The duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community; an invitation to listen to His voice
By Father Joe Reed
Though it may not always feel like it, God speaks to us in ways we have the capacity to understand. Maybe we don’t understand perfectly and immediately, but we have the capacity to listen to His Word, to ponder it (after the Blessed Mother’s example), and to respond to it.
In the Old Testament, the inspired authors often record how God called prophets. Whether by a divine or angelic confrontation followed by some form of introduction, God lets the prophet know who He is, and that He knows the prophet and the plight of His people.
The prophet is commissioned by God, but objects to the task, so God reassures him and gives him a sign.
It is jarring and beautiful, and some of the saints seem to have had similar encounters. But most of us don’t have quite such an experience, at least I don’t know many who have – and I know I haven’t.
And that’s OK. For most of us, the call of God is often more of a whisper than a prod. He uses our families, friends, pastors and fellow faithful to call us more often than angels. And that makes so much sense on this side of the Incarnation.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
By our baptism we have been made the brothers and sisters of
Christ and sons and daughters of the Father. Jesus went through his earthly homeland calling as many as he could to follow him to our heavenly homeland for life on high with Our Father.
The task of calling everyone to our ultimate home is so important that Jesus has seen to it that the call keeps going out. All of the disciples, and the apostles in a particular way, have been given the mandate to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus Christ, who has joined us to Himself and the Father and the Holy Spirit, does remain with us, and desires our total cooperation with Him in the life and mission of the Church. In the sacraments we are given certain and special graces and even the Holy Spirit, so that we can pursue holiness with the strength of Christ, who calls and impels us. We can make known to others the good news that God loves us and frees us from sin and death so that we can enjoy a taste of the liberty now that will be full-flavored in eternal life. But the mandate doesn’t stop there.
Our families, parishes, schools, our whole diocese, are all called to be seedbeds of future priests, deacons, and religious as well as married faithful and those who commit to a single way of life for the sake of foreshadowing the kingdom of God. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded and encouraged the whole Church of this:
“The duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life. The principal contributors to this are the families, which, animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty, become a kind of initial seminary, and the parishes in whose rich life the young people take part.
Teachers and all those who are in any way in charge of the training of boys and young men, especially Catholic associations, should carefully guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation.
“All priests especially are to manifest an apostolic zeal in fostering vocations and are to attract the interest of youths to the priesthood by their own life lived in a humble and industrious manner and in a happy spirit as well as by mutual priestly charity and fraternal sharing of labor,” according to the Decree on Priestly Training.
My mother was the first person to tell me I should at least consider the priesthood. That invitation was repeated throughout my early years by countless priests, deacons, youth ministers, teachers, confreres, and friends. The persistence of these invitations — though I often objected — gradually became a reassuring testimony.
It is not just the prospective seminarian or seminarian himself who discerns whether or not he is called to the priesthood. It also is the Church who discerns. God has worked through numerous families, parishes, and ministers — both clergy and lay ministers — in the Diocese of Knoxville to call forward men to consider a priestly vocation. Will everyone who goes to seminary be ordained? Probably not. Should more men be considering priesthood as a vocation? I venture to say yes.
It takes a bit of courage and gentleness to suggest that a man [whatever his age] has a priestly vocation. Perhaps the person has thought of it before… or not. Maybe we know only one manifestation of the person, that is, his Church persona. It is easy to let the perfect become the enemy of the good and thus be paralyzed when we could be calling forward gifts and encouraging others to be opened to some of the greatest, but often unthought of, vocations: holy orders and the religious life.
So how does the Church — the faithful — raise up and advance boys and men who might become priests? It does so first by having children. Raise them in the faith and know the faith yourself. Meet the poor, visit the sick, feed the poor, adore the Lord in the Eucharist, attend Mass every Sunday, and confess regularly. Offer your kids a solid Catholic education [I can arrange for tours of some awesome schools]. And when the time is right, invite them to listen to the voice of God! If you know an older man who is considering a call to the diaconate or priesthood, encourage him to do the same.
Above all, don’t be afraid to help plant seeds, but don’t be hurt if it turns out not to be the right fruit for a seminarian. The life of a seminarian is about a long, consistent discernment of both the seminarian and the Church. While some seminarians are ready for the next step forward, or step out of formation, some have to be encouraged to persevere long enough to overcome the growing pains and persist in the discipline that will equip them for ministry.