We are all aware of the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our diocese.
While bishops are alternately praised or blamed as the number of vocations rise and fall, they have – from a practical perspective – far less face-to-face contact with those discerning a life in God’s service than a parish priest, for example.
As I chat with Catholics across the diocese, I often hear something to the tune of, “I wonder what he’s going to do to increase vocations.”
Bishops carry crosiers, not magic wands, and they don’t have biological children who can be encouraged to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
A better-posed question, then, would be, “What can we do to increase vocations?”
We needn’t look far for answers. In 2003, the Diocese of Madison had six seminarians. Now, they have more than 30.
They also have a page on their diocesan website at http://www.madisondiocese.org/Home.aspx that unlocks the mystery of this transformation, and most of the suggestions fall into one of two categories: prayer or communication.
On the prayer side, there’s a robust list of options: celebrate Masses and schedule adoration hours for vocations; ask the elderly and shut-ins to pray for vocations; recite prayers for vocations at Mass; encourage prayerful discernment of those considering vocations; host parish retreats that inspire personal prayer and reflection; etc.
From a communication angle, much can be done: parishes can sponsor speakers – vocation directors, parents of seminarians, or young priests and religious – to encourage discerning youths and their parents; youth groups can host visits to seminaries/convents/monasteries; bulletins can include a seminarian’s diary or vocations corner; parishes can celebrate vocations week, create vocations committees, distribute vocations literature and host Catholic movie nights and discernment nights; families can join a chalice/cross program, correspond with seminarians and emphasize vocations in their homes; Catholic school administrators and teachers can invite priests/religious to give presentations on vocations; parishes can host young adult discussion groups; and the list goes on.
I’m sure every parish in the diocese is already doing one or more of these activities. But, taken in full, this list represents a saturation of prayer for and invitation to vocations – a level of dedication we’ve probably not attained.
The lesson, then, is we can do more. We can pray more. We can encourage and invite more. We can stand together more, and focus our collective energy on ensuring the future of our local church.
There is work to be done.