I do hope you will read with enjoyment this special issue of the Catholic Courier Monthly, which is devoted to the subject of vocations. In its pages, you will find the inspirational stories of many men and women religious and others whose gifts of ministry to our church have made a profound difference in so many lives.
While we certainly have a great need for people to come forward to serve the church in many capacities, both lay and ordained, Catholics have tended in recent years to express fear and frustration over the declining number of priestly vocations. The decline indeed is a crucial issue about which I will offer some thoughts here. But I do want to add that we must be careful as we look to our needs not to forget our blessings: the wonderful treasure of vibrant and dedicated priests — and men and women religious — who are making a difference in countless people’s spiritual lives in our diocese and who have taken on so much more in recent years. Please remember to offer these good and faithful servants your encouragement and support, and to thank God for their presence.
I recently accepted a seat on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Vocations, which is working nationally to promote religious life, to educate Catholics about related issues and, of course, to look for ways to increase the number of vocations to the priesthood. I took on this additional role gladly, to help in this important mission and because I want to learn as much as I can about vocation efforts in the dioceses of our country.
Whenever I have the opportunity, I also want to share, as I do here, my own feelings about the priesthood after more than 40 years of ministry. As I have said here before and at many meetings with young men seeking information about the priesthood, I would become a priest all over in an instant, in a heartbeat. I would choose this life again — because in it I find great sense of purpose and a chance to relate to a wide variety of people in significant ways. God has allowed me the privilege of helping people discover the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and of administering and witnessing the power of the sacraments to heal and inspire, to spark happiness and courage and hope.
All this happened because people I loved, trusted and respected helped me discern, nurtured my sense of calling, offered their prayers and their encouragement. And I can’t imagine a priest of our diocese who could not, in his own unique experience, offer thoughts similar to mine.
“No one is born a sister, brother or priest,” wrote Sister Cathy Bertrand, a School Sister of Notre Dame who directs the National Religious Vocation Conference. “Vocations are God-inspired and home-made.”
That last point is especially important to this issue. Research has shown time and time again that among the obstacles to promoting vocations — along with changes in societal attitudes on what constitutes “success,” smaller Catholic families and negative Hollywood stereotypes — are changes in family attitudes, weakening of the family structure and a lack of encouragement or invitation. We have found that people just don’t pose the question to those they feel might have what it takes, those with a sincere desire and a sense of hunger to learn more about the priesthood.
Research has shown the bishops’ Committee on Vocations that:
* Family encouragement and support is absolutely crucial to watering the seeds of a vocation — especially with young adults and teenagers. A positive, stable family life and one involved in the rich life of the church is dramatically important in fostering vocations.
* Catholic schools from the elementary to college levels, but especially high schools, have a positive effect on vocations far disproportionate to their numbers.
* Personal invitations to vocations are crucial, especially when they come from priests who can provide witness and example.
What can you do? For one, you can learn more about the issue and some of the societal and family issues at play. A good place to start is a page on the USCCB Web site that offers many articles and other good information: www.usccb.org/vocations. You can also write the USCCB at 3211 Fourth St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20017. In our own diocese, you may call Carol Dady, our priestly vocations coordinator, at 585/461-2890 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most importantly, pray that those who are working hard to increase awareness here and across the world will find strength, energy and the right tools. Pray that the Spirit moves men of integrity, energy and devotion to come forward and that those who love them will help nurture their deepest longings for special service to God.
If you know someone your heart tells you would make a fine priest, encourage him and offer your support. Suggest that perhaps he speak with a priest in the parish who can offer advice and tell of his own experiences. In your parish, work together as a community to help identify and raise up the names of Spirit-filled men you believe would be of great service to God, those who ask questions about priestly life or have expressed interest in what it would be like to be a priest and want to learn more.
Pray. Encourage. Invite. Be positive. With these four tools, each of you can help in this important cause.
Peace to all.