February 25, 2005

The tie between vocations and the Eucharist

By Sean Gallagher

(Editor’s note: The Catholic Church is observing the Year of the Eucharist. This article is part of a Criterion series exploring the importance of the Eucharist in all facets of the life of the archdiocese.)

In years past, pre-theology seminarian Peter Marshall, now a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, would have thought that the Eucharist was idolatry, the worship of God as nothing more than a man-made object.

Then he was an evangelical Christian. Now, as a Catholic, Marshall sees the Eucharist as the primary means of growing in that deep personal relationship with Christ that he had yearned for as a Protestant.

In particular, he believes that the time he spends in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament has been a significant aid in his vocational discernment.

“It’s much easier to be open to the Lord’s leading when you’re in his presence than otherwise,” Marshall said. “As I was working through discernment, I found when I was in the presence, I felt the call much stronger and I couldn’t dismiss it as easily as I could otherwise.”

Father Joseph Moriarty, archdiocesan vocations director, has been a companion with Marshall in his vocational journey. He is able to appreciate the seminarian’s value of the Eucharist in his discernment because it played a role in his own as well.

When Father Moriarty was a student at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, he was asked by his parents to take his aging grandmother to Mass each Saturday night.

“As I would walk her to Communion, she used to hold onto me,” he said. “As my grandmother grew older, she held on tighter, as we would walk to Communion.

“But metaphorically I saw that as the Eucharist taking a tighter hold in my life. And so, as a high school person myself, that is where a lot of the roots of my own vocation began to grow.”

When now, as archdiocesan vocations director, Father Moriarty helps Marshall and other young men who are at various stages of their vocational discernment, he seeks to nurture in them a life of prayer centered on the Eucharist.

“I would say to people who think they have a vocation … you must have a regular habit of prayer,” he said. “At the same time, as a part of that prayer … that the Eucharist would be the center of that, that everything that they would pray about would flow into and out of their celebrating with the community on Sunday. For many of them, as that grows, it moves from Sunday to every day.”

In addition to regular participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, Father Moriarty also sees an important connection between adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the nurturing of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

In conjunction with the Indianapolis Serra Club, an organization whose mission is to encourage priestly and religious vocations, Father Moriarty last year invited every parish in the archdiocese to host a monthly holy hour specifically for vocations. Several copies of a booklet with devotional prayers for vocations were given to each parish at the same time.

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of the Jennings County parishes of St. Anne and St. Joseph, accepted this invitation. The parishes have their holy hours respectively on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, from 7-8 p.m.

“The two sacraments—the Eucharist and holy orders—are so intertwined that it just makes sense,” he said. “There’s no purpose for the priesthood without the Eucharist. And there’s no Eucharist without the priesthood. So it makes sense to pray for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament.”

Father McCarthy has hopes of seeing vocations come from the parish since there has been a history of this in the past. Five religious sisters called St. Joseph Parish their home. And Albert Daeger was ordained from St. Anne as a Franciscan and later served as Archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M., from 1919-32.

In addition to the faithful at St. Joseph and St. Anne who pray for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament, there are now Catholics across the archdiocese that are doing the same.

And this is not simply happening in monthly holy hours. There is at least one person praying in the middle of the night for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the archdiocese.

Tom Spencer, a member of St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis as well as a member of the Indianapolis Serra Club, prays from 1-2 a.m. every Wednesday morning in his parish’s perpetual adoration chapel. He says that his primary purpose during that hour is praying for vocations.

And although he is a husband, a father of two and a business owner, Spencer sees the time he spends in the middle of the night in prayer for vocations as “truly one of the most important roles that I have in today’s Church as a layperson.”

Marshall knows of and appreciates the prayers that many people offer for him and his fellow seminarians.

“I know that we kind of joke sometimes at the seminary that this was a rough day or a rough week,” he said. “But could you imagine how much worse it would be if [people weren’t] praying for us? One of the greatest joys of being a seminarian is knowing that people are indeed praying for us regularly.”

There is something of an irony, though, in people praying for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament. For while they make a conscious choice to dedicate themselves to this practice, the practice itself is a recognition that it is God alone who brings vocations about. This fact isn’t lost on Spencer.

“It’s totally in the Lord’s hands,” he said. “And because it’s in his hands, prayer is one of the most effective things that we can do. We can’t take it as a fall-back. It really is our frontline action.”

Whether it is praying for vocations during Mass or before the Blessed Sacrament, Father Moriarty believes that this is an important way to build a culture of vocations and is confident that God will respond.

“I make a clear connection,” he said, “that if people are willing in parishes to seriously work together to promote vocations, then God blesses that.” †  

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