Resolution of the Eternal Kind

ResolutionsMany people made resolutions for the coming year – eat less, exercise more, spend more time with family, perhaps work for that promotion or new job, or spend more time in prayer and attend the sacraments more frequently.  No matter what your resolutions might be, or perhaps you didn’t make any, one that should be added to the list of every faithful Catholic is this: contribute to building a culture of vocations.

The Church has emphasized time and again that encouraging priestly and religious vocations is a concern and responsibility of every Christian community, indeed every Christian.  As Pope Benedict said on the occasion of the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations,

“Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by ‘other voices’ and His invitation to follow Him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations.  It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable them to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond ‘yes’ to God and the Church.”

In our culture, we are all too familiar with the term “vocation crisis”; indeed, many communities acutely feel the shortage of priests and religious.  In my home diocese of Anchorage, many parishes do not have an assigned priest, and those that do, like most in the continental U.S., need more.  In terms of religious, hospitals and schools that were once filled with sisters are devoid of them; the choir of many monasteries that once rang with the prayers and songs of praise from monks and nuns have become thin.  Admittedly, there are many reasons for this and some people may respond, “So what?  So long as the work is getting done, does it really matter?” 

But then I’m reminded of the effect this could have meant to me personally: the woman who invited me to my first Mass, which was the catalyst event that eventually led to me entering into the fullness of the Catholic faith and discerning a religious vocation, was also a convert.  She was introduced to the Catholic faith as a young girl when she was hospitalized several times due to chronic illness – her nurses were Catholic sisters and she saw in them something she recognized as missing in her own life.  Intrigued and inspired by their joyful and faith-filled service, she began asking questions.  As soon as she reached the age of majority, she converted to the Catholic faith.  Eventually her mom also converted.  Would she have converted without the example of the sisters living out their faith in their vocation?  What about her mother?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Would I have been introduced to the Catholic faith without my friend’s invitation?  Would I want to find out? 

Supporting vocations promotes evangelization and discipleship.  It promotes evangelization because priests and religious are called to give a particular witness to God and His Church to the world.  It promotes discipleship because of the nature of vocation itself.  Vocation, after all, is, at its core, an invitation by God to grow in holiness – God loves us so incredibly much, He wants to spend eternity with us. Our vocation, whether to marriage, ordained life, consecrated life, or dedicated single life, is the particular way God has called us to grow in holiness.  So, by encouraging young men and women to seek God, to discover and persevere in their vocations, you are encouraging them on their way to heaven.  You are assisting in their salvation.  Which, through a mystery of God’s grace, can come back to assist you in yours, in any number of ways.  Conversely, we are warned that if God is calling us to do something and we refuse Him, there are consequences for our act of refusal.

So how can we foster vocations this year?  Here are a few suggestions:

Pray.  Jesus told His disciples, the fields are ripe for the harvest, but the workers are few.  Pray to your Heavenly Father to send more workers.  Note He didn’t say, “roll up your sleeves and get to work.”  He first wanted us to know our help comes from God.  It is He who calls the workers and assigns the tasks.  But, He waits for us to ask Him for assistance.  So, let’s first pray daily for an increase of vocations to the Church.  Let’s also remember to pray for those who are discerning a vocation, or who have answered the call to the priesthood or religious life, as well as our deacons and bishops.

Encourage.  Look around your family and parish.  Do you know any single, young men or women?  Simply ask them, “Have you considered becoming a priest/nun or sister?”  You might be surprised by the answer.  You needn’t have all the answers to their questions; sometimes a simple, encouraging smile, a listening ear and a suggestion that they pray about it may be all that is needed.

A recent study indicated over 600,000 men and women between the ages of 14 and 35 have seriously considered the priesthood or religious life.  A young person is more likely to pursue discerning a vocation if they are encouraged by others they know.  Being encouraged by three or more people makes a young person five times more likely to seriously consideration a priestly or religious vocation.  I can speak from personal experience – my discernment started at the suggestion of someone else; from that brief conversation, a seed was planted and promptings from the Holy Spirit became so strong, I couldn’t ignore them. 

Speak to your pastor about activities you might be able to do to encourage vocations in your parish: perhaps a special time of adoration with a holy hour of prayer for vocations, distributing resources such as prayer cards, an intention for vocations in the prayers of the faithful at Mass, participating in days of prayer and awareness established by the Church, such as the National Vocations Awareness Week (January 13-19, 2013)…the ideas are endless. 

You might prayerfully consider joining an organization that is committed to fostering and encouraging vocations, such as a local Serra Club or the Knights of Columbus.  If you don’t have one in your area, contact the organization about starting a local chapter or becoming an at-large member.  But remember, just as Jesus personally invited each of his disciples, nothing beats beginning with a personal invitation or kindly spoken word of encouragement to a young person.

