Good people of the Diocese of Trenton,
As director of Vocations for our Diocese, I would like to invite you to pray that more young people might hear and answer the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life in our Diocese.
This week (Nov. 5-11), the Church in our country is celebrating “Vocation Awareness Week,” and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you not only to pray for vocations but also to join in the work of encouraging vocations to priesthood and religious life. Since it is my role in the Diocese to help young men discern a call to diocesan priesthood, permit me to share some thoughts about that vocation in particular.
The Role of Community
Vocations are encouraged in the family and in the parishes all throughout our Diocese and the world, not just by your parish priests. You would be amazed what a pivotal role parents and siblings and parishioners can play in the lives of young men who are encouraged toward the priesthood. As parents and siblings, you can set the stage for a priestly vocation just by praying together and encouraging them by keeping them close to the sacraments. This allows their hearts to be open to the call and helps them listen to God’s voice.
Pope Benedict XVI once spoke about discernment to the priesthood by saying, “God’s voice inviting us to love him is heard in the people and events around us, but especially in prayer.” In response to a question by a seminarian about how one can discern God’s call, the Pope gave the following answer: “God speaks with us in many different ways. He speaks by means of others, through friends, parents, pastors, priests …”
As parishioners, it can be helpful to encourage young men who seem to be very attentive to the liturgy. This can be observed in the pew by special attention during Mass or by serving with reverence at the altar. There are young men out there that you could invite to consider a vocation. Also, praying for them to hear and answer the call is important as well. So, if a young man comes to you and shares that he is discerning a vocation, it is important for him to work with God and to receive a positive response from you.
It can be very difficult to hear and answer the call in today’s society since, at times, many have turned away from God altogether. However, the Holy Spirit is very much at work in the world, and so we are called to assist in this ministry by being willing to help these young men see the priesthood as a viable and fulfilling way of life, even though it may be viewed as counter-cultural.
Personally, I look at it as having the chance to view all of the evil and violence in the world and then say yes to God by spending your life trying to do something about it. It is in witnessing to the Gospel that we can effect change in the world, and God may be calling you to assist in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Being Open to the Call
For the young men who may be considering a call to the priesthood, I would recommend three important practices. First, I would encourage you to stay close to the Lord through the Sacraments, especially Mass and Confession. Second, it is important to spend time in prayer, both privately and before the Blessed Sacrament and reading Sacred Scripture. Third, I would strongly recommend seeking out your parish priest or another priest you admire because they can be very helpful in guiding you along the way and answering questions. It is mainly about being open to the call of God.
You may ask yourself, “Why me?” I answer that by asking, “Why not you?” I was once told that God doesn’t call the qualified but that he qualifies the called. Sometimes we can be concerned that we might not have the talents necessary to become a priest, but I firmly believe that God does give us the grace to complete the tasks he asks us to do. Some of you men will encounter a tug at your heart from our Lord, which will gently grow from a whisper to a strong call. Then we just need to ask for the grace to answer this call.
Bishop O’Connell expressed this well recently during Vocations Day at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft when he said, “I am called to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles in the Church today, and I need young men to assist me in this by following the Lord and sharing in the priesthood in the Diocese of Trenton.”
This is a beautiful invitation not only by our Bishop but also Jesus Christ himself, who, when calling the first apostles said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt. 4:19) Each one of us has a specific vocation, and we need to discover it through prayer and discernment.
Pope Benedict once said, “The Lord has his plan for each of us; he calls each one of us by name. Our task is to be listeners, capable of perceiving his call, to be courageous and faithful, so that we may follow him, and in the end, be found as trustworthy servants who have used well the gifts entrusted to us.”
There is such a great peace when you experience for the first time the feeling of knowing you are exactly who the Lord is calling you to be in the place where he is calling you, doing what he wants you to be doing. It is in this consolation that makes any of the sacrifices we offer in our journey living the priesthood today such a meaningful and joyful way of life. Can you imagine yourself living a life devoted to God and witnessing to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
In closing, reflect upon the words of Pope Francis, “God surpasses all our expectations and constantly surprises us by his generosity. He makes our efforts bear fruit beyond all human calculation.”
Father Michael Wallack is the diocesan director of Vocations and priest secretary to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.