"Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here I am. Send me (Isaiah 6:8)!'"
Vocations. When we hear that word as Catholics, we instinctively think of “vocations to the priesthood and religious life.” That is not a bad or incorrect instinct but it is an incomplete one. In addition to “the priesthood and religious life,” Catholics are also called to the vocations of marriage and life as single persons. All four are beautiful and rich vocations, filled with grace and the opportunity to serve God and one another.
On May 15, the Church in the United States and throughout the world will celebrate the annual “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.” The focus established by Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI this year is on “proposing vocations (to the priesthood and religious life) in the local Church.”
I have asked the pastors and parishes throughout the diocese to foster and promote that day and intention in whatever way is appropriate. I now ask you, the members of the Diocese of Trenton, to make a special effort to pray that the “voice of the Lord” may reach eager and interested ears so that they might respond “Here I am. Send me.”
Although attendance at Sunday Mass has been disappointing in recent years, with less than 25 percent of Catholics participating, the fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church is growing in the United States. Bishops, pastors and members of the faithful all over the country are feeling the pinch occasioned by the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and as ministries performed by religious women and men are diminished. What can we, as Catholics, do?
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life begin in the Catholic family, where our Catholic faith and beliefs should be strongest. When Blessed John Paul II began his ministry as pope, he proclaimed “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!” Our sons and daughters within Catholic families need the encouragement and support of parents to consider such vocations without fear.
Next, our parishes need to present the best role models for ministry: committed priests, religious sisters and brothers who find ministry and service in the Church a joy not a burden; who are willing to serve the community of faith eagerly and effectively. Our Catholic schools – especially our Catholic high schools, colleges and campus ministries – and our Catholic religious education programs need to present Church vocations as a positive option.
Finally, we all need to look for healthy, happy Catholic young people who show signs of some inclination to a life of service in the Church and we need to ask them, “Have you ever thought about the priesthood or religious life?”
In my many years as a priest, it has been my experience over and over again that most young men or women I ask respond: “No one ever asked me before.” We just need to get people thinking about vocations in the Church.
And we all have to pray for new, strong, vital, committed, holy vocations. That is something we all can do!
People will offer quick, easy, media-hyped reasons why vocations have diminished. Contemporary issues and crises within the Catholic Church certainly might contribute to the problem in some instances but they are not the end of the story by any means. In its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church has faced many similar difficulties and negative factors. Recall Christ’s prediction in John’s Gospel: “In the world you will have troubles but take courage: I have overcome the world (John 16:33)!”
We need good, healthy, enthusiastic, joyful people to respond to the voice of the Lord: good priests who will continue to make the Eucharist present so that the Church can truly be the Body of Christ and dedicated religious women and men to collaborate with them as, together, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful build up and strengthen the Church, now and forever. “Here I am. Send me!” [[In-content Ad]]