Speak to my people.” That sums up the role of the prophet. He was called to hear the word of God and to proclaim it to the people. In a nutshell, that is the special responsibility God asked the Old Testament prophets to fulfill.
God Himself chose the prophets and the timing for their message. The audience was God’s beloved people. He had their well-being in mind and a plan for reaching them. The call to be a prophet, to be the spokesperson for God’s message was indeed a grace, but a costly one. Many prophets struggled to accept this responsibility. Why? Perhaps it was the fear of rejection by the people or of not doing it well or of failure.
Pope Benedict has asked the local Church to “become more attentive to the pastoral care of vocations” (Message of the Holy Father for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations). All of us have the responsibility to cultivate a culture of vocations. Every one of us, every family, parish and community, should pray for vocations and look for opportunities to encourage vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
Helping people to find their calling in life comes naturally to many of us. Parents have a great generosity when it comes to helping their children find their way in life. I am sure that many of you spent this summer shuttling young ones to educational and sports camps. Now that school is in session that shuttle service turns to music and dance lessons, fall sports practices and games. Families make great sacrifices for college hoping that their children find and prepare for a career. Friends are often trying to connect friends together for work or dating. Even co-workers get involved in setting up the single person in the office. There are numerous ways we help others find their life’s calling.
Consider who helped you find your spouse, your career, your place in this world. Chances are it was a multitude of people — parents, friends, mentors, teachers, and of course, God. God is THE vocation director. The Holy Spirit will stir in the hearts of young people to aid them in discerning their calling. But, just as in the Old Testament, He often asks for a “prophet” to speak to His people.
You are that prophet, the spokesperson. As a parent, grandparent or sibling, as a teacher, youth minister or priest you are the one who can speak to your friends, classmates, teammates and family members about God’s plan for them. So often when a person is thinking about the future the question is: What do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? You, the prophet, can nuance the question differently: What does God want you to be? What does God want you to do with your life? This change in focus is an invitation to discern prayerfully one’s future. It acknowledges that God has a plan for each person. It opens the door to the reality that one’s decision about the future is not worked out in a monologue with one’s self but in a dialogue, a conversation, with God.
To deliver this message you may, like the Old Testament prophets, have to work through your personal reticence about framing the question in terms of God’s will and plan, raising it at the right time, of working through your fear of rejection or failure. The Old Testament prophets provide us with a reassuring message, however. They tell us that God did not leave them alone. He was with them every step of the way. He guided and strengthened them. He does the same for His prophets today. After all, it is His message for His people.
The Old Testament prophet’s message was framed always in terms of a particular historical situation. In our time, the Church, universally and in our own diocese, is experiencing the reality of declining vocations to priesthood and consecrated life. How important it is that we recognize this situation. But it is equally important to be confident that God continues to call people to the priesthood and religious life. I take seriously my responsibility to pray for vocations and to encourage others to consider a vocation, to invite others to discern prayerfully if God is calling them to priesthood and the consecrated life. I ask you to join me in this important work. Pray for vocations. Accept your responsibility to “speak to God’s people,” awakening in them the possibility of a vocation.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.