April 25, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Vocations to the priesthood central to our well-being as a Church

Two Sundays ago, popularly called Good Shepherd Sunday, we observed the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

The scriptural references to the Good Shepherd suggest the observance. Hopefully, our parish liturgies included petitions for priesthood, diaconal and religious vocations in the Prayer of the Faithful.

If you didn’t notice, it is never too late to make prayer for religious vocations a staple part of your daily prayers. I never miss praying for religious vocations in any Mass that I celebrate. If the petition is not included in the Prayer of the Faithful, I insert it.

The need for priesthood vocations is absolutely central to the well-being of the Church. Without the priesthood, there would be no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there would be no Church.

There is nothing more central to our Catholic faith and well-being than our eucharistic doctrine and the essential connection with the sacrament of holy orders. Something so central merits a central and ongoing place in our common and individual prayers.

When I received the diagnosis of cancer in late January, my first response was to say, “God’s will be done. I offer whatever is to come for vocations to the priesthood, for our seminarians and our priests.”

I hope it is needless to say that the offering of my prayer and this unexpected cancer also includes all of you who are in my pastoral care; yet my first instinct was to lift up vocations, our seminarians and priests because the need for them is paramount, especially in our culture.

I am concerned that many folks take the need for seminarians, religious, deacons and priests for granted. I would hope that every Catholic family appreciates this need, and gives it a place of importance in family considerations.

The need for priests is great. One need only look around to see that the placement of our priests is stretched to the limit. Even if that were not the case, the importance of this ministry should be in the forefront of Catholic preoccupation—not to the exclusion of other priorities, but this one is foundational.

I understand the desire of grandparents and parents to have grandchildren and children to carry on the family name and heritage. Yet isn’t it also a privilege and a joy for a family to have a son who through the sacramental ministry of the Church becomes a spiritual father to countless members of the Church family?

In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the point that parish communities have a real sense of the obligation to spread the Gospel. Parishes that embrace this mission are communities where religious vocations thrive.

“Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life can only flourish in a spiritual soil that is well cultivated,” he said.

The Holy Father made a special plea for vocations to foster the missionary life of the Church. He made reference to the foreign missions, which are largely led by priests and consecrated religious.

Our Archdiocese of Indianapolis has had a long and venerable regard for fostering care for the foreign missions. We are probably one of the few dioceses in the United States that has a diocesan mission office. We are visited by many missionaries each year, some from our own families. We want to continue our awareness of the larger mission of the Church.

At the same time, the needs for taking care of our folks within our own 39 counties cannot be overlooked. Home mission needs here at home beckon for a generous response to God’s call for more priests, deacons, and consecrated women and men.

The pope reminded us that, in order to promote vocations for the mission of the Church abroad and at home, our children and young people need to be educated in the Catholic faith. This need, again, finds its first place in the family home with our parents, who are the first teachers of the Church.

Our archdiocese makes great sacrifices so that youth and young adult ministry, including vocational awareness, is made available, not only through our archdiocesan-sponsored programs, but also through our schools and parish programs. We need the support of you parents, teachers and pastoral leaders in order to make these accessible to our children, youth and young adults.

Four years ago, we launched our Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in conjunction with the academic program of Marian College. The seminary is doing a great job and, in the process, a “culture of vocation” is being renewed at the high school and college level in our archdiocese.

Admittedly, this is a bold venture, but when one considers the central importance of the priesthood for the welfare of our local Church, it is truly paramount for our mission. †

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