My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
Over the last several months, I have been working with our Priests’ Personnel Board in preparation for the June assignments of clergy. Coincidentally, not so long ago on Sunday, April 22, we observed the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This celebration and the assignment of priests are closely linked. In my visits to parishes, our people always inquire about the possibility of assigning additional priests to their parishes. How I wish I could fulfill their requests, but our resources are limited. When I gently inquire when the parish last had a seminarian in preparation for the priesthood, the response is somber. For some, their memories are of a time when vocations were numerous.
Many also wish we would have more religious sisters in our schools, parishes and charitable institutions. Once again, I kindly tell them of the gratitude we owe to these sisters for all they contribute to our diocese and how so many continue in ministry long beyond what is considered the norm in secular work. With diminished numbers, the sisters still provide the witness of vowed, consecrated life. But how long will this continue if the next generation does not respond to the invitation of Jesus to religious life?
The work of promoting vocations belongs to the entire Christian community by its prayers and manifested support, beginning in our families and then by extension to our schools, religious-education programs, college campuses and even in the work force. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of our diocese, one cannot help to appreciate all that was accomplished by clergy and religious over these many years. Now we are blessed with many dedicated laity who have assumed positions of leadership in the church. However, this benefit complements, but does not exclude, fostering vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life at this very moment.
In his message for the 2018 World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis wrote: “Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now! Each one of us is called — whether to the lay life in marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration — in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now.”
Those in our diocese now discerning a vocation to the ordained ministry or religious life are courageous. The teachings of Jesus, proclaimed in the Gospel and lived out in the church, are not readily received or accepted by many; even the most basic tenets of our faith are subject to criticism and, in some instances, are harshly attacked, especially on life issues ranging from the protection of the unborn to the protection of vulnerable and elderly members of society. Sadly, our efforts to assist refugees fleeing violence and tyrannical governments are also suspect.
There really are no areas of Christian morality that are free of tension, controversy, heated and at times unChristian debate. In chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus does not spare any words about the challenges and crosses that will be endured by His first 12 disciples as He warns them: “What I am doing is sending you out like sheep among wolves (v.16) ‚Ä¶ You will be hated by all on account of me (v. 22) ‚Ä¶ He who will not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me. He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nought for me discovers who he is (vv. 38-39).” These words we may have glossed over at one time or another are now very real and so relevant.
Throughout the history of the church, courageous women and men have given extraordinary witness to Jesus Christ, even to the point of dying a martyr’s death. In celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the foundation of our diocese, we should reflect upon the life of our diocesan patron St. John Fisher (1469-1535). Remaining firmly loyal to the Holy See in his defense of the indissolubility of marriage and refusing to acquiesce to the demands of temporal powers, St. John Fisher was the first cardinal to suffer a martyr’s death in the church’s history, surrendering his life on June 22, 1535. “He had lain down his life for God, for the Catholic religion, and for the truth preserved by the universal Church” (Thomas J. McGovern, Generations of Priests, p. 91).
During this month dedicated to our Mother Mary, we ask her intercession that she beseech her Son that our diocese will be blessed with vocations to the ordained ministry and religious life, so that the zeal and enthusiasm of those who have gone before us will be continued in the ages to follow. We also ask her Son’s blessing upon our priests, deacons and religious now serving in our diocese. We pray that they will have the support and encouragement of those entrusted to their pastoral care, especially when their ministry requires that they make difficult decisions and preach the Gospel in its fullness.
United with you in praying for vocations and renewing our plea to Our Mother Mary to present our needs to her Son and invoking the intercession of St. John Fisher, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester