Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Are YOU Doing To Promote And Nurture Vocations To The Priesthood?

(Third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on January 26, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 4: 12-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2014]

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls his first priests: Peter, Andrew, James and John.  They leave their fishing business—and everything else—behind, and begin a journey with Jesus that would eventually bring them (and many others) to the kingdom of heaven.

So what are you doing to nurture and promote vocations to the priesthood right now in 2014?  That’s the question I’d like to address with you in my homily today.  What are you doing to help men—especially young men—hear the call of Jesus to follow him, as those apostles heard the call to follow our Lord 2,000 years ago?

Contrary to what many Catholics believe, we all have a responsibility in this regard.

And we need to take this responsibility seriously, if we love our young people and want to help them discover and carry out God’s will, and find fulfillment in their lives.  As Pope Francis said to the young men and women at World Youth Day last year: “God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment.”

But discovering God’s call for your life—be it to the priesthood or religious life or marriage or the single life—is not easy, especially in a hedonistic and materialistic society like ours, where it’s very easy to get disconnected from God and distracted by the things of this world.

This is why our words and actions on behalf of vocations matter.  Precisely because it’s not easy to recognize a call to the priesthood these days, young men need to be surrounded by faithful Catholics who will support and guide them in their discernment.

To help you reflect on what you’re currently doing (or not doing) to nurture and promote vocations to the priesthood, I ask you to reflect on the following questions:

  1. Are you encouraging the young men in your family to be open to a vocation?  Notice I didn’t say, “Are you encouraging them to be priests?”  God is the one who calls; the call does not come from you or from me, so we shouldn’t act like it does.  What the Lord wants us to do is to encourage young men (even those in our families) to be open to the possibility that God is calling them to the priesthood—so that, if he is, they will have their spiritual ears open and be able to recognize the call. 
    I ask this question because, although most Catholics will tell you that they support vocations, some will go on to say that they would never want their own sons or grandsons to be priests—even if God was calling them.  (Personally, I would not want to stand before God on Judgment Day and have to explain why I undermined HIS call to a young person!)
  2. Are you praying for vocations on a regular basis?  This is something that every Catholic should do simply because Jesus has commanded us to!  As our Lord said in Matthew 9: “The harvest is good but laborers are scarce.  Beg the harvest master to send laborers to gather his harvest.”
    When Fr. Marcel Taillon (who was then the Vocation Director in our diocese) spoke at all our weekend Masses several years ago, he asked everybody to pray one Hail Mary each day for vocations.
    I wonder how many have done that.
    We’re currently involved in the “Traveling Crucifix” program here at St. Pius (many of you have seen this advertised in our bulletin).  You take the crucifix into your home for one week and pledge to pray for vocations with the other members of your family for ten minutes each day.
    I know we have some available weeks on the calendar.  Perhaps that’s something your family would like to take part in.  If so, just follow the instructions in the bulletin announcement.
  3. Are you living your own vocation well?  If you’re married you might ask, “What does my vocation to marriage have to do with vocations to the priesthood?”  Well, when I was a student at Providence College, a professor of mine made a very interesting statement one day in class.  He said that if you look at the history of the western world since the time of Jesus Christ, what you see is that whenever marriages were strong, the priesthood was strong; and whenever the institution of marriage was in crisis (as it is today), there was also a crisis in the priesthood. 
    That made a lot of sense to me because both marriage and the priesthood are rooted in lifelong commitments.  So if a married couple lives their vocation joyfully, their example will help to promote vocations to the priesthood indirectly—since they will be conveying to young people the message that lifelong commitments are possible!  They’re not easy, that’s true—but, by the grace of God they can be lived, and they can be lived JOYFULLY!
  4. Do you receive the sacraments more than you have to?  You only HAVE to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days; you only HAVE to go to confession if you’ve committed a mortal sin.  But if you go to confession on a regular basis (at least a half dozen times a year), and if you occasionally go to Mass during the week (when you’re not obligated to go), you’re sending a very important message to the young men in your life. You’re telling them, by your actions, that you value what priests do; you’re telling them, by your actions, that the priesthood makes a positive impact on your life.
  5. Do you speak in a positive way about the priests you know?  “But, Fr. Ray, what could we possibly say that’s good about you?”  Well, feel free to leave me out of this if you like.  The fact is there are a lot of good priests out there doing the Lord’s work quietly and faithfully every single day.  But sometimes, unfortunately, all you hear about them are the negatives.
  6. Are you making it clear to your children, friends and relatives that faith is more important than skiing, and basketball, and every other sport’s and extra-curricular activity?  If you are, then once again you are indirectly promoting vocations, because you’re conveying the message to young men who might be called to the priesthood that our relationship with God is the most important relationship we have in this life.   
    Here we can all take a lesson from a great Jewish baseball player of the past and a great Catholic football coach of the past.
    In 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Sandy Koufax—who was probably one of the ten best pitchers in baseball history—refused to pitch in game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.  And why was that?  Why did Koufax say no to this incredible opportunity?
    It’s because it was the feast of Yom Kippur—one of the Jewish high holy days—and Koufax’s Jewish faith was much more important to him than playing a baseball game was (even a game in the World Series!).
    It reminds me of what Vince Lombardi used to tell his football players.  He used to tell them all the time that they needed to have their priorities in order.  He’d say, “Gentlemen, always remember that there are two things in life that should be more important to you than football: your religion and your family.”
    If we help young men to get their priorities in order and to keep their priorities in order, we will help them to discern God’s will for their lives—whatever that might be.
  7. One final question, which is really the most important question of all: Are you doing your best to help your children, relatives and friends meet Jesus, and develop a personal relationship with him?  If someone had approached Peter, Andrew, James and John and had said to them, “Jesus of Nazareth wants you to leave your families and your fishing business behind so that you can follow him around for three years,” those four men probably would have laughed at the messenger and called him “crazy” (and maybe a few other things as well!).
    But once those men had met Jesus personally, and had experienced his presence for themselves, everything changed.  As we heard in today’s gospel, they followed the Lord immediately, without any hesitation whatsoever.
    If we want young people to do the will of God in their lives, we need to help them experience the Lord in a personal way and begin an intimate relationship with him.  Now that can certainly happen at any Mass, and it sometimes does.  But very often something more is needed: usually a retreat of some kind where the normal distractions of life are not present.  This is why we take our young people to events like Steubenville East, and Youth Explosion and Youth 2000.
    For most of the young men and women who attend those retreats, Jesus Christ becomes more than a historical figure in a 2,000-year-old book!  These teens begin to see Jesus for who he really is: the loving Lord who created them, and died for them, and who has a plan for their lives here on this earth and in eternity.
    This is why it really upsets me when parents come up with any and every excuse as to why their children can’t attend spiritual events like these.  I think to myself, “Do they have any idea what they’re depriving their children of?”—because one way or another, regardless of what they’re called to in this life, those young people will need Jesus Christ.
So there they are: seven questions to help you reflect on what you’re currently doing (or not doing) to nurture and promote vocations to the priesthood.

My simple prayer at this Mass is that, regardless of what our past has been like, we will all be good promoters and good nurturers of priestly vocations in the future.