One of the main goals of the Office of Vocations of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is to help create anew a “Culture of Vocations” within our local Church. If you go to Poland today, or Kerala, India, or Jalisco, Mexico, you will find a very definite culture of vocations.
It is almost second nature that a young Catholic boy or girl in these places would at least consider the possibility of a priestly or religious vocation for himself or herself. This used to be the case here in the United States as well until a few decades ago.
Msgr. Francis Weber, the longtime Archivist of the Archdiocese who was ordained a priest in 1959, writes in his autobiography, Memories of an Old Country Priest, that “Eighth grade nuns…were always on the lookout for qualified candidates to the high school seminary. Sister Mary Rosario Paul, B.V.M., was a case in point. In addition to conducting early morning preparation classes for secondary entrance examinations, Sister Mary Rosario Paul selected two of our class as potential seminarians and we were given special coaching on how best to score well on the exams…
“When the pastor, Father Thomas F. Fogarty, was told that two of us were considering entering the seminary, he took measures to see that we really did…. I seriously doubt if I would have gone to the seminary, at least at that time, without the intervention and strong encouragement of a nun and [the Pastor]. I shall always be grateful for their part in this overall scenario.”
What has changed? Certainly there are many factors — among them, smaller families, the multiplicity of career options for a young person, a breakdown in morals, the negative influence of popular culture. Despite these sobering realities and great challenges to the promotion of priestly and religious vocations in our country, there is reason for hope.
Nationally, the number of priestly and religious vocations is on the rise, and has been for well over a decade. Still, many more priests and religious are retiring or dying each year which makes the pastoral situation of vocations in the Church an urgent situation to address.
What can we do about this? Faith and trust in God’s Providence that He will always provide His Church with vocations is paramount. We cannot give in to despair even as we confront the very real challenges out there.
If we truly commit ourselves, individually and collectively as the Church, to the work of the New Evangelization, we are confident that vocations in the Church will continue to increase.
Discover the Lord’s saving grace
The call of Pope Francis (like his predecessors St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) to the New Evangelization is a call for each one of us to discover anew the saving grace and life-transforming love that we find only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to be truly evangelized anew by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and minds and lives, then our world will be set ablaze once again by the merciful love of the Holy Trinity.
The consequent effects on the lives of families, parishes, communities and nations will be a new springtime for Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. If the New Evangelization is truly embraced and lived out by all Catholic Christians, then we cannot but expect that a new “culture of vocations” will emerge in our midst.
How will this happen? First of all by firm faith, patient hope, and fervent prayer. The New Evangelization is the call to renew our encounter with the living Christ through personal and liturgical prayer.
Many are the parishes that pray regularly, if not daily, for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Many are the parishes that have weekly Holy Hours or even daylong periods of Eucharistic Adoration to pray for vocations. Prayer is essential of course, but it is not enough.
What is also needed is action. We must actively invite, encourage, and support young children, the youth, and young adults to prayerfully consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. What might already be stirring in the heart of a young person will only be confirmed and strengthened by the invitation, encouragement, and loving support of those around them — parents, family members, friends and relatives, pastors and priests, religious, teachers, catechists, coaches, mentors, and parishioners.
No one is excluded from our “Vocations Team.” We may be Vocation Directors, but the archbishop, the auxiliary bishops and all priests of the archdiocese form part of our Vocations Team. So too are deacons, religious sisters and brothers, Catholic school teachers, catechists and other parish volunteers on the frontlines of our Vocations Team.
Indeed, all of the faithful of the Archdiocese are on our Vocations Team. If you didn’t know it already, you are hereby commissioned as official “Vocations Promoters.” If we all heed and carry out this call to be part of the Archdiocesan Vocations Team, we cannot but expect that priestly and religious vocations will continue to flourish among us.
Family support is critical
Even if most young people will be called to the vocation of marriage, at least they will have been open to the possibility of this call to lifelong service of Christ and His Church as a priest or religious sister or brother. And it is likely that later on as parents, they will be open to the possibility of one or more of their children having a vocation.
On that note, we make a special appeal to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and godparents. Please, please, please pray for your own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and godchildren that one or more of them might be a priest or religious. You need to be specific in your prayers. Pray for your own children, not just for vocations to come from other families or other parishes.
It is a great blessing for a family to have a priest or religious from their family. Think of all the prayer and sacrifices that come from priests and religious who pray to God in thanksgiving for their family who nurtured and supported their own vocation.
Conversely, how sad it is when a young man or woman, confident in the authenticity of their vocation, leaves for the seminary or the convent without the support and blessing of their family. They set out to serve God and His Church, forsaking their hope for a spouse and family of their own, but unfortunately having to leave behind their own parents and siblings who oppose their vocation. What courage it must take in these cases to “search for the pearl of great price” without their family to support them.
How many times have we heard a parent tell us, “not my son”? “You can have the rest, but my son will not be a priest.” Where is this coming from? Often it comes from the mother’s great desire to have grandkids, which is of course a wonderful and natural desire. Or the parents fear that their son will be lonely as a priest. Another valid concern.
However, if it truly is God’s will for their son to be a priest, it would be a grave sin to actively try to frustrate God’s will. We must continue to pray for parents, who only want the best for their children, to always be open to God’s will to be done for their children, nothing more, nothing less.
There are many resources available for young men and women discerning a priestly or religious vocation. Many can be found our Vocations website www.LAVocations.org. An excellent book is “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide to Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood,” by Father Brett Brannan, published by Vianney Vocations. Father Brannan just completed a new book, “A Priest in the Family: A Guide for Parents Whose Sons Are Discerning Priesthood,” which will be published this summer.
May God illumine with the grace of the Holy Spirit the hearts and minds all members of our Vocations Team — vocation directors, bishops, priests, deacons, religious, parents and all the faithful — to actively pray for, invite, encourage and support a new “Culture of Vocations” in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Church in the United States. Mary, Mother of the Church and Bright Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.
This is the fifth and final article in a series on the formation of seminarians and the promotion of priestly and religious vocations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Father Steve Davoren (ordained in 1996) is the director and Father Sam Ward (ordained in 2003) the associate director for the archdiocesan Office of Vocations. They can be contacted at (213) 637-7248 or through www.LAVocations.org. Follow the Office on Twitter (LAVocations), Facebook (LAVocations) and YouTube Channel (LA Vocations).
BY REV. STEVE DAVOREN & REV. SAM WARD