Some still answer priestly call - Catholic Courier

Some still answer priestly call

Father James A. Schwartz appeared almost ready to jump up from his chair at St. Joseph Church, Penfield, where he’s the pastor.

"I absolutely love being a priest!" he said, smiling. "I think the ministry of being a priest is absolutely fulfilling."

He said he recently had enjoyed visits and dinner with two parish families, and noted that he had baptized most of the children in one of the families.

"I enjoy people," he said. "The ministry of a priest is a people-person profession."

Father Schwartz said he is privileged to be present with families when they experience joy, during such events as weddings, and when they experience sorrow, during such events as funerals. People are willing to share their deepest thoughts with a priest, he noted, because priests are called to witness to God’s love for them.

"What is mystifying to me is why we don’t have more candidates for the priesthood," he said. "If you’re looking for a job that makes a difference in peoples’ lives, the priesthood has that opportunity in spades."

Father Schwartz, director of seminarians for the Diocese of Rochester, wants to dispel negative perceptions about the priesthood. It has drawbacks like any profession, but offers far more happy moments than sad ones, he said.

"I’m happy about the lives I’ve touched," he said. "I’m happy about my faith and the experience of God’s love in my life."

Rare gemstones

Father Timothy Horan, director of priesthood vocation awareness for the diocese, didn’t mince words when asked how he felt about the fact that the diocese will not ordain any priests this year.

"It’s a bummer," he said.

His associate, Carol Dady, diocesan coordinator of priesthood vocation awareness, added that "we can’t help but feeling that somehow we’re letting people down, that we need to do more."

The diocese is not bereft of future priests, however. Two men are being ordained as transitional deacons this year (see story on page 3), and will be ordained to the priesthood in 2007. Meanwhile, three more men are currently studying to become priests of the diocese.

Still, Father Horan noted that young men seeking to become priests today are "rare gemstones," and that the priestly vocation is not encouraged by today’s cultural environment. For one thing, Catholic families tend to be smaller today than in the past, he said. Whereas once Catholic families averaged five, six or even seven children, many today have as few as one or two.

"The (parental) pride that went with offering one of their children to the priesthood is erased by a hunger for grandchildren," he noted.

Celibacy likewise remains an obstacle for many young men who might otherwise consider the priesthood, Father Schwartz added. Some may fear they would wind up lonely as priests, he said, noting that the risk of loneliness also is present in marriage and single life. On the other hand, in accepting the vow of celibacy, a priest opens himself to friendships with countless people he might not otherwise meet.

"Celibacy doesn’t mean that you live a friendship-less or relationship-less life," he said. "I have many friends that fill my life, and I feel very fulfilled in that."

Fathers Horan and Schwartz said that young Catholic men today have numerous career options, and may find the lifelong commitment of the priesthood daunting. The priest shortage also contributes to the problem, Dady said, because fewer and fewer young men today get to know priests well enough to be inspired by their vocations. She said research has shown that encouragement from a priest is often a crucial factor in determining whether a young man considers the vocation.

Diocesan seminarians confirmed Dady’s observation. Although a wide variety of experiences led them to consider the priesthood, they said the personal encouragement they received from their fellow Catholics made a difference.

Paul M. Flansburg, who is currently serving his pastoral year at Webster’s St. Paul Church, is slated to be ordained in 2008. He said his vocation was encouraged by a priest he met in college and the support of his family.

Edison M. Tayag is in his third year of theological study at Gregorian University of Rome, and also is slated for ordination in 2008. He said he became involved with the diocese’s vocations program after a fellow parishioner at St. Vincent DePaul Church, Churchville, encouraged him to attend "24 Hours With The Lord," an annual retreat focusing on priestly vocations with Bishop Matthew H. Clark.

"That weekend allowed me to seriously discern about the ministerial priesthood," he said.

Fellow parishioners — both at St. Vincent’s, and his other home parish, St. Mary of the Lake in Watkins Glen — played a vital role in his answering God’s call to the priesthood, he said.

"They saw something in me that initially was not clear to me," Tayag said. "In one way or another, they told me explicitly that I could become or should seriously think about becoming a ministerial priest. I believe that I had to hear those comments."

Vocation awareness

Dady and Father Horan noted that the diocese is continually seeking ways to encourage young men — indeed, men and women of all ages — to become aware of the vocations to which God is calling them. And a visit to the diocese’s Web site (www.dor.org) confirms that the diocese is offering a number of opportunities for people seeking to learn more about vocations.

By clicking on the site’s "Vocations" link, visitors can find a plethora of information on the priesthood, the permanent diaconate, the religious life and lay ministries. The site also offers information on how parishes can encourage vocations, and notes that May 7 is World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

With respect to priesthood, the Web site features several pages devoted to such topics as frequently asked questions; information on the formation process; Rochester’s Becket Hall, which is a residential program for men discerning whether they are called to be priests; and blurbs from priests and seminarians about their lives.

The site also features a video sequence of Bishop Clark discussing priesthood. Father Horan said men interested in exploring priesthood also can obtain a DVD called "Come … Follow Me," which also features Bishop Clark, as well as diocesan priests and parishioners talking about the vocation. Free copies of the DVD are available through parishes or by calling Father Horan or Dady at 585-461-2890.

Meanwhile, the diocese once again is presenting "Senior Scene with Bishop Clark" at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Friday, May 19. Featuring music, speakers and other activities, and is designed to encourage high school seniors from throughout the diocese to consider how God is calling them to use their gifts for the church — through the ordained life, religious life or other vocations.

Father Horan added that men ages 17 and older also are invited to participate in this year’s "24 Hours With The Lord" priesthood retreat, which will begin the evening of June 2 at the Borromeo Prayer Center in Greece and include attendance at the deacon ordinations the next morning at the cathedral. Anyone interested in participating should contact a staff member at his parish.

No matter how many priestly vocations the diocese garners, officials are confident that all diocesan young people are being called to lives of service, Father Horan said.

"And every once in a while, that calling is to a young man being a priest," he said.

 

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