Who doesn’t love a good challenge? And this one can’t be beat. If you accept, you cannot lose, you cannot fail. Ready?
Do you want to see more priests, more sisters, nuns, and religious brothers? We all know we need and want them. So, here’s the challenge: Help build a culture of vocations right where you are. “How can I possibly do that?!” you ask. Three simple steps: this week, pray for one, invite one, encourage one. That’s it.
Pray. “The harvest is plenty, but laborers are few. So pray to the Master of the harvest to send more laborers.” This was Jesus instruction to his apostles when he looked across the masses, people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Today, there are many, many places in our own country where the sacraments are only sporadically available due to the shortage of available priests. Many schools, hospitals, care centers, and other work traditionally associated with works of mercy need more sisters and brothers. Many of our monasteries, the lightning rods of grace for our world and oases in the desert, have empty choir stalls, empty cells. So pray! Pray that God will commission young men and women to serve as priests and religious, and that they would have the grace of zeal, charity and final perseverance in these vocations!
Invite. For some of you, this may be more of a challenge, for it may require you to step out of your comfort zone. But for those who do this, you may be surprised at the results. Have you noticed a young man or woman in your parish and thought, “I wonder if he’s thought about priesthood/religious life.” If you haven’t, start looking around this week. Then, don’t just wonder. Invite them to consider it!
Just like the first apostles, who were personally invited by Jesus to follow Him, God often wants to use us to invite others to Himself. Yet, recent vocations studies suggest that the vast majority of young men and women never really consider priesthood/religious life because they’ve not been asked. And, conversely, many who are seriously discerning have been asked, and that had a positive effect on their discernment. So we need to ask more! Making a simple statement like: “I noticed you praying before Mass – have you ever considered…” They might laugh, stammer or make a quick denial. Simply smile and encourage them to think about it. That’s it. No further convincing or conversation needed. Guaranteed that if God is calling them, He will use the seed you just planted (though, like all seeds, it may take time to grow and bear fruit).
Encourage. This requires a bit more commitment, but IT is critical. Most young men and women who are actively discerning a priestly/religious vocation have significant hurdles to that vocation. Perhaps its opposition from family and/or friends. Perhaps it’s the financial hurdle of student loans. Perhaps its fatigue, stress or discouragement during seminary or religious formation. The local church should be a place of encouragement and support for these young men and women and the obstacles they face.
Another growing problem to vocations in this country are student loans. Because many young men and women wait to discern their vocations until during or after college, they have loans that must be resolved before they can enter formation. Currently, two organizations in the United States help aspirants resolve this hurdle: Labouré Society and Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. In our own community, it is most likely that two of our last three vocations would not be here without grants from these organizations and the support of their benefactors. What’s more, most of the young women in contact with our vocation directress have this same hurdle of student loans. So, check out the aspirants of these organizations and get involved! Let’s help bring these vocations to the Church – what a shame it would be to leave fruit on the vine to rot…
Do you know any vocations in formation from your parish or in your area? While these young men and women are adjusting to life as a seminarian or religious and formed as God’s servants, there are many trials and temptations that arise. Sometimes a smile, a small gesture, or even a note to say, “we are keeping you in prayer” gives an extra bit of encouragement to persevere and a connection with the people they are praying for or hope to serve in ministry one day. There are also incredible expenses incurred for seminary and formation. Financially supporting a seminarian of your diocese or religious in formation also helps ease a real stressor and provides the means for even more vocations to begin formation studies.
One danger we can fall into is thinking “someone else” will take care of this. But we have been constantly reminded that we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. When one member of the body suffers, we all suffer, and when one is honored, the entire body is honored. Need a bit more motivation? Pope Benedict spoke about the responsibility of the local church in fostering vocations in his 2011 message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
The Second Vatican Council explicitly reminded us that ‘the duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life’ (Optatam Totius, 2)…” Families should be “’animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty” (Optatam Totius, 2) which is capable of helping children to welcome generously the call to priesthood and to religious life.” Catechists, teachers, and leaders of Catholic groups and ecclesial movements, convinced their educational mission, should “seek to guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation. (emphasis added)
Finally, here’s another sobering thought from Pope Benedict: “The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church (emphasis added). In other words, the presence of life in the local Church is measured by its fruit. A hallmark fruit of life is the presence of vocations. These vocations need the care and nurturing of everyone to bring them to fruition.
“With trust and perseverance let us invoke the aid of the Virgin Mary, that by the example of her own acceptance of God’s saving plan and her powerful intercession, every community will be more and more open to saying “yes” to the Lord who is constantly calling new laborers to his harvest.”
So there’s the challenge: think of the young men and women you know or see at your parish. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring someone to mind. Pray for one. Invite one. Encourage one. Every week. How many vocations might you help bring to life through these simple steps? How many souls might be brought the Gospel, the sacraments and God’s mercy because you helped plant and nurture these seeds in the heart of a future priest or religious?