When you receive this column we will be in the midst of National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated January 13-19. This annual event earmarks a time for dioceses and parishes to consider their role in the important work of promoting the role of the ordained ministry and consecrated life to men and women discerning their vocation. The week has a special significance during this Year of Faith, a time in which we in the Diocese of Syracuse are emphasizing our renewed efforts to know, live and share our faith.
A sufficient number of priests and members of consecrated life “has an immediate impact on all the faithful: not simply because they depend on it for the religious future of Christian society, but also because this problem is the precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and love of individual parish and diocesan communities . . . . Wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity” (Paul VI, Radio Message, April 1964).
As we seek to renew our faith during this year it is important to keep in mind that our faith leads us to an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ who assumed our humanity and lived among us showing us the way to eternal life. He is the answer to our longing and thirsting. Our Holy Father reminds us, “Vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life are born out of the experience of a personal encounter with Christ, out of a sincere dialogue with him, so as to enter into his will. It is necessary, therefore, to grow in the experience of faith, understood as a profound relationship with Jesus, an inner attentiveness to his voice which is heard deep within us. This process, which enables us to respond positively to God’s call, is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer” (Benedict XVI, Message of the Holy Father for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations). Promoting vocations requires us to form vibrant communities of faith where credible witness to the Gospel is evident and a strong sense of mission compels us to proclaim the good news to others.
I offer two practical suggestions to promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. First and foremost Vocation Awareness Week reminds us that we have the responsibility to pray for vocations. I recall the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37). The Lord knows our needs. I believe He calls men and women to the priesthood and the consecrated life. And so as we pray with confidence that God calls “laborers for his harvest,” we also pray that the invitation will be heeded and accepted.
Secondly, we need to invite men and women to consider a call to ordained ministry and consecrated life. A recent study has shown that more youth consider a lifetime of service to the Church than family and friends realize. “We estimate that over 600,000 youth and young adults have seriously considered a religious vocation in the Church. This is good news. The challenge is to pray for them and encourage them to take the next step as they discern God’s call” (Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics, Center for Applied Research). This research also notes that when a person is encouraged by three or more people to consider a religious vocation in the Church, they are five times more likely to consider it seriously. This research encourages us to be less shy and more proactive about encouraging someone with the right qualities to consider the ordained or consecrated life.
In the course of a year I meet many of our young people at their schools and during the conferral of Confirmation. It seems to me that our young people are generous. They want to be connected to the community particularly through service to others. They also are searching. They are looking for what will satisfy them and bring them happiness. Experience will teach them that some joys are passing; some joys though satisfying are still not enough to quench their desires. They will learn that the happiness they are seeking often comes at a price, the cost of thinking and caring about others rather than themselves. And hopefully they will realize that their happiness rests in the plan that God has for them.
Each one of them is unique and special as is God’s plan for them. Each of them is called in a specific way to fulfill God’s plan. God has created each of them for some definite service. Cardinal Newman expresses it beautifully in one of his prayers. “God has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work.”
Promoting vocations is not the work of one week. It should be an on-going effort on our part. Let us encourage our young people with the requisite qualities to consider priesthood or the consecrated life. And let us pray daily that men and women may hear the Lord of the harvest when He calls them to “come and follow me” and share His life and ministry through the priesthood or consecrated life. May we live the Gospel with generosity, steadfast faith and enduring hope and thus be blessed with vocations for our diocese and the universal Church.
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, NY 13202.