Give to God.  When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, each of the twelve tribes was given land, except one.  The tribe of Levi, the tribe from which the priests of Israel were to come, was not given land.  Instead, God consecrated, or set aside, the Levites to maintain the temple and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel.  They were to engage full-time in acts of praise and worship that those with full-time work and land to tend would not be able to do; but the prayers and offerings of praise and worship offered by the Levites were on behalf of the entire nation of Israel.  God then instructed the Israelites to offer one tenth, a tithe, of the fruits of their land to God.  From this tithe, God gave to the Levites’ to provide for their material needs. 

In the New Testament, we also find the apostles taking up a collection for the Church, as well as those in need.  Paul, in particular, spoke of the right he had to expect the faithful to support His ministry.  This is not to say Paul demanded a handout; quite the contrary.  He recognized that God was inviting the faithful to participate in His work, just as with the Israelites and Levites.  On one level, the tithe is owed to God; it is our duty to support the Church.  To not give what He asks, out of what He entrusted to us in the first place, is to rob God.  But more than that, God asks us to give to teach us virtue.  It is an opportunity for the faithful to grow in holiness.  This, too, is one way that the body of Christ is expressed and realized. 

This can be difficult to understand for those of us raised in American culture; we tend to highly value independence and self-sufficiency, to the point of thinking if anyone admits they need anything from anyone, it is a sign of weakness that should be chastised.  The result of this thinking, all too often, is the notion that if a person finds themselves lacking, it is the result of their decisions and they should have to live with the consequences, whatever that may be.  But this narrow view is much like that taken by Javert in Les Miserables; it is a confining view of justice that fails to allow for mercy.  True justice is rooted in charity, which always desires the best for the other.  Sometimes this means we live with the full effect of choices we make.  But sometimes it’s not as simple as someone “choosing” to be in the place where they find themselves and God asks us to lend a helping hand – to show generous mercy.

God wants us to recognize all good things we have come from Him, for the purpose of exercising stewardship and being generous to those in need.  To not admit we need the assistance of others to accomplish what God has called us to do is the sin of pride.  To begrudge giving to God in support of the Church and those in need (as the Holy Spirit leads us) is the sin of greed.

Vocations need material support.  Seminarians and religious undertaking an apostolate need education and training.  Cloistered nuns and monks have the basic needs of shelter, food and clothing as well.  Though the daily material needs of priests and religious are generally modest, they still exist.  And, now more than ever we are seeing practical barriers to aspirants even being able to enter formation. 

In this country, we have a compounding problem hindering new vocations: educational loans.  In 2012, the National Religious Vocation Conference released a study on educational debt and vocations.  In the United States, educational debt is increasing by 5% annually.  Commenting on the results of the study, Br. Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, stated 

“Our national education debt problem is definitely impeding young women and men from pursuing life as a religious priest, sister, or brother…  Some communities have no alternative but to ask potential candidates to delay their applications, or even worse, turn them away altogether.” 

In other words, these vocations are like fruit that is ripe, but left sitting on the vine to rot. 

Supporting organizations such as The Laboure Society helps free young men and women accepted to formation but prevented from entering due to educational loans.  This support includes praying for those aspirants being helped, offering financial support, and letting others know about the organization and its work.  This includes sharing information via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter, and among our family, friends and in our parish. 

Some may also use their talents to host bake sales, fundraising dinners or other events.  Business owners may offer to donate proceeds from their sales during a certain day or time period in support of vocations; in some instances, a restaurant or coffee shop has donated proceeds from food and/or beverage sales from a certain period of time in honor of a particular aspirant, in support of vocations; a band or ensemble may offer to throw a benefit concert.  I know of one couple, recognizing the connection between the vocations of marriage and priesthood/religious life, made a donation in support of vocations in lieu of giving favors to their guests at their wedding.  The couple requested the aspirants remember them in prayer, which was joyfully promised, and conveyed the donation to their guests with simple cards.  Whatever time, talent, or treasure you may have, it can be used by God to grow His Church. 

Recognizing this is a responsibility we each bear and share with one another, what might the Holy Spirit be laying on your heart?  We may never know who God calls as a result of our prayers, who might be encouraged to persevere by our kind words of invitation, and who might be blessed by our generous offering of time, talent or treasure to God.  Perhaps the priest that brings the sacraments to a remote village…or the priest that hears our confession and offers us the Blessed Sacrament one last time before we pass to eternity.  The sister who educates our children…or brings comfort to an elderly man or woman left alone in a nursing home.  Perhaps the monk or nun who spends the rest of their life in prayer for us…and the whole world.  Let’s resolve to pray for vocations, encourage young men and women in their faith and to discern and persevere in their vocations, and freely offer to God that which He is inviting us to give back to Him in support of vocations.

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  1. […] I mentioned in another post, Br. Paul Bednarczyk, CSC, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, has […]

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