This week, the Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week. In a particular way, we pray for an increase in awareness and openness to vocations in the priesthood and religious life. While the seminary and priesthood might have seemed like a logical next step to many of my friends and family members, it was certainly not what I had planned for myself. Very often, we get in the way of what God has planned for us because we want to be in control. We want to decide the next step. Well, as Pope Francis is fond of saying, “our God is a God of surprises.” God is certainly full of surprises: I now find myself in my third year of formation for the priesthood.
I attribute this perceived vocation to the priesthood to the slow and ever-present assistance of God in my life. The Holy Spirit has been at work by placing people in my life who have assisted me in my journey of faith and discernment. These women and men have served as friends, guides, and fellow discerners of God’s call, and have assisted me in developing and sustaining healthy relationships centered on Christ and grounded in faith.
While discernment is a very personal process, the vocation to the priesthood is not a “me” vocation. Priesthood is a vocation of service to the people of God. As I progressed in my discernment, I realized more and more that I am simply responding to a call that I have discerned over time, a call that I received in the sacrament of baptism.
All the baptized are called to holiness, and priests are needed to preach the gospel message to them, to teach them the great truths of our faith, and to make them saints. Preaching, teaching, and sanctifying are at the very heart of a priestly vocation. Saint John Paul II said that parishes should be “genuine ‘schools’ of prayer”, and that it is the parish priest who is to be the master teacher of prayer. To be a priest is to be a servant and to stand in the person of Christ to preach, teach, and celebrate the sacraments. As a diocesan priest, I hope to do that within the context of the local parish, where I have experienced firsthand the importance of forming a community of faith.
During this National Vocation Awareness Week, it is important to say thank you. Thank you for your support of vocations, seminarians, and religious in formation. Without the support of my family and friends—as well as the prayers of parishioners and total strangers—I certainly would not be in the seminary today!
It is also important to ask for your prayers. The Lord certainly hears our prayers. There are many young people in our parishes and schools who are actively discerning their vocations, whether it is to priesthood, religious life, marriage, or single life. The Lord needs more laborers in the vineyard, so please pray that our communities may produce more workers to carry out his mission. Encourage young people—your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your students, your fellow parishioners—to consider what it is that the Lord may be asking of them. Sometimes simply asking the question can get the gears in motion or spur someone into speaking with a priest or religious about the possibility of a vocation. Join in asking the Lord to call more young people to discern vocations to help build up the Church. I believe that the Lord is calling many young people to serve him and the Church as priests and religious. Pray that they might have the courage to respond to that call, and to respond joyfully.
To learn more about vocational discernment click here.