Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three Easy and Effective Ways to Promote Vocations

(Third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on January 23, 2011 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 2011]

I came across this reflection on the priesthood recently:

If a priest preaches more than 10 minutes, they say he’s long-winded. If his homily is short, they say he didn’t prepare it well. If the parish funds are in the black, they say he has business savvy. If he mentions money, they say he’s money-mad. If he visits his parishioners, they say he’s nosy; if he doesn’t, they say he’s a snob. If he has dinners and bazaars, they say he’s bleeding the people; if he doesn’t, they say there’s no life in the parish. If he takes time in the reconciliation room to advise sinners, they say he takes too long. If he doesn’t, they say he doesn’t care. If he celebrates Mass in a quiet voice, they say he’s boring; if he puts emphasis in his words, they say he’s an actor. If he starts Mass on time, they say his watch must be fast; if he starts late, they say he’s holding up the people. If he’s young, they say he’s inexperienced; if he’s old they say he ought to retire.

And you think it’s easy being a priest?!!

Of course, I know that none of those things has ever been said about me!—especially the one about being long-winded!

I wonder if Peter, Andrew, James and John had any idea what they were getting into when Jesus called them away from their fishing business and former way of life to be his apostles, and, eventually, his first priests.

Probably not. But they said yes anyway! And they did it enthusiastically, as do most priests today.

That last point might come as a surprise to many people, but it’s true nonetheless. In spite of the challenges and sacrifices of priestly life—like dealing with the divisions among people that St. Paul had to deal with in Corinth (which we heard about a few moments ago in our second reading)—most priests today are happy in their vocation.

In fact, when Fr. Stephen Rossetti surveyed 834 priests after the scandals of 2002 (a time when priestly morale should have been extremely low), he found that 92% of them either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Overall, I am happy as a priest.” A Los Angeles Times poll of 1,854 priests yielded a similar result: 91% said they were satisfied with the “way [their] life as a priest [was] going,” and 90% said they would do it all over again. If they could turn back the hands of time, they would choose once more to respond to God’s grace and serve the Lord in the priesthood.

That’s because it’s a joy to bring Jesus to people (especially in the sacraments), and to bring people to Jesus!

Now, unfortunately, there are many places (especially in the affluent western world) where the number of vocations is very, very low. Actually, it’s not the number of “vocations” that’s small (since God always calls a sufficient number of shepherds for his people). The problem is that many who are being called are not responding! The Lord is calling, but they are not saying yes.

There are many reasons for this, of course—for this “response crisis” that we’re currently experiencing in the Church; but one of the most important is that many Catholics are simply not doing what they can and should do to promote vocations. And some are actively trying to undermine them—especially when it’s someone in their family!

Personally, I would not want to stand before Almighty God someday to try to justify undermining a vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate, or religious life!

That’s not a good idea.

All that having been said, let me now share with you 3 very easy and effective ways that you can promote vocations, if you so desire.

The first way to promote vocations is to know your Catholic Faith! (And if you don’t know it, learn it!). The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks for itself, when it’s shared and explained in an intelligent and reasonable way. Young people today are looking for the same things that young people have been looking for throughout history. They’re looking for answers to the most basic questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the goal of life? Is there a God? If there is, does he care at all about me?—and what, if anything, does he expect of me?

If we know our Catholic Faith well, and can answer questions like these for the young people we come into contact with every day (especially those in our families), they will come to see the beauty and truth of the Gospel—and they’ll begin to see that investing your life in promoting the Gospel full-time is a good thing, a very good thing.

We’ve been blessed here in our community with many vocations. I know there are some who think that I’ve put pressure on these young people to choose the priesthood or religious life.

Not at all! All I’ve tried to do is teach them the Gospel in a convincing way and help them meet Jesus. The rest has been between them and the Lord—which is precisely the way it should be with any vocation.

The second way to promote vocations is this: Live your Catholic Faith to the best of your ability. A young person will not invest his life in an ideal that he doesn’t see lived out, at least to some extent. Every priest, deacon and religious brother or sister can tell you stories about committed Catholics who made a deep and lasting impact on their life. Perhaps it was a parent or some other relative; perhaps it was a priest, or a religious, or a co-worker, or a friend—or some combination of the above.

One of the people who made a profound impact on young Karol Wojtyla during his years of discernment for the priesthood (in addition to his parents) was a Polish tailor named Jan Tyranowski. Tyranowski knew the Faith—and the writings of the great spiritual masters like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross; he lived the Faith in a devout way in is personal life, and because of that knowledge and example he helped to form a future Pope, John Paul II.

This brings us to the third way to promote vocations, which, not surprisingly to pray! A vocation, ultimately, is the work of God’s grace, and that grace is poured forth into the heart of a young person through prayer.

On that note, I had a very saintly grandmother who lived in a wheelchair for the last several years of her life. (This was when I was in the seminary.) For a long time she had open wounds on her legs that wouldn’t heal (they didn’t have the good wound care back then that they have now). But during those years I always remember her with her Rosary beads in her hands, fingering them while she quietly prayed.

She had many intentions that she was praying for in those days, but I knew that I—her seminarian grandson—was either at or near the top of the list.

Would I have become a priest without those prayers? I seriously doubt it.

I remember Fr. Marcel Taillon speaking here at St. Pius about vocations many years ago, and during his homily he asked people to pray one Hail Mary every day for vocations.

Those of you who were here back then: Have you done that? Or do you at least pray every once in awhile in some fashion for vocations?

That last question is for everyone.

Know the Faith; Live the Faith; and Pray!—three easy and effective ways to promote vocations. Please notice, these activities are not complicated; they don’t require a lot of special gifts or a lot of specialized training.

All they require is a willing and loving and faith-filled heart.

May that kind of heart reside in each and every one of us.